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Supplement infant formula with DHA, ARA.

Last February, Mead Johnson Nutritionals, a subsidiary of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., introduced a new baby formula to the U.S. market. The product, Enfamil Lipil, was the first infant formula approved for sale in the United States to contain DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid)--two essential fatty acids also found in human breast milk.

This advance in nutrition was helped along by USDA-ARS researchers who have developed innovative separation and purification processes that enhance the use of cottonseed oil and its co-products. Cottonseed oil isn't used in the baby formula, but work with the oil has a definite link to the technology that allowed scientists to supplement the formula with DHA and ARA.

As you know, omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients that the body does not produce itself. The best-known source of omega-3 fatty acids is oil from coldwater fish. But fish oil is highly unsaturated and oxidizes quickly. Scientists wanted to find a source of omega-3 fatty acids that could be added to foods without imparting a fishy flavor. Coldwater fish don't synthesize omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients actually come from algae. When they worked for Kraft Foods, the ARS scientists had sought ways to segregate the oil from the algae. They intended to come up with an oil processing and refining scenario and look for potential uses for the end product.

One of the former Kraft employee's projects was to find ways to improve the quality of cottonseed oil, which is difficult to refine because it contains natural pigments and variable amounts of free fatty acids. High amounts of free fatty acids can lower the quality of cottonseed oil, making it darker in color and less stable. He added more free fatty acids to the oil and then added caustic material. The oil became lighter in color than before, and all its existing free fatty acids as well as those that had been added were essentially removed.

Investigators at a commercial company tried the process on algal oil using a range of conditions comparable to those used on cottonseed oil. With the agency's help, Martek Biosciences was able to successfully segregate and process oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids from the algae. It is believed to be the only company with a DHA/ARA oil blend that has been approved for use in infant formula by the FDA. The blend makes up only a small percentage of the finished product, but its addition helps formula makers come closer to matching the profile of mothers' milkfat. Several major baby-formula producers have licensed Martek's algal oil, and it is used in their products.

Further information. Peter Wan, USDA-ARS, Commodity Utilization Research Unit, Southern Regional Research Center, 1100 Robert E. Lee Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70124; phone: 504-286-4450; fax: 504-286-4419; email:
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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