Carrageenan safe: seaweed industry officers

THE Seaweed Industry Association of the Philippines (Siap) rejected an American scientist’s study that carrageenan is a threat to human health.

Before it affects consumer confidence, Siap has raised the issue to the Export Development Council (EDC) to make it a priority concern. It said it will conduct independent studies to counter the report.

“It is totally safe,” Siap chairman Max Ricohermoso said in a phone interview.

“Carrageenan comes from seaweed so it’s all natural.”

Carrageenan, a seaweed extract, is used in the manufacture of toothpaste, ice cream, some dairy products, shampoo and cosmetic creams. Carrageenan is also often used in processed meats to facilitate water binding.

Ricohermoso confirmed last Friday that industry leaders will have a meeting with the EDC on May 10 to resolve the issue that is currently challenging the country’s booming seaweed industry.

“Marinalg, the world hydrocolliods organization, lead by Bill Matakas of FMC, would want a unified approach on the concern. Dr. Pete Bixler, a veteran carrageenan expert and former president of Marinalg, is coordinating the various aspects in handling the concern,” said Ricohermoso, president of MCPI Corp.

Petition

Dr. Joanne Tobacman, a physician-scientist at the University of Illinois College of Medicine, filed five petitions with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to revoke the use of carrageenan as food additive, claiming that it can cause serious health problems ranging from gastrointestinal inflammation to cancer.

The FDA, however, dismissed Tobacman’s petitions in 2012, ruling that “the petition does not adequately support the requested action.”

PhilExport Cebu executive director Fred Escalona said Siap will conduct “independent studies” that would prove that carrageenan is “safe for human consumption.”

Escalona said the move to raise the issue to EDC is meant to protect the industry. “It has shaken the whole seaweed industry, especially in Cebu. It tarnishes the image of the exporters and the industry,” he said.

Export

The Philippines is considered the largest producer of carrageenan worldwide, followed by Indonesia and China. Of the total national seaweed output, more than 50 percent comes from Mindanao. Zamboanga exports most of dried seaweeds while Cebu dominates the processing and exporting of carrageenan. The seaweed industry exports to major markets including USA, Europe and China.

US-based toxicological research firm Ceetox Inc., has proposed an in vitro study that would counter Tobacman’s claims and strengthen the carrageenan’s position being “safe and suitable food additive.” The study is supported by FMC.

The study will be conducted this month until July this year and will be submitted to the American College of Toxicology in November.

The carrageenan study will also be submitted to the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives on the same month for review on June 2014. Jecfa is an international expert scientific committee that evaluates the safety of food additives administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Asked whether the issue has already affected the export sales of carrageenan, Ricohermoso said there are no reports of sales decline yet but he is hoping issues about the carrageenan will be over soon as this would be detrimental to the growth of the industry and livelihood of its people.

He said the industry contributes $150 million in export revenues to the country year on year. The industry is also providing livelihood to over 200 families, of which 90 percent are seaweed farmers.

Siap said seaweed is the number one aquaculture commodity in production. In 2011, the country produced about 85,000 metric tons of dried seaweeds (600,000 fresh seaweeds), equivalent to 70 percent of the total aquaculture production.
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