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Stonyfield Farm & Organic Valley Respond to Consumer Concerns About Carrageenan

TAKE ACTION! Tell Organic Brands to Stop Using Carrageenan! This Synthetic Ingredient Causes Digestive Problems and Cancer
From the Cornucopia Institute:
Press Release:
Wild Fire Rages at New Mexico Organic Meeting
Shopping Guide: Avoid Organic Foods with Carrageenan
Food Grade Carrageenan: Reviewing Potential Harmful Effects on Human Health
The Organic Watergate: USDA's Cozy Relationship with Corporate Organic
Every six months, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) meets to review the standards that govern the USDA National Organic Program (NOP). In the spirit of the organic community's credo of "continuous improvement," at each meeting, we should be seeing standards and enforcement tightening, and the small number of synthetics allowed in organic shrinking. Unfortunately, the trend over the last several meetings has been to add new ingredients to the National List of synthetics allowed in organic.

At the May 2012 meeting in Albuquerque, the NOSB carried out their legally mandated "sunset" review of carrageenan, and, despite disturbing evidence that this synthetic ingredient causes digestive problems and cancer, decided to allow it in organic for another 5 years.

Carrageenan is an emulsifier used in organic juice, yogurt, chocolate milk, and other dairy products and non-dairy alternatives. Companies lobbying the NOSB to continue to allow carrageenan included the J.M. Smucker Co. brands Santa Cruz Organic and R. W. Knudsen Family, the Dean Foods brands WhiteWave and Horizon Organic, the Group Danone brand Stonyfield Farm, and farmer-owned Organic Valley. Independently-owned Eden Foods, on the other hand, which used carrageenan in its chocolate soy milk, pledged to remove it.

With carrageenan allowed in organic for at least another 5 years, the only thing left for organic consumers to do is to ask companies to voluntarily phase it out. So far, nearly 3,000 Organic Consumers Association members have sent letters to organic brands that use carrageenan.

Stonyfield Farm and Organic Valley are the first companies to respond to the thousands of letters from consumers asking them to stop using carrageenan, a synthetic emulsifier linked to digestive problems and cancer, in their products.

Stonyfield, owned by the multinational food giant Danone, and Organic Valley, owned by a farmer cooperative, have two very different perspectives.

While Organic Valley said that they've "been actively seeking to reformulate our ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream, chocolate milk, eggnog and soy milks in order to eliminate the need for carrageenan," Stonyfield insisted they "feel that carrageenan continues to be a safe ingredient to use" in their YoKids Squeezers and caramel organic Oikos Greek yogurt.

Read Stonyfield Farm & Organic Valley's complete responses and our reaction:

From Stonyfield Farm...

Thanks for reaching out to us with your concerns. We use undegraded carrageenan in our YoKids Squeezers and caramel organic Oikos Greek yogurt because it provides a necessary stability and texture to those particular yogurts. We want to assure you that we choose our ingredients with safety in mind. Carrageenan has been used widely in food production worldwide since the 1930s, is on the National List of approved organic ingredients, and has been assured by the FDA and the independent scientists of the Joint Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA).

We're also aware of the concerns that have been raised about carrageenan during its recent review by the National Organic Standards Board. We took those concerns very seriously, and engaged a scientist to conduct a review of the literature about these possible health impacts. Based on this independent review, along with the Boards recommendation to continue to allow it in organic production, we feel that carrageenan continues to be a safe ingredient to use. You can read more about what we've learned and how we arrived at our decision to continue using carrageenan here: http://www.stonyfield.com/blog/2012/06/01/the-question-of-carageenan-safety/

We truly appreciate your feedback.

Sincerely,
The Folks at Stonyfield

In the carrageenan blog post on the Stonyfield Farm website, the company asks and answers four questions related to carrageenan's safety. Here's their Q & A, and with our reaction to each of their responses:

Question: I have heard that carrageenan may cause colon inflammation and cancer.  Is this true?

Answer: The kind of carrageenan used in food does not cause colon inflammation or cancer.  There are two types of carrageenan: low molecular weight carrageenan, known as degraded carrageenan, and high molecular weight carrageenan, known as undegraded carrageenan.  Over 150 studies on the health effects of consuming undegraded carrageenan concluded this substance is safe to eat.

The European Commission Health & Consumer Protection Directorate-General, Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) states, " On the issue of undegraded carrageenan, the Committee agreed with the conclusions of the recent Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives review that intakes of carrageenan from their use as food additives were of no concern." (JECFA, 2002).

In contrast, studies have shown that degraded carrageenan does cause colon inflammation and may also cause cancer. For this reason, degraded carrageenan is not approved for use in any kind of food.

OCA's Response

The Cornucopia Institute submitted the following to the National Organic Standards Board on this issue:

Studies (including industry­-funded studies) show that food-grade carrageenan is also linked to colon inflammation and colon cancer in animals.

1975: A study with rhesus monkeys finds adverse effects in the intestinal tract when the animals were given low levels (1% solution) of undegraded carrageenan in their drinking water.

1978: A study published in Cancer Research finds that rats fed a diet containing undegraded carrageenan had higher rates of cancer than rats fed a control diet without carrageenan. The authors conclude: "The undegraded carrageenan in the diet had an enhancing effect in colorectal carcinogenesis in rats."

1980-1981: Leading carrageenan researchers R. Marcus and James Watt publish two letters in the Lancet, titled "Danger of Carrageenan in Foods" and "Potential Hazards of Carrageenan," pointing out health concerns with the consumption of carrageenan, including undegraded carrageenan.

1986: A study finds that exposure of rats to 6% undegraded carrageenan in the diet for 24 weeks, with weekly injections of the carcinogenic substance 1,2-dimethylhydrazine (1,2-DMH), was associated with an increase in tumors from 40% to 75% and with the more frequent occurrence of larger and proximal tumors.

1992: A study by Wilcox et al, with Proctor and Gamble, finds an association between epithelial cell loss and the consumption of both undegraded and degraded carrageenan.

2001: A study finds higher levels of tumors in rats given food-grade carrageenan, yet reports that the difference is not statistically significant. This study, partially funded by the food industry, publishes its findings with the conclusive and misleading title and conclusion that food-grade, "undegraded" carrageenan is safe (despite its findings of higher cancer rates). Marinalg, the industry trade group for carrageenan processors, uses the study to reassure its customers that carrageenan is safe.

September 2001: Joanne Tobacman, MD, then Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Iowa (now Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago), publishes an article in the academic, peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Dr. Tobacman conducted an independent review of the scientific literature on carrageenan, and concluded: "Because of the acknowledged carcinogenic properties of degraded carrageenan in animal models and the cancer-promoting effects of undegraded carrageenan in experimental models, the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered."

2002-2012: Industry-sponsored scientists question whether the inflammatory nature of carrageenan is rodent-specific, and whether the results of animal studies can be extrapolated to humans. Scientists conduct experiments using human colonic epithelial cells and find that carrageenan, even low levels of food-grade carrageenan, induce inflammation in human colon cells as well.

Source with citations: www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action/spring2012/Carrageenan/Cornucopia.CarrAll.pdf

Question: Is it possible that undegraded (considered safe) carrageenan used in food could turn into degraded carrageenan in the digestive tract as a result of being exposed to stomach acid?

Answer: Undegraded carrageenan resists degradation in the digestive tract, and is therefore unlikely to be absorbed by the intestine, according to a review of the toxicology literature on carrageenan conducted by Cohen and Ito in 2006.

"Because carrageenan is extracted from seaweeds under alkaline conditions, degradation to smaller polymerized polysaccharides is avoided. As long as the pH is maintained above 6.0, carrageenan is stable to heat processing. Once carrageenan is in the gel configuration, as is the case for its use in food systems, the carrageenan becomes highly resistant to degradation, even under more acidic conditions, such as occur in the stomach (see Section 1.2.3)." They go on to state, "Carrageenan ingested in the gel form (either as a homogenous carrageenan gel or one consisting of a carrageenan /protein gel from a meat or a dairy food) is also stable to the conditions of passage through the digestive tract (Abraham et al., 1972; Benitz et al., 1973; Arakawa et al., 1988; Weiner, 1988). Because of its large molecular weight, carrageenan remains within the lumen of the digestive tract and is not absorbed (Weiner, 1988; 1991). Thus, there are no systemic effects of carrageenan following ingestion by rats, mice, or monkeys." ( Emphasis our own)

The 2007 report by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives does state that more studies are needed to better understand whether degradation does occur during digestion, but they conclude that there is no evidence to show that if this degradation does occur that it causes any negative health effects.

OCA's Response

The Cornucopia Institute submitted the following to the National Organic Standards Board on this issue:

Studies have reported that high molecular weight carrageenan can degrade in the gastrointestinal tract to low molecular weight carrageenan.

1980-1981: Leading carrageenan researchers R. Marcus and James Watt publish two letters in the Lancet, titled "Danger of Carrageenan in Foods" and "Potential Hazards of Carrageenan," pointing out health concerns with the consumption of carrageenan, including undegraded carrageenan. They note that the harmful effects of undegraded carrageenan in animals "are almost certainly associated with its degradation during passage through the gastrointestinal tract."

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 (OFPA) sought to establish an alternative food system for consumers wishing to avoid potentially dangerous substances in the food supply. OFPA allows up to 5% (by weight) non-organic ingredients in a processed organic food, but only if "the use of such substances would not be harmful to human health or the environment." OFPA
Sec. 2118(c)(1)(A)(i).

The USDA's organic standards require the following of non-organic, non-agricultural substances allowed in organic foods: "The substance itself, or its breakdown products, do not have adverse effects on human health as defined by applicable Federal regulations." 7 CFR 205.600(b)(3). The organic standards include the requirement that the substance's "breakdown products" do not have adverse effects on human health, and industry data show that food-­grade carrageenan can be broken down to degraded carrageenan in the gastrointestinal tract.

Scientific evidence shows that the consumption of food-grade carrageenan may lead to harmful effects on human health, including inflammation, lesions, and cancer in the colon.

Source with citations: www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action/spring2012/Carrageenan/Cornucopia.CarrAll.pdf

Question: Is the undegraded carrageenan that Stonyfield uses contaminated with degraded carrageenan? Does Stonyfield test their carrageenan to make sure it is not contaminated?

Answer: The review of the toxicology literature conducted by Cohen and Ito in 2006 states that some samples of undegraded carrageenan were shown to contain a very small amount of degraded carrageenan. No studies have shown that the consumption of carrageenan in food causes any negative health effects, so if there is a presence of degraded carrageenan in the food grade undegraded carrageenan that is being used it is at such a low level that it does not cause an impact.

OCA's Response

Wow, that's a very cavalier response to the issue of their carrageenan being contaminated with degraded carrageenan, given that Stonyfield has already acknowledged that "degraded carrageenan does cause colon inflammation and may also cause cancer"!

The Cornucopia Institute submitted the following to the National Organic Standards Board on this issue of contamination, noting that industry studies show "food-grade" carrageenan can be up to 25% degraded carrageenan:

September 2001: Joanne Tobacman, MD, then Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Iowa (now Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago), publishes an article in the academic, peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Dr. Tobacman conducted an independent review of the scientific literature on carrageenan, and concluded: "Because of the acknowledged carcinogenic properties of
degraded carrageenan in animal models and the cancer-promoting effects of undegraded carrageenan in experimental models, the widespread use of carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered."

March 2003: The European Commission's Scientific Committee on Food reviews Tobacman's 2001 article, and reviews recent safety data on carrageenan. The Committee suggests that the amount of degraded carrageenan in food-grade carrageenan be kept to levels below 5%, "in order to ensure that the presence of any degraded carrageenan is kept to a minimum."

2005: Marinalg, the industry trade group, convenes a working group to determine the levels of degraded carrageenan in its products. The working group tests 12 samples of food-grade carrageenan from a variety of suppliers in six different laboratories, to measure the presence of degraded carrageenan and determine if the 5% limit is feasible. The results from the industry's own test results are cause for serious concern.

First, the levels of degraded carrageenan detected in the samples varied considerably depending on the laboratory performing the tests. This suggests that even the industry does not have a reliable way of determining the levels of degraded carrageenan in food-grade carrageenan. If the carrageenan manufacturers have no reliable way of testing levels of degraded carrageenan in their products, how can they claim their food-grade carrageenan is safe?

Second, the results showed that 8 of the 12 samples of food-grade carrageenan contained higher than 5% degraded carrageenan according to at least one of the laboratories (in many cases, according to multiple laboratories). Most alarmingly, all samples contained at least some degraded carrageenan according to the majority of laboratories. Not a single sample could confidently claim to be entirely free of the material that is classified as a "possible human carcinogen."

The highest level of degraded carrageenan found in a sample was 25%.

Source with citations: www.beyondpesticides.org/organicfood/action/spring2012/Carrageenan/Cornucopia.CarrAll.pdf

Question: Is carrageenan safe for children to eat?

Answer: Undegraded carrageenan is approved for use in all foods and infant formula in the U.S. In the EU, undegraded carrageenan is not approved for use in infant formula, but is allowed in all other foods that might be fed to children of any age. As mentioned earlier, no studies have shown that the consumption of undegraded carrageenan causes negative health effects for humans of any age, including infants. The EU has decided -- for infants only -- to take a precautionary approach to regulating the use of carrageenan in infant formula, because of the amount of carrageenan that would be consumed by an infant if it were used in formula. Formula may be the only food an infant eats for the first 6 months of life, and a primary component of their diet for the next 6 months. Therefore, the amount an infant might consume in formula is many times higher than what a young child might consume through eating other products that contain carrageenan. Another reason for the concern over the use of carrageenan in foods for newborn infants is that "the neonatal intestine is uniquely capable of absorbing macromolecules via endocytosis." [Pediatric Nutrition Handbook]

OCA's Response

It's a shame that Stonyfield insists on ignoring scientific evidence shows that the consumption of food-grade carrageenan may lead to harmful effects on human health, including inflammation, lesions, and cancer in the colon.

With industry money dominating science -- and the decisions that get made at the National Organic Standards Board -- we must be skeptical of what the corporations tell us and think for ourselves.

As a practical matter, parents of children -- or anyone else for that matter -- suffering from irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, Celiac disease, or related symptoms, are wise to try cutting carrageenan out of their diets. Countless patient blogs and natural health websites tout the digestive benefits of avoiding carrageenan. Luckily, carrageenan is easy to avoid.

The Cornucopia Institute has created a buying guide to help consumers avoid carrageenan:
http://www.cornucopia.org/2012/05/shopping-guide-to-avoiding-organic-foods-with-carrageenan/


From Organic Valley...

For quite some time we've been actively seeking to reformulate our ultra-pasteurized heavy whipping cream, chocolate milk, eggnog and soy milks in order to eliminate the need for carrageenan. Our traditionally pasteurized heavy whipping cream has always been produced without carrageenan.

We wanted to let you know that our award-winning eggnog will be carrageenan-free in time for the 2012 holiday season! And we're working hard so that the small number of other products in our line that use carrageenan won't be far behind. We're doing this not only because consumers want simpler foods with less ingredients, we're doing it because it fits with our overall philosophy of producing food the most wholesome way possible.

Thank you again for your comments. Please be assured that we hear you and hope to give you what you desire very soon!

Sincerely,

The Consumer Relations Team
CROPP Cooperative
Organic Valley/Organic Prairie Brands


OCA's Response

It's great that Organic Valley is actively trying to phase out their use of carrageenan, but it is somewhat ironic given that National Organic Standards Board member Wendy Fulwider, an employee of Organic Valley, voted in favor of continuing to allow carrageenan as a synthetic material on the USDA's National List of Approved Substances, and that Organic Valley CEO George Siemon called NOSB members by phone prior to the meeting and lobbied them, urging the re-listing of carrageenan.

This information has been highlighted in a formal legal complaint filed by the Cornucopia Institute asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Inspector General to conduct an investigation into the process at the recent meeting of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) in Albuquerque, May 22-25, 2012. The complaint states:

"NOSB member Wendy Fulwider is a full-time employee of the CROPP Cooperative (Organic Valley), an organic food processor. Organic Valley submitted written comments to the NOSB in favor of retaining carrageenan on the National List. In addition, during oral public testimony presented to the board at the meeting, Organic Valley employee and representative Beth Unger described how Organic Valley uses carrageenan in its organic food products and told the NOSB that the company wanted the board to approve the continued use of the synthetic material.

"Furthermore, we understand that Organic Valley CEO George Siemon called NOSB members by phone prior to the meeting and lobbied them, urging approval of the re-listing of carrageenan to the federal National List.

"NOSB member Wendy Fulwider disclosed to the board, prior to the vote, that she works full time for Organic Valley and noted their use of carrageenan in organic foods. She did not mention her employer's lobbying campaign of the NOSB for a positive vote.

"NOP staff, immediately and without deliberation, ruled that she did not have a conflict of interest and determined that Ms. Fulwider would not have to recuse herself from voting. Ms. Fulwider voted yes to allow the continued use of carrageenan in organic foods -- which proved to be the deciding vote (a two-thirds majority vote of the NOSB is required by law to add or remove materials from the National List and the carrageenan vote was 10 to 5 in favor)."

Given how hard Organic Valley worked to keep carrageenan in organic, the only thing we can say to their pledge to remove carrageenan is, we'll believe it when we see it.


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