Seems like ‘mum’s the word’ when pet and people food makers are questioned about carrageenan

Posted by
April 25, 2013

Why do all these pet foods contain carrageenan?

Since the Cornucopia Institute came out with its report on carrageenan, “How a ‘natural’ food additive is making us sick,” consumer concern has grown over why a suspect food additive that is widely used, but basically unnecessary, is still in the food supply.

Carrageenan, a highly inflammatory agent, is derived from red seaweed and used as a thickening agent in loads of foods from infant formula to yogurt, meat products, pet food and ice cream, both conventional and organic. Leading the fight to have the additive banned is Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a “physician-scientist” at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who has published 18 peer-reviewed papers on carrageenan, studying its effects for almost 20 years. Numerous studies have shown even small levels of “food grade” carrageenan used in food products are enough to cause inflammation in the human colon.

I first wrote about this ingredient at the end of March after blog readers suggested it be added to our Citizens for Health top  additives to avoid. Since that blog appeared, Food Identity Theft readers have been asking about specific brands that don’t contain it, and particularly where to find carrageenan-free canned pet food – a question I myself had after going through dozens of brands of dog and cat food at our area Petsmart store. It appears that carrageenan is the most commonly used additive in high-price premium brands of pet food as well as cheaper ones.

I also had questions for food manufacturers that use the ingredient, and have made numerous attempts to get some answers from both Whole Foods Market (which, oddly enough, makes products with and without the additive) and the Blue Buffalo pet food company, whose products I had been feeding my dog and cat for years.

The Whole Foods media relations specialist at the company’s “global headquarters” answered my email right away, saying she would see what the “product folks” have to “share” about carrageenan, but that was about a month ago, and subsequent calls and emails have gone unanswered.

I didn’t even get that far with Blue Buffalo, leaving messages at both the corporate headquarters and the consumer information line, all which received no response. Since “Blue,” as the company likes to refer to itself, seemed to have no one to answer the phone at its Wilton, Connecticut offices, I plowed through the automated employee phone directory, leaving messages with each name I came up with. As the company makes what it calls its “true blue promise,” of “only the finest natural ingredients” I certainly thought someone there would want to comment, but that was apparently not the case.

One group that does want to talk about carrageenan, however, is the Seaweed Industry Association of the Phillippines (SIAP), which issued a recent press release both threatening to sue Dr. Tobacman and lamenting the fate of its “fisher folks” who are “now under threat of losing their livelihood” as a result of her findings.

SIAP Board Secretary Marcial Solante is quoted in the release as saying “they will challenge the ‘false claim’ scientifically” before the U.S. National Organics Standards Board, and that “we will sue her definitely but only after we will be presenting these scientific evidences to dispute her claimed (sic).”

I asked Dr. Tobacman for a comment on that statement and she told me in an email that “(s)eaweed farmers will need to diversify, so that they are not dependent on farming a product that activates innate immune responses in human cells.”

She added that “carrageenan has been used in scientific experiments for decades and is well-known to cause inflammation, yet continues to be used in a wide variety of food products” as well as in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and other products, such as room air deodorizers.

If you want to join the growing number of consumers who are avoiding this additive, which Dr. Tobacman claims “can lead to harmful biological effects in human cells and in animals exposed to (it)” the Cornucopia Institute has put together a shopping list of organic foods without carrageenan that can be found here. Pet owners who want to ditch this highly inflammatory ingredient from their best friends’ diets can also check out this page at the Natural Cat Care blog of “best” cat foods, all of which contain no carrageenan (most of the brands listed also make dog food, so check both the manufacturer’s web site and the product’s ingredient list.)’

It also gives you yet another opportunity to tell the food industry, “I’m fed up and I’m not going to eat it anymore” (nor, for that matter, is my dog or cat).