Technical Report on Carrageenan Safety in Infant Formula
FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives finds carrageenan use in infant formula considered safe; quality of previous research on carrageenan reviewed
JECFA is a committee formed by Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) of the United Nations and is one of the most respected independent review panels in the world. Its conclusion is one of the most important testimonials that can be given to a food additive and its reviews carry significant weight in global regulatory decisions on food additives.
In its monograph on carrageenan JECFA said that it had considered a toxicological dossier on carrageenan (Republic of the Philippines 2013) and a commentary on studies published by an academic research laboratory (Tobacman 2013).
In addition, JECFA conducted its own literature search regarding signaling pathways to inflammation and 77 references found through a search of the PubMed database of the United States National Library of Medicine.
The full technical report (WHO Food Additives Series, No. 70, 2015) is available at: http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/monographs/en/
In compiling its report JECFA placed significant weight on new research related to the safety of carrageenan, particularly a feeding study of neonatal piglets.
JECFA said, in part, "The Committee noted that although the MOEs (margins of exposure) are small in magnitude, they are derived from a neonatal pig study in which the highest dose tested was without adverse effects on the gut or on immune parameters. These new studies allay the earlier concerns that carrageenan, which is unlikely to be absorbed, may have a direct effect on the immature gut. The Committee also took account of the previous toxicological database on carrageenan, which did not indicate other toxicological concerns."
The piglet study was conducted and funded by FMC Corporation and the International Formula Council. In attesting to the safety of carrageenan in infant formula, the JECFA review concluded that "the use of carrageenan in infant formula or formula for special medical purposes at concentrations up to 1000 mg/L is not of concern."
Dr. Roger A. Clemens, Food Science Matters advisory council member said, "JECFA and other review panels and international regulatory agencies have long recognized the safety of carrageenan in adults. This conclusion that carrageenan is safe in infant formula should further dispel consumer concerns over an additive that has a long history of safe use."
In its monograph the committee cited limitations in much of the historical research on carrageenan. Those limitations included:
• The use of poligeenan, rather than food-grade carrageenan, as a test material
• The failure to fully identify the source of carrageenan tested
• The testing of carrageenan without an accompanying protein
• Carrageenan administered as something other than food (injection into an animal paw, for instance)
• In vitro studies that were not validated by assessment of responses to a positive control, such as a known inflammatory substance
• Flaws in methodology on insulin testing
• The extrapolation of in vitro data into conclusions on the human feeding experience