By STEVE BROWN
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- When the National Organic Standards Board meets in Albuquerque May 22-25, one hot topic may be the growing list of materials approved use in organic food.
Among the non-organic substances to be considered is carageenan, a food additive derived from seaweed often used as a vegetarian substitute for gelatin. Different varieties of carageenan provide gelling, stabilizing, thickening and moisture retention.
The Cornucopia Institute, an organic ag advocacy group, did a case study on the ingredient and questioned the impartiality of the approval process.
In a news release, Cornucopia said independent analyses of carageenan were not independent at all, but were written by scientists in the employ of Ralston Purina/Beech Nut, a "corporate agribusiness" in the words of Cornucopia.
In opposing the proposed renewal of carageenan as an approved substance, the advocacy group quoted Joanne Tobacman, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago:
"Carrageenan is a well-documented inflammatory agent that has been found, in thousands of experiments in human cells and animals, to cause harmful effects, and low molecular weight carrageenan has been recognized by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer and the National Research Council of the United States as a possible human carcinogen.
"Due to its unique chemical characteristics, there is no safe form of carrageenan," Tobacman said.
In its agenda, the NOSB notes that a notice in the Federal Register on the sunset of the material "elicited several public comments in favor of its re-listing. There were no comments against the re-listing of it."
The Handling Committee, a subset of the NOSB, voted to recommend the continued use of carageenan.
Board members will consider many substances and practices over the four days, hearing from the various committees and allowing time for public comments. The board will vote on and finalize the recommendations, then submit them to the National Organic Program for potential inclusion in federal organic regulations.