My Rant Against Carrageenan and Castoreum (Or, @%$€! the FDA)

Standard

Chondrus_crispus

About a year and a half ago, I went on a rampage after finding out about carrageenan, a food additive that is an ingredient in many of the vegan foods I ate. While this processed red seaweed is vegan, it’s also a known carcinogen.

For someone who was then struggling with “what can I eat?,” I was finding myself very angry that something this bad for you could legally be added to something that was good for me. At the time, it was soy, almond, coconut, and hemp milks (and some vegan ice creams) that were the issue.

Note: Even organic labelled products contain carrageenan, an additive that acts as a binding agent and makes these products creamier and therefore more consistent and seductive to the consumer. An additive that causes cancer.

You should have heard me go off. I was furious. Shocked. Sad. I recall watching a video released by “So Delicious” where the product developer started off by saying, “while carrageenan is known to cause cancer and is an ingredient we use in our products …”

I stopped watching. Why listen further when he starts like that? And there I was with a cold glass of their holiday nog in my hand. Screw you, So Delicious.

I’ve settled down a bit. I’ve heard from some camps that it may not be as bad as originally reported. Some reports may be exaggerated. I found alternatives (including making my own cashew cream). I’m now somewhat convinced, there is a chance I can still have some of these products without fear of dying and still maintain my coveted vegan status.

And now, I hear about beaver excretions. That’s right, a yellowish excretion of the castor sac of beavers. The castor sac. Located right next to the beavers anal glands. The castor sac. In close proximity to the beaver’s beaver.

beaver

Who was the sick scientist who decided to taste beaver junk? And did he have to buy the beaver dinner beforehand?

This FDA-approved additive (called castoreum) is used in many foods including many I’ve been eating. Castoreum as a food additive is classified by the FDA as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). WTF, FDA, GRAS? I am (trying to be) 100% vegan, trying like hell to stay that way, and now I find out that I have to check ingredients for beaver? Used whenever a vanilla or strawberry flavor is desired. Ew.

The food industry is seriously messed up. It’s impossible to stay on course, even when you’re trying your hardest. Why should we have to even look for these ingredients in what we’re eating? In what we’re feeding our children? Erg.

I’m not happy. @%$€! the FDA.

Go vegan.

Banner_Resized

12 thoughts on “My Rant Against Carrageenan and Castoreum (Or, @%$€! the FDA)

  1. Sue K

    I have often wondered the same thing about the first person to “succumb” to this curiosity, but somehow never thought to put it so eloquently! Meanwhile, since it is typically not specifically labeled (although I believe I actually “castoreum” on a diet Sobe Lifewater bottle) I’m thinking that anything labeled “natural flavors” that does not specify the source could be suspect. As for the issues with carageenan, I have only recently found out about that and immediately switched to a brand of almond milk that does not use it. I have had digestive issues since birth and somewhat recently got myself off of prescription Prilosec (that poison is another rant-worthy topic) so I worry about possible damage done. I have not yet worked up to making all my own foods, but I don’t have ice cream very often, nor coffee -it’s in the So Delicious creamer as well, and now I am wondering about the source of the natural flavors in the creamer after reading the label again 😦

    Like

  2. Sue K

    I have often wondered the same thing about the first person to “succumb” to this curiosity, but somehow never thought to put it so eloquently! Meanwhile, since it is typically not specifically labeled (although I believe I actually “castoreum” on a diet Sobe Lifewater bottle) I’m thinking that anything labeled “natural flavors” that does not specify the source could be suspect. As for the issues with carageenan, I have only recently found out about that and immediately switched to a brand of almond milk that does not use it. I have had digestive issues since birth and somewhat recently got myself off of prescription Prilosec (that poison is another rant-worthy topic) so I worry about possible damage done. I have not yet worked up to makiall my own foods, but I don’t have ice cream very often, nor coffee -it’s in the So Delicious creamer as well, and now I am wondering about the source of the natural flavors in the creamer after reading the label again but it does say “certified vegan” 😦

    Like

    • You bring up an interesting point that I didn’t cover here. One of my all-time favorite “vegan” ice creams is made by Almond Dream. Their cappuccino swirl is INCREDIBLE.

      Looking back (I just ate this last week), I realized it said gluten-free AND dairy-free all over the lid.

      It didn’t say “vegan.”

      Like

  3. SO MUCH FOR THE MYTHS
    CONSIDER THE FACTS ON CARRAGEENAN FOR A CHANGE

    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.
    Summary
    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

    Like

  4. ian

    Hi!
    I’ve been looking for real evidence that Castoreum is used commercially, today, in food and preferably in the western civilization and EU. Here in Sweden it is traditionally used in snaps Bäverhojt and it is a fairly expensive drink, way beyond most single malts.
    However interesting i do not want to have, references that refer to a second party (even if they are scientific), references that is allowed to use, that it has been used (Plinius, WW2), that is has been investigated as a food additive, how much should be used, facebook groups, personal homepages, blogs, youtube links, etc.
    I’m looking for real facts, and hard evidence. Please help me.
    Thanks -ian

    Like

    • Laws are different in every country and in the U.S. the FDA is not requiring companies to disclose the use of this terrible ingredient. Therefore, it will always remain a mystery.

      Sorry I cannot me more helpful but you’re probably in the same boat.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s