On August 17, the Washington Post published the article “Food additives on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes,” which featured a section on carrageenan. Unfortunately, the article’s author, Kimberly Kindy, overlooked a number of important
Ms. Kindy gets it right that carrageenan is a popular food additive because it helps meet consumer demands for high quality low-fat and vegan foods by providing important functional benefits like stabilization and thickening.
She ignores, however, the continued affirmation by the scientific community at large that carrageenan is safe for even the most vulnerable populations. Her article suggests scientific skepticism, which is not the case. The esteemed and independent scientific body that reviews food additives for the World Health Organization, the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), announced this June a scientific review finding carrageenan safe even for use in infant formula.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer is the body which advises the World Health Organization on cancer risks for substances and their findings for carrageenan clearly state that Native (undegraded) carrageenan was tested for carcinogenicity in rats and hamsters by administration in the diet; no evidence of carcinogenicity was found.
JECFA’s thorough review considered the entire body of available scientific research on carrageenan safety for all population, incorporating the most relevant research into its final decision. This major finding was only vaguely referenced in a photo cutline, while Dr. Tobacman’s outdated petition from 2008 was highlighted. JECFA and the FDA ultimately rejected that petition because the research it rests upon is not applicable to the way carrageenan is consumed by people.
All dietary studies intended to simulate the conditions of actual human consumption of carrageenan have found carrageenan to be safe, including a recent study of neonatal pigs that replicated the conditions of human infants consuming carrageenan in infant formula and found no safety concerns even in this most vulnerable population.
Long-term studies of rodents and primates fed carrageenan (including infant baboons) have also found no indication of harm, carcinogenicity, or negative effects from carrageenan on the intestinal tract or other organ systems in test animals.
There is no lack of information on the safety of carrageenan. There is simply continued mischaracterization and misapplication of science regarding this important additive.