Certified Organic Foods Have Suspect Ingredient, Carrageenan

Are you aware of an ingredient called carrageenan?

Even though this food additive is extracted from red seaweed, it’s become so popular – used in thousands of food products – that the process to make it has become highly refined, and therefore may cause serious health issues.  

Certified organic products are allowed to include this ingredient. You’d be hard-pressed to find organic soy milk that doesn’t have carrageenan on the ingredient list, for example.

Carrageenan is an inexpensive way to add thickness and texture to products – it has no nutritional value. The same "mouthfeel" can be achieved by simply shaking a product.

The Cornucopia Institute has been working to eliminate carrageenan from allowable organic ingredients and has now formally requested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remove it  from the US food supply.


A raft of scientific studies link carrageenan to gastrointestinal inflammation, including colon cancer. In 2008, the FDA rejected a  petition filed by Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a physician-researcher at the University of Illinois, Chicago College of Medicine, who has been studying food-grade carrageenan for more than a decade.

"The FDA’s justification for denial was based on a sloppy and incomplete evaluation of available published research, and it was riddled with overt bias which appears to protect an industry’s profits at the expense of public health," says Charlotte Vallaeys, of Cornucopia. "We have asked them to reevaluate."

"Carrageenan has a unique chemical structure, and research has shown it may trigger an innate immune response in the body,"
says Dr. Pradeep Dudeja, Professor of Physiology in Medicine at the University of Illinois, Chicago, who has co-authored nine studies on carrageenan.

"The immune response leads to inflammation, which is a serious public health concern since chronic, low-grade inflammation is a well-known precursor to more serious diseases, including heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer," he adds.

Medical specialists in the US are taking these concerns seriously. Dr. Stephen Hanauer, MD, Chief of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Chicago School of Medicine, says: "The rising incidence and prevalence of ulcerative colitis across the globe is correlated with the increased consumption of processed foods, including products containing carrageenan."

Organic food companies Stonyfield Farm and Eden Foods have committed to removing the additive from their product lines, but other organic brands like Horizon and Silk (owned by conventional dairy company Dean Foods) will not. Instead, they dispute the science and insist that because carrageenan is "natural" it is safe. 

"Natural does not mean safe," says Vallaeys. "Poison ivy is natural, but
you wouldn’t put it in skin lotion. Given that carrageenan appears to do to
your gut what poison ivy does to your skin, we urge all companies to remove
this ingredient from the foods and beverages they sell."

Indeed, one of the major criticisms of food companies these days is their misuse of the word "natural," which leads people to think the foods they are buying are organic, when they’re not. Sure, soy beans are "natural", but these days they take heavy does of pesticides and a majority are genetically modified.

Learn more and sign the petition to the FDA.

Find out which products don’t contain the additive: 

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Comments on “Certified Organic Foods Have Suspect Ingredient, Carrageenan”

  1. Debbie


    Q. What is Carrageenan??

    A. Carrageenan is a naturally-occurring seaweed extract. It is widely used in foods and non-foods to improve texture and stability. Common uses include meat and poultry, dairy products, canned pet food, cosmetics and toothpaste.
    Q. Why the controversy?
    A. Self-appointed consumer watchdogs have produced numerous web pages filled with words condemning carrageenan as an unsafe food additive for human consumption. However, in 70+ years of carrageenan being used in processed foods, not a single substantiated claim of an acute or chronic disease has been reported as arising from carrageenan consumption. On a more science-based footing, food regulatory agencies in the US, the EU, and in the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization (FAO/WHO) repeatedly review and continue to approve carrageenan as a safe food additive.
    Q. What has led up to this misrepresentation of the safety of an important food stabilizer, gelling agent and thickener?
    A. It clearly has to be attributed to the research of Dr. Joanne Tobacman, an Associate Prof at the University of Illinois in Chicago. She and a group of molecular biologists have accused carrageenan of being a potential inflammatory agent as a conclusion from laboratory experiments with cells of the digestive tract. It requires a lot of unproven assumptions to even suggest that consumption of carrageenan in the human diet causes inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. The objectivity of the Chicago research is also flawed by the fact that Dr Tobacman has tried to have carrageenan declared an unsafe food additive on weak technical arguments that she broadcast widely a decade before the University of Chicago research began.

    Q. What brings poligeenan into a discussion of carrageenan?
    A. Poligeenan (“degraded carrageenan” in pre-1988 scientific and regulatory publications) is a possible carcinogen to humans; carrageenan is not. The only relationship between carrageenan and poligeenan is that the former is the starting material to make the latter. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan and cannot be produced in the digestive tract from carrageenan-containing foods.
    Q. What are the differences between poligeenan and carrageenan?
    A. The production process for poligeenan requires treating carrageenan with strong acid at high temp (about that of boiling water) for 6 hours or more. These severe processing conditions convert the long chains of carrageenan to much shorter ones: ten to one hundred times shorter. In scientific terms the molecular weight of poligeenan is 10,000 to 20,000; whereas that of carrageenan is 200,000 to 800,000. Concern has been raised about the amount of material in carrageenan with molecular weight less than 50,000. The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health.
    Q. What is the importance of these molecular weight differences?
    A. Poligeenan contains a fraction of material low enough in molecular weight that it can penetrate the walls of the digestive tract and enter the blood stream. The molecular weight of carrageenan is high enough that this penetration is impossible. Animal feeding studies starting in the 1960s have demonstrated that once the low molecular weight fraction of poligeenan enters the blood stream in large enough amounts, pre-cancerous lesions begin to form. These lesions are not observed in animals fed with a food containing carrageenan.

    Q. Does carrageenan get absorbed in the digestive track?
    A. Carrageenan passes through the digestive system intact, much like food fiber. In fact, carrageenan is a combination of soluble and insoluble nutritional fiber, though its use level in foods is so low as not to be a significant source of fiber in the diet.
    Carrageenan has been proven completely safe for consumption. Poligeenan is not a component of carrageenan.
    Closing Remarks
    The consumer watchdogs with their blogs and websites would do far more service to consumers by researching their sources and present only what can be substantiated by good science. Unfortunately we are in an era of media frenzy that rewards controversy.
    Additional information available:
    On June 11th, 2008, Dr. Joanne Tobacman petitioned the FDA to revoke the current regulations permitting use of carrageenan as a food additive.
    On June 11th, 2012 the FDA denied her petition, categorically addressing and ultimately dismissing all of her claims; their rebuttal supported by the results of several in-depth, scientific studies.
    If you would like to read the full petition and FDA response, they can be accessed at http://www.regulations.gov/#!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=FDA-2008-P-0347

  2. WhistleBlower

    The post by Debbie smells of special interests. It is unreadable. A word of advice to the poster: It would be far better to provide one concise rebuttal of the article and people would read it. I’ll take respected scientific and medical opinion any day over this kind of diatribe (with all due respect deserved). The fact is all over the medical literature: inflammation is linked to a host of deadly diseases. Furthermore, we all know how much we can trust the food industry to have consumer health and interests in mind. We are a nation sickened by food industry additives. Sorry, Debbie. We can see right through you.

  3. Chef Maria

    Dear Debbie,

    Unfortunately, you are wrong. Get your facts straight!

    I am a chef, nutritionist and food researcher. I have being diagnosted with ulcerative proctitis and Crohns Disease. I have suffered terrible bouts of colitis with blood clots measuring 5cm in length. Suffered from SEVERE and debilitating abdominal pains until I dropped all carrageenan containing products.

    I suggest you get your information from real people like me who suffered. We are exposed to all kinds of embarrasing moments (eg. uncontrollable bloody diarrhea)not to mention the possibility of cancer.

    We are at the mercy of large corporations trying to make a profit at the consumers expense. It is sad to see the same government institutions that are supposed to be there for their constituencies being bought out.

    I do not wish you harm but if you had the same condition(s) you will do whatever it takes to stay away from carrageenan like I and many others do.

    By the way, I have been symptom free for over 1 year!!

    You can buy the carrageenan-laden foods for you and your dearest including your children – one day sadly enough you will find out.

    Chef Maria

  4. Franco Sattamini

    It is absolutely ludicrous to discredit the negative effects of a substance in the human body just because it can’t be detected with sophisticated modern equipment! Sophisticated modern equipment is also incapable of detecting cancer until it starts to manifest itself in one way or another!
    “The actual amount (well under 1%) cannot even be detected accurately with current technology. Certainly it presents no threat to human health” . . .
    this is exactly the kind of bullshit that blows up on the faces of our children’s generation, when these arrogant, know-all people make statements such as these! Fact is, if there is even a suspicion of possible damage to health, it should be simply avoided! Do you hear that, Debbie?
    Basically no food needs additives. That simple!

  5. Calvin

    Debbie, It’s very difficult to believe what you are posting at this site without any scientific proof of your own. You state loosely, all the information you’ve posted, and don’t back it up with any particular science research group or groups.As a science person seeking accurate information, you have disappointed me with no background 0f yours at all. You have not stated who you work for, which smacks of the food industry backing. Spewing a bunch of words doesn’t do any of us who half a brain any good. Debbie, back your words up, concerning the topic of carrageenan, with research of your own or get out of this conversation. I do want to know who has the most honest and complete scientific information regardless of who you are.

  6. Mama Bear

    I am surprised that when one says they are allergic to avocado, people will readily accept that. When you say you cannot tolerate carrageenan, people question how you know, look oddly at you, etc. I started reacting to foods containing it when I was in my 20’s, and by reading many, many labels, identified carrageenan as the common ingredient linked to violent cramping and explosive liquid stools. Now both my children (in their 20’s) are having similar problems. As I write this, my daughter is in critical care dealing with lung issues following a stem cell transplant for leukemia. A few days ago we thought we were going to lose her because she took a sharp downward turn after her initial 5 days showing improvement. I find myself suspicious that the downward turn was related to medical personnel giving her Boost or whatever nutritional supplement was used. These supplements appear to consistently contain carrageenan, as I learned from reading labels when the gastroenterology clinic suggested using the supplements as something to help tide one over while prepping for a colonoscopy. Unfortunately I did not arrive at the hospital before she drank this “nutritional” supplement, as I was coming from across the country (USA). How sad that a patient needs her “Mama Bear” to be protected from “hospital food”–a very serious twist on a very old joke.

  7. mel

    I developed severe allergic reactions to foods containing carrageenan w throat n tongue, face swelling along w digestive issues n after ten yrs, finally confirmed by allergist n not a fun life because often not on product label. Feel like I have no control over my health due to ingredients listed often do not reflect products used to make final item sold it’s unnecessary additive n should be banned

  8. Dante

    Boycott and avoid products that contain carrageenan. Since, like always, this issue will be riddled with politics and financial interests, take matters into your OWN hands!

    Simply refuse to purchase any products that have carrageenan in the ingredients. Feel free to contact such manufacturers and let them know about your decision.


  9. Jennifer

    Just because one person cannot tolerate carrageenan doesn’t mean entire populations can’t. It is the same concept with gluten intolerance – many people were medically diagnosed with celiac disease, and word spread that gluten was harmful. People started self-diagnosing (you cannot refute that fact) and now millions claim to be gluten-intolerant. Anectdotal evidence from some posting here does not support anything. I’ve touched poison oak many, many times throughout my life; yet have never once had a negative reaction to it. I also have eaten gluten my entire life, and never had a reaction. I’ve cut gluten out (went on a strict Paleo diet), and did not notice a difference. Do either of these stories mean anything to anyone else? Can I conclude from these personal facts that NO ONE is allergic to poison oak or gluten intolerant? No. Likewise, since only some people get reactions to carrageenan and not entire populations, AND the fact there only appears to be minor (flawed?) studies on the subject, my conclusion is that until there is more solid evidence and non-biased studies published from reputable sources, I will not be cutting carrageenan out of my diet. Use common sense. Do not jump on bandwagons just because “carrageenan intolerance” is the “disease du jour”. Don’t tell everyone else to boycott a product because you suddenly want to be a part of a movement that has no medical proof or doesn’t affect you personally. Be smart about your choices, but your spreading of misinformation is akin to spreading disease.
    Despite what I just wrote, the author of this article needs to cite references to the studies they mention on carrageenan. Without proper references, and considering the voice of the article, this is nothing more than propaganda used to sway people.

  10. Brooke

    Your opening statement is untrue, Jennifer. Many populations of southeast Asian people cannot tolerate lactose. People of European descent cannot digest the polysaccharides of green seaweed that coastal Asians can. Carrageenan comes from seaweed, so it is completely possible that this ingredient is harmful for a population.

    On a different note, if you see this comment chef Maria I would love to hear more about how you changed your diet to remove processed foods as I am working on doing so myself.

  11. Kevin

    Very Good Information from many of the posters here. Aside from many spelling, grammar & usage errors, Much good has been added, to offset one who apparently may have “ulterior motives”… My advise to any who would truly wish to have safe food is to read a very enlightening book, from the 70’s & 60’s by Peter Tompkins & Christopher Bird. It is a very good source of THE TRUTH about the reasons behind the FDA and Much of the Corruption & Unhealthiness that occurs in the US’s food supply. It will give a good “..And Now You Know, The Rest Of The Story…(Paul Harvey of AM Radio history)..” insight for any who are searching for safe food and health.

  12. Annabeth

    I agree with Jenifer’s comment. Yeah, so some people cannot tolerate carrageenan, but the rest of us are able to ingest it. Carrageenan is one of the few vegetarian substitutes to gelatin.

  13. renee

    The key here is…DON’T use processed foods. Stick to what is natural. Make it yourself! If you have a 3 square foot plot, you can grow some tomatoes, lettuce and a few other things. This will eliminate many of the GMO’s, processed ingredients, sugars, fats. I know it’s impossible to eliminate 100% of it but wouldn’t it be worth it if we tried? To Debbie, just because you found it on the internet doesn’t make it true. Remember, any company that makes the stuff will tell you that it is alright like the companies that make high fructose corn syrup. It all comes down to the money. Big business cares not about the human condition, only what they can squeeze out of it. The Love of Money is the Root of all Evil!!!!

  14. Caroline Taylor

    Suffered for years from bouts of painful colitis without knowing the cause. Research pointed to this additive as a potential cause. All I can relate is that since I removed it from my diet- I have been free of discomfort. Entirely free.
    It is not easy to avoid it- I ask at restaurants about their frozen dairy products and virtually every tome they say that their desserts contain it.
    For those who argue that most people tolerate it fine- what if their bodies simply react by developing cancer ir other life threatening diseases?
    Thanks to these doctors and Cornucopia for working in the public’s interest!
    This is the only time I have posted to a site like this – it is simply too important to ensure that others do not needlessly suffer.

  15. cheryl

    Jennifer, I find your comments to be cold and uncaring for those of us who suffer with strange and most often undiagnosed or under diagnosed ailments in our guts for years I have been diagnosed with Irritable Bowl Syndrome which is the equivalent to the Doctor telling you “you have something wrong with your digestive tract but I don’t want to take the time to figure it out” i was diagnosed with IBS in my twenties now twenty years later I am finding out that I am allergic to many foods: all nuts, peanuts, legumes, oats, watermelon, very allergic to soy, and the testing is not finished yet. I know that I was not allergic to watermelon three years ago so why am i deteriorating? Could it be because of all the “safe” ingredients to all the processed foods that we consume? It should not offend you if others want to return to a more rustic lifestyle. To make everything from scratch and also continue to work outside the home is not the easier road by far. I can not even by a loaf of bread as everything seems to have soy. I am suspect of ALL ingredients as they find different things to call then Like Xanthan gum can be made from soy. after a week of removing the allergens from my diet that I am aware of the chronic Fatigue that has plagued me for years has lifted almost completely (ONE WEEK!). Jennifer do not belittle anyone’s pursuit of health and happiness. I believe comparing it to “the soup of the day” was really degrading.

  16. bethy

    well, someone alerted me to the carrageenan question after I suggested they give Tasti-Di Lite a try..I love this frozen treat and it causes no weight gain like frozen (even the “tart version less fat)yogurt. Tasti has carraegeenan and my friend pointed that out. I am very health conscious so I looked it up there are many articles on its adverse effects. Possibly some people are allergic. I can see that it is very hard to get at the truth. I don’t know what to do…I found a desert treat that seems harmless. But now I wonder. I have no adverse affects but one doesn’t want to ingest something as frequently as I have and discover a problem later…But when researching this online there is a preponderance of negative information about carrageenan. Soy is also awful it is a powerful hormone disruptor which I find packs on weight in a jiffy I stay far away from this awful “food” soy is just really bad and it’s in everything..What should these companies use then to thicken their products?? any ideas anyone? In the meantime I plan to contact my favorite food companies and ask them to get rid of the carrageenan. For example I love the Blue Diamond Almond Coconut milk and I have that everyday to avoid dairy, with a greens product (awesome) Green Vibrance but now with this carrageenan scare I am consuming so much of it in the almond milk and the Tasti and probably other places it sneaks in…everything is a problem these days if companies were ethical we wouldn’t have to have these discussions and fears!!!!

  17. Rona Fried

    The ONLY non-dairy milk I’ve found that doesn’t contain carrageenan is Whole Food’s 365 brand of Almond Milk, which is delicious and organic. Unfortunately, they haven’t been carrying for the past few months because of a problem with the supplier, but they say it will soon be back. As for giving thickness to a product, there’s no need for carrageenan, you just have to shake it!

  18. Real confused

    Cheryl, are you seeing an allergist to have testing done? I’ve had bowel problems for years and have been trying to eat more healthy. Appears milk and milk products bother me but now I’m wondering about soy as well. The information from most of the posts have been very helpful.

  19. Queenie

    All modified, processed foods, ingredients etc. is derived from a natural source (with very little natural content) with added harmful chemicals and deadly chemical processing to increase quantity plus production which equals to billions of dollars in revenues and kickbacks for manufacturers, doctors, government agencies (product manufacturer funded) and the list goes on. Think about it if we were all healthy none of them would make any money, our foods, consumers products etc. have to make us sick in order for the money wheel to keep turning. If you were a manufacturer of any of the products you mentioned and you knew you were using harmful ingredients would you continue? You think they don’t know, you really think they care, did they need consumers to get sick, some maybe dying and then we get together in a forum such as this to quarrel about our serious concerns, they are not paying for our medical bills, I didn’t hear anyone talk about winning a lawsuit…THEY DON’T CARE. Have we stopped to think that it is the processing of the foods that are making us sick and not the natural food itself, where I come from we dive deep into our Caribbean waters for sea weed (ignorantly named Irish moss, sea moss) which is a source from which carrageenan is derived. For centuries my people have been consuming raw sea weed fresh from the sea washed and then consumed and we have never had any of the ailments mentioned above, it is clear that it is the modification of our foods that causes us to be sick and not the natural plant based whole food/fruit itself. The diseases that we are diagnosed with these days, our fore parents never had the issues we have now. If we stop buying these products and get together in our communities support our local farmers and/or create family gardens things will never change, we will never be well again for example almonds soaked overnight in distilled water and blended the next morning with dates as a thickener, a little cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and some fresh local honey is the best almond milk your family will ever taste, it’s not that difficult. An Ancient African proverb… “IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD”. We in the USA need to adapt that “IT TAKES A COMMUNITY TO RAISE HEALTHY HUMANS”. Instead of blaming the companies we so happily give our hard earned monies to, we all need to take some responsibility for ourselves and our family’s health, we need to be more educated about the food, clothes (the dyes that are used to color our clothes), every single element that comes in contact with our bodies need to be investigated. Read the labels if you don’t know what it is look it up before you buy, do not trust that these legal criminal manufactures are going to feed you to great health… you are on your own and are solely responsible for your own health…LIVE…LOVE…LAUGH…BE HAPPY & HEALTHY

  20. Mary

    thank you all for this information! Checked the ingredients on a loaf of bread and found ” Azodicarbonamide ” looked it up and found out that this is not allowed as a food additive in Europe and Australia but US allows it at 45 ppm, In Wikipedia it stated that its ” principle use is in the production of plastics as an additive ” maybe this additive should be researched also as to its possible harmful effects. It is increasingly difficult to find any food that is pure and healthy . I do wish that we could trust all these food manufactures and that they were all ethical .Over 25 years ago there was a study came out that said that they had found over the amount ” allowed by FDA ” of cancer causing chemicals in baby food applesauce !! People getting cancer now in their early 20’s could be just from eating toxic food their entire life, it seems downright criminal. I agree plant a garden and eat only what you can grow it seems to be the only way you will be sure of what is in the food you are feeding your family . Thank you all again for all your input it was helpful .

  21. Melissa

    Debbie aka Debbie Young works for Ingredients Solutions Inc., the world’s largest carrageenan supplier. She trolls any site that dares question her company’s ingredient and pastes their FAQ talking points. FYI…

  22. Lachlan Molineux

    long-established skin care natural products! These ingredients are loaded with important anti-aging skin vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin B complex, vitamin C and vitamin E. These natural products change your life style.

  23. Bruce

    I find it incredible that this substance continues to be allowed as an additive to the foods and beverages that people can purchase to consume. It flys in the face of common sense. However we all know that when it comes to the “mighty dollar”, common sense hardly ever applies. There is a plethora of good science out there that condemns Carrageenan as an additive to our food supply. In fact about the only good use for it is in research where it is used to cause tumors and bowel inflammation and ulcers in rats! Yet because it is a $640,000,000 industry, there is enough power behind it to make the FDA turn its head the other way and listen to those like Debbie who have a vested interest in its continuing to be legal. They will continue to win as long as we, the people whose lives have been devastated by this substance, let them! My wife has contracted Ulcerative Colitis due to this substance. We are sick and tired of the lack of action by the FDA, and are in the process of beginning litigation to see that Carrageenan is labeled as what it truly is, a substance that is dangerous to one’s health, and to have it banned as a food additive. We know it won’t be easy, but it has to start somewhere, just like the eventual banning of asbestos or Vioxe (sp?).

  24. Malauna

    I used to eat dairy. One time it caused severe allergic reaction that is caused by glutamic acid. They had started adding carageenan to cottage cheese I’d eaten safely for years. Carageenan is GLUTAMATE!!! I have SPS which is a rare disease that produces antibodies to all forms of glutamate. Only 1 in a million are diagnosed. So we allow pure glutamate to be added under many other names like NATURAL flavorings because it’s listed as GRAS, generally recognized as safe? With cancer alone, people who were healthy until chemicals/ poisons were added are now getting cancer in old age and it has been accepted as normal. Glutamate is known as the aphrodisiac of the mouth and is very addictive. They want you to crave those cheesy snack foods so you buy more and more. See a health trend here? Healthy profits for conspiring groups who even now are pushing to change labeling laws so they don’t have to label the toxins in your food. My body knows every time no matter what’s on the label.


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