Monday, October 26, 2009

Check that Chocolate

Soy lecithin via Orison Chemicals.
Soy lecithin, a common emulsifier used in food products, both organic and conventional, is allowed to be used in organic products even though the lecithin itself is not organic. Lecithin is difficult to find in organic form, or so it was when organic legislation was drafted up. The good news is there is an organic lecithin source now, the bad news is that it's so cheap to use the industrial source, and outdated organic regulations still allow it so nobody bothers. Let's let the great Cornucopia Institute explain further:
Take a look at the bar of organic chocolate in your desk drawer or the carton of organic ice cream in your freezer, and you'll likely see a little-known but very common food ingredient: lecithin.

Unless the ingredients list specifically states "organic soy lecithin," the lecithin was processed from hexane-extracted soybeans, which are also likely to have been genetically engineered and sprayed with pesticides in the fields-in organic food.

Currently, food manufacturers can legally add conventional soy lecithin to organic foods.

To be labeled "ORGANIC," and to carry the USDA organic seal, food has to be made up of 95% organic ingredients. The only non-organic ingredients are ones that are unavailable organically and cannot make up more than 5% of the product.

When the organic standards were developed in 1995, organic soy lecithin was not commercially available. To encourage the growth of the budding organic industry, the organic standards included a list of conventional substances/ingredients that were not available organically, and could be added to organic foods. Organic soy lecithin was not available, so lecithin made it on the list. But times have changed.

Over the years, one pioneering organic company has not only developed a truly organic soy lecithin, but has invested in the ability to supply the organic version to every food manufacturer that needs it. Organic soy lecithin is not extracted with the use of hexane, a neurotoxic and polluting solvent prohibited in organic production. And the organic version always comes from organically grown, non-GMO soybeans (genetically engineered ingredients are also banned in organics).

Now that organic lecithin is commercially available, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), the expert citizen panel that Congress set up to decide these issues, now needs to determine whether to recommend removing lecithin from this list of conventional substances that are allowed in organic foods. This is the first time in organic regulatory history that an ingredient has been petitioned to be removed from the National List.

The Cornucopia Institute urges members of the organic community to tell the NOSB members that you support the removal of lecithin from 205.605 and 205.606. If lecithin remains on the list, food manufacturers have no incentive to opt for the truly organic lecithin, and many will continue to put hexane-extracted, conventional lecithin in your organic foods-it's cheaper.

There is more at stake than simply the type of lecithin you can expect to find in your organic foods in the future. The regulations need to adapt, by removing lecithin from the list of allowed conventional substances. If the regulations do not change when companies innovate and develop new organic ingredients, why should anyone bother investing in the expensive research and development that gives rise to the availability of new organic ingredients?

We need to send a strong message to the NOSB members and the USDA that we stakeholders in the organic industry expect the regulations to change with the times. And change should be in the interest of organic consumers and innovative organic companies.

It might just be time to give your favourite organic, chocolate the once over (or any other organic prepared food you may buy). Personally, I avoid soy in all of its permutations, but it may be worth giving the manufacturer a jingle to find out the source if you're having a really hard time tossing it.


  1. We eat Rapunzel chocolate which does not contain soy lecithin, organic or otherwise. And it's damn good chocolate too.

  2. There is a non-soy organic alternative available. It's called Nu-RICE made by RIBUS, Inc. You can go to for more information.

  3. Hey Jenny,

    Thanks for commenting. Any chocolate lovers out there can keep an eye out for Rapunzel!