Martek Biosciences

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This article is part of the Food Rights Network, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy. Find out more here.

Martek Biosciences is a biosciences company based in Columbia, Maryland.[1] Its annual net sales were about $450 million in 2010.[2] In December 2010, Martek was purchased by Dutch chemical company Royal DSM for $1.1 billion. It is now a fully-owned subsidiary of DSM.[2] According to the Baltimore Sun, Steve Dubin, Martek's CEO at the time of the purchase, is estimated to have made $4.1 million from his stock holdings alone from the sale. He also received $2.5 million in "severance and change-of-control agreements."[3]

Martek specializes in the development of nutritional supplements derived from microalgae and fungus.[4]

Controversial Products

Martek's "life'sDHA™" is the only U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) additive for infant formula. DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid, and life'sDHA™ is a DHA oil produced from Crypthecodinium cohni or Schizochytrium sp. algae.[5] According to Martek, "an adequate supply of DHA, provided through either breast milk or DHA-fortified [infant] formula, is associated with better visual function and more rapid visual development."[6] According to the company's own estimates, 99% of infant formulas in the United States contain life'sDHA™.[7] It has also expanded the market for its DHA oils to 350 other food products and markets its product as a "vegetarian alternative" to fish oil.[3]

Martek also produces "life'sARA™," which is a long-chain polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid produced from the fungus Mortierella alpina.[8] Arachidonic acid (ARA) is naturally found in breast milk and is the primary omega-6 fatty acid in the brain. According to Martek, "life'sARA™ is important for proper infant brain development and physical growth."[9]

In 2008, the Cornucopia Institute analyzed scientific studies and concluded that there was little evidence to support Martek's claims that DHA and ARA additives benefit brain and eye development.[10] In 2010, Cornucopia again reviewed the literature, including a comprehensive meta-analysis published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews shortly after the first report.[11] The most recently updated version of this review, published in December 2011, concluded that "feeding term infants with milk formula enriched with LCPUFA [long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as DHA and ARA] had no proven benefit regarding vision, cognition, or physical growth."[12]

GM but Recommended for Approval for Organic List?

Martek's DHA and ARA oils have been recommended by the USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for addition to the "National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances."[13][14] However, these additives are produced using methods of genetic modification such as "microencapsulation,"[15] which is expressly banned by the USDA National Organic Program definition of "Excluded methods" (Title 7, § 205.2 of the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations).[16]

Previous USDA Scandal

In 2006, according to the Washington Post, FDA staff members determined that the companies producing organic baby formula were not permitted to add DHA and ARA to their formulas, both of which are Martek products. However, the decision was overruled by deputy U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program (NOP) administrator Barbara Robinson. The move was highly controversial. DHA and ARA were not approved synthetics by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) because a potential neurotoxin called hexane is used in the production process for the fatty acids.[17]

FDA Concerns

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conditionally approved Martek's DHA and ARA oil additives as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) in 2001. The FDA's letter to Martek accompanying its decision expressed the following concerns:[18]

"[S]ome studies have reported unexpected deaths among infants who consumed formula supplemented with LCPUFAs. These unexpected deaths were attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), sepsis or necrotizing enterocolitis. Also, some studies have reported adverse events and other morbidities including diarrhea, flatulence, jaundice, and apnea in infants fed LCPUFAs."

The decision notes that the approval of the ingredient does not negate the responsibility of infant formula manufacturers that include the additives to monitor and submit reports on adverse infant reactions to the FDA.[18]

However, none of the companies selling formula and other products containing the DHA and ARA oils have monitored reactions to these products and reported back to the FDA, according to the 2009 results of a FOIA request made by Cornucopia. The 98 adverse reactions were self-reported.[19]

Martek's additives are now added to more than 99 percent of American infant formulas, according to the company, as well as baby foods, supplements, milk and other food products.[20] This includes 90 percent of formulas certified as organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to the Washington Post.[17]


According to the Baltimore Sun, "Martek Biosciences Corp. was started in the mid-1980s by a group of defense and aerospace scientists who wanted to study the effects of algae on humans in long-term spaceflight."[3]

Executive Officers

  • Peter A. Nitze, CEO and President
  • Kenneth Oh, VP and CFO
  • Gertjan de Koning, Chief Operating Officer
  • David M. Feitel, Executive VP, General Counsel and Secretary

Executive Compensation

Martek's self-reported executive compensation in 2009:[21]

  • Steve Dubin, CEO and Director: $929,465
  • David M. Abramson, President: $726,684
  • Peter L. Buzy, CFO, Treasurer, and Executive VP: $721,722
  • Peter A. Nitze, Chief Operating Officer and Executive VP: $843,243
  • David M. Feitel, Executive VP and General Counsel: $583,306


Martek spent $600,000 on lobbying expenditures in 2010 and $375,000 in 2011.[22]


6480 Dobbin Road
Columbia, MD 21045
Phone: 410-740-0081
Fax: 410-740-2985
Email: contactus at martek dot com


Other SourceWatch Articles

PRWatch Articles

External Resources


  1. Martek, About, corporate website, accessed February 17, 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 DSM, [ DSM completes acquisition of Martek; adding new Nutrition growth platform], corporate press release, February 28, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dutch company to buy Martek for $1.1 billion Baltimore Sun, December 21, 2010
  4. Martek, Martek Homepage, accessed 2/15/2012
  5. Martek, U.S. Patent 5,407,957, corporate patent, attained April 18, 1995
  6. Martek, About DHA: Health Benefits, corporate website, accessed February 21, 2012
  7. Martek, Products Containing life'sDHA™, corporate website, accessed February 17, 2012
  8. Martek, About ARA, corporate website, accessed February 17, 2012
  9. Martek, Martek Products, corporate website, accessed February 17, 2012
  10. Cornucopia Institute, Replacing Mother: Imitating Human Breast Milk in the Laboratory, organizational report, January 2008
  11. Cornucopia Institute, Updated Report, organizational report, May 2010
  12. Karen Simmer, Sanjay K Patole and Shripada C Rao, Longchain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in infants born at term, The Cochrane Library, December 7, 2011
  13. USDA NOSB, Formal Recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to the National Organic Program (NOP): Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) algal oil petition, December 2, 2011
  14. USDA NOSB, Formal Recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to the National Organic Program (NOP): Arachidonic Acid (ARA) from Fungal Oil Petition, December 2, 2011
  15. Martek Biosciences, Martek, General Mills Collaborate on Microencapsulation Technology for Food Applications, corporate press release, February 3, 2009
  16. United States Code of Federal Regulation, Title 7: Agriculture, PART 205—NATIONAL ORGANIC PROGRAM, Subpart A—Definitions, current as of February 17, 2012
  17. 17.0 17.1 Kimberly Kindy and Lyndsey Layton, Purity of Federal 'Organic' Label Is Questioned, The Washington Post, July 3, 2009
  18. 18.0 18.1 Alan M. Rulis, Ph.D., Director, Office of Premarket Approval, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, and Christine J. Lewis, Ph.D., R.D., Director, Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements, Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, FDA, Re: GRAS Notice No. GRN 000041, letter to Henry Linsert, Jr., Martek Biosciences Corporation, May 17, 2001
  19. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, RE: FOIA Request 2009-3310, FOIA response to Charlotte Vallaeys, Farm and Food Policy Analyst, The Cornucopia Institute, June 5, 2009
  20. Martek, Frost & Sullivan Recognizes Martek Biosciences, corporate press release, accessed February 22, 2012
  21. Martek Biosciences Corporation Notice of Annual Meeting of Stockholders, March 18, 2010, accessed 2/17/2012
  22. Annual Lobbying by Martek Biosciences, Center for Responsive Politics, accessed February 17, 2012
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