WhiteWave pulling carrageenan from Silk, Horizon

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

WhiteWave pulling carrageenan from Silk, Horizon
Citing mounting consumer pressure, WhiteWave Foods says it will remove carrageenan from its Silk and Horizon brands.

Carrageenan, generally recognizes as safe by the FDA, is a purified red seaweed extract that is used as a thickener and stabilizer in a variety of foods and beverages - primarily meat and dairy products. The Joint Food & Agricultural Organization/World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives determined there was no need to set an upper limit on the amount of carrageenan a human can safely consume when carrageenan is used "at the level needed to achieve its intended effect in food"​, it said. 

But the seaweed-based ingredient has been the subject of criticism among natural-food advocates who claim it causes gastrointestinal inflammation and other problems. Among the more outspoken critics of the ingredient have been activist food blogger Vani Hari (who also recently spearheaded the petition asking Subway to remove dough conditioner azodicarbonamide from its bread) and the Cornucopia Institute​ (see more below). 

A WhiteWave spokesperson said that while the company still deems the ingredient safe, it will be phased out over time because of increasingly "strong" consumer reactions.

"When you get to a certain point of how vocal and strongly a consumer feels about it, we felt it was time to make a change,"​ Sarah Loveday told the Associated Press​.

Although WhiteWave didn't specify the actual phaseout timeline, an email attachment​ from the company that Hari posted on her website said the firm plans to remove carrageenan from Horizon flavored milk in Q1 2015 and all other Horizon items by Q2 2015, including eggnog, Tuberz, heavy whipping cream, regular and low-fat cottage cheese and low-fat sour cream; from the top 5 Silk ESL soy and coconut beverages by Q2 2015; and from the remaining Silk aseptic and other ESL products by the end of 2016.

In her attacks on the seaweed-based ingredient, Hari has largely referred to research from Cornucopia. The food industry watchdog group last year sought to reignite the debate over carrageenan with a report​ imploring consumers to avoid it based on arguments from a 2008 citizen’s petition filed by Joanne Tobacman, MD, a researcher at the University of Illinois, who claimed the ingredient promotes inflammation of the GI tract, which could
ultimately lead to diseases from ulcerative colitis to colon cancer.

In a letter to Dr Tobacman dated June 11, 2012, rejecting her request, the FDA said her studies - which were all in-vitro ("test tube") studies exposing human colonic epithelial cells to carrageenan - were of “limited value” when trying to determine the safety of ingesting foods containing the ingredient.

And while concerns have been raised about a lower-weight polysaccharide called poligeenan, studies conducted on animals and artificial stomachs suggested that carrageenan - a high-molecular weight polysaccharide - did not show “extensive” breakdown into poligeenan when we eat products that contain it, said the FDA.

Still, in an effort to reassure people, Marinalg International, an association representing producers of seaweed derived hydrocolloids, said it would coordinate new research specifically to address the points raised by Dr Tobacman.

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Cornucopia Research? We'd Like To Review Their Methodology.

Posted by Kevin Johndro,

We've reviewed several Cornucopia "reports" and observe that most simply bash specific government agencies because they perennially snub this self-ordained "industry watchdog" group. Little wonder. Cornucopia appears to present no true research of its own but effectively regurgitates previously published works that fit their specific agenda(s); a keen understanding of how controversy generates grant dollars. With regard to the Cornucopia "research" cited in this article, we understand it focuses primarily on the results of Dr. Tobacman's research which are solely dependent on the assumption that carrageenan can actually come into contact with colonic epithelial cells. Sophisticated experimentation has indicated that this is not possible. We find it incredible in this day and age that there are people who actually believe the United States government is trying to poison them! But your story proves they're out there!

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Social Media Hysteria Trumps Science

Posted by Scott Rangus,

I am disappointed to see White Wave ignore science and facts and cave to social media hysteria. Carrageenan has a century-long record of safety as a food ingredient. JECFA just formally approved carrageenan for use in infant formula. This is a sad day for the food industry.

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