The Cornucopia Institute and its Farm and Food Policy Analyst, Linley Dixon, sat through the spring meeting of the National Organic Standards Board and learned exactly nothing when it comes to the food additive carrageenan.
In a June 22nd diatribe called “Will Carrageenan Remain in Organic Food” Dixon once again finds funding more relevant than science. Dixon argues: “There was not one scientist or industry representative that testified in support of the safety of carrageenan that doesn’t stand to profit from its use.”
It is a tired allegation that is reprehensible. It suggests that some of the most distinguished toxicologists in the country deliberately skew scientific findings on behalf of a product they know is dangerous.
It ignores the fact that fear-mongering itself is a paying career path or the fact that shopping for grants and recognition also presents potential conflicts interest in the ‘independent’ scientist she reveres. In a world where social media and half-truths pass for science, fear-mongering may be the most lucrative of all.
She suggests, “decades of independent research demonstrates its role in inflammation, colitis, cancer and diabetes.” This is a patent and obvious falsehood.
In the past Dixon, a PhD in plant pathology with a master’s degree in soil science, has firmly demonstrated an ignorance of the subject matter by confusing poligeenan with carrageenan. And now she misrepresents the science of what is called the “low molecular weight tail” present in carrageenan, despite an explanation at the hearing that would have satisfied an 8th grade science class.
All carrageenan contains different molecular weights and that includes seaweed plucked right from the ocean and sold in health food stores.
Cornucopia cites “thousands” of studies that use food grade carrageenan to cause inflammation. Dr. Joanne Tobacman, Cornucopia’s go-to source for irrelevant science, cited 9,900 references or studies related to the harmful effects of carrageenan. These numbers must count every single irrelevant and discredited study ever done, especially a body of work still referenced in these numbers that are poligeenan studies.
It is worth noting once again that the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) is one of the world’s most respected scientific review panels. In 2014, while reviewing the safety of carrageenan in infant formula, the JECFA reviewed the published papers of Dr. Tobacman’s research group as well as a commentary submitted by Dr. Tobacman in response to the JECFA’s call for data. In addition, the JECFA did its own PubMed search. The JECFA found that carrageenan was of ‘no concern’ and that a recent piglet study was an important verification of safety.
The way to separate wheat from chaff in carrageenan studies over the decades is simple if you are after science that is relevant to carrageenan consumed by humans in food and drinks.
- You need to eliminate drinking water studies because that is not how humans consume carrageenan.
- You need to eliminate animal injection studies because carrageenan when eaten is excreted by the body without entering the system.
- You need to eliminate cellular studies on organs carrageenan would never reach.
- You would have to recognize that carrageenan does not degrade into poligeenan during human digestion. (The conditions of temperature and acidity in the human body make that degradation impossible).
You could add the elimination of studies using flawed materials or flawed methodologies and quickly get to a short list of relevant science. It is such science, often conducted under the more rigorous standards of Good Laboratory Practices (GLP), which confirm the safety of carrageenan as a food ingredient.
If there had, indeed, been thousands of studies conducted properly then there would have been hundreds, or at least dozens, of research scientists anxious to appear before the NOSB. Instead, there was essentially just one, the aforementioned Dr. Tobacman. In fact, at least one research scientist who had previously petitioned against the use of carrageenan in infant formula with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has since withdrawn them in the face of credible evidence of safety.
Whenever Cornucopia or Dixon are countered by legitimate research or expert commentary they attack on funding, with frequent comparisons to tobacco and fracking. They are also not shy of disparaging the best efforts of anyone trying to sort out the relevant science. Zea Sonnabend, the NOSB member leading the scientific review of carrageenan, was criticized for her balanced initial opinion that studies alleging carrageenan harm have not been replicated and a ‘failure’ to disparage science based on funding sources.
That is not to say that Ms. Sonnabend will make the right decision on carrageenan. It says only that she has paid greater attention than Dixon or Cornucopia and appeared committed to an unbiased review.
Dixon is not a toxicologist and neither she nor the Cornucopia Institute has conducted carrageenan research. They are a trade group representing small organic farming operations and are well practiced at distorting or falsely discrediting science for their own ends.
To reject, as they do, all science funded by industry would leave the world a place that would be more dangerous, less healthy, hungrier and considerably less enlightened.
Global regulatory authorities, review panels with international representation and all levels of scientific inquiry have vouched for the safety of carrageenan and did so, or were referenced specifically, at the NOSB session but none of that matters when you are determined not to listen.