- Because popular emulsifier carrageenan is seen as potentially hazardous, the global market is set to grow extremely slowly, with a projected annual growth rate of 4%, according to a report from Future Market Insights.
- Higher demand is expected in Europe, which is expected to drive more than 35% of revenues. The North American and Asia-Pacific markets put together are expected to account for half of revenues through 2024.
- Limited supply of carrageenan, which is sourced from seaweed, is also expected to cause the market to slow down. More than half of the world's carrageenan is currently used by the food and beverage industry.
When it comes to controversial yet common food additives, carrageenan leads the pack. While it's easy to get, fairly inexpensive and adds no taste to products, some have said it causes digestive issues. Consumer activists, including farm policy group Cornucopia Institute and popular blogger "Food Babe" Vani Hari, have fought against use of the ingredient.
Studies published by the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2011 and 2012 indicated that carrageenan could cause gastrointestinal inflammation and lead to glucose intolerance, contributing to Type 2 diabetes. But other researchers have not been able to duplicate these findings.
Cornucopia Institute has several pages on its website dedicated to carrageenan, including a collection of personal stories from people relating health problems they say were caused by the additive and a listing of products made without it.
Food manufacturers and industry groups like the Grocery Manufacturers Association, on the other hand, support the continued use of carrageenan.
Carrageenan was dealt another blow in November when the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) voted that it should no longer be allowed in organic food. The NOSB makes policy recommendations to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will make a final decision on it. Even though the ban is not finalized — and the NOSB's justification for taking it off the list was that other alternatives are available, not because of the reported health concerns — some manufacturers have backed away from the additive.
Deserved or not, the controversy surrounding carrageenan is unlikely to go away regardless of how many studies are done to try to show its safety. If the ingredient is booted from organic food — no matter the reason — the decision casts more of a shadow on the ingredient. It wouldn't be surprising if demand continues to wane in the U.S., as well as other markets that tend to pay close attention to the healthfulness of their food.