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For A More Digestible Holiday

Cornucopia commends Organic Valley, Kalona Supernatural and Straus Family Creamery for offering organic, carrageenan-free eggnog.  Horizon organic eggnog should be avoided to protect your health.  We hope that all organic dairy manufacturers will make the commitment to their customer’s health and remove carrageenan from their products.  To find carrageenan-free organic foods, use Cornucopia’s shopping guide.

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    info from the makers of Stoneyfield Organic yogurt:
    The Question of Carrageenan Safety
    by Britt Lundgren, Director of Organic and Sustainable Agriculture for Stonyfield

    At Stonyfield we’re committed to healthy foods, healthy people and a healthy planet, so you can be sure that we would never use an ingredient that we haven’t determined to be safe. We know that concerns have been raised recently about the safety of carrageenan in food and we take these concerns very seriously.

    As soon as these issues came to light, we asked an independent 3rd party scientist to conduct a review of the literature about these possible health impacts of carrageenan. This is a complex scientific issue and we’d like to share what we’ve learned. The following information is based on what we learned from the literature review conducted for us (1), as well as the discussions that took place at the National Organic Standards Board meeting in May 2012.


    Concerns have been raised recently about the safety of carrageenan in food. Carrageenan, a seaweed extract used to create texture in foods, is used as a stabilizing ingredient in caramel organic Oikos Greek yogurt and YoKids Squeezers.

    Carrageenan has been used widely in food production worldwide since the 1930s, and its safety has been assured by the FDA and the independent scientists of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). On May 22, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted to continue to allow the use of undegraded carrageenan in organic food.

    The national organic standard requires that any ingredient used in the production of an organic product that isn’t certified organic itself must be evaluated once every five years to make sure that it meets stringent requirements for health and safety. The NOSB reviews scientific information about the health and safety of the ingredient in question, and then makes a recommendation to USDA about whether that ingredient should continue to be allowed in organic production.

    NOSB has reviewed all of the concerns and comments that have been raised about carrageenan, as well as the technical reports from USDA and other scientific literature. Based on this, they have concluded that carrageenan is safe to continue using in organic products.

    We take the concerns that were raised about carrageenan during its recent review by the National Organic Standards Board very seriously. So we asked an independent scientist to conduct a review of the literature about these possible health impacts. The scientific literature overwhelmingly concludes that undegraded carrageenan is safe to eat. Based on this independent review of the literature, along with the Board’s recommendation to continue to allow it in organic production, we feel that carrageenan continues to be a safe ingredient to use.

    Question: I have heard that carrageenan may cause colon inflammation and cancer. Is this true?

    Answer: The kind of carrageenan used in food does not cause colon inflammation or cancer. There are two types of carrageenan: low molecular weight carrageenan, known as degraded carrageenan, and high molecular weight carrageenan, known as undegraded carrageenan. Over 150 studies on the health effects of consuming undegraded carrageenan concluded this substance is safe to eat.

    The European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) states, “On the issue of undegraded carrageenan, the Committee agreed with the conclusions of the recent Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives review that intakes of carrageenan from their use as food additives were of no concern (JECFA, 2002).

    In contrast, studies have shown that degraded carrageenan does cause colon inflammation and may also cause cancer. For this reason, degraded carrageenan is not approved for use in any kind of food.

    Question: Is it possible that undegraded (considered safe) carrageenan used in food could turn into degraded carrageenan in the digestive tract as a result of being exposed to stomach acid?

    Answer: Undegraded carrageenan resists degradation in the digestive tract, and is therefore unlikely to be absorbed by the intestine, according to a review of the toxicology literature on carrageenan conducted by Cohen and Ito in 2006.

    “Because carrageenan is extracted from seaweeds under alkaline conditions, degradation to smaller polymerized polysaccharides is avoided. As long as the pH is maintained above 6.0, carrageenan is stable to heat processing. Once carrageenan is in the gel configuration, as is the case for its use in food systems, the carrageenan becomes highly resistant to degradation, even under more acidic conditions, such as occur in the stomach (see Section 1.2.3).” They go on to state, “Carrageenan ingested in the gel form (either as a homogenous carrageenan gel or one consisting of a carrageenan /protein gel from a meat or a dairy food) is also stable to the conditions of passage through the digestive tract (Abraham et al., 1972; Benitz et al., 1973; Arakawa et al., 1988; Weiner, 1988). Because of its large molecular weight, carrageenan remains within the lumen of the digestive tract and is not absorbed (Weiner, 1988; 1991). Thus, there are no systemic effects of carrageenan following ingestion by rats, mice, or monkeys.” (Emphasis our own)

    The 2007 report by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives does state that more studies are needed to better understand whether degradation does occur during digestion, but they conclude that there is no evidence to show that if this degradation does occur that it causes any negative health effects.

    Question: Is the undegraded carrageenan that Stonyfield uses contaminated with degraded carrageenan? Does Stonyfield test their carrageenan to make sure it is not contaminated?

    Answer: The review of the toxicology literature conducted by Cohen and Ito in 2006 states that some samples of undegraded carrageenan were shown to contain a very small amount of degraded carrageenan. No studies have shown that the consumption of carrageenan in food causes any negative health effects, so if there is a presence of degraded carrageenan in the food grade undegraded carrageenan that is being used it is at such a low level that it does not cause an impact.

    Question: Is carrageenan safe for children to eat?

    Answer: Undegraded carrageenan is approved for use in all foods and infant formula in the U.S. In the EU, undegraded carrageenan is not approved for use in infant formula, but is allowed in all other foods that might be fed to children of any age. As mentioned earlier, no studies have shown that the consumption of undegraded carrageenan causes negative health effects for humans of any age, including infants. The EU has decided – for infants only – to take a precautionary approach to regulating the use of carrageenan in infant formula, because of the amount of carrageenan that would be consumed by an infant if it were used in formula. Formula may be the only food an infant eats for the first 6 months of life, and a primary component of their diet for the next 6 months. Therefore, the amount an infant might consume in formula is many times higher than what a young child might consume through eating other products that contain carrageenan. Another reason for the concern over the use of carrageenan in foods for newborn infants is that “the neonatal intestine is uniquely capable of absorbing macromolecules via endocytosis.” [Pediatric Nutrition Handbook]


    (1) The literature review was conducted by Dr. Richard Theuer, an Adjunct Professor in Food Science at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, who received his PhD and MS degrees in Biochemistry from University of Wisconsin, Madison. The review was conducted in May 2012.

    Part 2. A review of the Toxicology literature pertaining to carrageenan and Processed Eucheuma Seaweed published 1997 – 2006. Prepared by Dr. Samuel Cohen (Professor and Chair, Havlik-Wall Professor of Oncology, Department of Pathology and Microbiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha, Nebraska, USA) and Dr. Nobuki Ito (Professor and President Emeritus, Nagoya City University Medical School, Nagoya, Japan); pages 31-56, CGN-PES monograph November 2006.

    European Commission – Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Scientific Committee on Food (SCF). Opinion of the Scientific Committee on Food on Carrageenan (expressed on 5 March 2003)

    Evaluation of Certain Food Additives and Contaminants. Sixty-eighth report of the Joint FAO/WHO Exper t Committee on Food Additives (JECFA). 2007. Section 3.1.3 – Carrageenan and processed Eucheuma seaweed. Pages 32-37.


    Q. What is Carrageenan??

    A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?
    A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

    Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?
    A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.
    Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?
    A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.
    Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?
    A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

    Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?
    A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.
    Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.
    Closing Remarks
    The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.

    Additional information available:
    On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.
    On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.
    If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347

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