No, this post isn't about colicky newborns, Balloon Boy or the BP oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. Last week, the Obama administration announced that certified organic baby foods and infant formulas can no longer contain synthetic additives such as DHA and ARA, which are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids manufactured with the use of hexane, a petroleum-refining byproduct, a hazardous air pollutant and a potential neurotoxin.
As Seven Days reported in its April 21 story, "Open Wide," DHA and ARA are "accessory nutrients" added to about 90 percent of all infant formulas on American store shelves, including brands that are certified organic. Under federal law, organic foods cannot be grown or manufactured with the use of industrial solvents, neurotoxins or hazardous air pollutants, even if those chemicals leave behind no residues in the final products sold to consumers.
Manufacturers add synthetic DHA and ARA to infant formulas in an effort to make them more closely resemble breast milk. In their natural forms, DHA and ARA are vital for the healthy development of a baby's brain, eyes and nervous system.However, the research is still inconclusive on whether the synthetic versions of these nutrients perform the same way as their natural versions do.
The USDA announcement last week follows complaints filed by the Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based food- and farm-policy organization, which published a report last year about synthetic DHA and ARA and their potentially harmful side effects. In it, the report's author, Charlotte Vallaeys, alleges that since the introduction of synthetic DHA and ARA into the U.S. marketplace, the FDA has received hundreds of reports of adverse reactions, including infant deaths. But a spokesperson for the products' manufacturer, Martek Biosciences Corporation, denies that any such reactions have ever been linked to DHA or ARA, which the FDA lists as a "generally recognized as safe" product.
Last week's ruling by the USDA corrects a 2006 decision on accessory nutrients such as DHA and ARA, which both the Cornucopia Institute and the Washington Post claim was heavily influenced by corporate lobbyists from the baby-formula industry. The industry is expected to appeal the decision as the USDA promulgates new rules about the additives over the coming year.