If it's brewed by algae, is it really organic?
EC: Your Organic Milk Could Contain Industrially Brewed Oil
Credit: Liam Norris via Getty Images

If you drink organic milk, pay attention to this fascinating (albeit kind of gross) fact: Your milk could be enhanced with a "faintly fishy" oil brewed in industrial vats of algae. The Washington Post reports that millions of cartons of organic milk have "DHA Omega-3" added, and though it's marketed as a nutritional enhancement, it has some experts up-in-arms about whether said milk can really be called "organic." As the algae, known as Schizochytrium, multiply, the processed result is an oil that's added to milk produced by Horizon, one of the country's largest organic brands. It's marketed as a nutritional enhancer that "supports brain health.”

While DHA Omega-3 sounds like a cool buzzword when you read it on the carton, the algae-filled way it’s produced isn’t so much. “We do not think that [the oil] belongs in organic foods,” said Charlotte Vallaeys, a senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports, told The Post. “When an organic milk carton says it has higher levels of beneficial nutrients, like omega-3 fats, consumers want that to be the result of good farming practices...not from additives made in a factory.”

According to The Post, the use of the oil was initially a mistake on the USDA’s part:

“In deciding to allow the use of the oil and similar additives, USDA officials, at least initially, misread federal regulations. In 2012, five years after the algal oil was introduced into milk, it quietly acknowledged that some federal regulations had been ‘incorrectly interpreted.’ The USDA then maintained the status quo — allowing the use of algal oil, among other things — in order not to ‘disrupt’ the market.”

When asked for comment, a Horizon spokesperson told The Post in a statement that "millions of people choose our Horizon Organic milk with DHA Omega-3 for the added benefits DHA Omega-3s are thought to deliver,” including heart, brain, and eye health.

However, "organic experts" say different. "Additives just don't have any place in organics at all," Barry Flamm, former chair of the National Organic Standards Board, told The Post. "You might say additives should be allowed for health reasons, but I never saw an additive you couldn't get in real foods."