The USDA said Tuesday that the department incorrectly interpreted Food and Drug Administration guidelines that appeared to allow the additives, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids also known as DHA and ARA, respectively, to be added to formula.
A Wisconsin organic advocacy group had filed a complaint about the additives because they are extracted using a chemical that is banned in organic production. The USDA is not saying they are unsafe.
Many companies have added DHA and ARA to their infant formulas in recent years, saying they improve brain development and eyesight in babies.
Martek Biosciences, the largest provider of these fatty acids, said in a statement late Tuesday that it doesn't believe the USDA will ban the products. The Columbia, Md.-based company said it will work with the department "to ensure that organic consumers will continue to have access to certified-organic products enriched with DHA and ARA."
The Agriculture Department's move to overturn the Bush-era decision is part of an Obama administration effort to scrutinize the National Organic Program. Critics have charged that the government has not been restrictive enough in what it allows to be labeled as organic.
Oversight of organics has become more important as the industry has exploded in popularity over the past decade, growing 14 percent to 21 percent annually. Sales reached $24.6 billion in 2008.