Should organic foods have synthetic vitamins?

A shopper peruses labels at an organic store in Lakewood, Ohio. (Photo: Aaron Josefczyk, Reuters)
Instapaper
Submit to Reddit
Repost This
Trish Anderton

Should synthetic vitamins and minerals be added to organic foods? Organic producers say yes, fearing their products would otherwise be unable to compete with fortified foods; but some consumers strongly disagree.

The Agriculture Department’s Agricultural Marketing Service is preparing to renew rules allowing the addition of certain synthetics to organic food. It’s accepting public comments at regulations.gov through Dec. 26.

The rules state that only nutrients the Food and Drug Administration has declared essential for health can be added to organic products. Those include vitamins A, C, D, E, iron, iodine, magnesium, zinc and many others. Any nutrient that isn’t “essential” would require special approval.

So far, 24 commenters, including many companies that make organic products, have weighed in to support continuing to allow the addition of synthetic nutrients. Only six – all of whom are consumers – want them out.

Gwendolyn Wyard of the Organic Trade Association says her group favors “the rational and safe addition of nutrients to foods in order to preserve a balance of nutrients in the consumer diet. We also support the maximum freedom of choice for organic consumers, and believe that organic products should be nutritionally equal to their conventional counterparts.”

Sean Taylor of the International Association of Color Manufacturers argues that the rules strike a good balance between the need for certain nutrients and the concerns of organic shoppers. “These ingredients are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and thus are deemed safe without environmental concerns. They have also been evaluated previously by the National Organic Standards Board. The National Organic Program has deemed them appropriate for use in “organic” and “made with organic” products," he writes.

"If any of these substances were disallowed," he adds, "the quality, number and types of 'organic' and 'made with organic' products available could decrease.”

But opponents like Patrick Winters accuse the agency of putting industry profits ahead of consumer interests. “For the sake of maintaining integrity and consumer confidence in the term 'Organic' no synthetics of any type should be allowed in the content,” he states. “To add vitamins and minerals to fortify an organic product seems to breach the spirit of organic in favor of expanding corporate markets.”

And Alan Greene, who runs the children’s health website DrGreene.com, argues for a middle ground: Allow synthetic nutrients, but label foods accordingly. He cites the example of vitamin D: “It's very well-tolerated by most people, but I'm not aware - yet - of a commercially viable way to make it organically.”

Since many people don’t get enough vitamin D, Greene argues, it should be added to organic milk – but the label should say Organic Milk (plus Vitamin D) rather than Organic Vitamin D Milk, for consumers who might want to seek an alternative without the added nutrient.

Do you think synthetic nutrients belong in organic foods? Share your comment with the Agricultural Marketing Service at regulations.gov - and be sure to copy it into the Comments section below this story, too, so GIMBY readers can see what you think!