A highly controversial seaweed derivative used in conventional, “natural,” and some organic foods, carrageenan, was reapproved for use in organics by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. This move overrides the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recommendation, an expert industry panel set up by Congress.
“This is the latest instance of the Trump/Purdue administration siding with powerful agribusiness interests. They are running roughshod over the will of Congress that established the NOSB as a buffer to insulate organic regulations from corrupt corporate lobbyists,” said Mark A. Kastel, Senior Farm Policy Analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit and organic industry watchdog.
A 2016 report by Cornucopia summarized research on carrageenan, exposing the industry’s hidden data demonstrating that all food-grade carrageenan contains a carcinogenic contaminant—low molecular weight poligeenan.
Carrageenan, harvested from red seaweed species, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods, including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products.
Ironically, the organic industry is far ahead of USDA policymakers, having removed the substance from products due to consumer feedback. Cornucopia’s web-based buyers guide shows which brands of organic products have been reformulated without carrageenan or have never included it.
“The USDA has violated the public’s trust in the USDA organic label, and will continue to undermine the value of the label in the market as long as it ignores the legal authority of the NOSB, and of public process, to establish the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances,” said Jay Feldman, Executive Director of Beyond Pesticides and former NOSB member.
Joanne Tobacman, M.D. at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago has published the most prominent independently funded studies of carrageenan. She said, “The vote of the National Organic Standards Board to remove carrageenan from the list of approved substances was based on their careful review of the available evidence, which clearly shows that exposure to carrageenan causes inflammation and may contribute to human disease, including diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.”