Government Bans DHA/ARA Additives in Organic Baby Formula

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I have to thank Janelle from Healthy Child for reminding me to post about this.  I read about it a few days ago and have been meaning to share it here.  Since we published our Formula Analysis, it became evident that just about all organic baby formula uses the DHA/ARA additive using a controversial extraction method that uses a potential neurotoxin called hexane.  With the exception of Nature’s One, which uses an aqueous process to extract the additive (although they do not add it to their formula – it is provided as a separate product you can add yourself) all organic formulas use the DHA/ARA extracted with hexane.  Almost all the companies I spoke to said much of the same thing.  That there is no detectable hexane levels in the formulas and that this hexane extraction method (most commonly coming from a company called Martex Corporation) is the “only FDA approved method of DHA extraction”, which I think isn’t the case but that’s another article.

The Department of Agriculture  had said three years ago that this DHA additive “violated federal standards and should be banned from products carrying the federal organic label“. That was of course overruled by a USDA manager who was being heavily lobbied by formula makers.

This decision by the Obama administration to ban the additives from organic food is a good step in the direction we all want things to go.  Better regulations on organic food and more confidence from consumers that the USDA seal actually means something and isn’t governed by deals and lobbyists. Of course, the executives who have a monetary interest in seeing these additives remain in organic food will lobby against this decision.  But in the meantime the USDA will craft guidelines in phasing out the additives.


Update: I want to make it clear that this ban was limited to organic baby formula and baby food.  I also think personally that the addition of DHA to baby formula is a positive thing and by no means should anyone stop using products containing DHA, including Milk or supplements.  I’m merely interested in the processing methods and what that means for organic baby products.

Posted by: SafeMama Kathy on May 18, 2010


23 Responses to “Government Bans DHA/ARA Additives in Organic Baby Formula”

  1. Sarah on May 18th, 2010 1:02 pm

    So should we stop using this formula? If they are banning it is it bad enough to recall it ?

  2. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 1:07 pm

    @Sarah: No, absolutely not. This move by government administration is not a recall, nor are they suggesting that organic formula isn’t safe. The DHA additive is the same additive they use in ALL baby formula and while the process is in question, they are not recalling anything. Basically this is a move to require stricter standards with regards to the USDA seal on organic formula and that they will be phasing out the use of this additive over the next year or so.

  3. Meredith on May 18th, 2010 1:15 pm

    Is this article saying that the formula is organic but that the additive is not, and therefore the product should have have the label “organic” on it? I need a little clarification on this one…

  4. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 1:23 pm

    @Meredith: Basically no. These formulas are made with organic ingredients (organic milk, organic lactose, etc depending on the brand) but in 90% of the cases they all use a DHA additive that is not Certified Organic. They want this additive removed from organic products carrying the USDA seal.

  5. Sarah on May 18th, 2010 1:24 pm

    Gotcha! Thank you!!

  6. Jessica on May 18th, 2010 2:10 pm

    But is DHA something that is beneficial in formula? I am breastfeeding now, but will be switching over to formula soon. Should I be concerned that my baby would be missing something essential if they take the additive out?

  7. Sabrina on May 18th, 2010 2:34 pm

    What about the organic baby cereal that has DHA added (aka HappyBellie)…same thing?

  8. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 2:41 pm

    @Sabrina: I think it will apply to all Certified Organic products that contain DHA now.

  9. Anne on May 18th, 2010 2:43 pm

    Does this “hexane method of extraction” apply to the oral DHA tablets that I’ve been taking daily for my Omega 3? Or, is it only used when DHA is added to foodstuffs?

  10. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 2:45 pm

    @Sabrina: Looking at Happy Bellies website they state that hexane is not used in the extraction of DHA. Looks like I’ll have to set in motion a calling spree and find out what baby FOOD contains DHA and where it comes from for each brand.

    How do I end up making more work for myself?? Haha

  11. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 2:51 pm

    @Anne: You will have to contact the maker of your supplement to find out where the DHA comes from if it doesn’t indicate it on the package. Sometimes there is a “lifeDHA” logo which can indicate a Martek BioScience DHA (hexane extraction).

    This move by government applies to the addition of synthetic DHA to certified organic baby formula and baby food ONLY.

  12. Anne on May 18th, 2010 2:59 pm

    For those taking Spectrum Prenatal DHA, here’s what their website says:

  13. SafeMama Kathy on May 18th, 2010 3:08 pm

    Thanks Anne! It’s not made clear whether they will use an alternative or not but I think the main idea according to this is that the hexane process (which almost all the organic formulas use) is not an organic ingredient. That is where they take issue. It’ll be interesting to see how this all unfolds over the next year.

  14. adriana on May 18th, 2010 4:33 pm

    Does this apply to the DHA found in Horizon Organic milk? They have Whole Milk with and without DHA. Is it better to give my 19 month old the milk without the DHA? Thank you!

  15. Toni on May 18th, 2010 9:10 pm

    I know you said this will apply to formula and baby food only, but now I’m wondering about the organic milk with added DHA I’ve been giving my toddler..seems beneficial for her to have the DHA this way, but if the process is the same as in formula, maybe I’d want to think about switching to non-DHA organic milk and giving her a supplement. But then, how to tell how the supplement is produced, as someone already commented about..

  16. Tiffany on May 19th, 2010 3:46 am

    I’ve always been a little nervous about the hexane process so I’ve used Nature’s One to supplement while breastfeeding. I have to wean now so I’ll probably ask my naturopath about a separate DHA vitamin for my son. Thank you for the info – guess my gut was right!

  17. Christina on May 19th, 2010 5:06 pm

    I’m a little confused–is the concern that this is unsafe or that it’s not organic? I just bought a dha additive (not organic) and it’s by Martek. Should I bring it back?

  18. SafeMama Kathy on May 19th, 2010 5:12 pm

    @Christina: The removal of te additive from organic baby formula and baby food is due to the process not meeting organic standards. There are separate concerns about the actual process from some groups but in the case of this article they are only addressing the use of it in baby food/formula.

  19. SafeMama Kathy on May 19th, 2010 5:16 pm

    Regarding DHA in Milk – I don’t know yet. The new ban by the government doesn’t include it. Horizon Milk with DHA uses the lifeDHA from Martek BioSciences. It is the most widely used method of DHA extraction.

  20. Alia on May 20th, 2010 4:06 pm

    Thanks, as always, for the amazing info you provide. In order to lessen confusion, may I suggest a different headline for this article as I understand the issue here is re: organic labeling, *not* the merits of DHA itself? For example, “FDA bans use of ‘organic’ label in formula containing DHA.’ I chose Baby’s Only formula based on EWG and Safe Mama research, and my daughter is doing fine on it. It’s $9.99 for a 12oz container at my organic market, and you can also order directly from the manufacturer. I found their website relatively informative about how they process their formula and where the ingredients come from (e.g., organic dairy from PA). I confirmed that Nature’s One manufactures the formula, whereas Earth’s Best, Vermont Organics, and other store brand organics are just different brands of the same product. And I really don’t know why Earth’s Best is so exorbitantly expensive – I believe it’s unethical charging a premium for organic, as if only people with means should be able to protect their children from toxic chemicals???

  21. Mikal on May 20th, 2010 5:41 pm

    I have been reading the full report by the Cornucopia Institute. It is very interesting to read what DHA/ARA actually are and some of the possible side effects. I would strongly recommend that any of you that have questions in regards to DHA/ARA additives read this report. While the ruling does pertain to organics, DHA/ARA are finding their way into many products that we consume. I am highly skeptical about these additives now that I have read this report. I would also suggest that you read about the possible side-effects of taking prenatals that include these additives. Ugh! Chemical and pharma companies have too much control about the additives that find their way to our most precious…our children.

  22. SafeMama Kathy on May 20th, 2010 6:51 pm

    @Alia: Thanks for your comment. However I think the fact that the process is in question, is part of the reason for this particular ban. It is about labeling, yes, but it is also about organic standards as well.

  23. Manjari on May 26th, 2010 1:12 pm

    Hi, a note to moms who asked about supplemental DHA and the extraction process. I just looked on the bottle of what I take (MorDHA prenatal made by Minami Nutrition) and checked the website. It indicated that the DHA is extracted using carbon dioxide and no hexane is used. If you are taking a different brand, check the website to see what the extraction process is. I bought MorDHA from Whole Foods. Hope this helps!