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Victory! Organic Standards Board Votes to Remove Controversial Food Additive

November 18th, 2016
Center for Food Safety
Center for Food Safety

Eliminating carrageenan will further protect organic integrity and uphold consumer expectations of organic products

WASHINGTON—Yesterday, the National Organic Standards Board—the 15-member stakeholder body that advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture on issues related to organic food production—voted 10 to 3* to remove the controversial food additive carrageenan from the list of allowed non-organic substances.

“Consumers often look to organic products because they firmly believe that organic is a healthy option for them and their families,” said Cameron Harsh, senior manager for organic and animal policy at Center for Food Safety (CFS). “In fact, consumers have expressed discontent with the presence of carrageenan in organic products so ardently that many companies have already successfully abandoned the ingredient altogether.”

Carrageenan, a substance extracted from some seaweeds, is commonly added to processed foods as a stabilizing or thickening agent, particularly processed dairy products and other viscous items like protein shakes and non-dairy milk alternatives. However its compatibility with organic principles has been brought into question by CFS other organic advocates for years. Studies have raised significant concerns that carrageenan consumption may pose certain health risks, such as intestinal inflammation and inflammatory bowel disease.

“The board’s recognition that carrageenan is not essential to organic, as evidenced by the ability of many manufacturers to eliminate it from their products, is an enormous victory for organic integrity,” said Harsh.

The vote to end the allowance of carrageenan is part of the dynamic, participatory process that underlies the development of U.S. organic standards. Non-organic substances that are determined, through rigorous review, to not be harmful to human health, to not have negative environmental impacts, and to be truly essential to organic production, are given a temporary exemption for use in organic for five years. Before the substance’s five-year exemption period ends, the NOSB must review new information and determine whether its exemption should be continued for another five-year term.

Carrageenan’s latest five-year exemption ends in 2018, so NOSB took up its review at this week’s meeting. With this important vote, it is now in USDA’s hands to issue a proposed rule change for notice and comment as the next step in the removal process.


*1 member abstained, 1 member was absent.

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