In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a petition started by a researcher and physician at the University of Illinois to have carrageenan, a “natural” food additive that has been linked to gastrointestinal inflammation, including cancer, removed from the agency’s list of approved food additives.
Now, the Cornucopia Institute a a Wisconsin-based non-profit food policy research group for the food industry, has officially requested that the FDA remove carrageenan from the approved list, and thus, the U.S. food supply.
“The FDA’s justification for denial was based on a sloppy and incomplete evaluation of available published research, and it was riddled with overt bias which appears to protect an industry’s profits at the expense of public health,” says Charlotte Vallaeys, Director of Farm and Food Policy at Cornucopia. “We have asked them to reevaluate.”
The Cornucopia Institute has also just released a report compiling scientific studies pointing to harm from consuming food-grade carrageenan entitled, Carrageenan: How a ‘Natural’ Food Additive Is Making Us Sick. The organization also produced an accompanying buyer’s guide to help shoppers avoid the ingredient.
Carrageenan is made from red seaweed and has no nutritional value, but affects the texture of a wide variety of foods and beverages including yogurts, nondairy milks, and processed meats and cheeses. While highly processed, the product has long been called “all natural” because of its natural source. Scientists, however, have long had concerns about the safety of carrageenan, with many studies showing that the additive contributes to gastrointestinal disease, including tumors, in lab animals.
“Carrageenan has a unique chemical structure, and research has shown that this chemical structure may trigger an innate immune response in the body,” says Dr. Pradeep Dudeja, Professor of Physiology in Medicine at the University of Illinois, and co-author of nine studies on carrageenan.
Many organic food and beverage companies are proactively taking steps to remove the additive from their products, including Stonyfield Farm and Eden Foods. Other brands, including Dean Foods, which owns Horizon milk and Silk soymilk, continue to assert that because the product is derived from natural sources, it is safe. A shopping guide on Cornucopia’s website points consumers to carrageenan-free alternatives for many products.
“We hope the FDA will act in the public’s interest and perform a good faith evaluation of the science, and revoke the regulations that currently allow carrageenan in food,” says Vallaeys. “But until they do, it is up to individual consumers to take their safety and health into their own hands and avoid any foods and beverages containing this harmful ingredient.”