Corporatization of Organics – Mainstream analysis

Two articles, the second linked to from first:

Mother Jones:5 Surprising Ingredients Allowed in Organic Food

—By

Sunday’s New York Times piece on the corporatization of organics (which I commented on here) got me to thinking: What are the weirdest additives the USDA allows in food labeled “organic”? Here are five.

1. Carrageenan
Made from seaweed and used as a thickener and stabilizer for certain dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt, carrageenan is probably the most controversial organic additive. Joanne K. Tobacman, an associate professor of medicine at University of Illinois-Chicago, claims that carrageenan causes intestinal inflammation, and she petitioned the USDA not to approve it for organic food. The organic watchdog group Cornucopia Institute notes that according to USDA organic code, nonorganic ingredients like carrageenan can only be introduced into certified-organic food when they are deemed “essential” to the manufacture of a given product. The group argues that carrageenan should not have been deemed essential, because some organic dairy companies don’t use it at all, proving it can be done without. For example, Horizon and Whole foods 365 use it in their cottage cheeses, while Organic Valley and Nancy’s don’t.

2. Synthetic DHA (a fatty acid)
This omega-3 fatty acid supplement, derived from algae in some dairy products, is made by Martek Biosciences Corp., a subsidiary of the Dutch conglomerate Royal DSM. Its critics (including me) argue it’s a dubious addition to organics because it’s not essential to producing any product. You don’t need it to produce milk; you only need it to produce milk that contains synthetic DHA. According to Cornucopia, Martek’s DHA is is derived from a strain of algae generated through “induced mutations with the use of radiation and/or harsh chemicals.”

3. Acidified sodium chlorite
This synthetic chemical, used as a disinfecting wash for poultry and other meats, hasn’t been connected to any health problems. It’s made by chemical giant Dupont.

4. Tetrasodium pyrophosphate
A mixture of phosphoric acid with sodium carbonate, this compound is used is soy-based meat alternatives. “It promotes binding of proteins to water, binding the soy particles together, and is used for the same purpose in chicken nuggets and imitation crab and lobster products,” writes Simon Quellen Field, author of Why There’s Antifreeze in Your Toothpaste: The Chemistry of Household Ingredients. 

5. Ethylene
This fossil fuel derivative is used to speed ripening of tropical fruit and “degreen” citrus. While its use in food doesn’t harm people, using fossil fuels sure does.

#2: New York Times: Has ‘Organic’ been Oversized?

“More than 40 years ago, Mr. Potter bought into a hippie cafe and “whole earth” grocery here that has since morphed into a major organic foods producer and wholesaler, Eden Foods.

The fact is, organic food has become a wildly lucrative business for Big Food and a premium-price-means-premium-profit section of the grocery store. The industry’s image — contented cows grazing on the green hills of family-owned farms — is mostly pure fantasy. Or rather, pure marketing. Big Food, it turns out, has spawned what might be called Big Organic.

Bear Naked, Wholesome & Hearty, Kashi: all three and more actually belong to the cereals giant Kellogg. Naked Juice? That would be PepsiCo of Pepsi and Fritos fame. And behind the pastoral-sounding Walnut Acres, Health Valley and Spectrum Organics is none other than Hain Celestial, once affiliated with Heinz, the grand old name in ketchup.

Over the last decade, since federal organic standards have come to the fore, giant agri-food corporations like these and others — Coca-Cola, Cargill, ConAgra, General Mills, Kraft and M&M Mars among them — have gobbled up most of the nation’s organic food industry. Pure, locally produced ingredients from small family farms? Not so much anymore….

He calls the certified-organic label a fraud and refuses to put it on Eden’s products.”

Here we have a dedicated organics pioneer with ‘insider’ knowledge declaring that certified organic labelling is now a fraud.

I agree.

Again: buy local. Push your farmer’s markets vendors (like me) to deliver quality and then be willing to pay a slightly higher price for it so that vendor can stay in business, and remind yourself that giving him or her your money keeps it in the community rather than it going to replenish international banker-funded lines of credit, long-distance trucking companies and the oil which they consume – also from international banker funded lines of credit etc. etc.

Buy local!

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2 thoughts on “Corporatization of Organics – Mainstream analysis

  1. 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.

  2. Thank you very much for the contribution. Could you kindly explain what you consider the key points in the piece above? Am not sure what your thrust is. But I’ll lead off with:

    Extract from the initial piece about carageenan, which I presume you take issue with:
    “Made from seaweed and used as a thickener and stabilizer for certain dairy products like cottage cheese and yogurt, carrageenan is probably the most controversial organic additive. Joanne K. Tobacman, an associate professor of medicine at University of Illinois-Chicago, claims that carrageenan causes intestinal inflammation, and she petitioned the USDA not to approve it for organic food. The organic watchdog group Cornucopia Institute notes that according to USDA organic code, nonorganic ingredients like carrageenan can only be introduced into certified-organic food when they are deemed “essential” to the manufacture of a given product. The group argues that carrageenan should not have been deemed essential, because some organic dairy companies don’t use it at all, proving it can be done without. For example, Horizon and Whole foods 365 use it in their cottage cheeses, while Organic Valley and Nancy’s don’t.”

    Here the issue seems to be that
    a) the ingredient in question (carageenan) is not organic albeit being added to a product labelled as ‘organic’ (including ‘organic milk’), and
    b) nonorganics can only be introduced when ‘essential to the manufacture of a given product.’

    Your objection above seems to focus on two aspects:
    a) a general confusion between carageenan and poligeenan (which to my mind raises the question as to whether it is always clearly labelled as such or if poligeenan is labelled as carageenan) which this piece above clears up (good), but also

    b) ”
    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.”

    Frankly, I think the last remark is valid. To be fair we should also be on our guard against the legions of junk science who take perfectly valid and valuable notions – such as the idea of having food grown entirely in accordance with Mother Nature without non-living, artificially introduced inputs and processes – and twist them into meaningless imitations of the underlying ‘real’ idea. Take organic milk mentioned in the pieces above: Mother Nature makes milk just fine and carageenann can by no stretch of the imagination be regarded as ‘essential’ to a ‘manufacturing
    process’. But junk science, an arm of over-commercialisation of nearly everything these days, can inject such nonsense not only into debate, thereby spreading widespread confusion since they masquerade as responsible, even superior members of Society because they are Scientists who only deal with Facts, but into the milk in question. Their input has turned organic milk into non-organic milk, thereby defeating the entire purpose. This is happening all over the place.

    Similar to your contribution: although the information about carageenan and poligeenan is valuable and worthy, it didn’t really relate to what was said in the original extract, so the stated conclusion – although also of merit – cannot be applied to the original piece either.

    Now maybe that original piece is deficient, and if so I welcome any constructive criticism about anything posted on the blog. But, unless I am missing something here, I don’t feel that what you contributed above is properly aligned up, logically/rationally/scientifically speaking, with what was originally published.

    Again, thank you very much for your contribution.

    PS I did a Google search on: “Dr. Harris J. Bixler ScD” and was surprised to find that this comment has been posted on numerous blogs. It appears the Dr. Bixler is an MIT graduate (’53), and involved with a company called ‘Ingredients Solutions Inc.’ From their site at http://www.ingredientssolutions.com/about-isi.htm :

    “ABOUT INGREDIENTS SOLUTIONS, INC.

    Ingredients Solutions, Inc. (ISI) is “The World’s Largest Independent Supplier of Carrageenan” offering a full range of Natural and Organic-Allowed products from multiple manufacturing sites for reliable supplies, the most complete product line, and the best values in the industry.

    ISI provides complete technical support from our R&D center in Waldo, Maine. Our staff has nearly 200 years combined experience in carrageenan and other specialty hydrocolloids. Our product line also includes Xanthan Gums, Sodium Alginates, and TextuRite™ Texture Systems.

    Our R&D is equipped to assist in customer product development projects. Dairy, meat & poultry, sauces & dressings, bakery, pet food, pharmaceuticals, toothpaste & confections are some of our specialties.

    Our products are Kosher Certified and many of them are Natural, Organic-Allowed, Trans Fat Free, GMO and Allergen free. Certifications are available upon request. ISI serves the North American market with warehouses located in Hazelwood, Missouri, Carson, California and Brampton, Ontario.

    Our technical sales representatives are dedicated to helping you find the right product for your application and our Customer Service department is always happy to assist with samples and or literature requests and timely order processing.

    The entire ISI staff is dedicated to providing quality products with exceptional service. We look forward to having the opportunity to take care of your hydrocolloid needs.”

    So this is interesting. It is quite possible that the addition of seaweed benefits the storage or textural properties of various volume-manufactured and widely distributed food products. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But it is very different from the sort of hand made, locally-as-possible source advocated by blogs like mine and many Farmers’ Market producers throughout the developed West. I wish Dr. Bixler no ill, and again believe his point about some of the criticism against ‘the system’ being hyperbolic and irresponsible (though I would add ‘sometimes, not always’), but am a little surprised that he would bother pasting in this sort of information on so many blogs. Anyway….

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