Marinalg Responds to False Cornucopia Claims of Industry Cover-up

On April 14, 2016, the Cornucopia Institute issued a report falsely claiming to expose a “food industry cover-up” in which Marinalg International[1] allegedly hid information that showed the food ingredient, carrageenan, is unfit for consumption. These outrageous and unsupported claims are the most recent in an ongoing campaign to mislead and alarm consumers about an amazingly versatile and harmless food ingredient.

Carrageenan is a water-soluble fiber extracted from several species of red seaweed and is often used as a thickening or stabilizing agent in foods, household products, pet foods and other applications. Carrageenan has been used in foods and drinks for centuries and, because of its sourcing from red seaweed, it is a suitable ingredient for products that are certified halal, kosher and vegan. Seaweed used to produce carrageenan is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner, and carrageenan production does not harm the environment, making it a valuable ingredient as we all try to live a more sustainable lifestyle. In fact, carrageenan has been approved for use in organic foods for more than a decade.

Claims by Cornucopia and other consumer organizations that carrageenan is harmful or unfit for human consumption are simply unfounded and are intended to alarm consumers about this safe and widely used ingredient. Still, Cornucopia accuses Marinalg of a “cover-up” because documents posted on the Marinalg website (http://www.marinalg.org/) in response to question raised by European regulatory authorities and were later removed from the site. No attempt has been made to “cover-up” earlier findings; rather earlier research has been updated, provided to the European Food Safety Authority, and out-of-date information removed from the website. Marinalg is also exploring publication of the research in a peer reviewed journal. To claim that Marinalg is complicit in an “industry cover-up” for removing information that is more than ten years old from its website is simply outrageous and completely ignores the scientific method where data and conclusions are frequently updated based on the results of new experiments or findings.

Furthermore, the process to extract carrageenan from seaweed cannot produce poligeenan so there is no possibility that poligeenan is present in carrageenan. These claims represent another example of Cornucopia misrepresenting scientific testing, cherry-picking data to support their agenda, and using outdated information to confuse, mislead and alarm consumers. The carrageenan industry is not only committed to full transparency, but is also committed to ensuring that false claims about carrageenan do not go unchallenged.

Far from covering up any alleged safety issues, Marinalg International and its members have spent millions of dollars testing carrageenan over the last several years to ensure that it is absolutely safe to feed to their families. This research was designed to to expand the toxicology database and investigate recent unsubstantiated claims by a single research group that carrageenan causes inflammation and other adverse outcomes when consumed in food. Despite designing studies to exactly replicate these claims, none of the research initiated by Marinalg or its members detected any indication of adverse effects from consuming carrageenan. The results of this research have been or will be published in the very near future in peer reviewed journals that can be accessed by anyone.

Carrageenan is approved for use in food by every global regulatory body and is an extremely well-studied ingredient. The overwhelming weight of the evidence continues to demonstrate that carrageenan is perfectly safe for use in foods. In fact, in 2014, the Joint Food & Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) evaluated carrageenan for use in infant formula and found that carrageenan is safe (a copy of the JECFA review is available here). While some have tried to discount the JECFA finding as biased, the bottom line is that a panel of the world’s foremost independent experts on food additives found that there is no evidence of any health or safety concerns with carrageenan, even when consumed by the most vulnerable segment of society—new born infants.

Ultimately, Marinalg’s goal is to ensure that the latest scientific findings regarding the safety of carrageenan are available to assist consumers in making informed decisions about the products they purchase. This information can also help us navigate the misinformation and fear that is shamelessly promoted by certain special interest, activist organizations. Marinalg encourages anyone with questions about carrageenan to do their own research and review the scientific literature that has led experts and regulators around the world to continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food ingredient. Anyone with questions must also be wary of certain activist organizations that make unsubstantiated claims about “cover-ups” and other conspiracy theories. Just as we discount the opinions of quacks and charlatans, we must also discount the claims of this activist organization and its anti-carrageenan bias.

[1] Marinalg International is a global trade association representing companies that produce seaweed derived hydrocolloids, including carrageenan, which are used in food, beverage, consumer product and pharmaceutical applications. Marinalg’s primary focus is to support and promote sound science, and provide technical expertise related to the safety and efficiency of seaweed derived hydrocolloids.