USDA gave interim approval Friday to a proposal that would allow 38 nonorganic ingredients to be used in foods that carry the "USDA Organic" seal, and added 60 extra days for public comment.
Organic food manufacturers pushed for the change, saying that the included ingredients are minor ingredients in their products and difficult to find in organic form. Many consumers, however, have complained that the measure would defeat the purpose of labeling food as organic.
The list approved Friday includes 19 food colorings, two starches, hops, sausage casings, fish oil, chipotle chili pepper, gelatin, celery powder, dill weed oil, frozen lemongrass, Wakame seaweed, Turkish bay leaves and whey protein concentrate.
Manufacturers would be allowed to use conventionally grown versions of these ingredients in foods carrying the USDA seal, provided that they can't find organic equivalents and that nonorganics constitute no more than 5% of the product. A wide range of organic food could be affected, including cereal, sausage, bread, beer, pasta, candy and soup mixes.
Organic food sales have more than doubled in the last five years, reaching $16.9 billion in the U.S. last year.