Washington, D.C. — Carrageenan, a seaweed extract used in ice cream, high-protein drinks and as a thickening agent in other foods, has received approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an allowable organic ingredient. This goes against a recommendation by the National Organic Standards Board to drop the emulsifier from organic foods.
It’s the second time this year that USDA has reversed an NOSB vote. Last month, the administration revoked animal welfare regulations that would have required organic farmers to give egg-laying hens extra room to go outdoors.
The Organic Trade Association has filed suit to support the animal welfare regulations. It has no position on carrageenan. The Cornucopia Institute had campaigned to ban carrageenan from organic food based on observational studies showing intestinal problems in lab animals that ate it. Industry argued the ingredient is safe and a unique natural emulsifier.
In a statement published in the Federal Register this month, the USDA said it “found sufficient evidence in public comments to the NOSB that carrageenan continues to be necessary for handling agricultural products because of the unavailability of wholly natural substitutes.”