On August 25, the Food Navigator USA published a story, “New Research Tackles Carrageenan Safety Concerns,” which describes the recent in vitro research on carrageenan conducted by Dr. James McKim. A copy of the article is available here. As noted in the article, Dr. McKim’s work represents repeated attempts to replicate research conducted by Dr. Joanne Tobacman, who claims carrageenan causes inflammation of the bowels and other health impacts. Despite matching Tobacman’s study conditions, as well as testing concentrations and exposures of carrageenan well beyond those expected in the human body, Dr. McKim failed not only to substantiate Tobacman’s findings, but to detect any effect from carrageenan on human cells at all.
Dr. McKim is quoted throughout the article and provides a very clear explanation of what his research means for those who continue to question carrageenan safety. “My work clearly demonstrates that the Chicago group’s findings could not be replicated and that carrageenan does not cause the induction of inflammatory proteins,” McKim said of his findings. McKim goes on to note that a fundamental principle of good science is that it must be repeatable and failure to repeat Tobacman’s findings is a major blow to the creditability of her findings and conclusions.
The article also discusses how the study has been published at a critical juncture, as carrageenan is awaiting its sunset review in November to be renewed as an organic substance by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). The article notes that McKim’s findings will likely be a major consideration for the NOSB at their fall meeting when they will vote on a recommendation regarding the use of carrageenan in organic foods.
Robert Rankin, Executive Director of the International Food Additives Council (IFAC) who is also quoted in the article, notes that IFAC has launched a targeted communications program to better inform consumers about the benefits of food ingredients including carrageenan. Rankin notes that while this is an important step, food manufacturers must also work with food ingredient producers to reassure consumers of carrageenan safety and to explain how it benefits the foods they enjoy by providing an important and cost-effective stabilizer and thickener.
A copy of Dr. McKim’s study is available here.