The National Organic Standards Board on Nov. 17 voted 10-3 to recommend to USDA the removal of carrageenan from the list of ingredients allowed in organic foods. If agreed to by the Dept. of Agriculture, the texturizer must be removed by the end of 2018.
Carrageenan, a substance extracted from some seaweeds, is a stabilizing or thickening agent added to many processed foods, particularly dairy products and other viscous items. Its intrinsically "organic" nature was not so much in question as its safety: Some studies have raised health concerns, especially regarding intestinal inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease.
The Grocery Manufacturers Assn.'s chief science officer, Leon Bruner, shot back: “Carrageenan should remain on the National Organic Standards Board list of approved food additives because it has been proven safe for consumption and there is not an adequate alternative replacement that provides the same functions. Regulatory agencies and research organizations around the world have consistently determined carrageenan is a safe and highly functional food additive.”
"Carrageenan’s safety was not a factor in the decision," said supplier FMC Corp. "A broad coalition of scientists, dietitians, food manufacturers and consumers remain fully supportive of carrageenan. Although questions were raised about the availability of alternative ingredients, both an independent, blind survey and the testimony of numerous food producers confirm that carrageenan is essential to certain organic foods. Additionally, international experts confirmed carrageenan’s powerful sustainability profile, which makes the ingredient an excellent match for organics."
The NOSB's vote is only a recommendation. USDA has the final word. The agency will take the recommendation under consideration and is likely to open a public comment period. A final rule isn't needed until November 2018.