by The Cornucopia Institute


A highly controversial natural food substance, carrageenan, a seaweed derivative used in conventional, “natural,” and some organic foods, was just reapproved by USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

This move overrides the recommendation of the National Organic Standards Board, an expert industry panel set up by Congress.

After hearing from medical and scientific experts describing carrageenan’s link to intestinal inflammation, cancer, and other human health risks, the NOSB voted to remove carrageenan from the list of approved synthetic and non-organic substances for use in organic food production.

In a move unprecedented during the last quarter century of organic industry rulemaking, the USDA ignored the NOSB vote in the Federal Register without an opportunity for the public to comment on their decision before it goes into effect.

“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 that acts as an organic industry watchdog.

A report issued in 2016 by The Cornucopia Institute 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 specific species of red seaweed, is a highly effective thickener/stabilizer found in processed foods including infant formula, plant-based beverages, deli meats, and some dairy products, such as ice cream.

The controversy over carrageenan has existed between food industry representatives and public health researchers for decades, but it has flared up again over the past few years with its use in organic food.

Cornucopia’s report, Carrageenan: New Studies Reinforce Link to Inflammation, Cancer, and Diabetes, was formally submitted to the NOSB before a supermajority of the board voted to remove carrageenan from use in organic food in 2016.

Ironically, the organic industry is way out ahead of the USDA policymakers, having removed the substance from products due to consumer feedback. The Cornucopia Institute’s report and web-based buyers guide show which organic brands have been reformulated without carrageenan or have never included it.

“Iconic brands in the organic industry, like Organic Valley, Stonyfield, and Eden Foods, all looked at the research, listened to the concerns of their customers, and purged carrageenan from their products,” stated Dr. Linley Dixon, Senior Scientist at The Cornucopia Institute.

Carrageenan is such an efficient inflammatory agent and carcinogen, it is widely used with laboratory animals to study the molecular signals involved in cancer and anti-inflammatory drugs.

“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 a former member of the NOSB.

Read the full article at The Cornucopia Institute.