The best news for carrageenan producers and users came at the end of June, 2014. That was when the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the UN expert committee providing safety assessments of food additives for its members, released its summary report approving carrageenan for use in liquid infant formula (at levels up to 1000 mg/L).
This is the most sophisticated and politically charged application for carrageenan. The JECFA’s decision was supported by a feeding study on neonatal piglets. (The gastrointestinal tract of the neonatal piglet is the closest toxicology model for the human neonate.) The study found no observed adverse effects to the gut or immune system at feeding levels up to 2,250 mg/L—the highest level studied. The study was supported by a consortium of carrageenan and liquid infant formula producers.
Additional work, still in progress, is aimed at refuting negative claims made by Joanne Tobacman, MD, and by the staff of the Cornucopia Institute, providers of agriculture and food issues information to family farmers. This in vitro work uses cultured cell lines to monitor a specific cellular activity. The work is showing that carrageenan does not activate the TLR4 inflammation gene as claimed by Tobacman. This work is also showing that carrageenan does not permeate the gut membrane to enter the general circulation, contradicting with evidence the unsubstantiated claim of Tobacman.
Cornucopia is an interesting player in the anti-carrageenan arena. Its staff speaks with such authority one is misled to think they perform toxicology research. No evidence of such research on their part has been found.
These most recent toxicology results have still not been adequately disseminated, so anti-carrageenan blogs continue to proliferate on the Internet. <BR><BR>
While only a small percentage of food shoppers are avoiding foods with carrageenan on the label, food producers are beginning to take notice. Some have started in-house programs to replace carrageenan in their products, and have announced these intentions, thus adding fuel to the misinformation fire set by Cornucopia. Most of these food producers are small purveyors of green and organic products, although some big names have joined in. However, removing carrageenan from many meat and dairy products is a difficult—if not impossible—task without sacrificing quality.
Carrageenan has become an early victim of the “lemming” mentality of the blogging world: One blogger picks up a comment and it quickly spreads like a pandemic disease through the Internet. This spread also emphasizes another human trait: Negative comments spread exponentially faster than positive comments. ISI has been tracking internet activity on carrageenan for several years, and the analysis performed in August 2014 showed about 90% of it was negative, 1% neutral and only 9% was positive.
The other consequence of the lemming effect is the spread of anecdotal medical assumptions. For example, someone publishes a blog saying they “got a tummy ache” from a dairy product containing carrageenan and soon everyone blogging not only claims a similar complaint from the carrageenan-containing product but their tummy ache is “miraculously cured” by switching to a product without carrageenan. There is absolutely no medical evidence that carrageenan causes people stomach problems; the “evidence” is all anecdotal, if not hysterical.
Producers of food ingredients increasingly have to tailor public relations to this new type of consumer. Furthermore they will have to collaborate with food producers to prevent perfectly safe food ingredients from being irrationally and unnecessarily pulled from the market.