DuPont Nutrition & Health and a broad coalition of scientists, dietitians, food producers, environmentalists, seaweed farmers and consumers applaud the decision by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support carrageenan for continued use in U.S. organic foods.
In a notable win for carrageenan, the agency considered a 2016 recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to remove carrageenan from the national list of ingredients allowed in organic foods, but ultimately decided to renew carrageenan.
In making this decision, the USDA considered the scientific evidence and stakeholder comments, ultimately reaffirming carrageenan’s safety and value as a food ingredient. In the Federal Register notice, the USDA stated that ‘carrageenan continues to be necessary for handling agricultural products because of the unavailability of wholly natural substitutes. Carrageenan has specific uses in an array of agricultural products, and public comments reported that potential substitutes do not adequately replicate the functions of carrageenan across the broad scope of use.’ The USDA concluded renewal of carrageenan to the National List ‘will avoid potential disruptions to the organic industry and the public.’
Carrageenan is widely accepted and used as an ingredient in many foods, thanks to its combination of attributes and breadth of functionality. An independent survey of food formulation professionals confirmed that carrageenan was the most accepted ingredient for certain foods, surpassing all other surveyed ingredients, including those also approved for use in organic products.
Carrageenan is the only approved non-synthetic stabiliser currently allowed for use in U.S. liquid organic infant formula. A report by the United Nations’ Joint Food & Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food concluded that carrageenan is safe for use to stabilise and keep nutrients properly disbursed in infant formula.
‘We commend the USDA for taking seriously its responsibility to review the NOSB recommendation and make a decision based on the facts and science,’ says Michiel van Genugten, global product line manager, Seaweed Extracts and Colours. ‘This will allow organic food producers to continue to use a safe, versatile ingredient they rely on, and for consumers to enjoy the foods they know and love.’
During the comment period preceding the NOSB recommendation, scientists, professional food formulators, representatives of industry and from NGOs, seaweed farmers, and consumers testified to carrageenan’s ongoing value as an ingredient in organic foods and as an industry that employs 75 000 family seaweed farmers in developing economies around the world:
Carrageenan is sustainably harvested and readily available; some carrageenan alternatives have patent restrictions that limit suppliers.
Reformulation that eliminates carrageenan may alter colour, odour, and taste in some products and could add significant costs.
Seaweed farming is one of the most environmentally friendly types of aquaculture: It uses no arable land, freshwater, chemical treatments or fertilisers.
Carrageenan farming has helped lift families out of poverty and improved the economic well-being and social fabric of thousands of communities in countries across Southeast Asia and Africa.
There are decades of research affirming carrageenan’s safety as an additive. Even the NOSB acknowledged that there is no credible evidence showing carrageenan is unsafe, stating, ‘We find that the body of scientific evidence does not support claims of widespread negative human health impacts from consumption of carrageenan in processed foods.’