Centuries ago, coastal Irish communities discovered that they could harvest carraigín moss, a type of seaweed, from the rocky waters at Carrigan Head and cook it with milk to produce a thickener. Named after the area, carrageenan—the soluble fiber derived from seaweed—has since gained global popularity as an emulsifier in a wide range of foods, including ice creams, infant formulas, meats, and more, reports Food Safety Magazine. But since a handful of studies suggested that the ingredient may cause intestinal inflammation in lab animals, hundreds of people blame it as the source of their health woes that range from digestive problems to migraines. Now a committee that proposes rules for the organic food industry has voted to ban it from organic foods, reports NPR.
The Cornucopia Institute, which has been calling for carrageenan's ban, says the National Organic Standards Board's vote is a "big win for consumers" who want to remove the "dangerous additive." Meanwhile other scientists have come forward to say they cannot replicate the lab results being cited, while the World Health Organization, FDA, and European Commission all say they still believe carrageenan to be safe. The UN's Food and Agriculture Organization notes that global carrageenan production jumped five-fold between 2000 and 2010, while NPR reports that the "carrageenan backlash" in the US is already being felt by producers. If the US Department of Agriculture adopts the recommendation, the ban on carrageenan in organic foods in the US could be in place within two years. (Some research suggests organic foods aren't more nutritious.)