Recap from the NOSB Hearing in St. Louis

Monday, November 21, 2016, 5:30 p.m. ET

Last week, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) held its fall meeting in St. Louis. On the agenda was a vote on whether to recommend allowing the continued use of carrageenan in organic foods. Over the course of the meeting’s two-day public comment period, a coalition of citizens, scientists, seaweed farmers, food formulators, dietitians, representatives from countries where seaweed is farmed, and many others testified to the sustainability, essentiality, and safety of this natural food ingredient.

Ultimately, however, the NOSB voted to recommend removing carrageenan from the National List of ingredients approved for use in U.S. organic foods.

Safety was not a factor in the NOSB’s recommendation. NOSB lead scientist Zea Sonnabend stated, “Science sides pretty clearly with the safety of carrageenan,” and the board’s Handling Subcommittee found that “the body of scientific evidence does not support claims of widespread negative human health impacts from consumption of carrageenan in processed foods.”

However, the board claimed carrageenan was “not essential” to organic food processing as a stabilizing ingredient. Food scientists and formulators disagree, and if implemented, this recommendation would remove an approved ingredient that does not have an organic alternative and would require organic food formulators to switch to ingredients that may be synthetic, carry the risk of GMO intrusion, and, simply, don’t work as well.

It is a recommendation that ignores the tens of thousands of seaweed farmers whose livelihoods depend on this natural ingredient and the millions of consumers who do not oppose it and benefit from its presence in their favorite foods, all in order to appease a small but vocal group of fear mongers.

And it is a recommendation that in fact does a disservice to the organic community itself, which will see a decline in product quality and increase in price if carrageenan is not allowed for use in organic foods.

Thankfully, the board’s recommendation is not final and requires further review by the USDA, which has supported carrageenan’s use in food in the past and will make its final decision in November 2018.