It’s one of the many ingredients found on the label of some pet foods; what is it?  Is it safe?  A close look at the common pet food ingredient carrageenan.

TLC Cooking gave the perfect introduction to explaining why carrageenan is used in pet food.  “Lots of foods can contain some pretty weird-sounding stuff. That’s because processed foods have some amazing things they have to do. For example, a cookie might get made in Texas, trucked across the country in the middle of the summer, sit in a warehouse for a couple of weeks before it is sold and then ride home in the trunk of your car. And when you open the package, you expect the cookie to look perfect. Not an easy thing to accomplish, it turns out.” (this link includes an interesting video on harvesting carrageenan.)

Many foods, including pet foods, include chemicals known as gums such as carrageenan.  Gums help to thicken and emulsify (help liquids stay mixed) foods.  Carrageenan is a seaweed extract.  So…is it safe in pet food?

In “Review of harmful gastrointestinal effects of carrageenan in animal experiments” By J. K. Tobacman from the College of Medicine, University of Iowa, carrageenan doesn’t get a very good (safe) review.  “Review of these data demonstrated that exposure to undegraded as well as to degraded carrageenan was associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms.”  In 1972 the FDA “considered restricting dietary carrageenan …this resolution did not prevail, and no subsequent regulation has restricted use.”  In 1982 the International Agency for Research on Cancer identified “sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of degraded carrageenan in animals to regard it as posing a carcinogenic risk to humans.” 

From the International Agency for Research on Cancer, carrageenan is rated “2B: Possibly carcinogenic to humans”

From the website, an educational website from the Dairy Education Board, Executive Directory Robert Cohen has some very negative things to say about carrageenan.  His article states “Carrageenan is a commonly used food additive that is extracted from red seaweed by using powerful alkali solvents. These solvents would remove the tissues and skin from your hands as readily as would any acid.”  When addressing whether carrageenan is natural, this author states “Carrageenan is about as wholesome as momosodium glutamate (MSG), which is extracted from rice, and can equally be considered natural.  Just because something comes from a natural source does not mean that it is safe.  The small black dots in the eyes of potatoes contain substances that are instantly fatal if eaten.  Got poison?  You will if you eat the black dots on the “eyes” of potatoes.”  (I must learn about those black dots…)

To research his article on carrageenan, Mr. Cohen (from the above article) contacted “one of America’s carrageenan experts Joanne Tobacman, M.D.”; the very same scientist that provided the review of carrageenan quoted above.   Mr. Cohen’s article is startling and well researched.  To read his full article Click Here.

Although much of Dr. Tobacman’s research on carrageenan was based on human tissue, much of the research she quotes is from animal studies.  Thus, we can safely assume that carrageenan is not an ingredient we want to see listed on a pet food label.

Wishing you and your pet(s) the best,

Susan Thixton
Pet Food Safety Advocate
Author, Buyer Beware
Co-Author Dinner PAWsible

What’s in Your Pet’s Food?
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