How Special Interest Groups Gave a Natural Ingredient a Bad Rap

Every special interest group inherently has an agenda—it’s literally in the name. While many surface-level arguments coming from advocacy organizations seem to have a clear message (“Organic is good!” ), many shoppers don’t seem to realize where these biases come from, or how—or what—is often influencing these groups.

The Problem with Picking and Choosing Ideologies

The Cornucopia Institute is an excellent example of a watchdog group that may seem to have consumers in mind, but at the end of the day, its best interests are preventing companies from making organic products that they deem threatening to the interests of the corporations that support them. The widespread use of certain natural additives (such as carrageenan) is part of what allows companies to formulate successful, long-lasting organic products that Cornucopia funders see as competition to their own brands. By latching on to the demonization of certain widely accepted ingredients, it’s easier for its funders to swoop in before brands have time to regroup and find a new, FDA-approved alternative. This agenda-setting role usually ends up forcing well-respected brands to remove carrageenan in favor of ingredients they (and consumers) originally saw as inferior.

Concern over carrageenan being linked to intestinal inflammation has indeed led many to boycott the additive and petition for its removal from certain foods. But anyone who takes a look at the research may see that this outrage is completely unwarranted.

One of these very alternatives that often comes into place is gellan gum, which studies have shown leads to inflammation in the intestines in normal consumption habits much more irrefutably than carrageenan. Gellan and other common industry replacements also use corn syrup in processing, an ingredient that may not always meet GMO regulations—which is one of the aspects of modern farming which Cornucopia states it is trying to avoid.

How These Groups Get It Wrong

The major claim behind Cornucopia’s Dr. Joanne Tobacman’s recent petition to the FDA on behalf of the organization in favor of revoking the use of carrageenan in the United States is that the science supporting carrageenan safety has only come from within the food industry, while actually the opposite was found to be true, as the FDA points out in its rejection of the petition. In fact, the government and/or public institutions have led some of the most compelling safety studies on the ingredient, and a study from the Children’s Hospital revealed that carrageenan has even shown health benefits in fairly large clinical trials done on children.

Good enough for kids? Good enough for the rest of us.

1 Comment

  1. […] may sound to some like a political technicality, it actually serves as an important barometer for accountability in the risk-management chain, and permeates the food-production […]



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