No More Carrageenan in Organic Food, Says NOSB

carrageenan
iStock/PamelaJoeMcFarlane

Carrageenan has been removed from the list of approved ingredients in organic foods, the National Organic Standards Board decided last Thursday.

The controversial seaweed-derived substance is commonly used as an emulsifier in some food products such as ice creams, baby formula, and nut milks, despite scientific evidence that it causes digestive inflammation.

Ten people on the 15-member board voted to disallow carrageenan in organic products, meeting the two-thirds vote needed; three voted to keep it on the list, and one abstained.

Grocery Manufacturers Association Chief Science Officer Leon Bruner argued that carrageenan should remain on the National List due to the lack of an “adequate alternative replacement that provides the same functions,” and registered dietician and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Susan Finn, speaking on behalf of United 4 Food Science to Food Dive noted that this lack of alternative might “make it difficult for organic food products to compete with non-organic products on sensory attributes such as taste and texture,” thus leading consumers to choose conventional.

Many, however, applauded this decision, including Mark A. Kastel, co-director of The Cornucopia Institute, the watchdog group that presented more than 45,000 petition signatures to the NOSB requesting carrageenan’s removal from organic food products.

“We’re very heartened that the NOSB voted to protect the reputation of the organic label,” said Kastel. “A large percentage of organic food manufacturers have already reacted to consumer concern about the potential health impacts of carrageenan by eliminating the ingredient from their formulations.”

“The board’s recognition that carrageenan is not essential to organic, as evidenced by the ability of many manufacturers to eliminate it from their products, is an enormous victory for organic integrity,” Cameron Harsh, senior manager for organic and animal policy at Center for Food Safety (CFS), said in a news release.

Carrageenan’s latest five-year exemption ends in 2018, thus the review of the ingredient at this week’s meeting. The NOSB decision is an interim recommendation which must be reviewed by the USDA before becoming official. The USDA review is scheduled for November 2018.

“We expect the USDA will respect the input of the organic community, and decision of the board,” said Kastel, “by publishing a rule in the Federal Register removing carrageenan and allowing a reasonable amount of time to clear existing inventories and reformulate products containing the ingredient.”

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.