In 2021, Cornucopia asked its supporters to stand up for the safety and integrity of the organic label by imploring Costco to remove carrageenan from its organic store-brand chocolate milk and soy beverages. More than 1,200 people responded — organic advocates who took time of their lives to print, sign, and mail in pleas for us to share with Costco.
We recently shared your requests, along with the following letter from Cornucopia Executive Director Melody Morrell, with Costco. Stay tuned for another Action Alert as we continue to press Costco to do the right thing.
June 7, 2023
W. Craig Jelinek, CEO
Ron Vachris, President & COO
Claudine Adamo, Executive Vic President, COO – Merchandising
Costco Wholesale Corporation
PO Box 34331
Seattle, WA 98124
Subject: Urgent Appeal to Prioritize Consumer Health by Removing Carrageenan from Organic Products
Dear W. Craig Jelinek, Ron Vachris, and Claudine Adamo:
The Costco shelves that have made organic food accessible to more people are the source of a pressing matter that has gained widespread attention: the inclusion of carrageenan in some of your store-brand organic products.
I bring this to your attention as a public health advocate; as the leader of a respected nonprofit organization dedicated to helping consumers find authentic organic food; and as a spokesperson for the parents, grandparents, and other shoppers who have joined The Cornucopia Institute’s campaign.
Carrageenan is a cheap and effective stabilizer that has been heralded by companies while wreaking havoc on a subset of consumers. The message shared by thousands of people who have reported to Cornucopia is clear: When they removed carrageenan from their diets, they experienced nearly immediate relief from debilitating intestinal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and other serious acute and chronic symptoms. Tens of thousands more have expressed concern on our social media accounts.
Cornucopia, along with its extensive network of supporters, has conducted rigorous research and analysis, drawing upon numerous publicly funded, peer-reviewed studies. These studies have established a clear link between carrageenan consumption and adverse effects on human health. *
Given the mounting evidence and the increasing number of individuals reporting health issues related to carrageenan, we urge Costco to take immediate action by prioritizing consumer health and removing carrageenan from all organic Kirkland Signature products.
As you look at the enclosed materials, the personal, passionate pleas for change warrant your special attention. These notes weren’t emailed or sent with a petition that required nothing more than a click of a keyboard. Consumers shared their experiences in handwritten letters. More than 1,200 people took time out of their lives to print, sign, and mail in requests for us to share with Costco.
How you respond to this chorus of concerned consumers matters. By considering and acting on the implications of carrageenan consumption, you will exemplify your commitment to providing safe, wholesome, and transparent organic products and inspire other retailers to “do the right thing.”
Thank you for your time,
The Cornucopia Institute
PO Box 826
Viroqua, WI 54665
* I’ve included some high-level points about the health impacts of carrageenan. You can find a thorough summary of the science around carrageenan at https://www.cornucopia.org/researcher-bias-carrageenan-controversy/.
The research around carrageenan warrants scrutiny:
- Early studies reliably found that food-grade carrageenan induced or worsened inflammation, with some finding that it contributed to ulcerative colitis-like disease in laboratory animals (guinea pigs) and higher rates of tumors in rats.
- Other findings included the determination that carrageenan penetrates the intestinal barrier and an association between loss of epithelial cells (the cell membranes in the intestine) with the consumption of both un-degraded and degraded carrageenan. Carrageenan was also found to stimulate inflammatory pathways tied to immune response.
- More recent research focused on the adverse effects of carrageenan on human health. A study in 2017 showed that carrageenan disrupts normal gut function, promotes intestinal inflammation, and consequently could compromise consumer health. Another recent study found that carrageenan may trigger or magnify an inflammatory response in the human intestine and that consumption of carrageenan was a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- A 2017 clinical trial showed that people with colitis should avoid carrageenan. A review of carrageenan safety research from 2019 concluded that this substance has not been definitively determined as “safe” and that more research is required. (According to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, “approximately 1.6 million Americans currently have Inflammatory Bowel Disease, a growth of about 200,000 since the last time CCFA reported this figure (in 2011).”)
- Microbiome research between 2020 and 2023 found that inflammatory properties of carrageenan are at least partially related to carrageenan’s modification of the intestinal microbiome — which could explain why people with existing chronic conditions improve with a carrageenan-free diet. Included in these results was evidence that food-grade κ-carrageenan creates an environment that favors inflammation that then can facilitate expansion of pathogens.
- A 2022 review of existing research into the health impacts concluded that carrageenan can cause adverse effects on intestinal health concerning barrier function and/or permeability, including inflammation and intestinal microbiota.