Carrageenan - red seaweed
Carrageenan is a hydrocolloid sourced from red seaweed.

ST. LOUIS — The National Organic Standards Board voted to remove carrageenan from a National List of allowed substances in organic food on Nov. 17 in a meeting in St. Louis. FMC Corp., a producer of carrageenan extracts, called the decision “deeply flawed” and pointed out carrageenan’s safety was not a factor in the board’s decision.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program allows for certain synthetic and non-synthetic substances that are not certified organic to be allowed in food labeled “organic” or “made with organic (specific ingredients or food group(s))” if the substances meet certain criteria, such as if the substances cannot be produced from a natural source and there are no organic substitutes. Such substances then appear on a National List.

Carrageenan, a hydrocolloid sourced from red seaweed, was on the National List, but the National Organic Standards Board voted 10-3, with one abstention, to remove it.

Philadelphia-based FMC Corp. pointed out the vote is an interim recommendation and not final. The U.S.D.A. will not publish a final rule until November 2018, according to FMC Corp.

“FMC Corp. and a broad coalition of scientists, dietitians, food manufacturers and consumers remain fully supportive of carrageenan despite a deeply flawed decision by the National Organic Standards Board recommending its removal from the list of ingredients allowed in organic foods,” FMC Corp. said. “Carrageenan’s safety was not a factor in the decision. 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.”

Carrageenan has been shown to function as a bulking agent, carrier, emulsifier, gelling agent, glazing agent, humectant, stabilizer or thickener, according to a National Organic Standards Board’s sub-committee review. Carrageenan’s most common uses are in dairy products, non-dairy “milk” analogs, meats and drink mixes, according to the review.

“We recognize that consumer demand to remove carrageenan has already led to the removal of carrageenan from a number of categories of products and that other alternatives could be used to replace carrageenan in additional products,” the review said. “Subcommittee members think that there are alternatives to using carrageenan and recommend removing this material from the National List.”

In regard to carrageenan’s safety, the review said the methods used in many experiments on both sides of the issue appear to be flawed.

“Without good research methodology and scientists who disagree over every conceivable point regarding carrageenan research, we can only agree that definitive conclusions cannot be made about the effects of carrageenan in the diet on human health,” the review said.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, Washington, also disagreed with the vote of the National Organic Standards Board.

“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,” said Leon Bruner, chief science officer for the G.M.A. “Regulatory agencies and research organizations around the world have consistently determined carrageenan is a safe and highly functional food additive.”

The Cornucopia Institute, which is based in Cornucopia, Wis., and promotes sustainable and organic agriculture, has criticized carrageenan, challengingboth its safety as an ingredient and its inclusion in the National List. The Institute on Nov. 17 tweeted, “BREAKING NEWS: NOSB votes to remove #carrageenan from the National list!”