Food that contains the ‘USDA Organic’ label can double a product’s price. But organic experts believe that some food products garnering that coveted label should not be permitted to do so. This time the focus is on organic milk from Horizon, Costco and others that contain industrialized oil additives…
Industrialized Additives in Milk Labeled ‘Organic’
Inside a South Carolina factory, in industrial vats that stand five stories high, batches of algae are carefully tended, kept warm and fed corn syrup. There the algae, known as schizochytrium, multiply quickly. The payoff, which comes after processing, is a substance that resembles corn oil. It tastes faintly fishy.
Marketed as a nutritional enhancement, the oil is added to millions of cartons of organic milk from Horizon, one of the nation’s largest organic brands.
Why Industrialized Additive DHA Algal Oil is Permitted in ‘Organic’ Milk
After Horizon began selling the organic milk supplemented with the algal oil in 2007, sales took off.
There was just one problem. The additive might have violated organic regulations.
In deciding to allow the use of the oil and similar additives, USDA officials, at least initially, misread federal regulations. In 2012, five years after the algal oil was introduced into milk, it quietly acknowledged that some federal regulations had been “incorrectly interpreted.” The USDA then maintained the status quo — allowing the use of algal oil, among other things — in order not to “disrupt” the market.
Obfuscation is Profitable
Some companies, like Horizon…like to boost their Omega-3 claims using algal oil. Whatever the legalities, the Horizon milk with the DHA algal oil is popular…In the past year, consumers bought more than 26 million gallons of the milk supplemented with the DHA, according to Horizon… Retail sales of the milk topped $250 million in the past year, the company said. The Horizon milk with DHA typically costs about 30 cents more than plain Horizon milk…
Consumers Not Told Their Organic Milk Contains ‘Factory-Brewed Oil’
What the Horizon milk carton doesn’t advertise is that some of its contents were brewed in closed stainless steel vats of schizochytrium. This omission avoids any ick reaction from shoppers, but consumer advocates say it also dodges a key question: Is milk supplemented with an oil brewed in a factory really “organic”?
To critics the popularity is based on a misconception of what is and isn’t organic. They argue that supplementing “USDA Organic” products with algal oil betrays consumer expectations that organic foods need no laboratory-inspired razzle-dazzle, and that the nutrients in organic products are good enough without additives…
“We do not think that [the oil] belongs in organic foods. When an organic milk carton says it has higher levels of beneficial nutrients, like omega-3 fats, consumers want that to be the result of good farming practices…not from additives made in a factory.”
-Charlotte Vallaeys, senior policy analyst, Consumer Reports
Indeed, when milk is produced by grass-fed cows — as required by organic regulations — it contains substantially more Omega-3 fatty acids than conventional milk…
“Additives just don’t have any place in organics at all. You might say additives should be allowed for health reasons, but I never saw an additive that you couldn’t get in real foods.”
-Barry Flamm, former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, which makes recommendations to the USDA.