Ingredients group Martek Biosciences Corp. has stood by the science behind its DHA and ARA nutrients after the US announced it would review their use in organic food.

The National Organic Program (NOP), which oversees the marketing and labelling of organic food in the US, is to take a fresh look at whether the additives can be used in processed organic food, including baby food and infant formula.

The NOP said new information had brought to light that it may have erred in 2006 when it had allowed the use of ARA and DHA in organic food.

After talks with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the NOP said there had been “an incorrect interpretation” of the Nutritional Guidelines for Foods. The NOP said it had judged ARA and DHA as “accessory nutrients” under a “National List of Nutrient Vitamins and Minerals”.

Manufacturers like Martek have 60 days to issue comment before the NOP draws up fresh guidance that “aligns” with the FDA’s interpretation of the Nutritional Guidelines for Foods.

Cornucopia, an organic industry watchdog, claimed the NOP had “banned” the nutrients. The body said it had first investigated the use of ARA and DHA in infant formula, because they are “extracted using a neurotoxic chemical, hexane, which is explicitly banned in organic production”. 

Speaking to just-food, a Martek spokesperson denied ARA and DHA had been prohibited and insisted the NOP was reviewing their use ahead of a possible re-evaluation of whether the nutrients should be included in the national list.

The spokesperson admitted it was “possible” the nutrients could be banned from use in organic food but she insisted the purported health benefits of ARA and DHA – including brain, heart and eye health – were real.

The spokesperson acknowledged that the NOP review may result in companies like Martek having to re-apply to use ARA and DHA in organic food but added: “There is no reason to believe that they won’t be accepted for use in organic food,” the spokesperson added.

A spokesman for the NOP denied the nutrients had been banned and were under review. “We’re not saying that they are unhealthy. We’re just working out if they are allowable in organic products. Our top priority is to ensure the integrity of organically certified commodities and products,” the spokesman said.

“The draft guidance will be issued later this summer. After a 60-day comment period the National Organic Program (NOP) will review before issuing final comments. The NOP plans to provide adequate time to businesses to change their formulations and to petition the National Organic Standards Board in order to have an orderly transition to the clarification.”