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8 Reasons Carrageenan Belongs in Organic Foods

Serving of Yoghurt with Whole Fresh Blueberries, Raspberries and Oatmeal on Old Rustic Wooden Table

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) recently recommended that carrageenan be removed from the list of ingredients allowed in U.S. organic foods. This is just a preliminary recommendation to the USDA, which will make a final decision in 2018.

What is carrageenan and why should you care?

Carrageenan is a food ingredient made from seaweed that has been used by home cooks for hundreds of years. Today it is essential to many of our favorite foods (we’re looking at you, ice cream!). It makes yogurt creamy, keeps chocolate milk from separating, and is the reason the ground nuts in our nut milk don’t settle to the bottom of the carton.

Carrageenan has been proven safe and effective for use in foods by centuries of home use and decades of rigorous scientific study. It has been confirmed safe by regulatory agencies around the world, including the World Health Organization and the FDA; in its review of carrageenan, the NOSB also attested to its safety.

So if carrageenan is so great, why did the NOSB recommend removing it? They’re bowing to a dangerous trend where the loudest voices, no matter how irrational or bullying, drown out reason, sound science, and millions of rational people—all to promote an agenda and protect their own interests.

Which is one reason you should care that carrageenan may no longer be allowed in organic foods (don’t let the bullies win!). Here are 7 more reasons it matters to you.

Ice-Cream Cone in Newquay, Cornwall on a bright October day.

      1. Because you love the taste of your favorite ice cream (and yogurt, almond milk, protein shake and…).

If carrageenan isn’t allowed in organic foods, many of our favorite products will be reformulated. There are no direct alternatives to carrageenan, so food companies will have to use multiple, less effective ingredients to replace it. This will change the color, texture, and taste of foods we know and love just the way they are.

      1. Because you care what’s in your food and clean labels are important.

Carrageenan can’t be substituted with just one other ingredient; food companies will have to use multiple additives to replace it, which means longer food labels. And those replacements are not clean-label ingredients like carrageenan. Carrageenan is GMO-free and made from sustainably harvested seaweed that is grown in the ocean; its replacements are grown from bacteria in a vat or otherwise manmade. And while carrageenan has been proven safe through centuries of use and decades of scientific research, there are few publicly available studies verifying the safety of alternatives.

      1. Because babies should be able to eat organic, too!

Carrageenan is the only stabilizing ingredient used in liquid organic infant formula. Removing it means new moms and dads may lose this organic option for their babies.

      1.   Because organic food should be affordable and accessible to everyone.

We all know organic products cost more than their conventional counterparts. Look for prices to go up even more if carrageenan is no longer allowed in organic foods. As we mentioned above, carrageenan can’t be replaced with one single thing, and more ingredients means products cost more. This isn’t just bad for you and your wallet; anything that makes products less competitive is harmful to the whole organic industry.

      1. Because carrageenan is essential to many vegetarian, vegan, halal, and kosher foods.

Carrageenan is a completely vegan, plant-based ingredient. It is used in some organic products to replace animal fats; in others it’s used in place of gelatin, which is made from animal collagen. Without carrageenan, some organic products will no longer be able to meet certain dietary restrictions, while the taste of other foods will suffer.

      1. Because the livelihoods of tens of thousands of seaweed farmers are at risk.

Carrageenan is made from seaweed harvested by family farmers in coastal communities around the world. More than 13,000 seaweed farmers in the Philippines and Indonesia signed petitions imploring the NOSB to keep carrageenan on the list so they can keep their jobs. Don’t take it just from the farmers who spoke up: According to a 2013 United Nations report, “the socio-economic impacts of carrageenan seaweed farming…[are] overwhelmingly positive,” particularly for women.

      1. Because seaweed is good for the environment.

Seaweed is one of the most sustainable crops on the planet. Growing and harvesting the seaweed used to make carrageenan requires none of the fertilizers, pesticides, or other chemicals that are often used in land-based farming. Before they harvested seaweed, many farmers participated in environmentally harmful practices such as dynamite fishing and overfishing. And seaweed sequesters carbon and cleans ocean water of phosphorus and nitrogen.

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