On November 17, 2016, the U.S. National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to remove carrageenan from the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances, a misguided and unscientific decision which will force many organic food producers to reformulate their products. Reformulation will impact the quality of many organic products that contain carrageenan and may reduce organic options currently available. Ultimately, the NOSB decision sets a concerning precedent and raises questions about the objectivity of the Board.
As indicated in numerous public comments, carrageenan is a safe and essential organic food ingredient. Carrageenan is used only when it provides superior functionality, meaning its removal will make foods less enjoyable, less consistent, less nutritious and more expensive. In dairy and meat products carrageenan is unmatched in its ability to bind with protein and water to create desirable textures, prevent separation, reduce fat and extend shelf-life. Carrageenan is also extremely important in products like liquid infant formula where it ensures that essential nutrients remain mixed so that infants receive the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, the NOSB ignored this and other evidence that carrageenan is essential in many products and, even when it can be replaced in some foods, it cannot be replaced by organic ingredients. In fact, replacing carrageenan often means that larger amounts or multiple non-organic ingredients must be used in place of a small amount of carrageenan.
Although the NOSB claims their decision was based on a determination that carrageenan is “not essential” to organic production, it seems more likely motivated by outspoken carrageenan critics who have falsely claimed carrageenan is unsafe. Decades of research support carrageenan safety, and it is permitted for use in food by every major food regulatory body in the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Instead of making a decision based on an objective review of the science, the NOSB opted to disallow this essential ingredient based on hearsay and unsubstantiated claims. These same carrageenan critics will now use the NOSB decision as evidence that carrageenan is unsafe, but this is simply not true. Whether used in organic foods, conventional foods, or even infant formula, there is no question: carrageenan is safe.
Ultimately, Marinalg’s goal is to ensure that accurate and balanced information about the safety and use of carrageenan is available to everyone. The misinformed decision by the NOSB makes achieving this goal harder. However, Marinalg will continue to offer accurate, sscience-based information to help navigate the misinformation that is promoted by certain special interest, activist organizations. We will also continue working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA to ensure that regulatory decisions are made based on quality scientific evidence.
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 and other consumer products. Carrageenan has been used in foods for centuries and consumed by millions around the world. Because it is made from red seaweed, it is a suitable ingredient for products that are certified halal, kosher and vegan. The seaweed used to produce carrageenan is grown and harvested in a sustainable manner by small farmers in developing nations like the Philippines and Indonesia. Carrageenan production does not harm the environment, making it attractive to anyone trying to live a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
Marinalg International is a global trade association representing companies that produce seaweed derived hydrocolloids, including carrageenan and agar-agar, which are used in conventional and organic 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 efficacy of seaweed derived hydrocolloids.
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.