Why is a Known Toxic Substance Allowed in Organic Foods?

Natural Society
by Elizabeth Renter

We’re taught that if a food has a USDA organic label, then the produce is just about as good as it comes—that the ingredients have been through rigorous testing and are safe for human consumption, or at the very least the product is free from harmful pesticides and genetic engineering. While the USDA certified organic is indeed the way to go, not everything approved under their standards is good for you. On the contrary, some may be very harmful. Such is the case with a substance known as carrageenan.

Carrageenan: A Toxic Food Ingredient

Carrageenan is a substance extracted from seaweed. In food, they are used as gelling and thickening agents, most often in dairy and meat products. You’ll find it in ice cream, cream, desserts, some beers, diet soda, veggie dogs, and processed meats. And although some organic food companies (Eden Foods, Oikos yogurt, Natural by Nature, and more) have sworn off the ingredient, others intend to play on the ignorance of the public and their friends in high places to keep carrageenan around.

In numerous animal studies carrageenan has been found to cause gastrointestinal issues and inflammation, and cancer. In addition, diets high in carrageenan have been linked to the development of intestinal ulcers and other digestive issues. The Cornucopia Institute (a nonprofit which supports food research and “justice for family scale farming”) recommends anyone with inflammatory digestive issues like chronic diarrhea, IBS, or inflammatory bowel disease, to eliminate carrageenan from their diet altogether.

Interestingly, the USDA is aware of the studies of this popular food ingredient, though it maintains a spot on their “safe” list. Why is that? Well, let’s look at who is approving the foods on this list.

As revealed in The Organic Watergate – White Paper from The Cornucopia Institute, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) is made up of several companies who have a vested interest in keeping organics as non-organic as possible. After all, making stricter organic regulations would cost them money.

Just a few of the corporations represented in the decision making NOSB include:
Purina Ralcorp
General Mills
Campbell Soup
Dean Foods

It’s sort of like creating a board to oversee allegations of police brutality and then staffing the board with cops. (Another highly questionable though common occurrence).

As The Organic Watergate reports:

“Carrageenan was reviewed in 1995 by three scientists with professional relationships to corporate agribusiness, and only one pointed out the potential human health impacts of degraded carrageenan. This is especially outrageous since the scientific community had known for decades, based on an abundance of peer-reviewed published literature, that degraded carrageenan is an inflammatory agent and carcinogenic in lab animals.”

So, back to the original question: why is a known carcinogen present in organic foods? Because of money—those who have it also have power and do not want to sacrifice either for the sake of consumer health.

The Fight for Real Organic Food Continues

Waking Times
by Alex Pietrowski

Greed and power in the food industry is turning a trip to the grocery store into an objectionable experience, as processed and factory foods are further pushed onto the unwitting public.

On the positive side, however, most of us now have plenty of organic options, providing we know where to shop and how to find the good stuff. From fresh organic produce, to organic and compassionately farmed animal products, to a variety of delicious organic packaged foods, it is now easier than ever to eat healthy and stay away from unwanted pesticides, antibiotics, GMO ingredients, and synthetic additives in our food.

And now that Proposition 37 in California to label GMO foods has been defeated by the food industry and a sleeping populace, it is more important then ever to know how how to access and support the organic food movement. In a big way, your life depends on it.

Consumers must be prepared to demand and fight for high-quality organic options in our supermarkets, or we will be faced with a further degradation of production standards, questionable business practices, and conflict of interest matters.

Big Agra Conflict of Interest

A recent issue raised by various organic food industry watchdogs has been the presence of conflict of interest that has influenced decisions on what food additives are approved for use in organic packaged products. US organizations, such as the Cornucopia Institute and Center for Food Safety, have recently raised the issue of Big Agra business encroaching on the independent oversight that the US National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) has over what synthetic items can be added to the approved National List. This list includes processed synthetic items and processes that are approved for use in organic packaged products.

The following video from Cornucopia Institute provides a thorough overview regarding this issue:

A conflict of interest question has been raised regarding who makes the decisions about what contractors and consultants conduct technical or TAB reviews of materials on the National List of approved organic ingredients. Currently, the NOSB does not hold the final decision in this; instead, the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP), the designated federal officer that participates in NOSB meetings, and the USDA Office of Ethics are said to carry an unethical influence over these decisions.

The decisions of the NOSB significantly affect the direction of the organic industry and what synthetic items are actually considered acceptable organic food components. Questionable items are already approved, such as the food additive Carrageenan, which was re-approved for use in organic food processing as of the Spring 2012 NOSB meeting.

“Degraded carrageenan,” which is present in all food-grade carrageenan, is classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Academy of Science in United States. – Cornucopia Institute

Who Owns Organic

It can be quite shocking to realize that we’re at a stage of having a “possible human carcinogen” approved as an ingredient in our organic products. Perhaps as awareness of this grows, concerned industry players, consumers and government officials will implement new checks and balances to ensure that less conflict of interest exists in the NOSB in the US, and in similar organic industry authorities worldwide. Industry oversight will grow in importance now that most non-organic, all-American brands, many of which are supporting Monsanto’s no GMO labeling efforts, are the same companies that have been heavily investing in the organic industry over the last 15+ years.

Some of the big food companies that have given money to the [GMO] anti-labeling cause also own organic brands, such as Kellogg Co., which owns the Kashi cereal brand, Dean Foods Co., owner of the Horizon organic dairy line and J.M. Smucker Co., which owns several organic brands. – Wall Street Journal

Here’s a PDF of the top food companies in the US and their ownership ties to well-known organic brands (as of June 2009)

Click here to download a short video created by Dr. Phil Howard, Assistant Professor at Michigan State University about who owns some of the more well-known organic brands.

How to Shop Organic

Let’s agree that buying food is much more complicated than it used to be, especially for the aware, health-conscious individual. There are more choices than ever, but these choices come from fewer companies. For shoppers, it is vitally important to understand the labeling process currently employed in the organic food industry. This is why people who want to label GMO foods are so passionate about this cause: labels are one of a few ways, if not the only way, that consumers can make informed decisions about what food they buy.

The USDA’s NOP offers some insight on its website about the labeling requirements of organic products, which can be viewed in the Labeling Organic Products PDF.

Here’s a quick video with Anne Lappe, author of “Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen,” offering an overview of how to identify organic foods in stores:

In the video, Lappe mentions that buying organic produce is easy – it’s either organic or not. But what if your organic produce selection is limited? Or you’re on a budget, and shopping all organic is breaking the bank. Here’s a quick review of what fresh produce is typically most heavily treated with pesticides and which is not.

Here is another article with some insight regarding organic dairy, meat and seafood.

Think Local

If you already buy organic products or just want to eat healthier, don’t get discouraged by this article. It is a resource. Take this opportunity to learn from the wealth of information available here, and start making even better food choices. In our world, it is difficult to be 100% organic. But there are ways you can move closer toward this goal. Support smaller organic food producers and local farms. Eat fresh and raw foods. Start an organic garden or become involved in a community urban farming project. And stay informed and educated, so YOU are the one who decides on what food ends up on your dinner table.

Related:   GM Wheat May Damage Human Genetics Permanently

First pink slime, now ‘meat glue

Seattle Times

Every day, millions of Americans likely are putting something in their mouths that contains a substance called “meat glue” by critics of the food industry.

The additive with the unappetizing nickname is used to produce meats found in supermarkets, in local delis and in restaurants ranging from fast food to fine dining. Even vegetarian food isn’t exempt.

Marketing consultants and food scientists estimate — because no company will discuss sales figures — that 11 percent to 35 percent of all packaged and sliced ham, beef, chicken, fish, pizza toppings and other deli products are enhanced, restructured or molded using the meat glue, made from one of two brands of protein adhesive.

While federal laws require labeling, a spot-check of meat purveyors and restaurant suppliers found almost no companies listed the substances among their products’ ingredients.

Further, 10 meat and cold-cut processors and fast-food outlets — including Tyson Food, Cargill Meats, McDonald’s and Arby’s — were contacted, but all declined to discuss whether they used transglutaminase or blood-extract products, saying either it was proprietary, or, if they did use them, it need not be reported because the binders were considered a “processing aid.”

Like the “pink slime” used as a cheap ground-beef filler, meat glue is not considered a health risk by federal food watchdogs.

Nonetheless, consumers recently reacted with revulsion to the presence of pink-slime filler in ground meat, ultimately leading to the closing of three processing plants and the removal of the additive from some restaurants’ fare.

Whether meat glue will meet the same fate, the lack of disclosure is the same in critics’ eyes.

“For decades, the meat industry has conveniently operated in the dark, not sharing the dirty details of their practices with the public, while the federal government looked the other way,” said Michele Simon, a policy consultant for the Center for Food Safety. “But now, consumers are demanding to know the truth about what they are.”

One of the two most common forms of meat glue used in this country is Activa, a white powder form of a natural coagulantlike enzyme called transglutaminase. (The popular yogurt Activia has no connections to Activa.)

The other is Fibrimex, made of enzymes extracted from pig or beef blood by a process developed in The Netherlands.

Both products were designed and sold, their advertising says, to bond pieces of protein or irregularly shaped meat so it can be cut and cooked evenly by the food-service industry.

Truth in labeling

Food scientists say the two cold-binding agents are used to reduce use of sodium phosphate, sodium alginate, carrageenan, sodium caseinate and other chemicals that had been used for decades to form and mold meat.

Not knowing Activa and Fibrimex are in certain foods can present problems for people with religious and dietary beliefs or special needs.

How can Jews, Muslims and others who don’t eat pork products know whether pig-blood extracts are holding together their chicken or fish pieces?

What about vegans and vegetarians who might not want to eat “meatless” hot dogs, sausage and luncheon meats containing bovine blood or the fermented enzymes?

“There may be economic adulteration going on here, and the (Department of Agriculture) or the (Food and Drug Administration) needs to look at whether laws are being violated,” said Tony Corbo, legislative representative for the national consumer group Food & Water Watch.

“We are especially appalled that certain consumers’ religious beliefs may be unknowingly violated because food manufacturers are hiding what goes into the production of these binding agents.”

Cold-bonding agents

Meat glue drew attention last year when an Australian YouTube video showed a meat specialist sprinkling white powder on pieces of fat, gristle and other waste beef, covering it in plastic wrap and chilling it.

Hours later, the pieces had transformed into a long log of solid meat, which then was cut into expensive-looking tenderloins.

These cold-bonding agents are being used at the top and bottom of the food chain, from fine chefs to cut-rate meat purveyors.

Meat-glue additives also are used in thousands of other food products.

A partial list of uses for transglutaminase can be found on the website of Hela Spice Canada, a subsidiary of a major German food-additive and ingredient supplier, Hela, that exports to the U.S., and 10 other countries (www.helacanada.ca).

The site says different formulations of Activa can be used for fast-food chicken nuggets and boneless wings, fish sticks, boneless barbecue ribs, roast beef, pastrami, turkey roast and hams.

Major pizza chains buy the additive for toppings including pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon crumble and salami, according to the website.

Supermarket-brand roasts, sausages, kebabs, hams, poultry pieces, pork, beef and many high-end cuts of beef and pork also contain it.

The website also emphasizes what food-design consultants say is a growing use of transglutaminase in vegetarian meat substitutes.

Walter Knecht, president of Hela Spice Canada, declined to comment.

He referred all inquiries to transglutaminase maker Ajinomoto, a Japanese company with offices in Chicago, which said in a statement that it discloses all ingredients.

Other uses

Interviews with more than 60 industry or academic food scientists, physicians and government-safety regulators revealed other, unanticipated uses for the meat-glue additives.

These include imitation seafood, gyro meat, hundreds of baked goods, tofu, pasta, vegetables, cereals and dairy products such as yogurt. That use is growing, they add.

Still, as with pink slime, you won’t find meat glue on a list of ingredients.

More than 130 meats and deli products checked in Seattle, Milwaukee, Omaha and Denver in the past five months contained the adhesives mixtures, food scientists say.

Only four — all bolognas — had the word “enzymes” on the ingredient label.

But “enzymes,” “transglutaminase,” “thrombin” and “blood byproducts” were not listed on the labels for the remainder.

Regulations from the FDA and the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (USIS) list specific words that must appear on ingredient labels of products containing transglutaminase or the animal-blood extracts fibrinogen and thrombin.

In 2000, when federal officials first granted permission for Ajinomoto to market French-made transglutaminase in the United States, the USDA required the company tell consumers they were buying “beef tenderloin formed with water and transglutaminase enzyme,” according to USDA and FDA documents.

Ajinomoto balked; it wanted to say that its products were “formed” or “re-formed” or made with enzymes as part of the product name, such as “formed beef tenderloin.”

Ajinomoto, which in 1901 developed the sometimes-controversial flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG, got its way.

Similar language was created for the blood-product maker Fibrimex to use on its products.

Rick Young, regional sales manager of Fibrimex maker FX Technologies in its Fremont, Neb., office, produced a copy of page 14 of USDA’s labeling bible, the Food Standard and Labeling Policy Book.

The book required phrases such as “Fibrinogen and Thrombin Plasma Protein” or “Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin Steak Formed with Beef Fibrinogen and Thrombin.”

Both FX Technologies and Ajinomoto say they properly disclose the ingredients of their additives to their food-manufacturer customers. And they said it is their understanding that manufacturers are labeling their products correctly.

In a statement last week, the nutrition and health division of Ajinomoto said all meat to which transglutaminase has been added is labeled properly, as government regulations require.

“This is a requirement. There is no ‘secret,’ ” the statement said.

However, at the Institute of Food Technologists conference in New Orleans last June, Ajinomoto personnel repeatedly told potential customers their company has no way of demanding or forcing users of its transglutaminase to follow FDA or USIS labeling laws.