DHA Algae Not GMO, Martek Says
After several health blogs published articles claiming that a microalgae source of DHA oil is genetically modified, the DHA-algae harvester, Martek announced that its DHA microalgae and algal oils are not genetically modified.
Genetic modification of an organism takes place when a gene or genes are physically transplanted from one species to another species. This is typically conducted by splicing out part of the DNA of one organism and transplanting into another organism physically, or using a virus as a transporter mechanism.
Because viruses are effective at genetic mutation, virus gene modification has been the primary technique used to develop various genetically modified plants – which are currently banned by all organic certification organizations, and most of the European Union countries as both ingredients and primary food sources.
Martek’s announcement was made in response to several internet websites – some who happen to sell competitive DHA supplements derived from fish or krill – claimed that the microalgae organisms that Martek cultivates and harvests were genetically modified.
Martek’s announcement is confirmed by its approval as an organic material by the USDA National Organic Program, after reviewing Martek’s fermenting and harvesting processes.
The process of producing changes in an organism by stressing the organism or giving the organism certain nutrients has in fact been used for many centuries by horticulturists, tree breeders and probiotics producers. For example, tree fruit producers will often use grafting to produce different varieties of fruit. While this may result in genetic changes, the process is not considered genetic modification.
Producers of probiotics also use a process of stressing probiotic microorganisms during fermentation, or feeding the probiotic particular nutrients to alter the production of the microorganism. These methods also produce modifications of the genes of the microorganism, but again are not deemed as genetic modification.
Martek’s announcement clarified that its proprietary process uses similar natural feeding and fermentation techniques to encourage more DHA production by their cultured algae microorganisms – including the DHA microalgae species Crypthecodinium cohnii.
In its statement, Martek said:
“The Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has established detailed requirements for foods labeled as “organic.” Organic products lawfully may contain added nutrient vitamins and minerals. In 2006, AMS evaluated whether Martek’s DHA could be added to infant formulas and other organic products and concluded it would be appropriate to do so because DHA is treated as “a nutrient vitamin and mineral.”
Martek’s DHA oils may be used as ingredients in organic products if used in accordance with the rules of the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). Martek’s DHA oils are considered non-agricultural, accessory nutrients and are allowed in the production of products to be sold, labeled, or represented as organic under the NOP.”
Martek further stated that: “Additionally, Martek procures all ingredients used in its production process that are in compliance with EC/1829/2003 and EC/1830/2003 requirements for non-GMO material. EC/1829/2003 and EC/1830/2003 are Genetically Modified Food and Feed Regulations of the European Community.”
Martek’s algal DHA has been subjected to a number of clinical studies over the past few years (see Realnatural article on triglycerides), and its benefits are similar if not in some ways superior to DHA derived from fish oil and krill oil. Algal DHA has a number of advantages over fish oil because of its lack of mercury, dioxins, and other contaminants – requiring distillation techniques to remove potential toxins. Algal DHA also does not contain saturated fats, as do many fish oils.
Fish oil and krill oil producers have been under pressure from environmentalists over the past few years because fish and krill populations around the world have been declining. Fisheries in many regions have been determined to be at dangerously low populations – including some that can no longer be sustainably fished. And krill is the favorite food of whales and dolphins.
In its announcement, Martek did concede that some of its U.S. production utilizes corn from a facility that sources some of its corn from GM growers, “given the prevalence of GM corn in the U.S. market.”
While the use of GM corn is not supported by any environmental or health group (including RealNatural), it is technically inaccurate to claim that the DHA microalgae are genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or the DHA oil produced by the algae is a genetically modified food or supplement. Nonetheless, using GMO corn as a feed is still discouraged by a wealth of nutrition experts based on the lack of thorough research.
Consumers who wish to request that Martek stop buying GM corn are urged to contact the company via their email address – see www.martek.com.
REALNATURAL AND THE AUTHOR HAVE NO FINANCIAL INTEREST IN NOR DO THEY PROFIT FROM THE SALE OF ALGAL DHA IN ANY MANNER.
UPDATE: Since this article was initially published, Martek was acquired by the Dutch firm Royal D.S.M. The management at DSM sent the following statement to Deva Nutrition regarding this issue:
“DHA and ARA products produced by DSM Nutritional Products for use in infant formula, supplements, food and beverages, and animal feed are produced from organisms that are not genetically modified. No regulatory body or legal body considers DSM Nutritional Products’ DHA and ARA products to be comprised of or obtained from, genetically modified organisms.
All ingredients of DSM Nutritional Products’ DHA and ARA are in compliance with the European Commission’s requirements for non-GMO material. The European Commission’s policies and oversight of genetically modified organisms and their use in products are widely recognized as the most stringent in the world.
Most recently, the U.S. National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) determined that the DHA and ARA products produced by DSM Nutritional Products are not the product of genetically modified organisms or processes. The NOSB is the citizen advisory board created by the U.S. Congress to oversee the most stringent non-GMO policy under U.S. Federal law. Following a nearly 18-month review of DSM’s petition for continued use of its DHA and ARA products in certified organic products, NOSB, the leading organic authority in the world, conducted a four-day public meeting that included two days of public testimony. The forum provided every interested party an opportunity to speak and included the testimony of many scientific experts. The GMO issue was thoroughly reviewed through an open, public, and deliberate process. The NOSB determined, by a vote count of 12-2, that ARA from fungal oil and DHA from algal oil should be classified as “nonsynthetic” substances and reconfirmed their use in certified organic products.
In response to allegations during the meeting that the fungal and algal sources of DSM’s products were the product of genetic manipulation, the NOSB directed a question to the USDA’s National Organic Program (“NOP”) staff regarding the scope of its prohibition on such practices. The government’s answer was unequivocal – the traditional breeding and selection methods used by DSM for its algae and fungi are accepted practices under the U.S. federal organic regulations that prohibit recombinant genetic technology.
Following the four-day public meeting, on December 2, 2011, the board voted, by an overwhelming majority, to recommend DHA from algal oil and ARA from fungal oil for inclusion on the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances. The NOSB also recommended that the classification of DHA and ARA on the National List be changed from synthetic to non-synthetic. The National List contains a specific list of substances that may be used in or on processed organic products. The board’s recommendation rejected the claims that DSM’s products are the product of prohibited methods and ratified the existing U.S. policy to allow the use of algal DHA in certified-organic food and beverage products.
There are claims that our products must be genetically modified because some of the patents protecting algal DHA and fungal ARA include language that refers to the use of recombinant DNA technology. These claims are false. Patent claims are designed to be broad in order to provide protection against all possible methods that competitors might utilize to produce similar products. Patents that include protection for recombinant DNA technology are designed to prevent competitors from using recombinant DNA technology to create genetically modified organisms that mimic the naturally occurring, non-GMO organisms we discovered and use to manufacture our products. These patents, in fact, are actually preventing the use of GMO organisms by competitors who might wish to produce algal DHA and fungal ARA.
DSM Nutritional Products’ DHA and ARA are not the product of genetically modified algae or fungi and do not contain prohibited ingredients. The U.S. National Organic Standards Board and the European Commission standards regarding GMO’s are met. Individuals and organizations that continue to claim that DSM’s DHA and ARA products are GMO are misinformed or willfully ignoring the actions of the NOSB, the world’s leading organic authority.
DSM Nutritional Products’ DHA and ARA are sustainable, vegetarian and from non-GMO organisms. In addition, they are free of ocean-borne contaminants and do not contribute to overfishing. DSM Nutritional Products is committed to responsible and sustainable processes and products and has a comprehensive program in place to monitor, evaluate, and continually improve our impact on the environment. We highly value our organic partners and believe that our products are consistent with the important values of the organic industry, including health and nutrition, quality, and sustainability. “