(BPT) - The “certified organic” seal is synonymous with healthy living and clean eating. But what exactly does it mean? And who decides what is or is not certified organic?
In the United States, food is certified organic by the United States Department of Agriculture. The seal verifies that a product has been made with 95 percent “certified organic” ingredients and minimally processed. The remaining 5 percent allows for the use of ingredients that are not organic, but have been approved by the USDA because they are safe and eco-friendly, and have no organic alternative.
These approved additives are reviewed regularly by the USDA, which is currently deciding whether to continue to allow one of them in organics: an essential, natural ingredient called carrageenan.
Carrageenan is made from red seaweed that is sustainably grown and harvested by family farmers in oceans around the world. It is an ingredient in everything from yogurt to infant formula to baked goods, and has been used by home cooks for hundreds of years. The USDA has approved the use of carrageenan in organic foods since 1990.
So why are they considering removing it now? Because of a dangerous trend where the loudest voices, no matter how irrational or bullying, drown out reason and sound science.
Which is just one reason keeping carrageenan in organic foods should be important to everyone who enjoys healthy, safe food that tastes good, too.
Here are a few more:
Because you love the taste of your favorite ice cream, yogurt, almond milk, protein shake...
If carrageenan isn’t allowed in organic foods, many of our favorite products will be changed. Food companies will have to use other ingredients to replace carrageenan — ingredients that are not as natural or safe as red seaweed, and will not produce the same products we know and love.
Because you care what’s in your food.
Carrageenan can’t be replaced with just one food ingredient, and multiple additives mean longer labels. Carrageenan is GMO-free and made from sustainably harvested seaweed; its replacements are grown from bacteria in a vat or otherwise manmade.
Because babies should be able to eat organic, too!
Carrageenan is the only stabilizing ingredient used in organic liquid infant formula. Removing it means new moms and dads may lose this option for their babies.
Organic foods should be affordable and accessible to everyone.
For many, eating organic is a luxury they can’t always afford. Adding multiple ingredients to replace carrageenan means the cost of a product may increase even more. This isn’t just bad for you and your wallet; anything that makes organic products less competitive is harmful to the whole industry.
Because carrageenan is essential to vegetarian, halal and kosher foods.
Carrageenan is a plant-based ingredient often used to replace animal fats and gelatin. Without carrageenan, some organic products will no longer be able to meet certain dietary restrictions, or the taste of those foods may suffer.
Because the livelihood of seaweed farmers (and our world) is at risk.
Seaweed is one of the most sustainable crops on the planet, and it’s harvested by family farmers in coastal communities around the globe. Growing and harvesting the red seaweed used to make carrageenan requires none of the fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals used in land-based farming.
This fall, the USDA will make its final decision on the future of carrageenan and its use in organic products. For these reasons and more, it is important that the USDA approves carrageenan for use in organics, making sure organic and nutritious food options are available to everyone.