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Carrageenan: A dangerous food additive hiding in organic food

Posted: December 9, 2013 |   Comments

( (Photo from: You may be surprised to learn that carrageenan, a controversial food additive that has been linked in animal studies to gastrointestinal problems and colon cancer, is allowed as an ingredient in many "organic" food products. The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 requires that non-agricultural ingredients be determined safe for human health and the environment before being added to organic foods, and federal organic standards require that nonorganic ingredients be essential to producing food in order for them to be used. Since many food manufacturers use alternatives to carrageenan in their products, it is not essential, and there is no reason why it should be allowed in organic foods.

When the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) first approved carrageenan in the mid-1990s, they based their decision on inaccurate information given to them by "independent" scientists with industry ties, including Stephen Harper, a food scientist at Small Planet Foods, which is now owned by General Mills.

The NOSB is required to review non-organic and artificial materials used in organic food and agriculture every five years as part of their Sunset regulatory process. The process is to determine if continued use of the materials threatens human health or the environment and if there is a feasible organic alternative. When carrageenan's five-year review came up in May 2012, Cornucopia Institute staff members who were at the meeting presented scientific studies detailing the additive's harmful effects, but NOSB members were misled by industry lobbyists who presented misinformation and questioned the validity of independent research commissioned by the National Institutes of Health.

Cornucopia reports:

One of the NOSB members took an active role in assisting the carrageenan manufacturers. At one point, she read lengthy excerpts from a document written by the carrageenan manufacturers' trade lobby group, Marinalg, defending the safety of carrageenan. But before reading these lengthy excerpts, the Board member misidentified the excerpts as "being from JECFA, a United Nations/FAO body" when in fact they were written by the industry's lobby group. Pretty infuriating, right? How can research from a biased lobby group be mistaken for a United Nations/FAO study?

The NOSB ended up re-approving carrageenan for another five years by a margin of one vote. Several of the Board members who voted to approve the additive did so in violation of NOSB's policies against voters having conflicts of interest.

The Cornucopia Institute's report on carrageenan in organic food can be found here. More information on carrageenan can be found here.

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