Non-Organic Food Additives In Organic Food
- Tuesday, 28 August 2012
Did you know that the USDA allows nearly 300 non-organic food additives in organic food?
There's no question that organic food is an incredibly healthy option—not just for each of us—but for our environment, too. But that doesn't necessarily mean your organic food is as pure as it could be.
The USDA, which oversees the National Organic Program that went into effect in 2002, denotes certain levels of organic certification. Products displaying the USDA certified organic seal must be at least 95 percent certified organic. And products can co-mingle: organic corn in corn chips could be fried in non-organic oil, for example. The label might say something like "made with organic corn" in that case instead of boasting the USDA seal.
To regulate the growing organic foods industry, the National Organic Safety Board meets twice a year to review the USDA approved industry standards in order to continually improve the system as new science and research comes to light.
Over the last several years, some questionable synthetics have been approved for use in organic foods by the NOSB. Producing food that delivers consistent taste, texture and quality every time is most certainly a science—even when it's organic. Many manufacturers rely on the help of certain substances that do not occur organically. (Salt, for example, fits into this category – it is a naturally occurring mineral, not a plant that is grown or an animal that is raised).
But what's raising eyebrows in the organic community is the approval of substances for use in organic food that have a history of human health risks, or are derived from questionable ingredients.
Carrageenan is one ingredient that has been approved for use as an emulsifier. You've probably seen it in milk products (including nondairy milk), yogurt, ice cream, energy bars, etc. It's derived from an algae source and helps ingredients bind together for consistent texture. But, carrageenan has a history of being connected to digestive issues. As early as 1975, studies found a connection between carrageenan and digestive health. It has also been connected to cancers of the digestive system including colorectal cancer.
Another questionable ingredient is tetrasodium pyrophosphate, which combines phosphoric acid (it can eat rust) with sodium carbonate (toxic to skin and lungs) to bind proteins with water. It's commonly found in vegetarian mock meats where a number of plant proteins may be used to create a "meaty" texture.
Consumer groups including the Organic Consumers Association, Beyond Pesticides and The Cornucopia Institute, have been working to educate consumers about non-organic food additives. Additionally, they've targeted companies and members of the NOSB, asking them to revise the National List of approved substances to exclude known carcinogens.
What you can do
The ingredients are in order of dominance - so what comes at the end of the list makes up the smallest percentage of a product. But if something seems questionable, do the research.
Don't buy what you can easily make yourself.
Hopefully you do this anyway! Skip the bottled salad dressing or canned soup and make the items from scratch. You decrease the risk of exposure to food additives and it will most likely taste better too!
Read up on what's allowed in your food and take action. Government agencies and representatives respond to letters, calls and petitions from the people. Every bit helps.
Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles based writer, editor and photographer. She regularly consults with and supports emerging brands and organizations in creative communication, social media strategies and event production. For more info, visit www.jillettinger.com. Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettingerKeep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger