Raising the Standards of Organic Colors

October 2016

The Regulatory of Organics
With the launch of Mondelez’s organic Triscuits, Ferrara’s Black Forest Organic Gummies, and PepsiCo’s organic Gatorade this year, the rise of organic products is extending beyond the produce and dairy aisles. The classification of “organic” is complex for some because of blurred lines between the “organic” and “made with organic” claims on packaging.

Fortunately, there is a Federal Advisory Board who advises on issues involving the production, handling, and processing of organic products and ingredients — The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The NOSB makes recommendations to the USDA based on majority vote proposed motions. These motions are then provided to the National Organic Program (NOP), a regulatory program housed under the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

The NOSB is responsible for the regular review of substances included on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The USDA uses recommendations from the National List to formally codify NOP regulations found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).

Color Additives on the National List
The National List (7 CFR 205.600-205.607) is actually a series of lists for multiple subcategories of nonorganic ingredients that are currently permitted in organic products. Color additives are classified under the following subcategory of the National List:

§205.606 Nonorganically produced agricultural products allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as “organic.”

(d) Colors derived from agricultural products — Must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative

(1) Beet juice extract color*
(2) Beta-carotene extract color — derived from carrots or algae
(3) Black currant juice color *
(4) Black/Purple carrot juice color*
(5) Blueberry juice color*
(6) Carrot juice color*
(7) Cherry juice color*
(8) Chokeberry – Aronia juice color*
(9) Elderberry juice color*
(10) Grape juice color*
(11) Grape skin extract color*
(12) Paprika color*
(13) Pumpkin juice color*
(14) Purple potato juice*
(15) Red cabbage extract color*
(16) Red radish extract color*
(17) Saffron extract color*
(18) Turmeric extract color*
*2022 Sunset Date

As the title for Subpart 205.606 states, these colors are “nonorganically produced.” For shorthand, the food industry tends to call them ‘organic compliant’ to differentiate from organic certified colors, but it should be noted there is no NOP definition for this term.

Looking to the Future
The National List is not intended to be a static list; it actually undergoes many modifications.

Changes to the Code of Federal Regulations come from National List proposals in three ways:

  • A petition to add a substance
  • A petition to remove a substance
  • The Sunset Review Process

These updates are meant to encourage the expansion of organically certified operations. Thus, substances like color additives are subject to the commercial availability rule. The removal of National List ingredients most likely results from either the emergence of a commercially available organic certified version or the lack of active support for continuance.

As we get closer to the sunset expiration date of the 2022 colors, the National List will certainly shrink.

Any manufacturers using these ‘organic compliant’ (nonorganic) colors in their products will need to reformulate with the certified organic version by June 27, 2022 if they plan to continue using the USDA organic seal on their products.

Looking Further Ahead
In April 2016, the USDA reported a significant increase in the number of certified organic operations, saying “according to new data, there are now 21,781 certified organic operations in the United States and 31,160 around the world.” As the availability of certified organic raw materials continues to increase, the blurred lines between ‘organic compliant’ and certified organic will become more clear. Eventually, color additives may not even appear on the National List, and all colors in products featuring the USDA organic seal will need to be certified organic.

Beta Carotene is the one color listed in Subpart 205.606 with a May 29, 2018 sunset date. The NOSB is scheduled to review Beta Carotene at the November meeting this year.

Please feel free to join me at the 2016 Global Color Conference and stay tuned for future regulatory updates on organics.

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