The misrepresentation of the safety of this important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener is attributed to the research of Joanne Tobacman, an associate professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists accuse carrageenan of being a “potential inflammatory agent” based on a few <I>in vitro</I> cell studies using cultured digestive tract cells. At this stage, even to suggest a link between consumption of carrageenan and inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract is at best an unproven assumption. The objectivity of the Chicago research is seriously flawed by the fact that Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments she broadcasted a decade before the University of Chicago research began.
It should be noted that poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temperature for six hours or more, converting the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology and presents no known threat to health.
Carrageenan actually is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber (although its use level in foods is so low as not to be considered a significant source of fiber) and has been proven completely safe for consumption. In 2008, Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive. In 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies. To read the full petition and FDA response, go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347.
—Ingredient Solutions Inc.; www.IngredientsSolutions.com