Category Archives: Nutrition

Some Foods for Summer

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by Kelly Williams

Eastern School of Acupuncture and Traditional Medicine

Examining Key Factors behind Questionable Additives in Your Food

Big Food, the FDA and the GRAS System: Examining Key Factors behind Questionable Additives in Your Food

by Chemical-Free-Life.org

 

The growing skepticism among U.S. consumers with regard to the safety of their food is grounded in a reality that is more disturbing and troubling than even the worst rumors on the Internet. Numerous studies and reports recently released by nonprofit consumer advocacy organizations and reporting agencies indicate that a disturbing number of new additives (“ingredients”) have been dumped into the food supply by the processed food industry using a loophole in the GRAS approval system—chemical ingredients that the FDA has not registered and not independently approved as safe.

For the past 15 years the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has looked the other way while Big Food corporations have used a giant loophole in the GRAS system (the food additive/ingredient approval system known as “Generally Recognized as Safe”) to dump numerous synthetic and industrialized food additives into the food supply sans the mandated safety testing to assure that the additives are safe for humans (including in utero, infants and children) and that they have no significant short-term adverse effects or potential for long-term health complications.

“Currently, companies may determine a substance is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) without FDA’s approval or knowledge…

a few substances previously considered GRAS have later been banned; and concerns have been raised about the safety of other GRAS substances…

GAO recommends that FDA take steps to better ensure the safety of GRAS substances, including developing a strategy to require any company that conducts a GRAS determination to provide FDA with basic information about it.”

-U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)

Over the past decade and a half and counting systemic problems with governmental agencies charged with the task of overseeing food safety have continued, and in some cases have worsened. In a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house, a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center and published in a prestigious American Medical Association (AMA) journal reported that a large percentage of food additives have never been reviewed or safety tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in fact, the food manufacturers themselves have been the ones determining what additives are safe enough to inject in the public food supply.

“Because of the apparent frequency with which companies make [their own] GRAS safety determinations without telling the FDA…

We were able to identify 275 chemicals from 56 companies that appear to be marketed for use in food based on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations…

Companies found their chemicals safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions, interactions with common drugs, or proposed uses much greater than company-established safe doses.

~ Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States.

National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Report

According to the Pew study and the National Resource Defense Council report, the majority of food additives (“ingredients”) added to processed foods through the GRAS system in recent years are unknown even to the FDA and have not been scientifically safety tested, the adverse effects of processed food overall have. This is particularly troubling given that a number of scientific studies have linked additive-laden processed foods with a range of health problems including obesity, diabetes, depression, lethargy, cognition problems, increased incidence of tumors, heart and kidney problems, autoimmune disorders, and endocrine/hormonal problems, to name a few.

As the Washington Post recently reported,

“A voluntary certification system [for additives] has nearly replaced one that relied on a more formal, time-consuming review — where the FDA, rather than companies, made the final determination on what is safe. The FDA’s new system allows manufacturers to certify, based on the company’s own research, that such ingredients are already Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS—which means food manufacturers no longer have to submit their research and raw data to the FDA. The result is that companies often bypass the FDA altogether. Under the rules, companies may make their own GRAS determination. Sharing it with the agency and getting it to sign off is voluntary.”

The Pew Charitable Trusts study was a comprehensive examination of the FDA’s GRAS system. Pew researchers conducted a three-year investigation into how food additives are regulated; Pew has called the GRAS system, “the loophole that swallowed the law.” In the grandest example of the fox guarding the hen house, according to the Pew study on food additives, if a food corporation wants to include a new additive (“ingredient”) in their processed food all they have to do is conduct their own study and publish safety data about it on their website (with the GRAS system they are not required to publish food safety data in a peer-reviewed scientific journal—the key difference between food “additives” and GRAS “ingredients” is the availability of safety information) and then pay a law firm or consulting firm to vet their own study and establish it as “generally recognized as safe”—and incredibly, they never even have to notify the FDA.

“Since 2000 almost all new chemicals have passed through the [GRAS] loophole rather than being subjected to the food additive petition process

established by Congress in 1958.”

~ Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States.

 National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Report

Legal Remedies Don’t Work with the FDA

A lawsuit was recently filed against the FDA by a food safety organization for negligent oversight and for permitting harmful additives to enter the food supply. The FDA tried to get the suit dismissed based on a lack of evidence of harm resulting from the unknown and unmonitored chemicals; ultimately all that happened was that the judge compelled them to finalize the rule for their GRAS procedures initially created in 1998.

     Whether this legal maneuver would amount to anything substantive to protect consumers was questionable from the onset; the FDA has been petitioned and sued numerous times over the past few decades over various food chemicals that have been found in scholarly scientific studies to be carcinogenic or otherwise a potentially serious health problem, to no avail. Between regulatory capture, a lack of legal authority and resources to set limits on the very companies they are charged with regulating, political posturing, and what appears to at least some independent scholarly researchers working with the FDA to be something bordering on scientific incompetence (more specifically, their complete resistance to modern scholarly scientific research methodology and an insistence to rigidly clinging to outdated, ineffective observational-based research, is pervasive in the agency), when it comes to requiring rigorous testing and oversight of food chemicals, the governmental body in charge of food safety is anything but trustworthy.

It’s as Easy as Additive-Laden Cherry Pie

When the big food corporations want to introduce a new chemical additive (“ingredient”) into their processed foods (something happening with unsettling frequency these days) they may use the most efficient route—the GRAS system. GRAS (or Generally Recognized as Safe), you will recall, has a loophole large enough for a semi-tractor trailer filled with Doritos to drive through. By capitalizing on the loophole even if their applications for new additives (“ingredients”) are turned down, they can simply withdraw the applications, pay their own lawyers or consultants to claim it is safe, and—sans any scientifically published safety testing or even notifying the FDA, dump it into the food anyhow.

Of the approximate 10,000 food additives approved for use in the market today, 3,000 have never been scientifically safety tested and approved by the FDA. As researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts and others have publicly exposed this practice as Standard Operating Procedure for Big Food’s handling of new synthetic and industrialized food additives, we must assume the FDA is also aware it is going on. While FDA administrators may refuse to publicly acknowledge the stranglehold political cronyism has on their willingness and ability to act in the best interest of public health, privately a substantial number don’t. Nearly a quarter of FDA respondents of a 2012 survey reported they had worked for an industry they were later tasked with regulating, which highlights the significance of the “revolving door” problem. Additionally, a substantial number of respondents (55 percent) thought that FDA decisions were overly influenced by political interests or business interests. Just as important, over a third of the respondents reported firsthand experience of corporate political interference in their work within the past year. The bottom line for Big Food and Big Chemical corporations these days is that when you have friends with benefits working inside the FDA and longstanding, powerful friendships within the U.S. government, especially when you spend billions of dollars on lobbying efforts, getting a nod and wink for synthetic food additives that will increase your profits is apparently not that difficult.

“Robert McQuate, CEO of GRAS Associates, LLC, a food ingredient-consulting firm, says that about half of his clients do not voluntarily submit

their GRAS determinations to FDA for review. GRAS information submitted to FDA becomes publicly available, so the main reason his clients do not submit GRAS determinations is to protect their trade secrets.”-Kelly Damewood, Food Safety News

The FDA Response

Either an apparent victim of regulatory capture, under-funding, or antiquated policies and protocol (there is evidence that all are present) the FDA has ignored numerous requests and lawsuits brought forward by nonprofit organizations, scientists, attorneys, physicians and private citizens to ban various additives—some of them linked in scientific studies with cancer, a finding that compels the FDA to take action according to the Delaney Clause (the 1958 Food Additives Amendment (section 409) to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act/FFDCA). A recent lawsuit has been filed against the FDA by an organization of food safety advocates claiming the FDA has been negligent in not requiring proper scientific safety testing studies in order for food additives (“ingredients”) to be designated as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), thereby endangering the public by exposing them to potentially harmful food additives. While one might presume that the FDA is maintaining a “de minimis” argument, or that these additives pose negligible risk to consumers, in fact, they have no such evidence on numerous additives present in the food. This is because many of the food additives (“ingredients”) determined to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) in recent years have been determined as such by the food manufacturers themselves, far too frequently sans published, peer-reviewed, scientific safety testing studies. Given the voluntary nature of the requirement for food manufacturers to report their GRAS additives (“ingredients”) to the FDA, it should be no surprise that Pew’s research findings found that the FDA was unaware that many of these additives even existed in the food supply. In the meantime, a cadre of potentially harmful synthetic and industrialized chemicals remain in the food, leaving the onus on the consumer to self-educate and self-select which synthetic and industrialized food additives may be harmful to the health and well-being of themselves and their families.

Big Food’s Reaction to Growing Public Concern about Food Additives

As if untested mystery chemicals in the food supply is not bad enough, to add insult to injury, big food manufacturers have been overtly capitalizing on the public’s concern about food additives, deceptively labeling their food products as “natural” in the hopes that consumers will not investigate further or read the small print on the ingredients labels. Fortunately, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal, the cost of consumer lawsuits concerning this behavior has caused a number of food manufacturers to begin quietly removing the deceptive “natural” labels from their products, but some remain steadfast.

And New Chemical Additives Just Keep Coming

     According to a recent NRDC report, EGCG (Epigallocatechin-3-gallate) is one of the food additives that had its GRAS notice withdrawn and despite safety concerns, has been listed as an ingredient in some food products. Not to be confused with the low-level naturally-occurring version found in green tea (polyphenol epigallocatechin-3-gallate), this industrialized version of EGCG can be found in cereal, nutrition and energy bars, soft drinks, sports and isotonic drinks, energy beverages, fruit and vegetable juices, meal replacement and soft candies. According to FDA records there are more than a dozen scientific studies linking this additive with dangerous health consequences, including one study that demonstrated it could induce toxicity in the liver, kidneys and intestine. Another study showed EGCG could produce defects in the brain and heart, and still another concluded it may contribute to infant leukemia.

“FDA’s approach to regulating nanotechnology allows engineered nanomaterials to enter the food supply as GRAS substances without FDA’s knowledge…

Because GRAS notification is voluntary and companies are not required to identify nanomaterials in their GRAS substances, FDA has no way of knowing the full extent to which engineered nanomaterials have entered the U.S. food supply as part of GRAS substances.”

~U.S. GAO 2010 Report:

FDA Should Strengthen Its Oversight of Food Ingredients Determined to Be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS)

The Solution to Questionable Chemicals of Concern in the U.S. Food Supply

Given the seriousness of the potential for serious adverse illnesses and chronic conditions linked with some of the most prevalent additives in our nation’s food supply there emerges a level of absurdity in what now passes for ‘food safety’ in the U.S. that can only be seen as a tragically amusing comedy of errors. Perhaps the FDA’s current GRAS (Generally Recommended as Safe) system whereby they permit Big Food to determine on their own which new chemical additives (officially called, “ingredients” when put through the GRAS system) are safe to enter the food supply sans any peer-reviewed published scientific safety testing, can be relabeled as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) suggests as, ‘Generally Recognized as SECRET’, or alternatively as ‘GRAP’…’Generally Recognized as Profitable’. In this way, while there will still be no clear-cut method for determining the short- and long-term risks of ingesting it, at least the consumer will have transparency where motive is concerned.

“If people don’t know what it really is, it can’t be generally recognized.”

~Tom Neltner, JD., GRAS researcher for Natural Resources Defense Council

The bottom line: Consumers concerned about the potential adverse short-term and long-term health effects of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals are left on their own to self-educate and self-monitor what goes into their carts—and ultimately their bodies.

For more information visit Chemical-Free-Life.org

References:

Carlisle, P. & Frank, J. 2011. Recapturing regulatory capture: A paradigm for understanding the puzzling decisions of the Food Police, Session G4: Reinvestigating the 21st century corporation: Power, profits and regulatory capture, Third International Research Conference of the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA.

Carlisle, P. & Frank, J. 2011. A lack of warning labels for synthetic and industrialized food chemicals: Is regulatory capture of the FDA by the food and chemical industries leading to serious health safety issues for U.S. consumers? Third International Research Conference of the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA.

Carlisle, P. & Frank, J. 2010. Why a little bit of obfuscation can go a long way: Complicit denial and swindle aversion in food products. Society for the Advancement of Behavioral Economics Conference, San Diego, CA.

Center for Food Safety (CFS). 2014. Citizens Regulatory Petition for declaratory and injunctive relief challenging the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s unlawful action of exempting substances that are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) from regulation as food additives under a proposed rule for more than fifteen years, and for exempting substances from food additive regulations despite the fact that they may pose serious risks to human health and welfare. CFS wants the agency to return to the traditional process by which manufacturers formally petition FDA to approve a new food additive based on published studies, arguing that the GRAS process has allowed for potentially hazardous additives to enter the food supply.

Delaney Clause (Pub. L. 85-929, Sept. 6, 1958, 72 Stat. 1784) forbade the use in food of substances found to cause cancer in laboratory animals (“the Secretary of the Food and Drug Administration shall not approve for use in food any chemical additive found to induce cancer in man, or, after tests, found to induce cancer in animals”) is part of the 1958 Food Additives Amendment (section 409) to the 1938 Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA), U.S. Food Title 21 USC 37 9e.

Damewood, K. Food Ingredients: Trade Secrets vs. Public Disclosure. Food Safety News, March 17, 2014.

Damewood, K. The GRAS Process: How Companies Legally Add Ingredients to Food. Food Safety News, January 30, 2014.

Esterl, M. Some food companies ditch ‘natural’ label: Amid lawsuits over the claim, more producers drop the word. Wall Street Journal, November 6, 2013.

Kindy, K. Food additives on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes. Washington Post, August 17, 2014.

Kindy, K. Are secret ingredients in your food? Washington Post, April 7, 2014.

Neltner, T. & Maffini, M. 2014. Generally recognized as secret: Chemicals added to food in the United States. National Resource Defense Council (NRDC)Report.

Neltner, T., et al. 2013. Data gaps in toxicity testing of chemicals allowed in food in the United States, Reproductive Toxicology, 42: 85–94.

Neltner, T., et al. 2013. Conflicts of interest in approvals of additives to food determined to be Generally Recognized as Safe out of balance. Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine, 173(22):2032-2036.

Neltner T., et al. 2011. Navigating the U.S. food additive regulatory program. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 10:342–368.

Union of Concerned Scientists. Voices of Scientists at the FDA: Measuring progress on scientific integrity. Union of Concerned Scientists Report, March 2012.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). 2010 Food Safety Report: FDA should strengthen its oversight of food ingredients determined to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS). GAO-10-246.

Lydia Zuraw, Settlement Reached in GRAS Lawsuit Against FDA, Food Safety News, October 21, 2014.

Lydia Zuraw, Food Industry Association Plans to Make GRAS More Transparent. Food Safety News, August 29, 2014.

Lydia Zuraw, Report Identifies Chemicals ‘Quietly Added’ to Food Under GRAS. Food Safety News, April 9, 2014.

Lydia Zuraw, Lawsuit Brought Against FDA Regarding Food Additives. Food Safety News, February 21, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Latent labels – serious health safety issues for U.S. consumers

Latent labels:  Is corporate obfuscation surrounding synthetic and industrialized food chemicals leading to serious health safety issues for U.S. consumers?

by Chemical-Free-Life.org

 

Abstract:  This paper explores findings linking a myriad of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals to serious adverse health consequences, and juxtaposes this with a theoretical construct suggesting label obfuscation and other actions by the chemical and food manufacturing industries as a primary reason these additives remain in the food sans label warnings to alert consumers.  Also explored are potential obstacles behind the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s failure to require warnings on food labels for consumers alerting them about potential hazards of some of these synthetic and industrialized food chemicals, and the effect this has had on consumer confidence and behavior.

Many U.S. consumers rely on the government for health safety labeling about synthetic and industrialized food chemicals and to monitor corporate marketing of ingredients and healthy food claims on food products containing these chemicals, but is that a good idea?   This paper presents evidence that suggests that marketing and label obfuscation, among other tactics from the chemical and food manufacturing industries, combined with the current lack of government required warnings and disclosures on food ingredients labels, leaves consumers unaware and unprotected and thereby vulnerable to potentially harmful synthetic and industrialized food chemicals that may pose a threat to their health and well-being.

 

SYNTHETIC AND INDUSTRIALIZED FOOD CHEMICALS AND ADVERSE HEALTH OUTCOMES

A number of commonly used synthetic and industrialized food chemicals (more specifically, food additives, colorings/dyes, and preservatives) in the U.S. have been linked in empirical studies and clinical trials to adverse symptoms and health consequences (Lau et al. 2006; Sasaki et al. 2002; Tuormaa, 1994; Parke and Lewis 1992). The same is true for animal antibiotics, animal growth hormones and other animal drugs which have been found in U.S. meat and dairy products (McEwen and Fedorka-Cray 2002), as well as with high residue content of pesticides which have been found in both produce and meat and dairy products in the U.S. (LeDoux 2011).

One group of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals extensively studied and sometimes linked with adverse health reactions include food dyes/food colorings (Ahearn and Weiss 2010; McCann et al. 2007; Lau et al. 2006; Sasaki et al. 2002; Conners 1980; Ceserani, Colombo and Robuschi 1978; Feingold 1977; Freedman 1977; Baer and Leider 1949).  A recent review of the empirical studies on food dyes revealed:  “The food industry dumps over 15 million pounds of the dyes studied into the food supply each year.  Three of the dyes carry known carcinogens, and four can cause serious allergic reactions in some consumers.  New studies show that seven of them contributed to cancer in lab animals, including brain and testicular tumors, colon cancer, and mutations” (Curran 2010).  One such food dye in particular (commonly found in candy and cereals, among other processed foods) is Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow dye #5) which appears to cause the most adverse reactions of all azo dyes—especially to people with allergies and asthma (Elhkim et al. 2007; Arai et al. 1998; Dipalma 1990; Ceserani, Colombo, and Robuschi, 1978; Neuman et al.1978; Lockey 1977) and has been linked in empirical studies and clinical trials to behavioral problems in children, including ADHD and learning difficulties (Pelsser et al. 2011; Ahearn and Weiss 2010; McCann et al 2007; Bateman et al. 2004; Schab and Trinh 2004; Rowe and Rowe 1994; Pollock and Warner 1990; Weiss 1982; Swanson and Kinsbourne 1980; Weiss et al. 1980; Feingold 1977; 1976; 1975), respiratory problems, bronchospasms and asthma (Arai et al. 1998; Corder and Buckley 1995; Dipalma 1990; Hong et al. 1989; Van Bever, Docx and Stevens 1989; Settipane 1987; Freedman 1977; Stenius and Lemola 1976), urticaria/skin reactions (Dipalma 1990; Van Bever, Docx and Stevens, 1989; Settipane 1987; Juhlin 1981; Ceserani, Colombo, and Robuschi 1978; Settipane et al.1976), anaphylactic shock (Trautlein and Mann 1978) irritability, restlessness, and insomnia/sleep disturbances in some children (Bateman et al. 2004; Rowe and Rowe 1994).  Animal studies have also found a link with Tartrazine and generalized toxicity/genotoxicity (Sasaki et al. 2002; Davis, Fitzhugh, and Nelson 1964), adverse immunosuppressive effects (Koutsogeorgopoulou et al. 1998), and cancer (Patterson and Butler 1982).  The FDA’s position on Tartrazine is that it prompts “minor adverse reactions in some people” (Henkel 1993).   In 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a regulatory petition with the FDA requesting that this food dye be removed from the permitted food coloring list (Center for Science in the Public Interest 2008).   To date, Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow dye #5) remains a permitted food dye in U.S. foods and while like other food dyes it is required to appear on ingredients listings, there are no warning labels on products containing it (Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition/U.S. Food and Drug Administration Color Additive Status List 2009a; U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2008a; 2003a).

A recent study on caramel food coloring suggests this food dye may pose serious health consequences for consumers.  Caramel food dye is common in many processed foods such as soda.  Synthetic caramel coloring is processed with the use of sulfites which are recognized by the medical and research community as potentially dangerous to people with asthma and other health conditions (Metcalfe, Sampson, and Simon 2008; Puglisi and Frieri 2007; Arai et al. 1998).  Toxicological data from clinical trials and animal research studies indicate this food dye is an immunosuppressive and can trigger allergic reactions in some people (Greenhawt and Baldwin 2008; World Health Organization Technical Report 2001; de Heer et al. 1995; Thuvander and Oskarsson 1994; Houben et al. 1993).  A recent study by Moon and Shibamoto (2011) linked this food chemical to cancer.  Following the release of this study the Center for Science in the Public Interest (2011), along with five independent food science experts, filed a regulatory petition with the FDA requesting that caramel coloring be removed from the permitted food coloring list, citing FDA policy which allows the use of colors the agency believes have “a reasonable certainty of no harm” while color additives that have been found to cause cancer in animals or humans are disallowed in FDA-regulated foods and drugs.

Previous studies on other food dyes/colorings have been linked to neurobehavioral effects (Ahearn 2010; Ahearn and Weiss 2010; Weiss 2008; Elhkim 2007; Bateman et al. 2004; Schab andTrinh 2004; Rowe and Rowe 1994; Pollock and Warner 1990; Sarantinos, Rowe and Briggs 1990; Weiss 1982; Conners et al. 1980; Swanson and Kinsbourne 1980; Weiss et al. 1980; Goyette et al. 1978; Lockey 1977; Feingold 1968).  A recent public information report presented a review of the study findings on food dyes (Kobylewski and Jacobson 2010) revealing to consumers that clinical studies and laboratory research examining the link between several FDA-approved food colorings and adverse consequences has been taking place for decades (Moon and Shibamoto 2011; Ahearn and Weiss 2010; Schab and Trinh 2004; Ward 1996; Rowe and Rowe 1994; Pollock and Warner 1990; Rowe 1988; Chung et al.1981; Juhlin 1981; Swanson and Kinsbourne 1980; Weiss et al. 1980; Goyette et al. 1978; Price et al.1978; Honohan et al.1977; Feingold 1976; Michaelsson, Pettersson, and Juhlin 1974; Radomski 1974; Michaelsson and Juhlin 1973; Ryan, Welling and Wright 1969; Chafee and Settipane 1967; Radomski, and Mellinger 1962; Baer and Leider 1949).  FD&C Blue #1 has been linked with triggering hypersensitivity reactions in some people (Juhlin 1981) and systemic toxicity and death when used in enteral feeding tubes (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2003b).  Animal studies on FD&C Blue #2 first indicated a statistically significant incidence of tumors as far back as three decades ago (Price et al. 1978) and has been determined by the World Health Organization to have toxicity risks in patient feeding tubes, “FD&C Blue No. 2, may have similar if not greater toxicity potential than Blue No. 1 and would not be appropriate replacements” (World Health Organization 2003).  FD&C Red #40 has been linked with allergy-like hypersensitivity in a small number of adults and a potential trigger for hyperactivity in children (Bateman et al. 2004; Schab and Trinh 2004; Sarantinos, Rowe, and Briggs 1990; Conners et al. 1980; Conners, Petti, and Curtis 1978) and has been linked in animal studies to intrauterine developmental problems (Collins and Black 1980), behavioral and physical toxicity (Vorhees et al. 1983); genotoxicty (Sasaki et al. 2002) and colon DNA damage (Tsuda et al. 2001).  FD&C Red #3 has been linked to cancer in animal studies (Lin and Brusick 1986), though the FDA has been clear that it does not agree that these findings are persuasive enough to reverse their position that these food dyes are safe for consumers (Blumenthal 1990).  FD&C Yellow #6 (Sunset yellow) has been linked in a case study to anaphylactic shock (Trautlein and Mann 1978), in empirical research to allergic reactions and gastroenteritis (Gross et al,1989), adverse reproductive and neurobehavioral effects (Tanaka 1996) and cancer (National Toxicology Program 1981). Despite the FDA’s acknowledgement of the findings on FD&C Yellow #6: “Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye, the third most widely used, may cause tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney.  In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens, such as 4-aminobiphenyl and benzidine (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances) may contaminate dye Yellow #6. However, the FDA reviewed those data and found reasons to conclude that Yellow 6 does not pose a significant cancer risk to humans. Yellow 6 may cause occasional and sometimes severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people,” their final position is that this food dye is safe for public consumption (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2007a;b).

There have been numerous screenings, tests and reviews concerning the safety of a variety of food colorings over the years (Sasaki et al. 2002; Hayashi et al. 2000; Peiperl et al. 1995; 1993; Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition 1993; Blumenthal 1990; Flamm et al. 1985; Lagakos and Mosteller 1981; Haveland-Smith and Combes 1980; FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives 1969) and based on numerous research findings The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a Citizens Regulatory Petition requesting that the FDA ban these food dyes (2008).   The FDA however, has concluded that the evidence weighs in favor of determining the aforementioned food dyes safe for consumers (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2009a; 2008a; 2007a;b; 2004; 2003a; 2000; 1988; 1987; 1986; 1985; 1983; 1982a;b;c; FDA Agency Review of Toxicology Information in Petitions for Direct Food Additives and Color Additives Used in Food 2007), maintaining that colors found to be potentially hazardous have already been purged from the list of permissible additives (Henkel 1993) but in March 2011 they announced a review of the link between food dyes and child hyperactivity (Gleason, 2011).

The food additive monosodium glutamate (commonly known as “MSG”) has been linked in empirical studies and clinical trials to a myriad of adverse symptoms (Lau et al. 2006; Yang et al. 1997; Scher and Scher 1992; Olney 1987; 1984; Sauber 1980; Reif-Lehrer 1976; Rosenblum et al. 1971; Morselli and Garattini 1970; Schaumburg et al. 1969) including headaches and migraines (Baad-Hansen et al. 2010; Scopp 1991; Merritt and Williams 1990; Raskin 1981; Schaumburg et al. 1969), diabetes/insulin resistance/impaired glucose tolerance (Roman-Ramos et al. 2011; Collison et al. 2010; Sasaki et al. 2009; Morrison et al. 2008; Nakanishi et al. 2008; de Campos et al. 2007; Nagata et al. 2006; Iwase et al. 1998; Cameron et al. 1976), brain lesions/abnormalities (Yu et al. 1997; Monno et al. 1995; Meister et al. 1989; Simson et al. 1977; Arees and Mayer 1970; Olney and Ho 1970; Olney 1969; Olney and Sharpe 1969), skin abnormalities, urticaria, angioedema and intestinal disturbances (Tarlo and Sussman 1993; Van Bever, Docx and Stevens 1989), developmental irregularities (Yu et al. 1997), changes in circadian rhythm (Manivasagam and Subramanian 2004), respiratory problems including bronchoconstriction, especially for people with asthma (Tarlo and Sussman 1993; Hong et al. 1989; Allen et al. 1987; Moneret-Vautrin 1987; Swan 1982), enhanced threat to people with vascular disease (Merritt and Williams 1990); reproductive problems (Rodriguez-Sierra et al. 1980; Pizzi, Barnhart, and Fanslow 1977), liver inflammation/ injury/pathology (Roman-Ramos et al. 2011; Collison et al. 2009; Nakanishi et al. 2008), cognitive impairment (Collison et al. 2010), growth irregularities in offspring of mothers given MSG (von Diemen and Trindade 2010), dyslipidemia/ hyperlipidemia (Collison et al. 2010; Iwase et al. 1998), hypertension (Iwase et al. 1998), endocrine dysfunction (Miśkowiak and Partyka 1993), burning sensations, pressure, and tightness or numbness in the face, neck, and upper chest and bronchospasm (Settipane 1987), and weight gain/obesity  (Roman-Ramos et al. 2011; He, Staviglas, and Stamler 2009; Sasaki et al. 2009; He et al. 2008; Nakanishi et al. 2008; de Campos et al. 2007; Hermanussen et al. 2006; Nagata et al. 2006; Hermanussen and Tresguerres 2003;  Gobatto et al. 2002; Guimarães et al. 2002; Balbo et al. 2000; Iwase et al. 1998; Yamamoto et al. 1998; Miśkowiak and Partyka 1993; Tanaka et al. 1978; Olney 1969).  Scientists have known for some time about the link between MSG and weight gain; one of the most widely used models to induce obesity in laboratory rats and mice is by administering food additive-grade monosodium glutamate (Von Diemen, Trindade, and Trindade 2006; Dawson et al. 1997; Caputo et al. 1996; Yoshida et al. 1994).  And despite results calling the MSG-weight gain link into question, including those studies sponsored by the MSG industry (Kondoh and Torii 2008), a number of studies linking MSG with weight gain appear to support the position of The Glutamate Association, a government lobbying group comprised of corporations who use and produce MSG for foodstuffs (Samuels 1999), that eating foods containing MSG increases appetite (Hermanussen et al. 2006) in their suggested promotion of MSG for populations like the elderly who have difficulty gaining weight due to lowered appetites (Bellisle et al. 1996).  Despite the findings linking MSG with weight gain, increased appetite, and obesity, there remains no warning stating this possibility on food products containing MSG, which could potentially complicate a number of health-related issues such as obesity for some consumers.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which has the responsibility of aggregating consumer complaints and investigating potentially problematic ingredients in the food based on those consumer reports, has received numerous complaints about synthetic and industrialized food chemicals over the past several decades.  MSG alone has seen its fair share including severe headaches—over 43 percent of reported reactions from MSG to the FDA’s Adverse Reactions Monitoring System are for headaches (Samuels 1999) and breathing difficulties in asthmatics (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1995).  There is enough of a significant trend in clinical reports of adverse symptoms linked with MSG (including 41.2 percent of subjects in a glutamate industry-sponsored study; Kerr et al. 1979) that it has been assigned the name: “MSG symptom complex”.  According to the Mayo Clinic website:

“Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods                   containing MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include: headache,      flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, tingling or burning in face, neck and      other areas, rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations), chest pain, nausea, weakness” (Zeratsky      2011).

Back in 1993 the FDA actually considered requiring food manufacturers to include the words “contains glutamate” on all products that contained protein hydrolysates with substantial amounts of glutamate (such as hydrolyzed soy protein) but rejected this possibility (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1995).  In 1994 the FDA received a Citizens Regulatory Petition concerning MSG. Based on the Petitioners’ reports of debilitating and life-threatening sensitivities the Petitioners had to monosodium glutamate (MSG) the petition requested the FDA to make changes to the label requirements for food containing MSG and all related substances.  More specifically, the petition requested mandatory listing of all food items that contain free glutamic acid with an additional requirement that food manufacturers list the amount of free glutamic acid (MSG) along with a warning that MSG may be harmful to certain people (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1995).        The FDA failed to respond to the petition within 180 days of filing as required by law and in August, 1995, twenty-nine individuals (including physicians, scientists and parents on behalf of their children) filed suit in Federal Court asking the court to intercede on their behalf and require that all MSG in processed food, including foods containing substantial amounts of glutamate (such as hydrolyzed soy protein) be labeled with a warning that MSG may be present (Samuels 1995). To date the FDA has not taken such action.

Despite the body of evidence by independent researchers that MSG may be potentially harmful to some consumers (earlier estimates placed adverse reactions to MSG at between 25 and 30 percent of people; Reif-Lehrer 1976; 1977) the U.S. Food and Drug administration permits MSG to be present in the food without a warning to consumers.  Of course in theory consumers can simply read the ingredients labels and if they are already aware that they experience adverse health symptoms from MSG they can abstain from purchasing that product and thereby avoid ingesting MSG.  Unfortunately, searching the label for the words, “monosodium glutamate” is often not enough.  Free glutamic acid (monosodium glutamate) is frequently present in items that contain the ingredients listed as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, plant protein extract, hydrolyzed pea protein, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein and TVP, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed oat flour and corn oil, all the while the words “monosodium glutamate” or “MSG” may appear nowhere on the ingredients label (Federal Register 1977).  As if that is not confusing enough for consumers, monosodium glutamate may also make an appearance in food that lists ingredients such as malt extract, malt flavoring, bouillon, broth, stock, flavoring, natural flavors/flavoring, natural beef or chicken flavoring, seasoning, spices, carrageenan, enzymes, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate and whey protein concentrate (Blaylock 1997), again, with no warning to consumers that the product may contain monosodium glutamate (MSG).

A number of other food additives, especially preservatives, have also been linked to potential adverse health outcomes for some people (Kaplan 2010; Stevenson et al. 2010; Lau et al. 2006; Schab and Trinh 2004; Weiss 1982) including Sodium Benzoate.  Empirical studies and clinical trials indicate sodium benzoate may be linked in sensitive individuals to skin reactions including urticaria, pruritus and atopic dermatitis, and intestinal disturbances such as gastritis (Asero 2006; Schaubschläger et al. 1991; Van Bever, Docx and Stevens 1989; Juhlin 1981), nasal polyps, rhinitis, migraine headaches and arthralgia (Pacor et al. 2004; Juhlin 1981), shortness of breath, broncoconstriction, asthma (Arai et al. 1998; Petrus et al. 1996; Hong et al. 1989; Juhlin 1981; Freedman 1977), and with behavioral, mood and psychiatric disorders (El-Nouby et al. 2009; McCann et al 2007; Bateman et al. 2004; Schab and Trinh 2004; Juhlin 1981).  While food items containing sodium benzoate must list its presence, there are no required warnings for consumers.

Sulfites (several forms of sulfites exist and are allowed for use in foods: sulfur dioxide, sodium metabisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, sodium bisulfite, potassium bisulfite, and sodium sulfite) have been linked with several idiosyncratic and allergic reactions including respiratory tract irritation, bronchospasm, oculonasal symptoms, skin reactions including urticaria and angioedema, flushing, hypotension and intestinal disturbances in sulfite-sensitive individuals and those with asthma (Environmental Health and Safety 2008; Arai et al. 1998; Corder and Buckley 1995; Lester 1995; Atkinson, Sim, and Grant 1993; Tarlo and Sussman 1993; Hong et al. 1989; Van Bever, Docx and Stevens 1989; Settipane 1987; Towns and Mellis 1984; Freedman 1977).  The FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh produce in 1986 and required listing of sulfites on some food labels, but there remains no requirement for explicit warnings on processed or packaged food labels of the potential dangers from sulfites.

Salicylates are another group of additives that have been linked with respiratory problems and bronchoconstriction, and can be especially hazardous for people with asthma (Corder and Buckley 1995; Hong et al. 1989; Towns and Mellis 1984; Stenius and Lemola 1976) and have also been linked with allergic reactions and cross-reactions (Park et al. 1991) skin reactions and intestinal disturbances (Van Bever, Docx and Stevens 1989).  Other common food additives such as EDTA have been linked with allergic reactions in some people (van Laar et al. 1998). TBHQ (tert-butylhydroquinone) has also been linked with allergic reactions (Aalto-Korte 2000) and possible toxicity (van Esch 1986).  And Nitrates/Nitrites have been linked with the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines (Parke and Lewis 1992), chronic liver disease (Freedman et al. 2010), as well as respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances (Juhlin 1981), and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease (de la Monte et al. 2009).  Again, while these additives are required to be listed on food ingredients labels there are no required warnings.

While U.S. consumers may be hard pressed to find anything obvious about it on the label, the food additive1 Formaldehyde is used in preserved foods, medicines and vitamins (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2008), sugar production, as a preservative for grain and seed dressings and as a disinfectant for seeds (Product Stewardship Summary 2010), has been detected in beer and soft drinks (Lawrence and Iyengar 1983), as well as being present in the artificial sweetener Aspartame (Abegaz and Bursey 2009; Trocho et al. 1998), and when tested on products outside the U.S. has been detected in sources that can leach or migrate into food such as food packaging (Bradley et al. 2005), tableware and cooking utensils (Lund and Petersen 2006).  According to a recent report from the National Toxicology Program (2010), ingestion of food can be a significant source of exposure to formaldehyde—in addition to low levels of formaldehyde occurring naturally in a variety of foods such as fruit, food may contain small amounts of formaldehyde from its use as a fumigant, fertilizer and preservative (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry 2008). Much of the research on formaldehyde has centered on inhalation and it has been linked to a variety of adverse reactions including respiratory problems for people with asthma (McGwin, Lienert, and Kennedy 2010), migraine headaches (Abegaz and Bursey 2009), insomnia, memory loss, mood alterations, nausea, fatigue (National Toxicology Program 2010) and leukemia/cancer (National Toxicology Program 2010; Zhang et al. 2009).  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC 2004) has determined that formaldehyde may reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen.  The FDA position on formaldehyde is that “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not believe that the very low levels that are used in food and cosmetics present a significant safety concern,” (Scheuplein 1985, 245).

The preservatives BHT and BHA are commonly used in food items such as breakfast cereals. The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of BHA and BHT have been found to contribute to carcinogenicity or tumorigenicity as tumor promoters (Kahl and Kappus 1993). (It should be noted that there exist some evidence suggesting that under certain conditions these additives may also have the opposite effect in that they may be anti-carcinogenic, Williams et al. 1999; Lindenschmidt et al. 1986.) Additionally, there is evidence that certain persons may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavioral changes, respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances (Juhlin 1981).  Of note, in animal studies BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) has been linked to having a toxic effect on the lungs (Kahl and Kappus 1993), having a significant adverse effect on body weight to developing fetuses and later during the lactation period (Meyer and Hansen 1980), and adverse effects to adipose cells (Simán and Eriksson 1996), as well as acting as a developmental neurobehavioral toxin (Butcher et al. 1981) including promoting behavioral abnormalities during pregnancy, as well as to offspring, leading to severe deficits in learning, decreases in sleeping, as well as increases in aggression and social isolation (Stokes and Scudder 1974), promoting liver abnormalities and toxicity (Safer and al-Nughamish 1999; Simán and Eriksson 1996), and promoting cancerous tumors (Malkinson 1999; Parke and Lewis 1992).  To date, BHT continues to be used as a food additive/preservative in the U.S.  BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) has been linked in animal studies as a developmental toxin (Butcher et al. 1981), and as promoting decreases in sleeping, orientation reflex and learning (Stokes and Scudder 1974) and is now considered as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” (National Institutes of Health Report on Carcinogens, Public Health Service National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens 2002; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Report on Carcinogens (BHA), Eleventh Report on Carcinogens; Parke and Lewis 1992).  Citing numerous animal studies, Glenn Scott, M.D. filed a Citizens Regulatory Petition with the FDA back in 1990, asking the agency to prohibit the use of BHA in food. To date BHA continues to be used as a food additive/preservative in the U.S. While these additives are required to appear on the ingredients listings, there are no explicit warnings required on food products that contain these additives to alert consumers (Code of Federal Regulations – BHT 2010; Code of Federal Regulations – BHA 2010; U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2003a).

The same is true for an absence of warnings on high pesticide residues on or in certain foods such as produce, meat and dairy products (LeDoux 2011; Environmental Working Group 2009; Rutherford et al. 2000).  Neither the FDA nor the USDA have required warning labels for consumers on foods tested to contain high pesticide levels despite the fact that many pesticides have been linked in empirical studies with maternal and developmental toxicity (Farag et al. 2011), dysfunctional development during puberty (Roy et al. 2009; Wolf et al. 2008), neurobehavioral changes (Lim et al. 2011), ADHD in children (Shaw 2009), adverse effects on semen quality (Hauser et al. 2006; Swan et al. 2003), anti-androgenic potency effects; blocking androgens/ male hormones (Cone 2011; Orton et al. 2011), and other endocrine-disrupting effects (Schilirò 2011) leading to reproductive disorders and testicular and breast cancer (Prins 2008).  Human studies have linked exposure to PCB (Polychlorinated Biphenyls) mixtures for instance, with numerous adverse health consequences including immunological, reproductive, and dermatological effects, as well as cancer (Faroon, Smith-Simon, and De Rosa 2005).  The same holds true for animal antibiotics/antimicrobials present in meat and dairy products (McEwen and Fedorka-Cray 2002) for which the FDA estimates livestock receives 29 million pounds per year (FDA Summary Report 2009) and for which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011) cited studies that have correlated the use of antibiotics [cepholosporins] on food animals with higher rates of drug-resistant Salmonella infections in humans (U.S. Food and Drug Administration Draft Report 2010c; U.S. Food and Drug Administration Report 2004), and other drugs and animal growth hormones in meat and dairy products (Toldrá and Reig 2006; Chrièl and Dietz 2003; Anadón and Martínez-Larrañaga 1999; Epstein 1996; 1990; Prosser, Fleet, and Corps 1989) which have been linked in studies to increased risks of breast, colorectal, prostate, bladder, and other cancers (Rohrmann et al. 2007; Moorman and Terry 2004; Malawa 2002; Epstein 2001; Manousos et al. 1999; Bohlke et al. 1998; Chan et al. 1998; Hankinson et al. 1998; Outwater, Nicholson, and Barnard 1997; Peyrat et al. 1993; Epstein 1990). A Citizens Regulatory Petition was filed in 2007 by Dr. Samuel Epstein and others requesting that the FDA withdraws approval of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH).  The petition reads in part:

“This petition is based on scientific evidence of increased risks of cancer, particularly breast, colon, and prostate, from the consumption of milk from cows injected with Posilac®, the genetically modified recombinant bovine growth hormone (also known as rBGH, sometribove, recombinant bovine somatotropin, or rbST). Posilac® is the trademark for Monsanto’s rBGH product, registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and is approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This petition is also based on abnormalities in the composition of rBGH milk, resulting from the recognized veterinary toxicity of rBGH, particularly increased levels of IGF-1.”   (Epstein 2007, 1)

While some manufacturers of milk and dairy products have voluntarily stopped selling products containing recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) in recent years, this remains an approved substance in food products in the U.S. and the FDA (2010b) does not require rBGH food products to carry warnings on the labels for consumers.

Another chemical that has been linked in numerous studies to a variety of adverse health outcomes is bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA.  BPA, like the other food additives1 examined here, makes an appearance on U.S. grocery shelves with no packaging warnings to consumers.  BPA, developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen, came into widespread use in the 1950’s when scientists realized it could be used to make and strengthen polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to line food and beverage cans. In recent years BPA has been found to leach into food by way of cans (canned food) (Schecter et al. 2010; Environmental Working Group 20082), the lids of canning jars and plastic food and drink containers (Schecter et al. 2010; Wang and Schnute 2010) including baby bottles and toddler sippy-cups (Nam et al. 2010; Wang and Schnute, 2010; Maragou et al. 2008), and has been detected in infant formula and baby food (Gibson 2007; Houlihan and Lunder 2007; Biles, McNeal, and Begley 1997) as well as dental fillings (von Goetz et al. 2010).  BPA is a reported endocrine-disrupting chemical (Leranth et al. 2008; Takeuchi et al. 2004; Markey et al. 2003; Rubin et al. 2001) and numerous peer-reviewed studies conducted by independent scientists have linked exposure to BPA to a variety of adverse health consequences (Lang et al. 2008; Vom Saal et al. 2007) such as an increased risk for endocrine-related cancers (Prins 2008), including breast cancer (Jenkins et al. 2009; Dairkee et al. 2008) and prostate cancer (Prins et al. 2008a;b; Ho et al. 2006), heart disease (Melzer et al. 2010; Lang et al. 2008), abnormalities in liver function (Vom Saal et al. 2007), low sperm counts in men (Li et al. 2011), metabolic abnormalities, weight gain and increased serum cholesterol levels (Hugo et al. 2008; Miyawaki et al. 2007; Rubin et al. 2001), neurological damage/altered brain development (Palanza et al. 2008) including a link with schizophrenia (Brown 2009), puberty advances/disruptions/abnormalities (Wolf et al. 2008; Wadia et al. 2007; Howdeshell et al. 1999), insulin resistance and diabetes (Lang et al. 2008), and adverse reproductive and developmental effects (Benachour and Aris 2009; Rubin and Soto 2009; Honma et al. 2008; Lenie et al. 2008; Leranth et al. 2008; National Toxicology Program-CERHR 2008; Susiarjo and Hunt 2008; Dolinoy, Huang, and Jirtle 2007; Newbold, Jefferson, and Banks 2007; Richter et al. 2007) including recurrent miscarriages (Sugiura-Ogasawara et al. 2005).  BPA appears to be pervasive in the bodies of people living in the U.S.  It was found to be present in the urine of over 90 percent of Americans tested, in the breast milk of nursing mothers (Lang et al. 2008; Kuruto-Niwa et al. 2007; Ye et al. 2006), and with prenatal exposure, where testing detected BPA in the biological fluids and placenta, as well as the urine and umbilical cords of newborns (Völkel et al. 2011; Braun et al. 2009; Calafat et al. 2008; Ikezuki et al. 2002; Schönfelder et al. 2002).

BPA is another food additive in which the FDA has failed to take action that would potentially protect the health and safety of consumers (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, FDA Draft Assessment of Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications).  In 2010 the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its failure to act on a 2008 Citizens Regulatory Petition to ban the use of bisphenol-A (BPA) in food packaging, food containers, and other materials likely to come into contact with food (Environmental Working Group 2008).  Among other things, the petition argues that BPA exposure has been associated in primate and other empirical animal studies with a wide range of adverse effects, including reproductive defects, chromosomal damage, nervous system harm, increased rates of breast and prostate cancer, and metabolic changes including obesity and insulin resistance (a condition that commonly precedes the development of diabetes) and studies in human tissue link BPA exposure with breast cancer and diabetes. The petition further states:

“In light of the data suggesting that BPA is harmful to human health, and in response to the well-founded concerns of experts in the field, FDA must prohibit BPA from use in human food and food packaging, including in can linings and in beverage containers like baby bottles. The FDA must further revoke all regulations permitting the use of any food additive that results in BPA becoming a component of food,” and that FDA’s Approval of BPA for ‘Use in Food Contact Substances’ violates the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act” (National Resource Defense Council 2008, 3).

Several states have taken the issue of BPA in children’s products under consideration, and some states, cities and counties have decided to take the matter of public health and safety into their own hands and have banned BPA in baby bottles in their communities (Koch 2010).  In March, 2011 the Environmental Protection Agency said it would consider adding BPA to its list of chemicals of concern (Szabo 2010a).  In a change from its 2008 position on BPA, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has since expressed that it has “some concern” and shares the National Toxicology Program’s concerns that BPA may alter the brain, behavior and prostate gland in children both before and after birth (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 2010a; 2008b; Szabo 2010b;).   While encouraging manufacturers to look for safer materials for baby feeding products, baby formula and to line metal cans, as well as reporting plans to conduct a new review of this chemical, to date the FDA has not recommended discontinuing use of products that contain BPA and has taken no action to recommend a complete or partial ban or to require warning labels on food that may contain BPA.

U.S. food consumers rely on governmental agencies like the FDA and USDA to oversee the safety of their food and to alert them when foods contain ingredients that may be hazardous for some people.  For instance, approximately 11 percent of U.S. food consumers read the allergen labeling on food packaging while searching for potentially problematic ingredients (International Food Information Council Foundation 2010).   This begs the question:  Why are there no required warnings on food products that contain ingredients linked with adverse symptoms like free glutamic acid (MSG), Tartrazine/yellow dye #5, sodium benzoate, Formaldehyde, BHT/BHA, BPA or other synthetic and industrialized food chemicals that may pose a health risk for some people?

 

Other Countries’ Reactions to Research Findings about Potentially Dangerous Food Chemicals

The U.S. government agencies may consider many of these synthetic and industrialized food chemicals safe enough for consumers that they do not warrant a warning on the ingredients labels or packaging, but other countries do not always share this level of confidence.  Outside of the U.S. many countries either require warning indicators for their consumers to be placed on food labels containing some of these synthetic and industrialized food chemicals or they have banned them all together.

Several food dyes either require consumer warnings on food labels or have been banned outright in some countries.  Following the European Food Safety Authority’s request that food manufacturers voluntarily remove six food dyes back in 2008, a European Union-wide mandatory warning is now required to appear on food and drink labels that contains any of these food dyes:  quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), Tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow FCF (E110). The label must carry the warning ‘May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children’. This became mandatory across the European Union as of July, 2010 (Food Standards Agency, U.K. 2010) and was based in part on the findings from empirical research conducted by Cragg, Ross, and Dawson Qualitative Research Report (2007).   Additionally, in March, 2011, the European Food Safety Authority’s panel on food additives and nutrient sources revised the Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADIs) levels for a group of caramel food dyes (E150a, E150c, E150d) used in food production (The European Food Safety Authority 2008; 2011).  One of the food dyes required by the UK to carry a warning label is allura red (E129) (FD&C Red Dye 40) which is banned in Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden and Austria (CBC 2010), Green Dye #3 is illegal throughout the European Union (Official Journal of the European Communities 1994) and Tartrazine (Yellow dye #5; E102), which is also on the EU list requiring consumer warning labels, is banned in Sweden and Finland, the latter banning Tartrazine (Yellow Dye #5) and sunset yellow (Yellow Dye #6) back in 1981 (Perera 1986).  (It should be noted that Norway previously banned food dyes/additives containing coal tar and coal tar derivatives back in 1978, as well as nitrates/nitrites, but in 2001 agreed to reverse the bans in order to abide by the rulings of the European Economic Area.)  Under public pressure spurred on by the findings of the EU study, Nestle Corporation announced in late 2008 that it would phase out six dyes from its foods produced in Australia: quinoline yellow (E104), carmoisine (E122), allura red (E129), Tartrazine (E102), ponceau 4R (E124), sunset yellow FCF (E110) (Burke 2009) and in 2009 some grocery retailers in Australia implemented a voluntary ban of the same six food dyes (Macey 2009).

Some countries also handle other food additives and preservatives differently than the U.S.  For example, the preservative Sodium Benzoate is a commonly used preservative in foods, drugs and other products in the U.S.  But parabens such as benzoic acid and Ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate, a derivative of benzoic acid, is banned in Australia, and methyl p-hydroxybenzoate and benzoic acid are banned for use in food in Taiwan, Canada and Europe (Food Safety Net 2010).  Sulfites/Metabisulfites (E223) are listed in the U.K. as a preservative that may cause allergic reactions, particularly skin irritation, gastric irritation and asthma, and back in the 1980’s the U.K. banned bromates (such as potassium bromate) in baked goods after animal studies found they increased the incidence of kidney tumors (Food Standards Agency, U.K. 2010; Murphy 1997).  Formaldehyde is banned as a food preservative in China, Vietnam and Hong Kong (Flynn 2010; Ma 2010; Tang et al. 2009; The Centre for Food Safety 2009; The Standard 2008). The Chinese health ministry’s 2008 list of banned food additives (including boric acid as an emulsifier and sodium thiocyanate, used as a preservative in milk and dairy products) was expanded in 2011 when China’s officials banned the production of two new food additives, benzoyl peroxide and calcium peroxide, commonly used to bleach flour (Global Food Law 2011).

The growth hormone rBGH in milk/dairy and hormones in meat is also handled differently in some countries outside the U.S.  There is a European ban on the marketing and sale of rBGH milk. Since January 2000 the growth hormone (rBGH) has been banned in milk and dairy products in all twenty-seven countries of the EU (European Commission Report on Public Health Aspects of the Use of Bovine 1999) as have hormones in meat (Stephany 2001; European Commission Report: Assessment of Potential Risks to Human Health From Hormone Residues in Bovine Meat and Meat Products 1999).  Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have also prohibited the drug’s use (American Public Health Association 2009; Food Standards Australia and New Zealand 2006; Japan Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare 2004; Health Canada Report 1998).

And BPA (bisphenol-A), a permitted food additive in the U.S., is banned (at least in baby bottles) in several countries across the globe.  Among them are Canada, France, Denmark, Australia, Germany and New Zealand (Food Safety Net 2011).  Malaysia’s ban on BPA in baby bottles becomes effective March, 2012 (Food Safety Net 2011) and in March, 2011 China created draft regulations to ban BPA in baby bottles and children’s products (Feiran 2011).  The European Union banned BPA from being manufactured in plastic baby bottles in all EU countries effective March, 2011 and a BPA ban on all plastic baby product sales and imports in EU countries became effective June 2011 (European Commission 2010; USA Today 2010). The United Arab Emirates (UAE) in also banning BPA in baby bottles and all children’s products (Emirates News 2010). In late 2010 Environment Canada placed bisphenol-A (BPA) on the country’s list of toxic substances.  The Canadian government first banned polycarbonate baby bottles back in April 2008 (Global Food Law 2011).

Beyond other countries requiring warning labels for consumers or banning certain synthetic or industrialized food chemicals that are permitted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, many countries outside the U.S. have developed systems for determining and assuring consumer food safety that varies dramatically from that of the U.S.  For example, in India the Supreme Court recently banned food industry representatives from being a part of the food safety advisory committee.  The Indian Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSA) blocked representatives from the food and beverage industry from being included on an advisory scientific panel on food safety and standards. The Indian Supreme Court found that involvement of food industry figures breached the Food Safety and Standards Act because such panels could not be said to be manned by independent experts (Food Production Daily 2011; Global Food Law 2011).

 

AN ASSESSMENT OF THE NEED FOR LABELING

As the preceding section describes, there is considerable evidence of at least the potential for harm from a number of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals.  However, at the same time there also exist studies that do not find evidence of harmful effects.  And in fact, the FDA has categorized many of the additives discussed here as “Generally Recognized As Safe” (GRAS).  For example, regarding BHA and BHT, the FDA’s Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) concludes that, “While no evidence in the available information on BHA/BHT demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced, uncertainties exist requiring that additional studies be conducted.”  And regarding MSG and sulfites, the SCOGS concludes that, “There is no evidence in the available information on MSG/sulfites that demonstrates a hazard to the public when used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced. However, it is not possible to determine, without additional data, whether a significant increase in consumption would constitute a dietary hazard.”3

This leads to two questions:  (1) How can the evidence of potential harm cited be reconciled with the conclusions of the FDA? ; (2) What does this suggest about what public policy should be regarding labeling?4  There are a number of possible interpretations regarding the FDA’s position on the substances discussed here.  One is that the FDA has acted as an objective evaluator of all possible scientific information and is making optimal, unbiased, rational decisions regarding the safety of these additives.  Therefore, it would follow that an objective reading of the current state of research on each individual food additive would conclude that the evidence of harm is strongly outweighed by other studies showing no harm.   A second possibility is that the FDA is trying to act as an objective evaluator but for some reason comes out with biased conclusions.  A third possibility is that decision-makers are not even attempting to be objective and instead are operating under ‘regulatory capture’—a process in which decision-makers serve industry interests rather than the public interest.  The idea that regulatory capture has been taking place at the FDA is not a new one, though most of the evidence presented publicly has been in the area of drug approval (Egilman et al 2007; Abraham 2002; Olson 1995).

But even if FDA decision-makers are not consciously steering decisions to favor industry interests, the second possibility—that bias in decisions is present—could still occur for a number of reasons.  One explanation would be that the selection process leads to hiring decision-makers who have certain leanings, and even if they try their best to make objective decisions they have a tendency to favor a particular viewpoint.  Another source of bias could be incentives that favor certain conclusions, either within the FDA, or through career paths that involve interchange with industry (either being directly employed by industry or being employed at third party institutions with research funded by industry) that unconsciously influence perspectives.  A third source of bias could simply be the substantial resources available to industry to produce material and results that favors one set of conclusions; this factor, combined with decision-makers who fail to adequately discount biased input, can influence their decisions.  This could occur if decision-makers from the FDA attempt to judiciously weigh the evidence for or against a substance’s safety but fail to fully discount how the quantity of evidence on a particular side and the strength of its conclusions may be influenced by the source of that study.  For example, decision-makers may be too influenced by numerous studies funded by industry that show additives cause no harm.  A judicious decision-maker may discount this evidence for a number of reasons.   First, as described by Michaels (2008), the powerful and well-funded product defense industry has evolved for defending potentially unsafe products and chemicals; it has been developed with the sole goal of creating science that is considered credible, but that is biased and unreliable and inevitably favors the interests of its funders.  Industry has also adopted the practice of ghostwriting research articles on behalf of allegedly objective scientists to gain regulatory approval of products and substances (Fugh-Berman 2010; McHenry and Jureidini 2008).  Even aside from the alleged creation of a product defense industry and ghostwriting of research, health-related research results have been shown to be correlated with the source of funding (Bourgeois et al. 2010; Tereskerz et al. 2009).  The magnitude of differences in results by funding source can be striking in its size.  For example, Lexchin et al. (2003) found that industry sponsored research was four times more likely to reach conclusions favorable to industry, while Friedberg et al. (1999) found that non-sponsored research was seven times more likely to report unfavorable qualitative conclusions.   Research results that are compiled into reviews of health-related issues may also be influenced by reporting bias, with industry-funded studies failing to report results that are contrary to their interests (Smyth et al. 2011; Kirkham et al. 2010).  Samuels (2010) gives an account of the approval of one of the chemicals discussed here, MSG, that implicates both industry bias and information suppression, as well as bias in the FDA’s actions as causing the continued presence in U.S. food products of a substance many have argued to be harmful to consumer health.  And Barbee (2004, 13) points out that conflicts of interest occur frequently in FDA approval committee meetings, concluding that when it comes to the FDA, “if you have the money and the influence, you can frequently get what you want”.

The evidence that decisions regarding what is considered to be a harmful substance vary considerably across developed countries casts further doubt on the regulatory process.  The variance could be interpreted as decision-makers not making an objective reading of the evidence on the substances discussed here.  Or, an alternative inference is that interpretations of the evidence can vary considerably among knowledgeable decision-makers holding different perspectives.

This leads us to the second question posed, ‘What does this suggest regarding public policy?’  If either objectivity is open to reasonable questioning or there is considerable variance in interpretation of the evidence, then it suggests that consumers should be provided with the information to make such decisions themselves.  The public appears to agree with this perspective.  According to an International Food Information Council Foundation (2010) survey, 77 percent of U.S. food consumers believe that insuring food safety is the responsibility of the government, with 70 percent claiming it is also the responsibility of the food industry.  Approximately 31 percent believe food safety is a shared responsibility among five or more stakeholder groups including the government, farmers, food producers, retailers, and consumers.

Of course, a balance must always be attempted between information overload of the consumer and providing beneficial information.  While it is sometimes useful to utilize government regulatory expertise as a way to distill complex information into labels that the consumer can easily digest, extra care must be taken when there is a known wide range of consumer beliefs regarding the importance of product properties.  In the realm of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals, a growing portion of the U.S. population will pay a significant premium to buy organic products or to otherwise avoid certain food chemicals (U.S. purchases of organic foods have increased 70 percent over the past four years, Chase 2011).  This suggests that rather than government bodies alone, some level of consumer sovereignty should prevail with adequate information on the label to allow consumers to reach their own conclusions in terms of whether a substance is safe or not.

     Food chemical safety conclusions reached by the FDA also tend to be focused on the most serious health consequences (such as cancer and birth defects) and focus on an individual of “average” sensitivity.  For example, in concluding that MSG is “generally recognized as safe” the FDA noted that a portion of the population is known to experience adverse symptoms from its consumption. This portion of the population is so large in fact, as to exert enough economic influence to cause numerous Chinese restaurants across the U.S. to make explicit mention of the fact that they do not use MSG.  Additionally, several conventional food manufacturers have begun to promote their soups, sauces and other food items by advertising that they contain “No MSG”.  Yet, according to the FDA, the percentage of people with adverse reactions to this food additive is not large enough to counter the conclusion that the substance is generally recognized as safe, despite the fact that the FDA acknowledges that some consumers can have strong adverse reactions to minute quantities.  As previously noted, reactions of sensitive individuals (such as asthmatics) can be serious and life-threatening.  This raises a question as to why if we label peanut residue in food for the sake of a small portion of sensitive individuals with serious adverse consequences, do we not also warn of hidden and inconsistently labeled substances that can also lead to severe consequences?

Labeling is not just for the average consumer who seeks to avoid life-threatening health consequences.  Consideration must also be given to empowering those known to be sensitive to synthetic/industrialized food chemicals, as well as empowering those who do not yet know they are sensitive so they and their healthcare providers can learn about the connection through experience.  Our food supply system should consider the needs of all consumers—including individuals who have sensitivities to synthetic and industrialized food additives.  Additionally, it should consider the needs of not only those who wish to avoid the potential of serious health problems, but also those who wish to avoid foods that consistently cause them to have headaches, nausea, edema, and a variety of other known short-term adverse consequences.

A Behavioral Economic Model of Consumer Confusion

     This section uses theoretic behavioral economic principles to describe how consumer biases and cognitive limits can cause consumer confusion and how the directed actions of industry that seeks to capitalize on this can enhance this consumer confusion, increasing the need for intervention by regulators in providing consumers with systematic, consistent information about potential harm.

In addition to issues surrounding food additives and potentially harmful chemicals discussed here, there are numerous cases where consumer confusion exists regarding food characteristics.  There has been confusion over labeling of eggs as well as other animal products with higher animal care standards (Frank 2006; Paulson 2006; Fulmer 2001), confusion over the presence of genetically modified organisms (Scandizzo 2002), confusion over what it means for something to be natural or organic (Eng 2009), and confusion over the healthy qualities and benefits of food (Labiner-Wolfe, Jordon, and Verrill 2010), among many other issues.  In some cases, efforts seem to have been made by some in the food industry to intentionally label products that add to consumer confusion, while in other cases it is less clear whether the confusion to consumers is intentional.

The fact that confusion can be beneficial to a firm that seeks to seize on a trend in demand (such as the growing market for organic food) by changing a label without changing their production process or ingredients, is self-evident and does not require further explanation.  But what may be less clear is why confusion among consumers is so prevalent.  Sometimes the information search costs required to make the proper choices are quite modest.  Limited resources and cognitive capacity can explain part of it, but we postulate that something more is going on.  In particular, when threatened with unpleasant realities that conflict with current habits, a desire for denial (or dissonance reduction) may work to enhance confusing messages, causing the consumer to ignore the issue entirely.  In addition, other behavioral factors such as satisficing (to be discussed later) may also play a role.

While the applicability of the main ideas presented in this section may extend to many other products beyond food, food is also special in the way we respond to it for a number of reasons, some of which are discussed in Frank (2007):

1) Few habits are as deeply ingrained or as often repeated as our eating habits.  Therefore, existing food preferences may be particularly hard to change based on rational health or ethics-based arguments.

2) Food consumption is embedded in important ways into our social interactions.  When changing food preferences threatens to disrupt current social interactions (such as by limiting restaurant options or requiring special dietary requests when one meets with friends or coworkers), there may be a strong resistance to changing preferences.

3) Existing choices may be reinforced culturally and socially causing further resistance to change (note: this is subtly distinct from the issue of disrupting social interactions.  An example would be even if the restaurant we regularly attend with our friends has foods that accommodate our new diet so that there is no disruption of social interactions, the fact that our new choice of food differs obviously from the choices of our reference group may still exert pressure to deter change).

4) Food holds a special place in the law.  There are unusual subsidies to food production and laws governing what can even be said about food.  This creates an unusually strong institutional context with powerful actors seeking to prevent disruption of current markets.

5) Some of our behavioral responses to food may have developed through biological evolution and be partially hardwired in our brains.  We may also have a limited reinforcement horizon with food, such as reacting instinctively to short-term digestive problems from food sources, but being less inclined to connect long-term adverse effects with certain foods.  Humans may also be less inclined to connect food to problems related to modern chemical additives rather than to the toxic reactions that we have encountered throughout our evolutionary history.

Let us begin by assuming that a consumer gets utility of Ua from a current food consumption choice.  But the consumer learns of a cost to this food consumption behavior that causes a utility cost of Ca.  Assume that this cost also has the features of a credence good (Darby and Karni 1973).  In other words, it is an intangible cost that cannot be observed at the time of consumption.  Some examples of this include an ethical good (Frank 2006) such as humane treatment of animals in production or a health outcome that can be short-term but beyond the time of consumption (weight gain, headaches, etc.) or long-term (cancer, obesity or heart disease risk). The consumer can switch to good B which is a substitute for good A and yields utility Ub, and has no associated ethical or health cost (Cb=0).  We assume that in the absence of the cost, A is preferred to B (Ua > Ub) but that in the presence of the cost, B is preferred to A:

  • Ua – Ca < Ub

For the sake of simplicity, in some scenarios it may be helpful to generalize Ua and Ub as utilities net of price. In particular this may be a useful simplification when utilities from consumption are the same, but monetary costs differ.  An example is A is a regular food product while B is the same product but produced using organic (or some other) methods.  It may be the case that the same utility is received from both products (aside from Ca), but that B has a higher selling price than A.  But rather than introducing separate price variables, if Ua and Ub are utilities net of selling prices, the assumptions above can remain unchanged.  A rational consumer with perfect information would simply choose B over A given the added cost.

However, let us assume that the company producing B can legitimately label their product as not having the potential for adverse health costs, while the company producing A can easily obfuscate that information by making their label appear similar or otherwise hide the source of the potential health costs of their food product.  For example, foods known to cause adverse reactions in a large percentage of the population (25-42 percent, Kerr et al. 1979; Reif-Lehrer 1977) such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) may be hidden despite the consumer checking the labels.  While consumers who know they have adverse reactions to MSG can avoid this particular ingredient if they recognize it on food labels, by using a variety of pseudonyms such as “natural flavoring” or not stating that it is present within other ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, the food manufacturer can attempt to keep this ingredient hidden from the consumer on their food labels.

Even if intentional obfuscation takes place, consumers may be able to make optimal decisions in some cases if they take some effort to learn what to look for or avoid.  This information cost is labeled I.  For a rational consumer, it would be worth it to make the effort to differentiate A from B if:

  • Ua – Ca <  Ub – I

However, this is where the consumer is hypothesized to deviate from rational behavior.  Before the obfuscation, the consumer was confronted by the fact of Ca, and therefore with the inevitability of switching their choices, even if their myopic preference is for A.  If the mind is viewed from a dual process theory (Kahneman 2003), “System 1” would prefer product A, while “System 2” would reason that product B is preferable.  When obfuscation takes place, it creates a plausible opportunity for denial or motivated reasoning.  In other words, if a consumer at some level wants A to be the right answer, they can ignore the opportunity for obtaining information and simply rationalize that there is no way to avoid Ca and therefore they might as well ignore the potential adverse health cost.  In other words, it becomes an excuse to ignore the adverse health consequences of our choices, even if these costs are avoidable.   The opportunity to seek out information may be ignored, or the cost, “I” may be unreasonably exaggerated in the mental calculus.

This is consistent with the considerable evidence on motivated reasoning and mechanisms to reduce cognitive dissonance.  The case for motivated reasoning is well established, both theoretically (Kunda 1990) and empirically (Agrawal and Maheswaran 2005; Chernov 2001; Jain and Maheswaran 2000).  Kunda in particular argues that though people are more likely to arrive at conclusions that they want to arrive at, they are constrained in their ability to do so by their ability to construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these conclusions.  This is tied closely to what is hypothesized here.  Namely, by expending a small amount of effort, food companies can enhance the ability of consumers to construct reasonable justifications for their conclusions, even if they are wrong (or unhealthy) conclusions.  In other words, consumers who would prefer to discount from consideration an intangible or long-term health cost of a particular food item are enabled by the food manufacturer to do so. In particular, the firms create some degree of uncertainty about an adverse health cost (Ca) or the effectiveness of mitigating a cost.  A consumer who would at some level prefer to myopically make choices in ignorance of this cost can then seize on this uncertainty and cognitively exaggerate its importance to the decision-making process.  For example, competing ethical claims allows consumers to throw up their hands and rationalize that they are powerless to mitigate the ethical costs by making responsible consumption choices.   The same is true for confusing claims about food products being ‘natural’, ‘organic’ or otherwise free of unwanted synthetic and industrialized food chemicals.  Confused consumers who would rather not confront issues like how their personal food choices may adversely affect their long-term health can easily justify not even trying to make healthier food choices.  Using motivated reasoning, weak evidence that counters inconvenient but strong findings regarding a health cost can likewise be seized upon as a source of uncertainty.

Introducing complexity into the food marketplace through intentional obfuscation may also play into what is called, “satisficing” (Simon 1957).  Simon originally conceived of satisfying to explain the behavior he observed of managers who, when faced with too many decisions to make, did not optimize their choices but simply settled for a ‘good enough’ decision that met some minimum standard, and then they moved on to focus their limited cognitive attention on other issues.  Consumers likewise are often faced with too many options and decision points and may resort to satisficing.  That is, when consumers are faced with confusing or contradictory information via marketing or product defense industry obfuscation, consumers may default to the “good enough” choice.  This stems in part because there is information-overload on what is good and bad to eat.  If experts overwhelmingly speak on one side of a debate, consumers may have little trouble incorporating a change in their behavior.  However, when a claim is contested, consumers with limited resources to research the credibility and motivations of both sides will often simply satisfice.  The “good enough” solution in this case may be to simply continue eating what one has already been eating if there is no perceived clear tangible and immediate harm.  Since the cost Ca is assumed to be long-term, intangible, or otherwise hard to connect directly to the consumption behavior, it will likely be ignored in the satisficing decision.

What does all this mean for food consumption choices?  It implies that established consumer consumption patterns may be hard to change even when evidence exists that challenges these choices.  This is particularly true when food manufacturers have a vested interest in continuing current consumption patterns.  Conventional food manufacturers will not need to have the weight of evidence on their side about potential health risks that may or may not be associated with food additives in their products.  A little effort to confuse the issue can go a long way in keeping consumers from changing their behaviors.

Does Industry Intentionally Obfuscate Food Content?

     If it takes little effort on the part of industry to thwart consumer intentions for changing their consumption behavior, is their evidence that intentional deception on the part of the food manufacturer takes place?  In some cases there is.  But far more prevalent is evidence that labels are misleading, while the intention of the producer remains open to interpretation.  As already discussed, MSG can make an appearance under a large number of aliases, most of which give no indication of the presence of this food additive.  In some cases it is possible that labeling of MSG by other names may be unintentional (for example when MSG is a byproduct rather than added to the final food product).  However, it is a possibility that at least in some cases, if not many, additives containing MSG appear on the label with no mention of it to the consumer, and that this occurs with the full recognition of the manufacturer.  While that inference can certainly be disputed, what it is indisputable is that including MSG in products labeled “No Added MSG,” “No MSG Added,” and “No MSG” is an intentional obfuscation.  Yet, according to Samuels5, this does in fact happen.  Placing “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG” on food labels has been deemed by the FDA to be false and misleading under the U.S. Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act—especially when the label also lists any hydrolyzed protein as an ingredient since it always contains MSG.  According to Samuels (1999), at one time, the FDA responded to the illegal use of the term “No MSG Added,” with both a Regulatory Letter and threat of seizure and injunction in case of non-compliance.  But over time the FDA began to look the other way (as did State Attorneys Generals who previously had prosecuted these cases), leading the deceptive and misleading practice of labeling products “No MSG” and “No Added MSG” to once more proliferate.

To make things even worse for consumers, while the FDA announced in 1995 that it considers food labels stating, “No MSG” or “No Added MSG” to be misleading if the food contains ingredients that are sources of free glutamates, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) took no such action.  The USDA actually approves labels of meat and poultry products that claim “No MSG,” “No MSG Added,” or “No Added MSG” despite the presence of sources of free glutamates such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein (Samuels 1999).

    Unfortunately, label confusion for consumers does not stop there.  Many other potentially harmful additives discussed in this paper can come under a variety of names.  For example, sulfite preservatives may be listed on food labels as Sulfur Dioxide, Sodium Sulfite, Sodium Bisulfite, Sodium Metabisulfite, Potassium Bisulfite, and Potassium Metabisulfite.  Or even worse for consumers, it may come with no label at all.  For example, sulfites without any label are not uncommon in some dried fruit and wine, among other foods.  This absence of a label on a food additive known to cause adverse reactions may or may not be an example of intentional obfuscation.  Either way, the consumer loses.  Another example of labeling that may be intentionally confusing to consumers is BHA/BHT on cereal boxes which sometimes does not appear in the ingredients listing but is noted elsewhere on the box with a statement that it was ‘added to the packaging’.  For consumer information purposes, it is not relevant at what stage in the process the preservative was added—the fact is that it ends up in the final food product which is consumed, and therefore should be labeled in the place consumers expect to find such information.

But the problem of consumers being intentionally misled can go well beyond the food ingredients label.  Corporate obfuscation (such as funding bias and ghostwriting) can occur not only at the product labeling level but also in the science defining the risk of the product—a practice that requires complicit cooperation from others in the chain of the approval process.  Samuels (1999) lays out a particularly compelling and damning case regarding industry influence on the risk assessment of MSG.  In addition to industry involvement, Samuels also presents evidence that personnel at government institutions such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and National Institute of Health (NIH) have been complicit in this influence. The American Medical Association (AMA) has also had a role in maintaining public ignorance regarding synthetic and industrialized food chemicals like MSG in food.   At the AMA 1991 annual meeting the organization refused to implement a resolution passed by its own membership to encourage all appropriate regulatory agencies, including the FDA, to mandate labeling of all foods containing even small amounts of MSG (American Medical Association 1991).

The FDA has acknowledged that MSG holds the potential to cause some people to have serious adverse health outcomes which is the reason they require MSG to be listed on food ingredients labels (U.S. Food and Drug Administration 1995).  But requiring MSG to be listed on the label is meaningless to the consumer if the food industry lists MSG under other names and then fails to require warnings on the food label that MSG is or may be present.  If the FDA acknowledges the potential for adverse health consequences from MSG in some people, it begs the question, ‘Why do they permit food corporations to obfuscate the fact that their products contain monosodium glutamate or free glutamic acid?’  It also remains unclear why there are no required warnings on food products that contain other additives linked with adverse health reactions such as Tartrazine, caramel food dye, sodium benzoate, formaldehyde, BHT, BHA, BPA, and so on.

Yet another method of corporate obfuscation can come in the form of promoting consumer information overload.  Information overload is a legitimate concern in food labeling.  However, while industry often argues that labeling of legitimate health risks will overload the consumer, at the same time food manufacturers often overload the consumer with irrelevant or misleading information on food labels (Laskawy 2010).  These can include meaningless claims of being “natural” without being USDA certified organic or complying with USDA requirements for organic foods, or claims of “no transfats/no added sugar” on products for which these claims are irrelevant.  Information overload can also come in the form of scientific studies overload (sometimes industry-sponsored), which may affect experts and reporters, as well as the consumer.  Research overload can come in the form of overwhelming or confusing evaluators with the sheer volume of contradictory scientific information (Lengle 2008). This can often lead the evaluator (or consumers who read news articles on the subject) to conclude that the harm or benefit of certain food products or additives are completely unknown.  Consumer doubt of scientific evidence may lead to the continued use of products even when there is arguably evidence of potential harm, simply because the seeds of doubt have been sown.  As previously discussed, the scientific defense of industry’s interests has become an industry in itself—one that has the resources to fulfill the objective of confusing and complicating evaluation of the science on a topic—including synthetic and industrialized food chemicals.

 

Obstacles to Achieving Bans or Label Warnings for Potentially Dangerous Synthetic/Industrialized Food Chemicals

One of the problems fueling consumer skepticism about the healthiness and safety of their food may be perpetuated by the obstacles governmental overseer agencies like the FDA and USDA must deal with.   Governmental oversight agencies’ efforts are often challenged by powerful lobbying groups representing the chemical and food industries, making any attempted changes a game of tug-of war.  Some U.S. political representatives must fight these same obstacles when presenting legislation that is counter to the interest of the chemical and food industries.  For example, Senator Dianne Feinstein has gone on record as stating that the chemical industry, namely The American Chemistry Council (formerly known as the Chemical Manufacturers Association) was behind the failure of the recent legislative bill to ban BPA in the U.S. (USA Today 2010).  Some of the largest chemical companies in the world including BASF, Dow, and DuPont, among other plastics manufacturers, make up the members of the American Chemistry Council (ACC)—an organization that has spent millions of dollars working to defeat efforts to restrict the use of bisphenol-A in infant formula, baby food, baby bottles and sippy-cups at the state level (Rosenberg 2010; Kissinger and Rust 2009; Layton 2009; Rust and Kissinger 2008). Also working to fight against changes in food labeling that would offer consumers warnings and more information about synthetic and industrialized food chemical ingredients is the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)—another powerful organization with well-orchestrated and well-funded lobbying efforts to protect their interests.  While having less at stake than the chemical industry, the GMA nonetheless reportedly teamed up with major food corporations and the ACC and made strident efforts to help defeat the bill that would restrict the use of BPA in the U.S. (Rosenberg 2010; Kissinger 2009).

Funding limitations is another obstacle faced by governmental overseers of food safety, causing these agencies to prioritize their focus on only those issues deemed an immediate threat or public health problem.  An FDA advisory panel of outside experts reportedly concluded that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “so underfunded and understaffed that it puts U.S. consumers at risk when it comes to food and drug safety” (Weise and Schmit 2009).  Much needed structural changes to permit agencies like the FDA to function effectively with modern-day issues and challenges are also in order. Outdated policies causing bureaucratic entanglement have tied the hands of administrators and created bottlenecks in the process of implementing critical policies in agencies like the FDA.  When the financial and human resource limitations of the governmental overseeing body are coupled with industry-funded studies and the well-orchestrated efforts of the product defense industry, the consumer may suffer.

Also at issue is the sheer amount of chemical substances that are being registered every day in the U.S.—far more than agencies like the FDA can properly evaluate, say some scientists. According to Patricia Hunt, a professor in the Washington State University School of Molecular Biosciences, “…things get rapidly into the marketplace and the testing of them is tending to lag behind.”  Hunt is the author of an open letter to the FDA and EPA on this very topic published in the journal Science:

“…eight societies from the fields of genetics, reproductive medicine, endocrinology, developmental biology and others note that some 12,000 new substances are being registered with the American Chemical Society daily…top federal regulators, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, often lack information about the hazards of chemicals produced in high volumes.

“Scientific societies representing 40,000 researchers and clinicians are asking that federal regulators tap a broader range of expertise when evaluating the risks of chemicals to which Americans are being increasingly exposed.” (Hunt 2011; Layton 2011)

 

The Effect Corporate Obfuscation and Governmental Inaction Has on Consumer Confidence and Behavior

Reports about empirical research findings linking food chemicals to adverse health consequences have affected perceptions of U.S. food consumers in recent years as they continue to lack confidence in the safety of their food.  A 2009 survey conducted by Survey Sampling International (SSI) and sponsored by IBM reported that “Consumers are increasingly wary of the safety of food purchased at grocery stores, and their confidence in – and trust of – food retailers, manufacturers and grocers is declining.”  The survey results found that less than 20 percent of consumers trust food companies to develop and sell food products that are safe and healthy. The survey also found that 60 percent of consumers are concerned about the safety of food they purchase, and 63 percent of consumers reported being knowledgeable about the content of the food they buy.  The survey also found that there is a significant gap between consumer expectations and what retailers/manufacturers are providing.  For example, 77 percent of consumers reported that they want more information about the content of the food products they purchase, and 76 percent would like more information about the food ingredients’ origins.  Another 74 percent are willing to do research and seek more data on their own about how the food products they are considering are grown, processed and manufactured.  The survey also found that “consumers are spending more time pouring over food labels to know which ingredients were used, questioning supermarkets and product manufactures about product detail…and doing more in depth background checks on specific food brands and their origin” (IBM 2009,1).

 

CONCLUSION

There is a critical and immediate need to stop corporate obfuscation of food product labels and to develop a system whereby the FDA can swiftly and efficiently act on protecting consumers from potentially dangerous synthetic and industrialized food chemicals.  People are exposed to multiple chemicals each day—many of which have been theorized to have cumulative and synergistic adverse effects (Lau et al. 2006) and deciphering whether and which substances may be linked to or perpetuating their illness is a tricky process that can take months or even years to determine.  Since 1999 the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) has measured 219 chemicals in blood and urine samples from thousands of study participants and their 2005 study found that study participants living in the U.S. had traces of more than 60 toxic chemical compounds in their blood and urine (2005). Additionally, The CDC tested over 2,500 urine samples from people over the age of six and found nearly 93 percent of samples contained BPA metabolites (Calafat et al. 2008).  The construct of people having a ‘chemical body burden’—the level of accumulated toxins one has in the body—has become something the general public is starting to attend to (Moyers 2010).  Given the pervasiveness of synthetic and industrialized chemicals in the food, personal care products, household products and general environment and the potential hazards some of these chemicals carry, consumers in the U.S. have the right to know what is in their food without having to conduct arduous research on their own to uncover it.  This is especially true given that food additives are likely to be consumed by nearly all segments of the population, including infants and children (potentially over the full course of their lifetime) as well as those people with health conditions and the elderly.  This increased likelihood of exposure requires a more conservative approach to assessing safety for food additives (Lars 1999). It is incumbent upon political leaders on both sides of the aisle to work together in a united, bipartisan fashion to overhaul, update and modernize the agencies overseeing food safety for consumers and streamline the process for requiring and reviewing empirical evidence about synthetic and industrialized chemicals in the food, and then of course, the agencies themselves to carry the ball and make that happen.

Another step of significant value in taking consumers out of the dark would be the development of a government-run national food chemical public database.  The database could be live and searchable on the internet and constructed to function in much the same way the recent product safety database does (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission 2011), allowing for health-related reactions and complaints to be registered by consumers and permitting consumers to search the database by food ingredient name/name of synthetic or industrialized chemical used in food for more detailed information as well as offering links to empirical research findings about the synthetic/industrialized chemicals used in food ingredients.  Such a publicly-accessed, centralized database could also allow for streamlining of the current FDA complaint and symptom/adverse reaction reporting system as well as a more efficient way to aggregate and report data on each food chemical.

And finally, political leaders must work together to develop and encourage an updated, fluid and transparent system whereby the governmental overseeing agencies like the FDA return to focusing on a single primary goal:  to watch out for the consumer by actively investigating and taking action on every ingredient that may affect the health safety of our food.  The milieu that permits turning a blind eye or helps facilitate obfuscation of food labels by members of the chemical and food industries should be replaced with one of transparency and the FDA and USDA should be broadly shielded from any overt or covert pressure by corporate entities that benefit from keeping the consumer in the dark.

ENDNOTES

  1. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) defines “food additive” to mean “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food (including any substance intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food).” 21 U.S.C. §321(s).
  2. According to the Environmental Working Group, “The FDA has not tested food for bisphenol A contamination since the early 1990s, when it tested select canned vegetables purchased in Washington D.C. See FDA, Draft Assessment of Bisphenol A for Use in Food Contact Applications (August 14, 2008). The FDA tested only six samples (three canned mushrooms, and one sample each of artichokes, tomatoes and mixed vegetables). Bisphenol A levels in those samples ranged from 5 to 39 ppb, with an average of 16 ppb. In its draft assessment, the FDA also considers a study conducted by Brotons et al., published in 1995, that tested 10 samples and found an average level of contamination of 22 ppb. Id. The FDA concluded that a “conservative estimate” of exposure from canned food was therefore 22 ppb, but this is not in fact a conservative estimate, and is much lower than the average found by EWG for consuming tomato based products (63.5 ppb).
  3. FDA GRAS Substances (SCOGS) Database: http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodIngredientsPackaging/GenerallyRecognizedasSafeGRAS/GRASSubstancesSCOGSDatabase/default.htm
  4. While optimal public policy on banning substances is also a valid question, it goes beyond the scope here. Our goal is to focus on the issue of labeling and provision of information to consumers.
  5. From http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

 

For more information visit:  Chemical-Free-Life.org

 

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Yoshida, T., N. Sakane, Y. Wakabayashi, K. Yoshioka, T. Umekawa, and M. Kondo. 1994. The Alpha/Beta-Adrenergic Receptor Blocker Arotinolol Activates the Thermogenesis of Brown Adipose Tissue in Monosodium-L-Glutamate-Induced Obese Mice. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 8(5):339-343.

Yu, T., Y. Zhao, W. Shi, R. Ma, and L. Yu. 1997. Effects of Maternal Oral Administration of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) at a Late Stage of Pregnancy on Developing Mouse Fetal Brain. Brain Research, 747(2):195-206.

Zeratsky, Katherine. 2011.  Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Is it Harmful? The Mayo Clinic, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/monosodium-glutamate/AN01251.

Zhang, Luoping, Laura Beane Freeman, Jun Nakamura, Stephen S. Hecht, John J. Vandenberg, Martyn T. Smith, and Babasaheb R. Sonawane. 2010.  Formaldehyde and Leukemia: Epidemiology, Potential Mechanisms, and Implications for Risk Assessment. Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, 51 (3): 181–191.

Obesity, Diabetes and Other Adverse Health Trends

Obesity, Diabetes and Other Adverse Health Trends:  What Role are Synthetic and Industrialized Additives in the U.S. Food Supply Playing?

by Chemical-Free-Life.org

 

The surge in chronic health conditions in recent years, especially conditions such as obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and digestive disorders have caused a number of researchers to begin closely examining factors associated with the U.S. diet in the search for possible culprits.  Key factors under scrutiny are synthetic and industrialized food additives¹ including synthetic food dyes, preservatives, pesticides, industrial food packaging chemicals that leach into the food, anti-caking agents, antimicrobials, antioxidants, emulsifiers, thickening agents, flavor enhancers, and other additives commonly used in processed foods.  Over the course of the past several decades food additives have been linked in scientific and medical studies as well as clinical trials to a myriad of serious health conditions including heart disease, insulin resistance/impaired glucose tolerance and diabetes, weight gain/obesity, depression, lethargy, cognition problems including memory and concentration difficulties, behavioral, mood and psychiatric disorders, insomnia/sleep disturbances, attention deficit disorder, hyperactivity, nausea, fatigue, ear infections, swollen lymph nodes, urticaria, edema, allergic reactions including contact dermatitis, intestinal disturbances and digestive disorders, respiratory problems and asthma-related difficulties, increased incidence of tumors including fibroid tumors, prostate and breast cancer, endocrine dysfunction, infertility, nasal polyps, rhinitis, autoimmune complications and disorders, migraine headaches, liver and kidney complications, and more.   These conditions can have a dramatic impact on quality of life and as such even the possibility of food additives as the antecedents needs to be considered carefully.

There are currently many thousands of synthetic and industrialized chemicals that have worked their way into the U.S. food supply—a large percentage of which have never been scientifically safety tested, and according to recent research findings, many of which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the main governmental oversight body for food safety, is not even aware of.  Many of these additives are used as dyes, stabilizers, emulsifiers, buffering agents, flavor and color enhancers, and preservatives in processed foods.  The estimated 10,000 chemicals (and more entering the food supply each year) also include pesticides, phthalates, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics (in 2011 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that in their 2009 data collection, animal agriculture consumed 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States, with a large percentage of those antibiotics used to artificially promote growth—and profits for Big Ag and others), as well as a host of other potentially harmful substances and compounds (some of them known toxins and carcinogens) found in food packaging and known to migrate into the food.  Taken together (this cumulative effect is something that many scientists warn may be particularly dangerous to human health) much of the processed food in the U.S. is swimming in something akin to a chemical stew.

 

A small sample of conditions linked with processed food additives

     Diabetes and food chemicals:  There are a number of common synthetic and industrialized food additives that have been linked in scientific studies to diabetes.  Additionally, results from a recent groundbreaking study indicate that artificial sweeteners like Aspartame for example, may actually exacerbate, rather than prevent, metabolic disorders such as Type 2 diabetes. Findings from the scientific study have linked artificial sweeteners to increases in blood sugar levels and obesity—the two health conditions artificial sweeteners were originally intended to fight.

Other food additives that have been linked in scientific studies and clinical and consumer reports to triggering or worsening diabetes include carrageenan; pesticides, including the key ingredient used in pesticides and chemical bleaching agents to prevent food mold, chloride oxide; EDTA, a salt produced from synthesizing ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide, used as a fortifier, texture enhancing agent, and food preservative and is commonly found in a wide variety of commercially-processed foods and restaurant foods. EDTA may worsen conditions for people with diabetes (as well as for individuals with asthma, heart rhythm problems, kidney disease, epilepsy, liver disease, hepatitis, tuberculosis, allergies, and electrolyte imbalance, including hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels), hypocalcemia (low calcium levels) and hypokalemia (low potassium levels)); gelatin glutamate; nitrates/nitrites, a possible carcinogen, common in processed meats and linked with diabetes mellitus, as well as the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, bladder cancer, chronic liver disease, respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances, and Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease; and synthetic phosphates such as calcium phosphate, potassium phosphate, sodium phosphate, among others, are thought to be potentially problematic for those people with health conditions placing kidney or cardiovascular health at risk such as those individuals with diabetes.

     Industrial food packaging chemicals have been linked with the development of diabetes as well as a host of other troubling health conditions. One such group of chemicals includes phthalates which have been shown to leach into the food supply and are potentially problematic because they are known endocrine disrupting chemicals. Scientific studies have linked phthalates to diabetes, breast cancer, obesity, asthma, brain development problems, and numerous endocrine abnormalities like triggering early menopause, premature breast development in girls, lowered hormones in men, damaged sperm, and premature births. Phthalates are found in processed food packaging, some commercial clear food wrap, and child lunchboxes, as well as plastic food storage containers, where they can leach into stored food. Food processing techniques can also cause high levels of phthalates in milk and dairy products (even organic versions) and commercial spices (including those labeled as ‘organic’), and at varying levels in all processed, packaged food items sold in grocery stores.  A scientific study conducted in 2013 tested a random sample of food and drinks from grocery store shelves—researchers discovered some level of phthalates in every food product they sampled.              

     Another common industrialized food packaging chemical, bisphenol-A or BPA, is a reported endocrine-disrupting chemical and numerous peer-reviewed studies conducted by independent scientists and two recent studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), have linked exposure to BPA to a variety of adverse health consequences including insulin resistance and diabetes, an increased risk for endocrine-related cancers including breast cancer and prostate cancer, spikes in blood pressure, heart disease, abnormalities in liver function, low sperm counts in men, metabolic abnormalities, weight gain, increased serum cholesterol levels, neurological damage/altered brain development including a link with schizophrenia, puberty advances, disruptions, and abnormalities, adverse reproductive and developmental effects including recurrent miscarriages, gynecomastia (a male breast disease that causes abnormal breast growth in boys and men), and perinatal exposure to BPA has recently been linked to an increased risk of food intolerance in adulthood.

 

     Digestive Problems, Fibromyalgia and food chemicalsScientific studies and clinical reports have suggested a link between MSG (an industrialized flavor enhancer) and Aspartame (a synthetic sweetener) and aggravation of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms and fibromyalgia in adults.  And clinical reports have revealed a spike in emergency ward visits for severe stomach pain and diagnoses of gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) and other digestive disorders from synthetic flavor enhancers and additives used in certain processed junk food.  Just as disturbing, recent research findings have suggested that food additives Polysorbate 80 and Carboxymethylcellulose, commonly used as emulsifiers in processed food to promote texture and extend shelf life, can actually alter the gut microbiota composition and localization to induce intestinal inflammation that promotes the development of inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic syndrome.  Researchers working on the study reported they were alarmed at the strength with which these additives appear to promote weight gain, intestinal inflammation, metabolic syndrome, colitis and Crohn’s disease—serious illnesses that have spiked in the U.S. in recent years and have coincided with the food industry’s increased use of emulsifiers.  In addition to Polysorbate 80 and Carboxymethylcellulose/cellulose gum, clinical and consumer reports have revealed other commonly used food additives linked to digestive and gastrointestinal problems include carrageenan, maltodextrin, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, disodium phosphate, sodium caseinate, disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate.

 

“We are living in an environment with sedentary lifestyles, poor-quality diet and highly processed foods that is very different from the one we are adapted to through human evolution.

It is that difference that leads to many of the chronic diseases that we see today,

such as obesity and diabetes.”

 ~Dr. Aaron Blaisdell, Researcher

 

 Weight gain/obesity and food chemicals:  The increase in the number of scientific research studies investigating the link between synthetic food additives and weight gain/obesity—an epidemic occurring not only in the U.S., but worldwide—is a hopeful trend.  Recent research findings have indicated a link between weight gain and processed food chemicals in both adults and children, and previous studies dating back decades linked additives like MSG with weight gain in laboratory animals. Some consumers are surprised to learn about the weight gain/obesity connection, but scientists have known for some time about the link between MSG and weight gain.  In fact, one of the most widely used models to induce obesity in laboratory rats and mice is to administer food-grade monosodium glutamate.  And despite food industry-sponsored study results calling the MSG-weight gain link into question, including those studies sponsored by the MSG industry themselves, a number of studies linking MSG with weight gain appear to support the position of The Glutamate Association, a government lobbying group comprised of corporations who use and produce MSG for foodstuffs.  Their position is that eating foods containing MSG increases appetite and they have promoted the use of MSG for populations like the elderly who have difficulty gaining weight due to lowered appetites.  The industrialized food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) is commonly used as a flavor enhancer and is present in processed foods at the grocery store as well as conventional and fast food restaurants.  Experts working in this area tell us that other additives that trigger the same chemical reaction in the body as MSG (such as autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, maltodextrin, calcium caseinate, and about a dozen others) may have the same effect as MSG does in some individuals. Despite the findings of numerous studies linking MSG with weight gain, increased appetite, and obesity, there remains no warning on labels stating this possibility on food products containing MSG—a factor which could potentially complicate a number of health-related issues connected to obesity for some consumers.

For those people whose unexplained weight gain comes on slowly and steadily sans changes in daily calorie consumption or activity levels, the culprit may be a metabolic shift such as is currently being hypothesized by researchers studying what has been termed, “obesogens”, chemicals suspected of triggering obesity, for which there are several, one of which is pesticides and another is BPA—a synthetic estrogen chemical that has been shown to be an endocrine (hormonal) disruptor.  Among other places like cash register and ATM receipts, plastic food storage containers, and dental fillings, BPA (Bisphenol-A) is commonly used on the inner linings of canned food and plastic drink containers where it has been found to migrate into the food and drinks.  Research has demonstrated that BPA is an endocrine disrupter that may be a factor in infertility, certain cancers, immune disorders and obesity, among other serious health conditions.  The effects of low doses of BPA, recent scientific research, including two studies funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), have found links to male sexual dysfunction, diabetes, prostate and breast cancer, and weight gain/obesity.

 

“We are especially concerned about chemicals that affect hormonal activity,

known as endocrine disrupting chemicals, or ECDs.

These chemicals can lead to health effects later in life,

like predisposition for obesity, diabetes, and cancer,

and we don’t know if there are safe exposure levels.”                                                                                                           

~Research scientist Jane Muncke, Ph.D.

 

Another potential food chemical group responsible for weight gain and obesity is pesticides.   An estimated 888 million pounds of pesticides are applied in the U.S. each year.  Pesticides have been linked in scientific studies with obesity, cancers, neurotoxin effects (including impaired brain development and lowered IQ), endocrine, metabolic, and reproductive disorders, birth defects, learning and behavioral disorders in children, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.  Like other synthetic and industrialized food additives that have been linked with adverse health consequences, there is an absence of consumer warnings for high pesticide residues on or in certain foods such as produce, meat and dairy products, as well as processed foods that contain these items.

 

As obesity has been linked in scholarly scientific and medical studies with a host of serious health conditions such as diabetes, cancer, endocrine disorders, heart disease, and so on, we can only hope that researchers in this area push forward with their studies and that when more definitive answers come to light that the FDA actually responds on behalf of consumers and begins requiring warning labels on processed food and drinks containing the potentially pernicious additives. With more than half of American adults now overweight, and nearly one-third of the adult population (some 40 million people) defined as clinically obese, we are going to need to take considerably more proactive steps than just listing the calories on theater popcorn—and if anyone at the FDA is reading this, the sooner the better.      

 

     UTIs, Cancer, Asthma and food chemicals:  You won’t find the FDA acting as though they are very interested but scholarly scientific studies have linked synthetic additives in commercial (non-organic) chicken to recurrent, antibiotic-resistant urinary tract infections and synthetic additives in commercially processed meats to an increased incidence of cancer (including prostate) and early death.  Other synthetic and industrialized food additives that have been linked with urinary tract and bladder infections (including interstitial cystitis (“painful bladder syndrome”), sensitive bladders, and frequent, recurring bladder infections or irregularities) include: Synthetic animal growth hormones (found in commercial, non-organic meats and poultry); Artificial sweeteners (found in a wide variety of processed foods); BHT (a preservative common in everything from breakfast cereals, to butter, to snack food); Calcium Propionate (the industrialized version is commonly used as a preservative in a wide variety of processed foods); Nitrates/Nitrites (common in processed meats like bologna, bacon, hot dogs, etc.); Propionic Acid  (Ethyl Formic Acid; Propanoic Acid; Methyl Acetic Acid; Ethanecarboxylic Acid)  (commonly used as a preservative and flavoring agent in a variety of processed foods from milk and dairy products, to bread products, to processed meats, meats and poultry); Sodium Erythorbate (Sodium Isoascorbate; Erythorbic Acid ) (found in canned fruit, fruit juices, processed meats and other processed foods); Sodium Propionate  (Salts and Esters of Propionic Acid) (used as a preservative in a wide variety of processed foods). Other recent studies have linked processed food additives to an increased incidence of allergies in children and with triggering severe asthma, eczema, and rhinitis among children (27% increased risk) and teens (a 39% increased risk).  Additional commonly found food additives linked with triggering asthma in children and adults include preservative sodium benzoate, flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG) and synthetic azo food dye Yellow 5 or Tartrazine. 

 

This is your brain on synthetic food additives

     Unfortunately, the results from recent scientific studies indicate that our brains may be as vulnerable to the adverse effects of synthetic and industrialized food additives as our bodies.

 

     Compromised Intelligence and food chemicals:  One recent large, longitudinal study of long-term health and well-being following 14,000 children suggests that processed foods in early childhood may actually lower IQ.  The results showed that after taking into account possible mediating variables, a predominantly processed food diet at the age of 3 was associated with a lower IQ at the age of 8.5, irrespective of whether the diet improved after that initial age. Subjects were scored according to the amount of processed foods they ingested each day.  Every one point increase in the dietary pattern score for eating processed foods was associated with a 1.67 fall in IQ.  As with other cognitive- and emotional-based factors, much more research is needed examining the scope of the role processed foods and their various additives may play in potential outcomes to cognitive and emotional well-being.

 

     Memory Problems and food chemicals:  A recent scholarly scientific study has now linked a widely used processed food additive to memory problems.  Synthetic partially hydrogenated fats, a base ingredient for many processed foods, was found to adversely affect the memory of study participants.  Young men in the study who had diets high in processed foods containing trans fats were found to perform measurably worse on memory tests than those who ate less processed foods with this common additive.  More specifically, the researchers found that among men younger than 45, those who ate more trans fats showed notably worse performance on a standardized word memory test; this effect held true even after taking into account factors such as age, education, ethnicity and depression. Synthetic trans fats like partially hydrogenated oils are widely used in processed foods, fast food, baked goods, snack foods, frozen pizza and coffee creamers.

 

     Depression and food chemicals: Research focusing on the link between processed food chemicals and depression is an area of great interest, especially considering the surprising number of people who report they have discovered on their own that the connection exist in their personal lives.  One such recent study published in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal examined the potential link between processed food and depression.  Researchers found that eating commercial baked goods (croissants, doughnuts, etc.) and fast food (hamburgers, hot dogs and pizza) is linked to depression.  And the results suggest this link is a strong one.  In fact, the researchers found that people who regularly eat fast food, compared to those who eat little or none, are 51% more likely to develop depression.  (A previous study found that diets of processed foods that have a high fat and high sugar content increase the likelihood of developing depression by a whopping 60 percent.) As other scientists studying the adverse effects of synthetic chemicals have found, when it comes to eating processed foods and depression, a dose-response relationship was observed. In other words, according to the researchers, the more fast food a person consumes, the greater the risk of depression.

 

Lethargy and food chemicals: Do the synthetic and industrialized food chemicals in junk food make people lazy?  Another area of research having important real life implications is the link between processed junk food and lethargy.   For years now, many people who have regularly eaten junk food talk about how doing so can make them not want to leave the sofa.  These anecdotal reports about the effects of additives in processed junk food have finally been substantiated scientifically.  More specifically, the study results indicate that consistently eating processed foods and being overweight can make people tired and inactive; this is contrary to some beliefs maintaining laziness leads to obesity.  Though a considerable amount of research still needs to be conducted, the fact that a recent study has revealed a potential link between a long-term diet of junk food and lethargy highlights the potential adverse effects of processed foods containing synthetic and industrialized additives.

 

The onus is on consumers to avoid potentially harmful food additives

 

       “The FDA has received thousands of consumer complaints about additives in recent years, saying certain substances seem to trigger asthmatic attacks, serious bouts of vomiting,

intestinal tract disorders and other health problems.”

~Washington Post

 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cannot be counted on to assure that the food supply is safe for consumers.  The reasons for this are varied and include what some experts have argued is a matter of regulatory capture where the FDA has been captured by the very industry they are in charge of regulating.  A recent study conducted by Pew Charitable Trusts revealed that it has become commonplace for the big food manufacturers themselves, rather than the FDA, the regulatory body in charge of overseeing them, to decide what additives will enter the food supply. This has been made possible by a loophole in the approval process known as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) which allows food manufacturers to dump additives into the U.S. food supply—sans the federally required safety testing.   Here is a small sample of the findings:

 

-At least 78.4% of chemical additives directly added to processed food lack data for estimating overall safety levels for consumer exposure.

 

-Nearly two-thirds of chemical additives in the food supply lack basic feeding toxicology data to determine possible toxicity to consumers.

 

-Some 93% of synthetic and industrialized chemical additives in the food supply lack reproductive or developmental testing for determining potential risks to newborns and children.

 

The lack of safety testing for additives, along with the FDA’s refusal to respond to legal petitions to remove existing additives demonstrated in scientific and medical studies to be harmful to some consumers or to require manufacturers to use warning labels when their foods contain problematic additives, has shifted the onus onto consumers to learn which food additives may be harmful for themselves or their family members.  Those consumers who wish to avoid food additives either because the existing data indicates a potential for adverse health-related outcomes or because they or their family members have an existing health condition that could potentially worsen by ingesting certain synthetic or industrialized food chemicals must keep abreast of the current scientific literature, learn the additives to avoid, vigilantly read the ingredients of all food items prior to purchase, and avoid eating at conventional and fast food restaurants, cafeterias and catered events where full disclosure of all additives contained in the foods is usually unavailable.

And these days, questionable additives make an appearance everywhere. What many consumers may not have considered is that it’s not just the snack foods and packaged meals that contain risky additives—unfortunately, processed food loaded with additives has also permeated even those sectors previously reserved for “health”. This includes questionable, potentially problematic additives in processed foods, food items and supplement drinks created for people with special diets like those with diabetes, gastrointestinal problems, autoimmune disorders, kidney, liver and heart-related conditions, and low-calorie foods recommended for people with obesity.  This becomes particularly problematic when considering the number of food additives that have been linked in scholarly scientific and medical studies to these very health conditions. The same is true for processed food items marketed as, “health drinks”, “health bars”, “health supplements” and “health food” commonly targeted to those people who have a special interest and dedication to exercising and otherwise eating and living a healthy lifestyle—the irony is that a large percentage of these food items—as well as over the counter and prescription medicines and vitamins—are filled with synthetic and industrialized food chemicals, many of which have been linked with adverse health problems, some even for healthy, young adults.

 

Unfortunately, the link between synthetic and industrialized food chemicals and adverse health reactions still goes largely unrecognized by the healthcare community. We urge the mainstream healthcare community to review the scientific research and clinical reports from within their own field so that we can begin the process of finally offering consumers much needed guidance for avoiding processed food additives linked with their health conditions as well as putting warnings labels on foods containing these chemicals of concern.  In the meantime, all consumers must take it upon themselves to become educated about which synthetic and industrialized food additives may be posing harm or risk to themselves and their family members and to read the ingredients labels and avoid those additives.

For more information visit:  Chemical-Free-Life.org

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¹Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) defines “food additive” to mean “any substance the intended use of which results or may reasonably be expected to result, directly or indirectly, in its becoming a component or otherwise affecting the characteristics of any food (including any substance intended for use in producing, manufacturing, packing, processing, preparing, treating, packaging, transporting, or holding food …).” 21 U.S.C. §321(s).

Preservatives and the Link with Adverse Health Outcomes

By Chemical-Free-Life.org

Due to their ability to extend shelf life and prevent spoilage, synthetic and industrialized preservatives are common in U.S. processed foods and drinks—both on the grocers’ shelves and at conventional and fast food restaurants.  Unfortunately, despite their ability to retard spoilage a number of the most commonly used preservatives have been linked in clinical trials and empirical studies to potential adverse health outcomes for some consumers and several have been shown in scientific studies to be a potential health threat for the general population.

Sodium Benzoate

Empirical studies and clinical trials indicate sodium benzoate is linked in sensitive individuals to skin reactions including urticaria, pruritus and atopic dermatitis, and intestinal disturbances such as gastritis, nasal polyps, rhinitis, migraine headaches and arthralgia, shortness of breath, broncoconstriction, asthma, and with behavioral, mood and psychiatric disorders.  Clinical and consumer reports indicate this additive may cause adverse reactions for people with chemical sensitivities (including people with asthma and other respiratory conditions) and allergies (including to polyethylene glycol); symptoms may include skin reactions (including rash/urticaria), headaches, breathing problems, swelling of face, throat, tongue, hands, and feet, swollen/painful lymph nodes, earaches, sinus problems, edema and subsequent weight gain, digestive problems, rhinitis, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, anxiousness, hyperactivity, and depression, to name a few.  This additive is commonly used as an antibacterial and antifungal preservative (as well as flavor enhancer) in a wide variety of processed foods including soft drinks, fruit juices, milk and milk products, cheeses, margarine, meat products, maple syrup, relishes, pickles, jarred peppers, bottled lemon juice, salad dressings, sauces, mixes, gravies, soups, condiments, flour, baked goods, confectionery and snacks. Sodium benzoate may also be present in conventional and fast food restaurants and can also be found in toothpastes, mouth washes, and other personal care products, as well as prescription and over the counter drugs.   While food items containing sodium benzoate must list its presence, there are no required warnings for consumers.

Gallates (Propyl Gallate, Dodecyl Gallate, Octyl Gallate, and EGCG)

Gallates, like industrialized phosphates, have the distinction of not only being linked to adverse symptoms for sensitive groups, but also having the potential to harm well-being for the larger consumer population base as well.  Propyl gallate is commonly used as a preservative in a variety of processed foods, and may be present with other preservatives such as BHT/BHA (two other food chemicals of concern) and has been linked with adverse reactions such as respiratory problems (especially for people with asthma), stomach irritation, swelling, weight gain, adverse skin reactions, insomnia/sleep disturbances, behavioral/mood disturbances, and more. Those people with chemical sensitivities (including to aspirin), people with asthma and other respiratory ailments, as well as those with liver and kidney problems may be advised by health care professionals to avoid this additive.  Additionally, chellitis (dry, scaly, cracked lips) and stomatis (oral inflammation/inflammation of mucous lining of the mouth including cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, throat, etc.) have been reported by some consumers following exposure to propyl gallate.  Diagnosis is frequently complicated by the fact that adverse reactions to gallates may be delayed for as long as 5 days. On an even more serious note, gallates have been linked in animal studies to anemia, as well as changes in the kidney and liver.   Additionally, recent study findings have linked the food additive propyl gallate with hormonal disruptions in women.  Propyl gallate is also a possible carcinogen. This additive can be found in a wide range of processed, packaged, commercially prepared meals, dried milk, dried meats, sauces, snacks (especially potato-based), sports drinks, vegetable oils and dressings, soups (especially chicken), condiments and chewing gum.

Dodecyl gallate is a synthetic antioxidant used as a preservative in processed foods and commonly found in salad dressings, margarine, oils, fats/lard, rice, bakery goods, cake mixes, dehydrated meats, soups, potatoes and broths, candy, cereals, processed nuts, spices, condiments, and a variety of snack foods, etc.  Dodecyl gallate may cause allergic reactions in some people, especially swelling of the lips, dermatitis, chronic eczema or ulcerations.  Chellitis (dry, scaly, cracked lips) and stomatis (oral inflammation/inflammation of mucous lining of the mouth including cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, throat, etc.) have been reported with exposure to dodecyl gallate.

Octyl gallate is commonly used as a preservative (and synergistic antioxidant with other preservatives, see: BHA/BHT) and can also be used as a bulking agent, thickener or emulsifier in processed foods such as peanut butter, margarine, bakery products, cake mixes, candy, cereals, processed nuts, processed and dehydrated meats, soups and broths, enriched rice, sauces, dips, seasonings, condiments, and snack foods.  Octyl gallate may also be present in food packaging materials.  This additive can cause allergic reactions in some people, sometimes severe.  People with asthma, or sensitivity to aspirin are frequently warned by health care professionals to avoid foods containing this additive.  Octyl gallate may cause digestive/gastric problems in some people and can cause dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Reported adverse skin reactions to octyl gallate include redness, swelling, itching and fluid-filled blisters.  Chellitis (dry, scaly, cracked lips) and stomatis (oral inflammation/inflammation of mucous lining of the mouth including cheeks, gums, tongue, lips, throat, etc.) have also been reported with exposure to octyl gallate.  This additive is not recommended for infants or children.

Parabens

Parabens are highly controversial due to scientific study findings suggesting a link with possible carcinogenicity and estrogenic and reproductive effects.  Because the majority of news reports on parabens have focused on their presence in personal care products many people are unaware that they are also used as food preservatives.  The industrialized version of this naturally occurring chemical is widely used as a preservative in processed foods including soft drinks, juices, baked goods, jellies and jams, candies, salad dressings, mayonnaise, mustard, sauces, marinated fish products, foods containing processed vegetables, frozen dairy products, and snack food, to name a few.  Though rare, some people may develop hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to this chemical when ingested as a food preservative.  Symptoms may include swelling of lips, face, tongue and throat, difficulty swallowing, breathing difficulties, dermatitis, skin sensitivity, rash, itching, edema.

EDTA and TBHQ

Other common food additives frequently used as preservatives such as EDTA (Ethylenediamine Tetraacetic Acid/Tetra-acetate) have been linked with allergic reactions in some people and TBHQ (Tert-Butylhydroquinone) has been linked with allergic reactions and possible toxicity.  EDTA in particular may worsen conditions for people with asthma, heart rhythm problems, kidney disease, epilepsy, liver disease, hepatitis, tuberculosis, allergies, diabetes, and electrolyte imbalance, including hypomagnesemia (low magnesium levels), hypocalcemia (low calcium levels), hypokalemia (low potassium levels), and people with these health conditions or taking certain medications may be advised by health care professionals to avoid processed foods containing this additive. Reports of adverse reactions to this additive include allergic reactions, respiratory problems, skin reactions (including rash, redness, urticaria), weight gain, edema, swelling of face, hands, feet, tongue, excessive thirst, insomnia, and headaches, among others.

EDTA is a salt produced from synthesizing ethylenediamine, formaldehyde and sodium cyanide; it is used as a fortifier, texture enhancing agent, and food preservative and is commonly found in a wide variety of commercially-processed foods and restaurant foods.  It can be found in breakfast cereals and breakfast bars, salad dressing, sauces, dips, toppings, canned fish and seafood (including shrimp, crab meat, etc.), canned beans, processed vegetables, including pickled cabbage and pickled cucumbers, canned potatoes (and products such as soups containing white potatoes), sandwich spreads, canned gravy, canned mushrooms, potato salad, processed fruit, bakery goods, margarine, some alcoholic/malt beverages, and soft drinks, among many other items.

Reported adverse effects associated with the additive TBHQ include headaches, stomach/digestive problems, allergic reactions, ringing in ears, edema/swelling of face, feet, hands, ADHD, skin reactions/dermatitis, urticaria, angioedema, sleepiness, rhinitis, sinus problems, breathing difficulties, asthma, allergies, vasculitis, flushing, excessive sweating, vision/eye problems, and joint pain. Some researchers have argued that chronic exposure to this additive may induce carcinogenicity.  TBHQ is a petroleum-based chemical used as a preservative for vegetable oils and animal fats.  It is commonly found in packaged breads and baked goods products, breakfast cereals, frozen waffles, toaster pastries, snack crackers, conventional and fast food restaurant items, and baked goods in grocery store bakery sections, among others.

Nitrates/Nitrites 

Nitrates/Nitrites is a possible carcinogen and has been linked with the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, bladder cancer, chronic liver disease, as well as respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances, and Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes mellitus and Parkinson’s disease.  Adverse reactions may include headaches, migraines, swelling, weight gain, and respiratory problems (including asthma problems).  Research has linked nitrates/nitrites to bladder, colon and pancreatic cancers.  It has also been linked to leukemia.  Sensitive individuals (especially those with Alzheimer’s disease, Diabetes, Blood Disorders, Parkinson’s disease, and Thyroid Disease) and pregnant women may be advised by health care professionals to avoid or restrict consumption of processed foods containing nitrates/nitrites.  Not to be confused with nitrates/nitrites which occur naturally in vegetables and fruits, industrialized versions of these preservatives are commonly added to processed lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, pork, jerky, deli meats, and other food items containing processed meat items (frequently listed on ingredients labels as “sodium nitrite”, “potassium nitrite”, etc.).  As with many of the food additives found in scientific studies and clinical trials to be potentially problematic for consumers, there are no required warnings on food ingredients labels.

Sulfites

Sulfites have been linked in scientific studies and clinical trials with several idiosyncratic and allergic reactions including respiratory tract irritation, bronchospasm, oculonasal symptoms, skin reactions including urticaria and angioedema, flushing, hypotension and intestinal disturbances, especially in sulfite-sensitive individuals and those with asthmaReported reactions to this additive range from mild to severe and even life threatening, especially for those people with sulfite allergies or asthma (where it may provoke life-threatening asthmatic complications), bronchitis, or other respiratory illnesses, as well as for those individuals with certain medical conditions (such as liver enzyme deficiencies) or sensitivities to food chemicals.  Reported symptoms include asthmatic reactions/lung irritation/difficulty breathing, swelling of face, throat, tongue, difficulty swallowing, excessive thirst, edema (and subsequent weight gain), swelling of hands, feet, legs, vision problems, headaches, earaches, elevated blood pressure, skin reactions such as urticaria/rash/hives, insomnia, nervousness, anxiousness, difficulty concentrating, painful, swollen lymph nodes, and anaphylaxis.

Sulfites are commonly used as a preservative against spoilage and color changes, and as a bleaching agent and dough conditioner, and may be present at varying levels in a variety of processed foods including dried/dehydrated fruits (such as raisins and apricots), dehydrated/dried and pickled vegetables, prepared toppings, dips (including processed avocado/guacamole), gravies and sauces, condiments, olives, pepperoncini, pickles, (including relish/pickled peppers/horseradish, etc.), salad dressings and mixes, processed cheese mixtures and pastes, soy sauce, tomato paste and purée, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar, tea, wine, beer, sparkling grape juice, wine vinegar, malt vinegar, fruit juices, soft drinks, cocktail mixes, cider/cider vinegar, canned vegetables and fruit (including potatoes,  mushrooms, tomatoes, hominy grits), fruit pie filling, canned sauerkraut, corn starch (and processed foods containing corn starch, cornmeal, corn syrup (and processed foods containing corn syrup), baked goods (including pastries, cookies and crackers), frosting, dessert toppings, breading mixes, dried noodle and rice mixes, cereals, frozen pizza, frozen pizza dough/pie dough/cookie dough, high fructose corn syrup (and processed foods containing HFCS), trail mix, jams/jellies, bottled lemon juice/lime juice, vinegars and vinegar-based sauces and salad dressings, maraschino cherries, fresh and frozen shrimp, canned tuna, canned and dried seafood, canned clams/clam chowder, sausages/processed meats, foods containing pectin, beet sugars, or textured vegetable protein (TVP), gelatin, canned soups and dried soup mixes, coconut toppings/flavorings/dried coconut, instant drink mixes, cookie mixes, non-organic loose bulk foods, diet foods, baby formula, packaged salads (including fruit salads, lettuce-based salads and coleslaw), and conventional, “health food”, and fast food restaurant foods (including dehydrated or precut potatoes such as those used for French fries, hash browns, and other dishes containing potatoes), as well as various salad bar items.

While prohibited on fresh, raw produce sold in U.S. grocery stores, restaurants are another matter.  Sulfite agents—frequently sulfur dioxide—can be present on restaurant and catered salad bar offerings, sandwich sauces and toppings, as well as any number of food ingredients that arrive to the restaurant kitchen either packaged and/or partially or fully prepared. This additive may also be present in potato chips/snack food, hard candy/caramel candy, foods and drinks with caramel coloring, pet food, and some medications.

It is important to note that several forms of sulfites exist and are allowed for use in foods: sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, potassium sulfite, potassium bisulfite, potassium metabisulfite, and sulfur dioxide.

In 1986 the FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh produce and began requiring that foods containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) concentration of sulfites be declared on U.S. food labels.  However, there remains no requirement for explicit warnings on processed or packaged food labels of the potential dangers from sulfites.  Individuals who are highly sensitive to sulfites may experience adverse reactions to foods containing even low levels of sulfites.  As lower levels of sulfites are not required to appear on U.S. food labels, individuals with the potential for severe reactions to sulfites may be advised by health care professionals to avoid such processed foods altogether.

Formaldehyde

While U.S. consumers may be hard pressed to find anything obvious about it on the label, the food additive formaldehyde is used in preserved foods, medicines and vitamins, sugar production, as a preservative for grain and seed dressings and as a disinfectant for seeds, as well as being present in the artificial sweetener Aspartame, and has been detected in sources that can leach or migrate into food such as food packaging, tableware and cooking utensils.  The presence of formaldehyde in food is usually unlabeled.  Studies have uncovered its presence in some sodas, packaged food, and beer. Formaldehyde often presents either as a byproduct of other synthetic food additives (such as EDTA/Disodium EDTA, etc.) or during digestive/metabolic processes as a byproduct of certain synthetic food additives such as the artificial sweetener Aspartame.  Formaldehyde can occur naturally and can be produced via metabolism of some amino acids and a variety of xenobiotics.  Formaldehyde can also result from smoking/cooking foods (especially fish, seafood, and smoked ham), and it is also used/added as a preservative, biocide, disinfectant, or bacteriostatic agent in some processed food items.

Classified as a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the National Toxicology Program Report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this chemical is long known to have mutagenic properties.  According to a recent report from the National Toxicology Program, ingestion of food can be a significant source of exposure to formaldehyde—in addition to low levels of formaldehyde occurring naturally in a variety of foods such as fruit, food may contain small amounts of formaldehyde from its use as a fumigant, fertilizer and preservative.

It is important to note that much of the research on formaldehyde has centered on inhalation (scientific findings are based primarily on inhalation and oral exposure in experimental animal studies); epidemiological findings (from both cohort & nested case control studies) are based primarily on occupational exposure (humans working directly and indirectly with this chemical) and under these conditions it has been linked to a variety of adverse reactions including respiratory problems for people with asthma, migraine headaches, insomnia, memory loss, mood alterations, nausea, fatigue and leukemia/cancer.  The FDA position on formaldehyde is that “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not believe that the very low levels that are used in food and cosmetics present a significant safety concern,” (Scheuplein 1985, 245).

“Although the FDA seeks to reassure us they are keeping a close watch over our food, the job of rigorously regulating thousands of food additives is simply too big for an underfunded agency. Brominated vegetable oil (BVO), for instance, the subject of a well-circulated petition by a 15-year-old in Alabama, was flagged for further study in the 1970s—testing that was never done.  And BHA, a “probable carcinogen” according to the Department of Health and Human Services, is still allowed in food.”
~Melanie Warner

BHT/BHA 

The synthetic antioxidants and preservatives BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) are commonly found in breakfast cereals (where it is commonly used in packaging and leaches into the food—though two of the largest breakfast cereal producers have been working on alternatives for the past few years in an effort to phase out BHT), butter, margarine, vegetable oil, shortening, meats, grains, cake mixes, baked goods, beer, and numerous other processed foods and snacks (including potato chips and nuts), spices, and candy, as well as chewing gum, and various types of food packaging.  BHT and BHA may also be present in pet food.  The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of the commonly used preservatives BHA and BHT have been found in animal studies to contribute to carcinogenicity and tumorigenicity, as tumor promoters. It should be noted that there exist some evidence suggesting that under certain conditions these additives may also have the opposite effect in that they may be anti-carcinogenic.

Clinical reports suggest that BHT may complicate health conditions for those individuals with bladder problems such as interstitial cystitis (“painful bladder syndrome”), sensitive bladders, or who suffer from frequent bladder infections or irregularities.  Other adverse effects associated with this preservative include intestinal and digestive problems, headaches, allergic reactions, swelling of face, feet, hands, weight gain, skin reactions/dermatitis, urticaria, angioedema, sleep abnormalities, rhinitis, respiratory disturbances, asthma, allergies, vasculitis, flushing, diaphoresis (excessive sweating), vision/eye problems, and joint pain.  Long-term exposure may create changes in lungs, liver, kidneys, and thyroid.  Additionally, there is evidence that certain individuals may have difficulty metabolizing BHT, resulting in health and behavioral changes, respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances.  Also of note, in animal studies BHT has been linked to having a toxic effect on the lungs, having a significant adverse effect on body weight to developing fetuses and later during the lactation period, and adverse effects to adipose cells, as well as acting as a developmental neurobehavioral toxin, including triggering behavioral abnormalities in women during pregnancy, as well as to offspring (which can lead to severe deficits in learning, decreases in sleeping, as well as increases in aggression and social isolation), promoting liver abnormalities and toxicity, and promoting cancerous tumors.

BHA is now considered as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen”  by the National Institutes of Health Report on Carcinogens, Public Health Service National Toxicology Program Report on Carcinogens and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Report on Carcinogens (BHA), Eleventh Report on Carcinogens.   BHA has been linked in animal studies as a developmental toxin, and as promoting decreases in sleeping, orientation reflex and learning.  BHA has also be shown to potentially adversely affect liver and kidney functions.  Additionally, like BHT, there is evidence that certain people may have difficulty metabolizing BHA, resulting in health and behavioral changes, respiratory, skin and intestinal disturbances.  Clinical and consumer reports indicate other adverse effects associated with this preservative include intestinal and digestive problems, headaches, allergic reactions, swelling of face, feet, hands, skin reactions/dermatitis, urticaria, edema/angioedema, weight gain, sleep abnormalities, rhinitis, respiratory disturbances, asthma, allergies, sinus problems, vasculitis, flushing, excessive sweating, vision/eye problems, and joint pain.  Citing numerous animal studies linking BHA to serious adverse health consequences, Glenn Scott, M.D. filed a Citizens Regulatory Petition with the FDA back in 1990, asking the agency to prohibit the use of BHA in food. To date BHA continues to be used as a food additive/preservative in the U.S.  While both BHA and BHT appear on the ingredients listings, there are no explicit warnings required on food products that contain these additives to alert consumers.

BVO

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) contains bromine and is used in certain processed food items to maintain consistency and prevent separation.  It is commonly found in processed citrus- and fruit-flavored drinks including juices, health drinks, sports drinks and soda.  Bromine is a preservative used in certain processed foods to prevent them from going stale and to extend their shelf life.  Bromine is a base element from which bromide and bromate are derived.  Bromine and its derivatives Bromine, Bromate, Bromide:  Potassium Bromate and Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) may cause nausea or diarrhea in some people.  Other adverse reactions may include headaches, confusion, swelling, skin problems, fatigue, memory loss, ulcers, and loss of muscle coordination. In some cases excessive intake may lead to neurological or reproductive problems. Bromates have been linked in animal studies with the development of cancerous tumors. Potassium Bromate, for example, (most commonly present in commercial breads, bread products, including fast food breads and buns, and processed baked goods) is a known toxin and carcinogen and has been linked with thyroid and kidney cancers in animal studies. This additive competes with iodine in the body and may be a concern for people with iodine deficiencies and hypothyroidism. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) contains bromine (a substance also used as a flame retardant) which can build up in fatty tissues.  Animal studies have linked bromine to the development of heart lesions. Bromine has also been linked with neurological impairment, reduced fertility, changes in thyroid hormones, and early onset puberty. Recent studies have linked excessive use of BVO to skin lesions, nerve disorders, depression, irritability, confusion, cognitive problems, slurred speech, and memory loss.  This additive and its derivatives have been banned in some countries.  In the U.S. the FDA maintains that BVO and other bromine derivatives are safe for consumers and it is legal for food manufacturers to use these additives, though pressure from recent consumer and activism efforts, including one particularly newsworthy campaign and petition spearheaded by a teenage girl, has led the two leading soda manufacturers to voluntarily remove BVO from their products.

Growing consumer skepticism as the ultimate agent of change

These commonly used preservatives can be found in hundreds and hundreds of packaged food and drink items in local grocery markets as well as in the food served at both conventional and fast food restaurants, catered food, hotel and hospital foods, school lunchrooms, and the list goes on.  But food items are not the only place some of these preservatives make an appearance.  They can also be found in many personal care products such as mouthwash and over the counter medications.  With all the ways that consumers can be exposed to these preservatives they hold the potential for some real problems, especially in those groups of people who are the most vulnerable.  Fortunately, there is finally a growing awareness among consumers about the potential adverse health effects of some of the most commonly used food additives, preservatives among them.  According to a recent study, the number of people in all age groups who are reading ingredients labels before choosing to purchase is at an all-time high.

“In a 2014 online survey about food safety…88 percent of respondents were concerned about preservatives.”
~University of Florida’s Public Issues in Education Center (PIE) Survey

As a result of the growing consumer skepticism about synthetic and industrialized food additives such as preservatives, in order to remain competitive food industry corporations have had to shift their current models.  Packaged food producers and fast food restaurants have begun the process of removing and replacing questionable food preservatives in some food items and are making obvious attempts through labeling and packaging, advertising and submitting press releases to the media to alert consumers of those changes.  Likewise, the sale of organic, preservative-free foods and products are at an all-time high, with conventional Big Food corporations—the ones who have been putting all the preservatives in the processed foods for decades—owning substantial shares of the organic food market.

But are all these shifts enough to protect consumers from preservatives of concern in their food and personal care products?  Not really.  To begin with, there are large numbers of U.S. consumers who simply cannot afford to purchase organic or preservative-free foods each week.  Additionally, there are over 10,000 additives in U.S. foods with more than a thousand new chemicals entering the food supply every month—some, and perhaps even many lacking proper safety testing to assure they will not pose problems to those who consume them.  With all of these additives it is impossible to expect consumers to become knowledgeable about all of the potentially problematic preservatives in the food they put into their carts and ultimately, their bodies.  The only real power U.S. consumers currently have is to communicate with Big Food producers, to prepare as many meals as possible from scratch using fresh, whole ingredients, and to vote with their dollars by refusing to purchase brands that contain unwanted preservatives and choosing preservative-free options for themselves and their family.  Fortunately, given enough time, that power will likely be enough to push the changes needed forward.

For more information visit: Chemical-Free-Life.org

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Synthetic Food Dyes and the Link with Serious Health Consequences

By Chemical-Free-Life.org

Overview

     One group of synthetic and industrialized food chemicals extensively studied and linked with adverse health reactions is artificial food dyes.  This becomes particularly problematic when one considers just how prevalent synthetic food dyes have become in the U.S. diet.  Unless consumers carefully examine the ingredients labels, they are likely unaware just how many products they bring home to their families contain synthetic food dyes.  The dyes are present in hundreds of processed food items in U.S. grocery stores in everything from breakfast cereals, pickles, salad dressings, and pie crusts, to sports drinks.  A 2014 report released by the FDA estimates that at least 96 percent of children aged 2-5 years are exposed to synthetic food dyes Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1.

The FDA has approved these synthetic dyes, so should consumers even be concerned?  A recent review of the empirical studies on food dyes revealed: “The food industry dumps over 15 million pounds of the dyes studied into the food supply each year. Three of the dyes carry known carcinogens, and four can cause serious allergic reactions in some consumers. New studies show that seven of them contributed to cancer in lab animals, including brain and testicular tumors, colon cancer, and mutations” (Curran, 2010).

Approximately 10,000 new processed food products are introduced every year in the United States. Almost all of them require additives not required by the FDA to be explicitly named in all ingredient lists, and may sometimes be represented under “natural coloring” or “added coloring.” It has been known to cause severe allergic reactions and anaphylactic shock in some people.”

~ Brenda Watson & Leonard Smith, M.D., food additive authors

A closer look

Yellow Dye #5, Tartrazine

The food dye Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow dye #5) appears to cause the most adverse reactions of all azo dyes (azos are nitrogen-based compound derivatives of diazene and azobenzene or diphenyldiazene). Over 70 years of scientific, empirical studies and clinical trials on humans have linked this dye to numerous negative health outcomes and as leading to a particular problem for those with asthma and aspirin intolerance. More specifically, Yellow 5 dye/Tartrazine has been linked in empirical studies and clinical trials to respiratory problems, bronchospasms and asthma, urticaria/skin reactions, anaphylactic shock, irritability, restlessness, and insomnia/sleep disturbances, and in children, behavioral problems including ADHD and learning difficulties. Animal studies have found a link with Tartrazine and generalized toxicity/genotoxicity, as well as adverse immunosuppressive effects. Clinical trials have suggested a link between Yellow Dye 5/Tartrazine and hyperactivity disorders/ADHD symptoms and learning difficulties in children, especially when it is combined with the preservative sodium benzoate.

Decades of clinical and consumer reports also reveal a litany of problematic reactions to Yellow 5 dye including allergies, asthma, breathing difficulties, feelings of suffocation, skin reactions including urticaria (hives), itching, swelling/edema/fluid retention (and subsequent weight gain), blurred vision, swollen lymph nodes, earaches, headaches, migraines, difficulty concentrating, depression, anxiousness, anxiety, irritability, general weakness, rhinitis, sinus problems, heat waves, restlessness, sleep disturbances/insomnia, cancer (especially thyroid tumors), sperm abnormalities, lymphomas, chromosomal damage and anaphylactic shock.

The FDA’s position on Tartrazine is that it prompts only minor adverse reactions in some people. In response to the FDA’s failure to protect the public from the potential dangers of this food dye in 2008 the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a regulatory petition with the FDA requesting that this food dye be removed from the permitted food coloring list. To date, Tartrazine (FD&C Yellow dye #5) remains a permitted food dye in U.S. foods and, while like other food dyes it is required to appear on ingredients listings, there are no consumer warning labels on products containing it.

The food dye Yellow 5 (Tartrazine) is widely used in processed foods and can be commonly found in breakfast cereals, snack foods, candies, sodas, sports drinks, sauces, dips, salad dressings, pickles, pepperoncini, baked goods, pastry, pie crusts, cookies, prepared boxed and frozen meals, and condiments, among many others. This dye is also commonly found in conventional, catered and fast food restaurant items, a variety of personal care products such as mouthwash, and over the counter vitamins and medicines and prescription drugs. It may also be in pet food.

Caramel Coloring Food Dye

Several recent studies on caramel food coloring suggest this food dye may pose serious health consequences for consumers. Caramel food dye (an exempt-from-certification color additive) is common in many processed foods such as soda, baked goods and candy. Synthetic caramel coloring is processed with the use of sulfites which are recognized by the medical and research community as potentially dangerous to people with asthma and other health conditions. Toxicological data from clinical trials and animal research studies indicate this food dye is an immunosuppressive and can trigger allergic reactions in some people. Further, it is a known hidden source of gluten which can trigger serious adverse reactions in people with certain autoimmune disorders.

Additionally, several recent studies have linked caramel food coloring to cancer. Following the release of one such study the Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with five independent food science experts, filed a regulatory petition with the FDA requesting that caramel coloring be removed from the permitted food coloring list, citing FDA policy which allows the use of colors the agency believes have “a reasonable certainty of no harm” while color additives that have been found to cause cancer in animals or humans are disallowed in FDA-regulated foods and drugs. The cancer risk of caramel coloring is associated with 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI) exposures (which occurs during the manufacturing process of caramel coloring) primarily through soda consumption. While there is currently no federal limit for 4-MEI in food or beverages, Consumer Reports (sponsors of one of the studies) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to set limits for the potential carcinogen last year. There are typically four levels of color and chemical intensity that can be used with this food dye, the highest level (the darkest color and the highest levels of chemicals contained such as ammonia and sulfites—as well as producing the highest levels of 4-methylimidazole) has been determined by the state of California to be a carcinogenic risk and must be labeled as such on products sold in that state. Cola manufacturers, one of the most common users of caramel food dye, have responded by choosing to lower the level of caramel coloring in their products but recent testing by an independent laboratory found that at least one of the major cola producers was not in compliance with that requirement.

“Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to these beverages simply for aesthetic purposes. This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda.”
~Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior study author, Director of the Food Production and Public Health Program at the CLF, Assistant professor Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

As a footnote to this topic, Nestlé Corporation has announced that in response to consumer preferences, by the end of 2015 the company would be removing synthetic dyes (including Yellow 5, Tartrazine and Red 40) and artificial flavoring from 250 items in its product line, including some best-selling chocolate candies. The company noted in the press release that they are also actively working to eventually eliminate ‘Caramel Food Dye’ from their products—a decision that, in conjunction with the choice to eliminate nonexempt synthetic dyes and flavorings, will no doubt eventually further enhance sales and customer loyalty, especially given the number of people currently avoiding food products containing caramel food dye.

The rest of the cast: Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 6

Previous studies on the other food dyes have been linked to adverse neurobehavioral effects. A recent public information report presented a review of the study findings on food dyes revealing to consumers that clinical studies and laboratory research examining the link between several FDA-approved food coloring and adverse consequences has been taking place for decades…

Blue Dye 1: Banned in at least two other countries, FD&C Blue #1 has been linked in animal studies to chromosomal damage. When ingested in food items FD&C Blue #1 has been linked with triggering hypersensitivity reactions in some people, and according to a 2003 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report, when used in enteral feeding tubes can lead to systemic toxicity and death. This synthetic food dye is found in a wide variety of processed food items including breakfast cereal, candies, soda, and baked goods, among others.

Blue Dye 2: Animal studies on FD&C Blue #2 first indicated a statistically significant incidence of tumors (including brain tumors) as far back as three decades ago and in 2003 was determined by the World Health Organization to have toxicity risks in patient feeding tubes, “FD&C Blue No. 2, may have similar if not greater toxicity potential than Blue No. 1 and would not be appropriate replacements”. This synthetic food dye is found in a wide variety of processed food items including breakfast cereal, candies, processed drinks, and baked goods, among others. Blue dye 2 may also be present in pet food.

Green Dye 3: Scientific animal studies have linked the synthetic food dye Green 3 with bladder and testes tumors. Consumer and clinical reports indicate sensitivities and allergic reactions to this food dye may include gastrointestinal and digestive problems such as stomach distress and diarrhea, skin reactions, and breathing problems, among others. Green Dye 3 can be found in a wide variety of processed foods including baked goods, ice cream, candy, snack foods, condiments, and beverages (including green beer, milkshakes and other popular St. Patrick’s Day offerings). This synthetic dye can also be found in numerous over the counter and prescription drugs, lipsticks and other cosmetics, and a variety of personal care products.

Red Dye 2: FD&C Red #2 (Citrus Red) is typically reserved for use on some orange peels. Red Dye #2 has been linked with allergic reactions including skin reactions such as urticaria, swelling, and angioedema. Scientific animal studies have linked this dye with carcinogenic tumors.

Red Dye 3: FD&C Red #3 (Erythrosine) has been linked to cancer and thyroid tumors in scientific animal studies and may be genotoxic, though the FDA has been clear that it does not agree that these findings are persuasive enough to reverse their position that these food dyes are safe for consumers.

Consumer and clinical reports indicate that Red Dye #3 may trigger breathing difficulties and other allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. This dye can be found in a variety of processed foods including candies, bakery goods, sausage casings, maraschino cherries, fruit roll-ups and other snack foods, frozen meals and desserts, to name a few. It may also be present in over the counter and prescription drugs and chewing gum.

Red Dye 40: FD&C Red #40 contains a known carcinogenic contaminant (aniline) and has been linked in animal studies to intrauterine developmental problems, behavioral and physical toxicity, genotoxicity, and colon DNA damage. Red Dye 40 has been linked in clinical trials with allergy-like hypersensitivity in a small number of adults (including skin reactions such as itching and hives, swelling/edema, digestion problems, earaches, swollen lymph nodes, and agitation, nervousness, and migraine headaches) and as a potential trigger for hyperactivity in children. This widely used food dye makes an appearance in numerous processed foods including breakfast cereals and toaster pastries, candies, chocolate, pudding mix, cake mixes, snack chips, desserts, bakery goods (including refrigerated and frozen dinner rolls), processed drinks such as orange soda and other flavored sodas and drink mixes marketed to children. It may also be present in over the counter and prescription drugs, as well as pet food.

Yellow Dye 6: FD&C Yellow #6 (Sunset yellow) has been linked in empirical scientific research studies to allergic reactions and gastroenteritis, adverse reproductive and neurobehavioral effects, and cancer. It has also be demonstrated in a case study to trigger anaphylactic shock in sensitive individuals. Despite their acknowledgment of the findings on FD&C Yellow #6:

“Industry-sponsored animal tests indicated that this dye, the third most widely used, may cause tumors of the adrenal gland and kidney. In addition, small amounts of several carcinogens, such as 4-aminobiphenyl and benzidine (or chemicals that the body converts to those substances) may contaminate dye Yellow #6”

after reviewing those data the FDA concluded that Yellow Dye 6 does not pose a significant cancer risk to humans. And while the FDA also acknowledges that Yellow Dye 6 “may cause occasional and sometimes severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people,” their final position is that this food dye is safe for public consumption sans warning labels.

Dye Yellow 6 (Sunset Yellow) is commonly found in a wide variety of processed foods including breakfast cereals, snack foods, candies, sodas, sports drinks, sauces, dips, salad dressings, baked goods, pastry, pie crusts, cookies, prepared boxed and frozen meals, and condiments, among many others. It can also be found in conventional and fast food restaurant food items.

“Our study (Weiss, et al., 1980) was funded by the FDA, and its results, along with a number of others from that period,
definitively demonstrated adverse behavioral effects of synthetic food colors (Weiss 1982).
During the intervening years, with a plethora of confirmations,
the FDA has remained blindly obstinate.
It continues to shield food additives from testing for neurotoxicity and apparently believes that adverse
behavioral responses are not an expression of toxicity.”

~Dr. Bernard Weiss

Why are these synthetic dyes in the U.S. food supply?

There have been numerous screenings, tests and reviews concerning the safety of a variety of food colorings over the years. The FDA has consistently concluded that the evidence weighs in favor of determining the aforementioned food dyes safe for consumers, maintaining that colors found to be potentially hazardous have already been purged from the list of permissible additives. Not everyone interprets the data the same way, however. Citing numerous research findings linking synthetic food dyes with serious adverse health consequences, in 2008 The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a Citizens Regulatory Petition requesting that the FDA ban these food dyes. In March 2011 the FDA reviewed the data on several food dyes and again declared them safe for human consumption.

For more information visit:  https://chemical-free-life.org/

 

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Synthetic Phosphates as Top Food Chemicals of Concern

By Chemical-Free-Life.org

Synthetic phosphates make our top food chemicals of concern list because they have the distinction of not only being linked to adverse symptoms for sensitive groups, but also as having the potential to harm well-being for the larger consumer population base as well.  In fact, scientific research findings have found a link between synthetic phosphates and heart and kidney disease even among young, healthy people.  Unfortunately, while a number of conventional medicine practitioners have been beating the drum about the adverse health effects of synthetic phosphates for a number of years, synthetic phosphate food additives, which are highly prevalent in U.S. processed foods, are off the radar of mainstream media reports and therefore many consumers have no idea of the risks involved.

A Brief Overview of Synthetic Phosphates

Synthetic phosphates—a widely used group of industrialized food chemicals appearing in hundreds of food items—are included among those with the potential to create serious health problems for a wide variety of consumers, including the young and healthy.  Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Phosphate and Sodium Phosphate are among numerous industrialized phosphorous-based food additives commonly used as preservatives, emulsifiers, and acidifying and buffering agents in processed foods found in grocery stores, fast food and conventional restaurants.  The use of phosphates in popular processed foods in the U.S. dates back decades; as far back as the 1940’s, for instance, sodium phosphate was making an appearance in General Mill’s popular breakfast cereal Cheerios (then called, “Cheerioats”).   Some people opposed to the idea that food chemicals may be linked to adverse health outcomes have used the argument that some of these chemicals have been in our food supply for so long that if they were unhealthy ‘we would all be dead’.  Well, not dead maybe, but sick.  While people in the U.S. tend to live longer than people in many other countries, and despite the fact that we spend more on health care, we are also one of the sickest industrialized nations in the world.  And some whole food advocates, including several outspoken professionals trained in conventional medicine, have argued that it is the pervasiveness of processed foods in the American diet that is making us so sick.

Synthetic phosphorous or phosphates, especially calcium phosphate, sodium phosphate and potassium phosphate, are among the additives suspected of triggering serious health problems in even healthy people and leading to serious complications among those people with existing health conditions such as heart or kidney problems.  Research and clinical reports suggest that allergic reactions to this additive are possible in some people and can include difficulty breathing, skin reactions such as hives, swelling of face, eyelids, lips, throat or tongue, constipation, decreased appetite, dry mouth, and increased urination. Additionally, industrialized phosphate additives have been linked with complicating certain health conditions and people with a history of kidney stones, osteoporosis, certain glandular problems, or taking certain medications may be advised by health care professionals to minimize intake of processed foods containing this additive.

What makes synthetic phosphates potentially so dangerous?  This food additive is phosphorous-based but unlike naturally occurring phosphates which are not absorbed fully by the body, industrialized inorganic phosphate food additives such as calcium phosphate, sodium phosphate and potassium phosphate are effectively absorbed and can measurably elevate the serum phosphate concentration. High serum phosphate concentrations (hyperphosphatemia) has been linked to complications and increased incidence of death in those individuals with advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) and is an independent predictor of cardiovascular events.  Further, research indicates that phosphate food additives are linked with vascular damage (e.g. endothelial dysfunction and vascular calcification) and in animal studies has been shown to accelerate the aging process and age-related organ complications.  Individuals with renal disease or cardiovascular disease (or those with health conditions placing kidney or cardiovascular health at risk such as those with diabetes) may be advised by health care professionals to limit or avoid processed foods sold at supermarkets as well as restaurant foods containing this food additive.  High dietary consumption of industrialized phosphates has also been linked with certain cancers.  Additionally, some scientific and medical researchers have argued that phosphate additives in food may harm the health of persons with normal renal function.  Results from a large scale epidemiological study suggest that phosphate additives are potentially dangerous even for healthy members of the general public. Given the potential for serious health outcomes, scientific researchers as well as practitioners have argued that the public should be informed that phosphate food additives are damaging to health and further that processed foods containing these additives should carry warning labels.  We strongly support the call for consumer warning labels and call on big food manufacturers to significantly reduce the levels of synthetic phosphate additives in processed foods and replace them with additives that are less potentially harmful to U.S. consumers.

Where are synthetic phosphate food additives hiding?

As stated earlier, synthetic/industrialized phosphates make an appearance in hundreds of processed food items at your local grocery store, as well as in some food items sold at fast food and conventional restaurants.  Here are just a few examples:

Calcium Phosphate (Calcium Acid Phosphate)

Where Found: Food additive used for leavening and preserving texture in processed foods. Calcium Phosphate is just one of numerous phosphate-based industrialized food additives (that include Potassium Phosphate and Sodium Phosphate) commonly used as preservatives, emulsifiers, and acidifying and buffering agents in processed foods found in grocery stores, fast food and conventional restaurants.  Not to be confused with naturally-occurring phosphates, this industrialized additive is used in hundreds of processed food items including processed frozen dough products (frozen pizza, bakery items and biscuits), cake mixes, pancake mixes, breads, biscuit mixes, packaged bakery items, pizza dough, processed meats, lunch meats, ham, and canned tuna. It is also used in cheese products and to preserve texture in frozen and canned vegetables and canned fruits. Also used as a nutrient supplement and as an abrasive in toothpaste.

Calcium Phosphate (Calcium Acid Phosphate)

Where Found: Food additive used for leavening and preserving texture in processed foods. Calcium Phosphate is just one of numerous phosphate-based industrialized food additives (that include Potassium Phosphate and Sodium Phosphate) commonly used as preservatives, emulsifiers, and acidifying and buffering agents in processed foods found in grocery stores, fast food and conventional restaurants.  Not to be confused with naturally-occurring phosphates, this industrialized additive is used in hundreds of processed food items including processed frozen dough products (frozen pizza, bakery items and biscuits), cake mixes, pancake mixes, breads, biscuit mixes, packaged bakery items, pizza dough, processed meats, lunch meats, ham, and canned tuna. It is also used in cheese products and to preserve texture in frozen and canned vegetables and canned fruits. Also used as a nutrient supplement and as an abrasive in toothpaste.

Disodium Phosphate (DSP)

Where Found: This additive is used by processed food manufacturers as a stabilizer, emulsifier, buffering agent and sequestrant, as well as acting as a preservative to retard spoilage, and as a texturizer/anti-caking additive in processed foods.  Commonly found in ice cream, frozen desserts, cheese dips and powdered toppings, cheese slices, imitation cheese, sauces, chocolate, no-bake cheesecakes, packaged noodles and pasta products, some canned/packaged meat products, bacon, toppings, evaporated milk, powdered milk & canned milk products, creamers, cooked cereals, dry cereals, instant puddings, etc.

Potassium Phosphate

Where Found: Potassium Phosphate is just one of numerous phosphate-based industrialized food additives (that include Calcium Phosphate and Sodium Phosphate) commonly used as preservatives, emulsifiers, and acidifying and buffering agents in processed foods found in grocery stores, fast food and conventional restaurants.  Not to be confused with naturally-occurring phosphates, this industrialized additive is used in hundreds of processed food items including frozen dinners, soft cheese, powdered milk, coffee and pudding products, self-basting turkeys, nondairy creamers, boxed and canned convenience food meals. Processed food items that typically contain large amounts of added phosphate include baked goods, processed meats and poultry, ham, sausages, canned fish, cola drinks, and other soft drinks.

Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate; Disodium Pyrophosphate)

Where Found: Food additive used for leavening in processed baked goods and to shorten the fermentation time in cakes, pies, pizza breads and crackers, for preserving fats in processed foods, for cleaning dairy products, as a preservative in seafood canning, in potato treatment processes to prevent browning in potato-based processed foods (including frozen hash browns) and as a chemical-dip to prevent browning in some fast food and traditional restaurant processed French fries, and as a buffering and acidifying agent in a variety of other foodstuffs. Can also be found in noodles, refrigerated dough/dough-based foods, batter, baking powder, packaged cake, waffles and pancake mixes, processed, cured meats, cheeses, puddings, sugar-based syrups and chewing gum. (Note: May also be present in personal care products such as toothpaste.)

Sodium Hexametaphosphate

Where Found: This industrialized additive is used as a texturizer, emulsifier and thickener in a variety of processed foods such as breakfast cereals, milk and cheese products (incl. ice cream, canned milk and cheese spreads, dips and powders and imitation cheese), processed meat and fish, frozen desserts, jellies/jams, toppings, dressings, gravies, syrups, alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages. May also be used in food packaging (where it may migrate into food) as well as pet food.

Sodium Phosphate (Sodium Tripolyphosphates)

Where Found: Sodium Phosphate is just one of numerous phosphate-based industrialized food additives (that include Calcium Phosphate and Potassium Phosphate) commonly used as preservatives, emulsifiers, and acidifying and buffering agents in processed foods found in grocery stores, fast food and conventional restaurants.  Not to be confused with naturally-occurring phosphates, this industrialized additive is used in hundreds of processed food items including frozen dinners, soft cheese, powdered milk, coffee and pudding products, self-basting turkeys, nondairy creamers, boxed and canned convenience food meals. Processed food items that typically contain large amounts of added phosphate include baked goods, processed meats, enhanced meats (added broth/self-basting) and poultry, ham, sausages, canned fish, cola drinks, and other soft drinks.

Rethinking our Consumption of Synthetic Phosphates in Processed Foods

Perhaps you might think that the entire business about synthetic phosphate food additives is a bit reactionary. You may be asking, ‘If these industrialized phosphates hold so much potential for serious health complications, wouldn’t they always have been a problem?  Why should we be concerned about them now?’  The answer is twofold.  First, quantity:  What may have amounted to a relatively small and innocuous dose of this additive at breakfast 75 years ago has now become a pervasive, widespread, and high intake occurrence with industrialized phosphates appearing in multiple food items commonly consumed daily by U.S. consumers for breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks.  Industrialized phosphate additives make an appearance in hundreds of processed food items including frozen dinners, soft cheese, powdered milk, coffee and pudding products, nondairy creamers, boxed and canned convenience food meals, baked goods, frozen dough products (including frozen pizza, bakery items, and biscuits), cake mixes, pancake mixes, breads, biscuit mixes, packaged bakery items, pizza dough, processed meats, lunch meats, enhanced meats (such as those with added broth and/or self-basting—including self-basting turkeys), poultry, ham, sausages, canned fish (including canned tuna), as well as cola and other soft drinks, to name a few.  Industrialized phosphates such as calcium phosphate are also used in cheese products and to preserve texture in frozen and canned vegetables and canned fruits. A recent study found that primarily eating canned fruits (as opposed to fresh or frozen varieties) is linked to an alarming 17% increase in the statistical risk for death from the most common health-related causes.  When we look at the amount of synthetic and industrialized food additives in canned fruit, phosphates being chief among them, (recall that synthetic phosphates have been linked with heart disease and kidney failure even in young, healthy individuals), it is hard not to wonder if these additives may be a contributing factor.

The second reason we may want to rethink our consumption of these additives concerns the potential for compounding and synergistic effects—something that a number of scientists have stated they have grave concerns about.   Remember, we not only have industrialized phosphates prevalent in processed foods found at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants, but thousands of other additives as well.  And food is just one source of chemicals entering our bodies.  There is also a daily onslaught of numerous chemicals of concern via prescription and over-the-counter medications (which frequently contain some of the same potentially problematic additives that are in our food), an array of toxic chemicals present in our personal care products and cosmetics, household product toxins such as air freshener sprays, home maintenance, laundry and cleaning products, and toxins from furniture, flooring and cabinets and the like, toxic chemicals on textiles such as bed sheets, towels and clothing, as well as exposure to toxins and pollutants from the general environment.  Numerous studies, including one from our own government’s Center for Disease Control (CDC), have indicated that the majority of U.S. citizens tested positive for numerous chemicals in their bodies, several of which are known toxins.  With all of the exposure to toxic chemicals it would seem that there may be negative consequences to well-being from the interactive effect of some of these chemicals—or at the very least from the sheer numbers of them.

This latter point is a potential problem because our immune systems do not have an infinite capacity to cleanse our bodies from a daily onslaught of toxins.  It is not unreasonable to expect that eventually exposure to certain chemicals, including those in the food supply, may become the tipping point or drop that causes the proverbial rain barrel to become overfilled.  This risk may become further exacerbated when compounded with normal, everyday stressful life events and exposure to pathogens and other factors that can put increased strain on an already taxed immune system.  Given the possibility for adverse outcomes in this scenario, avoiding unnecessary chemicals such as industrialized phosphates in processed foods—chemicals believed by scientists studying them to put even young, healthy bodies at risk—would seem a prudent choice.  At the very least, until big food manufacturers begin to reduce and remove synthetic phosphates, avoiding processed foods containing these additives all together would seem a matter to discuss with your health care team.

For more information visit:  https://chemical-free-life.org/

 

References:

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Dhingra, R., et al. 2010. Relations of serum phosphorus levels to echocardiographic left ventricular mass and incidence of heart failure in the community. European Journal of Heart Failure, 12(8):812–818.

Giachelli, C. The emerging role of phosphate in vascular calcification. Kidney International, 75(9):890–897.

Haut, L., et al. 1980. Renal toxicity of Phosphate in rats. Kidney International Journal, 17(6):722-731.

Kalantar-Zadeh, K., et al. 2010. Understanding sources of dietary phosphorus in the treatment of patients with chronic kidney disease. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (CJASN), 5(3):519–530.

Kaluza, J., Akesson, A. & Wolk, A. 2014. Processed and unprocessed red meat consumption and risk of heart failure: A prospective study of men. Circulation: Heart Failure, 7: 552-557.

Kestenbaum, B., et al. 2005. Serum phosphate levels and mortality risk among people with chronic kidney disease. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN), 16(2):520-528.

McGovern, P., et al. 2013. Serum Phosphate as a risk factor for cardiovascular events in people with and without chronic kidney disease: A large community based cohort study. PloS One, 8(9): e74996.

Ritz, E., et al. 2012. Phosphate additives in food—a health risk. Deutsches Arzteblatt International,109(4): 49–55.

Tonelli, M., et al. 2005. Relation between serum phosphate level and cardiovascular event rate in people with coronary disease. Circulation, 112:2627–2633.

Toussaint, N., et al., 2012. Phosphate in early chronic kidney disease: Associations with clinical outcomes and a target to reduce cardiovascular risk. Nephrology, 17(5):433-444.

Uribarri, J. 2007. Phosphorus homeostasis in normal health and in chronic kidney disease patients with special emphasis on dietary phosphorus intake. Seminars in Dialysis,20(4):295–301.

The Hidden Dangers of Undeclared Food Additives

By Chemical-Free-Life.org

As insidious as it is for consumers to navigate their way through the over ten thousand synthetic and industrialized chemicals currently in the U.S. food supply, with some education and a willingness to read the ingredients labels prior to purchase, it can be done.  The same cannot be said for a number of food additives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has determined are so irrelevant they do not even require an appearance on the food label—otherwise known as ‘undeclared additives’.  These are substances that occur either as a byproduct of the food packaging process or as a result of the long storage and transport times necessary for many processed foods (both scenarios have been demonstrated scientifically to trigger chemicals of concern to leach into the food and drink) or substances intentionally inserted into the food and drinks in which the FDA has determined are too inconsequential to require alerting consumers about.  Unfortunately, for some consumers (perhaps even many) consuming these hidden, undeclared additives can spell serious negative consequences and are anything but inconsequential.

This paper will offer a brief overview of three types of undeclared additives hiding in U.S. processed foods for which we argue the information should be made available to consumers:  (1) Industrial food packaging chemicals; (2) Aspergillus Niger (AN), more commonly known as black mold; (3) Sources of mysterious ‘natural flavoring’ and ‘artificial flavoring’.

1-Industrial food packaging chemicals 

 One source of toxic chemical presence in the U.S. food supply comes from the industrial chemicals used in processed food packaging—chemicals that have been shown to leach or migrate into food and drinks.  These chemicals include Bisphenol-A (BPA), Formaldehyde, Octyl Gallate, Styrene (otherwise known as Polystyrene—Styrene and Benzene—or Styrofoam), Perchlorates/PFC/PFCA/PFOA, Silicon Dioxide, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Sulfuric Acid, BHA, nanoparticles such as Silver-nano, pesticides such as Triclosan used as anti-fungal and anti-mold agents, and Phthalates, to name a few.

Numerous studies have uncovered industrial chemicals from food packaging migrating or leaching into the food, among them are:  Bisphenol-A (BPA), a known endocrine-disrupting chemical, is widely used primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins and used in the inner lining of canned food and plastic food and drink containers (covered more in detail later in this section), and hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD), a widely-used flame retardant, which has also been found in foods. Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), another kind of flame retardant, has been found in butter and its paper wrapping, leading to butter contamination, and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) used in food packaging (including take-out packaging and food wrap papers treated to resist grease), as well as some nonstick cookware, has been detected in the food supply.  PFOAs have been linked in scientific studies to liver and thyroid problems, immune system disorders, infertility and other reproductive problems in women, as well as developmental problems. Animal studies have uncovered a connection with PFOAs and tumors of the liver, testicles, mammary glands, and pancreas in rodents. Perchlorates (potassium perchlorate and sodium perchlorate monohydrate)/PFCs are also commonly used in U.S. food containers including pizza boxes and take-out packaging such as food wrap papers treated to resist grease. They have been linked in scientific animal studies to a number of serious health consequences including fetal and infant brain abnormalities, thyroid and liver problems, reduced sperm count/male reproductive problems, and cancer.  A recent petition to the FDA has been filed by nine separate organizations including the National Resource Defense Council, asking that these chemicals of concern be banned from food packaging where they have been shown to migrate into the food.

Phthalates leaching into the food supply are potentially problematic because they are known endocrine disrupting chemicals. Scientific studies have linked phthalates to breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, brain development problems, and numerous endocrine abnormalities like triggering early menopause, premature breast development in girls, lowered hormones in men, damaged sperm, and premature births. Phthalates can be found in processed food packaging, some commercial clear food wrap, and child lunchboxes, as well as plastic food storage containers, where they can leach into stored food. Food processing techniques can also cause high levels of phthalates in milk and dairy products (even organic versions) and commercial spices (including those labeled as ‘organic’), and at varying levels in all processed, packaged food items sold in grocery stores.  A scientific study conducted in 2013 tested a random sample of food and drinks from grocery store shelves—researchers discovered some level of phthalates in every food product they sampled.  

And it’s not just the processed foods found in grocery stores.  A study published in 2016 found that people who had eaten the most fast food in the past day had levels of phthalate metabolites that were 24 to 40 percent higher than those of the people who hadn’t eaten fast food.  The findings of this latest study are important because they implicate yet another popular food category as a potential source of U.S. consumers’ phthalate exposure. The study also suggested that meat and grain items — including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles — were the biggest contributors to phthalate exposure in the people who ate fast food.  Researchers have suggested that phthalates might get into fast food if the food comes into contact with plastic packing or PVC tubing (used in food processing) that contains the chemical. It’s also possible that the plastic gloves that fast food workers wear may be a source of phthalates contaminating the food.                    

Another industrial food packaging chemical that has been found to leach into the food and has been linked in numerous peer-reviewed scientific studies to a variety of adverse health outcomes is Bisphenol-A, otherwise known as BPA.  BPA, like the other food additives highlighted here, makes an appearance on U.S. grocery shelves with no packaging warnings or even a listing on the labels to alert consumers of its presence.  BPA, developed in 1891 as a synthetic estrogen, came into widespread use in the 1950’s when scientists realized it could be used to make and strengthen polycarbonate plastic and some epoxy resins to line food and beverage cans. In recent years BPA has been found to leach into food by way of cans, the lids of canning jars, and plastic food and drink containers, including baby bottles and toddler sippy-cups, and has been detected in infant formula and baby food as well as dental fillings.  BPA is a reported endocrine-disrupting chemical and numerous peer-reviewed studies conducted by independent scientists have linked exposure to BPA to a variety of adverse health consequences such as an increased risk for endocrine-related cancers including breast cancer and prostate cancer, spikes in blood pressure, heart disease, abnormalities in liver function, low sperm counts in men, metabolic abnormalities, weight gain and increased serum cholesterol levels, neurological damage/altered brain development including a link with schizophrenia, puberty advances, disruptions, and abnormalities, insulin resistance and diabetes, adverse reproductive and developmental effects including recurrent miscarriages, gynecomastia (a male breast disease that causes abnormal breast growth in boys and men), and perinatal exposure to BPA has recently been linked to an increased risk of food intolerance in adulthood.  BPA appears to be pervasive in the bodies of people living in the U.S.  Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found BPA to be present in the urine of 95 percent of Americans tested, and other studies have detected BPA in the breast milk of nursing mothers, and with prenatal exposure, where testing detected BPA in the biological fluids and placenta, as well as the urine and umbilical cords of newborns.

A number of countries have banned BPA over the years and following public pressure from U.S. consumers and food safety advocates, in July 2012 the FDA finally banned BPA from infant and toddler foods and food containers.  But when it comes to the rest of us, BPA is yet another food additive in which the FDA has failed to take action that many experts argue would potentially protect the health and safety of consumers (a recent study by the Environmental Working Group found that one in 10 cans of food in U.S. grocery stores contained BPA levels more than 200 times the government’s recommended level of exposure to industrial chemicals).  In 2010 the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its failure to act on a 2008 Citizens Regulatory Petition to ban the use of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in food packaging, food containers, and other materials likely to come into contact with food.  Among other things, the petition argued that BPA exposure has been associated in primate and other empirical animal studies with a wide range of adverse effects, including reproductive defects, chromosomal damage, nervous system harm, increased rates of breast and prostate cancer, and metabolic changes including obesity and insulin resistance (a condition that commonly precedes the development of diabetes) and studies in human tissue link BPA exposure with breast cancer and diabetes.  In early 2014 the FDA released the results of its own study to determine safety levels of this chemical.  A number of prominent scientific researchers and scholars, including some working on FDA-funded research to determine the safety of certain food chemicals, have harshly criticized the FDA study as seriously flawed due in part because the control subjects used in the study were contaminated.  The FDA refused to publicly discuss the problems with their study and instead used it to justify continuing their policy of permitting BPA to remain in the food supply—of course with no indication on food labels that it exists.

In response to the FDA’s failure to act, in July 2014 three members of the U.S. Congress seeking to ban BPA released their Ban Poisonous Additives Act which would deem food to be adulterated if the packaging is made with BPA or may otherwise release BPA into food. The bill would also require the FDA to examine the effects of BPA on workers who may be exposed to the chemical during the manufacturing process.  While the bill has garnered numerous sponsors and supporters, including a number of public health and food safety advocacy organizations, it remains to be seen if it will pass.  In the meantime consumers who want to avoid the risks associated with this industrial chemical are left on their own to educate themselves about avoiding canned foods and drinks in plastic bottles not clearly marked “BPA Free”.

2-Aspergillus Niger (AN) black mold

We all know that Aspergillus Niger (a form of black mold) can occur naturally.  According to the Scientific Laboratory for Food Intolerance (SLFI), Aspergillus Niger (AN) is a form of mildew present nearly everywhere that generally contaminates dry food, dried fruits, nuts, fermented teas and herbal teas, when they are exposed to humidity during storage.

But did you know that it also makes an appearance as a food additive in processed foods?  We are familiar with Aspergillus Niger because in both the U.S. and Canada it is commonly used in the food industry as a non-declared additive. In short, it is usually not listed on the food label. The foods AN (and its extracts) most often appear as an additive in/occur in include bread, beer, cheese, chocolate, fruit juices, and especially (canned/boxed/frozen) processed/precooked foods. But it can also appear hidden in the form of food preservative and additive “citric acid”…

Citric Acid

 Where Found: This industrialized food additive (not to be confused with the naturally occurring version) is made from the mold Aspergillus Niger. It is used as a preservative, antioxidant, and acidifier, and can be commonly found in salad dressings, baked goods, crackers, pasta, processed dairy products and cheeses, margarine, dried fruit, fruit juice, sports drinks, coffees, teas, soda, canned fruit (including canned tomatoes/tomato sauce), canned vegetables, condiments (such as pickles, relish, mayonnaise), jams, jellies, confectionery, chocolate, desserts, frozen meals, processed meats, and snack foods.  Citric acid may also be a non-declared food additive—that is, not listed on the ingredients label.

Red Flags: Some people may have allergic reactions to this additive—especially those who are sensitive to molds, yeast, and/or corn.  Adverse reactions range from mild to severe and may include skin reactions (including itching, hives, rash), edema (and subsequent weight gain), sore throat, swelling of tongue, mouth, face, throat, digestive problems (including pain, bloating, diarrhea), mouth ulcers, headaches, agitation, or insomnia.  Also of note, citric acid is an industrialized food additive, commercially produced typically using glucose and hydrolyzed corn starch, and as such may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO).  It is also a known hidden source of gluten which can trigger serious adverse reactions in people with certain autoimmune disorders. Additionally, during industrialized processing of this additive the remaining protein is hydrolyzed and may result in some processed free glutamic (MSG).

For those consumers who have sensitivity to molds or fermented foods, or have unexplained adverse reactions after eating certain processed foods, like SLFI, we recommend they talk with their healthcare providers about whether avoiding mass-produced, highly processed/prepackaged foods entirely, and in general, limiting consumption of other products at risk for containing Aspergillus Niger is warranted. Foods especially at risk to contain AN include dry foods such as dried spaghetti and macaroni noodles, dried fruits, as well as nuts, fermented teas and herbal teas, bread, beer, cheese, chocolate, and fruit juices.  Consumers who experience negative reactions to AN may be told to replace these food items whenever possible with homemade versions made from fresh, whole ingredients. Additionally, those individuals with sensitivity to molds or fermented foods might also consider discussing with their healthcare providers the possibility of avoiding commercially processed foods containing the additive citric acid.

3-Sources of ‘natural flavoring’ and ‘artificial flavoring’

Both ‘natural flavoring’ and ‘artificial flavoring’ listed as ingredients in processed foods have something in common:  they are both a mystery.   This can mean serious problems for consumers with allergic reactions, chemical sensitivities, and other health conditions, as well as issues for those consumers who are avoiding certain ingredients for ethical or religious reasons.  The ‘natural flavoring’ additive commonly consists of the industrialized/laboratory blending of naturally-occurring chemicals—of unknown specifications to the consumer.  The Federal Code of Regulations’ approved sources for “natural flavoring” can include any number of plant sources, spices and yeast people may be allergic to, as well meat, poultry, seafood, eggs and dairy. (And as the mainstream media recently reported on, ‘natural flavoring’ has even included the substance derived from beaver castor sacs—otherwise known as their anal glands.  Thankfully for the beavers this natural flavoring, no matter how tasty it may sound, is too costly for most food producers to consider.)

Food manufacturers have considerable freedom in how they can choose to list natural flavoring sources on food labels. Numerous naturally-occurring food additives that in their industrialized states have been linked with health-related problems may appear simply as “natural flavoring” on ingredients labels. (Autolyzed yeast, for instance, which may contain or produce processed free glutamic acid and tend to stimulate glutamate in the body in a process similar to MSG, may be listed simply as “natural flavoring”.) Additives listed as “natural flavoring” make an appearance in a wide variety of processed foods.

The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations specifies that ‘natural flavorings’ consist of:  “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22).

As a footnote, the federal regulations permit the following for ‘natural flavoring’ processing: “protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis…”  As one food safety advocate has stated, “As long as you start with a product that is not made in a factory, you can do all kinds of unnatural things to it and still call it natural.”

Individuals with allergies or sensitivities to any of the source chemicals used for ‘natural flavoring’ may also experience adverse reactions to the derivatives contained in this food additive including respiratory problems, headaches, difficulty concentrating, insomnia, mood disturbances, edema, skin reactions (including rashes, hives, itching), and digestive problems, among others.

‘Artificial flavoring’, is another mystery ingredient as the precise synthetic additives are an unknown to consumers. In general, synthetic chemical additives used for flavoring may be problematic for sensitive individuals but there is no definitive way of knowing in advance.  The only real test is to spin the wheel, ingest the food item, and see what happens.  Like their ‘natural flavoring’ counterparts, ‘artificial flavors’ are found in a wide variety of processed foods, drinks, candies, and snacks.  The bottom line is that for those consumers who are at risk for adverse reactions and do not want to turn their supper into a Las Vegas gamble, or those consumers who have ethical and/or religious convictions that prohibit consuming meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, or dairy products, they cannot rely on the FDA or big food manufacturers to disclose the needed information.  For these consumers the only real solution is to avoid all together purchasing and consuming any processed foods and drinks on grocery store shelves with ‘natural flavoring’ listed on the ingredients labels.

Eating should not be a game of Russian roulette

Fortunately for consumers with certain food allergies (like peanuts, milk, wheat and soy) the food and drink labels on processed food items in the U.S. are marked as containing (or possibly containing) these ingredients. But what about people who have adverse reactions to molds like food additive Aspergillus Niger?  Or certain plant sources, spices, or yeast?  Or who need to avoid meat, poultry or seafood?  When it comes to undeclared additives like ‘natural flavorings’ in the food and drinks they consume they are just left to roll the dice for whether these items are present.  The same goes for people who have serious health conditions like obesity, diabetes, heart, liver or kidney ailments, asthma, and many other conditions, who must avoid additives that may worsen these conditions—additives like certain industrial food packaging chemicals that have been linked in scientific studies with these conditions that are known to leach into the food and drink. The FDA believes the risk for people with these conditions is simply not enough to require food label changes.  As is the case with questionable listed additives common in processed food items it has been left up to the consumer to self-educate and avoid.

Why change won’t happen anytime soon   

The problems with inadequate food labeling (both undeclared additives as well as labeled but problematic chemicals of concern in the food that lack warnings for consumers) are directly linked to problems within the FDA—systemic problems that are embedded within a complex content of politics, lobbying, campaign contributions, economics, legal and funding restrictions, regulatory capture facilitated by a revolving door ‘industry-to-regulator posts’ norm consisting of government regulators moving to high-ranking posts at the industries they are supposed to be regulating and back again, outdated, antiquated methodology and scientific standards used by the FDA for determining which additives may put the general public at risk, and other factors that run interference with the agency’s ability to act in the public’s best interest, instead favoring the interests of Big Food corporations who have little incentive to alert consumers to potentially deleterious additives in their products.

The bottom line is that the problems surrounding an inefficient regulatory agency that fails to adequately protect (or even warn) U.S. consumers from potentially harmful food additives are substantial and require what President Obama said needed to be done as a part of his original campaign platform: to completely overhaul the FDA.  That plan never reached fruition of course, though the President did appoint previous Big Chemical Corporation Monsanto’s previous counsel Michael Taylor to act as Food Czar.  While this was an exceptionally interesting choice, to date the appointment has done nothing to resolve the ongoing problems the FDA has with protecting consumers from potentially dangerous chemicals in the U.S. food supply.  These problems will only get worse as a recent report commissioned by Pew Charitable Trust points out since a substantial amount of new chemicals have been entering the food supply for the past fifteen years without the FDA’s knowledge of what the chemicals even are, what foods they are in, and without having ever been properly safety tested to assure they are safe for human consumption.

A viable alternative

Updating and modernizing food ingredients labels in the U.S. (something that is seriously needed and long past due) would not be that difficult for food manufacturers to comply or the U.S. consumer to interpret.  A sophisticated yet simple color-coding scheme could allow for a symbol (◊) of varying colors on the food product to alert consumers when processed foods and drinks contain ingredients that have been linked in scientific research, medical studies or clinical trials, to the possibility of adverse reactions in people with certain health conditions—especially those ingredients that are currently considered ‘undeclared additives’ and completely hidden from the consumer.  The key for the color-coding could be printed on a chart that hangs near grocery store entrances or customer service counters as well as being made easily assessable on the FDA website.  Additive safety information could also be made available with an app in which consumers could swipe the food product barcode with their smartphones and receive a complete accounting of all product ingredients with corresponding color coded safety information.

For more information visit:  https://chemical-free-life.org/

 

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Tarapore, P., et al. 2014. Exposure to Bisphenol A correlates with early-onset prostate cancer and promotes centrosome amplification and anchorage-independent growth in vitro. PLoS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090332

Taylor, A., et al. 2011. Similarity of Bisphenol A pharmacokinetics in Rhesus monkeys and mice: Relevance for human exposure. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(4): 422–430.

Tyl, R., et al. 2008. Two-generation reproductive toxicity study of dietary Bisphenol-A in CD-1 (Swiss) mice. Toxicology Sciences, 104(2):362-384.

Tyl, R., et al. 2002. Three-generation reproductive toxicity study of dietary Bisphenol-A in CD Sprague-Dawley rats. Toxicology Sciences, 68(1):121-146.

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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center. “BPA linked to prostate cancer, study shows.” ScienceDaily, 3 March 2014.

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Vitamin D

By Dr. Glen Matejka

Wintertime is commonly a time when darker moods tend to creep in; a phenomenon linked to a decline in sunlight. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects an estimated 6 percent of the U.S. population, while a milder form, known as the “winter blues,” affects about 14 percent.1 As noted in the Evening Standard:2

“According to the DSM [diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders], people who have SAD are excessively fatigued, lose interest in their hobbies, tend to crave more starches and sweets, may gain seasonal weight, and have difficulty concentrating during darker months.”

That said, longer, darker days tend to influence the behavior of most people, even if you don’t feel outright depressed and depleted. This is because your health and mood are actually intricately tied to exposure to sunlight, even irrespective of vitamin D. For example, your serotonin levels (a hormone associated with mood elevation) rise when you’re exposed to bright light.

Your melatonin level also inversely rises and falls with light and darkness. When it’s dark, your melatonin levels increase, which is why you may feel tired when the sun starts to set (and in the heart of winter, this may be at as early as 4 p.m.) which mimics the natural light from the sun, has been shown to be effective remedy for SAD, and may even be preferable for major depression.

Vitamin D supplementation can also be quite helpful for depression and/or the winter blues if you’re vitamin D deficient, which a vast majority are at this time of year. Research shows having a vitamin D level below 20 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) may raise your risk for depression by as much as 85 percent, compared to having a vitamin D level greater than 30 ng/mL.

Have You Checked Your Vitamin D Level Yet?

My recommendation is to get your Vitamin D tested twice a year, when your level is likely to be at its lowest (midwinter) and highest (midsummer). This is particularly important if you’re pregnant or planning a pregnancy, or if you have cancer. That means right about now is a good time to get your level checked, to identify your low point. Based on the research done and data collected by GrassrootsHealth, 40 ng/mL is the cutoff point for sufficiency to prevent a wide range of diseases, including cancer.

For optimal health and disease prevention, a level between 60 and 80 ng/mL appears to be ideal.3 The American Medical Association claims 20 ng/mL is sufficient, but research suggests 20 ng/mL is not even adequate for the prevention of osteomalacia. As for dosage, you need to take whatever dosage required to get you into the optimal range, with 40 ng/mL being the low-end cutoff for sufficiency.

Research4 suggests it would require 9,600 IUs of vitamin D per day to get a majority (97.5 percent) of the population to reach 40 ng/mL, but individual requirements can vary widely. If you’ve been taking a certain amount of vitamin D3 for a number of months and retesting reveals you’re still not within the recommended range, then you know you need to increase your dosage.

Vitamin D Sufficiency Lowers All-Cause Mortality and Risk of Diabetes

The Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (formerly IOM) has also reported an association between vitamin D and overall mortality risk from all causes, including cancer.17,18 Additional studies can be found on GrassrootHealth’s vitamin D*Action breast cancer page,19 where you can also enroll in the D Action Breast Cancer Prevention Project which includes both vitamin D and omega-3 testing.

GrassrootsHealth D*Action + Omega-3 Project is the largest project in the world that allows scientific researchers to study the links between these nutrients. Participating in the project is an inexpensive way to take control of your health while simultaneously helping to advance nutritional science.

Considering vitamin D is required for healthy genetic expression, and vitamin D receptors are found throughout your body, cancer is not the only disease risk that can be directly impacted by your vitamin D status. For example, an analysis20 by GrassrootsHealth reveals people with a median vitamin D level of 41 ng/mL have a diabetes rate of 3.7 per 1,000. Contrast that to those with a median serum level of just 22 ng/mL, among whom the diabetes rate was 9.3 per 1,000.

In other words, vitamin D sufficiency may lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes by as much as 60 percent, even after taking confounding factors such as age, gender, race and bodyweight into account. Abdominal obesity in combination with low vitamin D may also “synergistically influence” your risk of insulin resistance.  According to this study, 47 percent of the increased odds of insulin resistance can be explained by the interaction between insufficient vitamin D levels and a high body mass index.

The Importance of Vitamin D During Pregnancy

Maintaining vitamin D sufficiency is particularly important during pregnancy, since it’s not just your own health that is at stake but that of your child as well.22 Protect Our Children NOW! is a GrassrootsHealth campaign launched in 2015 to combat vitamin D deficiency among pregnant women worldwide.

Research conducted through this project reveals up to 59 percent of preterm births — which are responsible for 28 percent of newborn deaths during the first month of life — could be prevented simply by raising pregnant women’s vitamin D to a level of 40 ng/mL.

As of 2015, the U.S. had a preterm birth rate of 9.6 percent, meaning nearly 1 in 10 babies were born prematurely. The U.S., while one of the most advanced countries in the world, ranked No. 130 in preterm births out of 184 countries in 2010.

Protect our Children NOW! is a cost-effective, reproducible program that protects children by ensuring pregnant mothers are vitamin D sufficient, and could go a long way toward improving these abysmal statistics. Among non-Caucasian women (among whom vitamin D deficiency is more common and prominent) the reduction in risk was even greater.

In this group, the preterm rate prior to the start of the study was 18 percent. Those who achieved a vitamin D level of 40 ng/mL by their second test had a 78 percent lower preterm birth rate — reducing the preterm birth rate to just 4 percent!

To learn more visit Dr. Glen Matejka’s website:    https://www.comprehensivebackcare.com/

IRON is essential for human life

By Dr. Glen Matejka

Iron is essential for human life, as it:

  • Forms hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells), as iron binds to oxygen and provides it to tissues for their metabolic needs
  • Is a key component of various proteins, as well as enzymes that catalyze cellular oxidation reactions
  • Helps regulate cell growth and differentiation
  • Helps maintain your brain function, metabolism and endocrine function
  • Is involved in energy production and immune function

Having either too much or too little iron can have serious health consequences and, while iron-deficiency anemia is commonly checked for, many doctors are still seriously misinformed about the dangers of iron overload is actually a far more common problem. In fact, most men and postmenopausal women are at risk for iron overload due to inefficient iron excretion, since they do not bleed on a regular basis and blood loss is the primary way to lower excess iron, as the body has no active excretion mechanisms.

There’s also an inherited disease, hemochromatosis, which causes your body to accumulate excessive and dangerously damaging levels of iron. If left untreated, it can damage your organs and contribute to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and many other health problems.

The good news is iron overload is easy and inexpensive to treat. By monitoring your serum ferritin and/or GGT levels, avoiding iron supplements and donating blood on a regular basis, you can avoid serious health problems. In a recent podcast, Chris Masterjohn, Ph.D., delves into the biological imperatives of iron, the effects of low and high iron and how to address both of those issues. Health Problems Associated With High and Low Iron

What’s an Ideal Iron Level?

The serum ferritin test measures your stored iron. For adults, I strongly recommend getting a serum ferritin test on an annual basis as a screen to confirm you’re neither too high nor too low. When it comes to iron overload, I believe it can be every bit as dangerous to your health as Vitamin D deficiency.

As with many other lab tests, the “normal” ranges for serum ferritin are far from ideal.5 In some labs, a level of 200 to 300 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) falls within the normal range for women and men respectively, which is FAR too high for optimal health. In reality, you’re virtually guaranteed to develop disease at those levels. An ideal level for adult men and non-menstruating women is somewhere between 40 and 60 ng/mL. You do not want to be below 20 ng/mL or above 80 ng/mL.

Maintaining a healthy iron level is also important during pregnancy. Having a level of 60 or 70 ng/mL is associated with greater odds of poor pregnancy outcomes.6 That said, iron deficiency during pregnancy is equally problematic. The most commonly used threshold for iron deficiency in clinical studies is 12 to 15 ng/mL.7

GGT Test for Free Iron

Another valuable test is the gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) test. GGT measures liver enzymes. Not only will this tell you if you have liver damage, it can also be used as a screening marker for excess free iron and is a great indicator of your sudden cardiac death risk.

For women, a healthy GGT level is around 9 units per liter (U/L) whereas the high ends of “normal” are generally 40 to 45 U/L. For men, 16 U/L is ideal, while the normal lab range can go as high as 65 to 70 U/L.8

According to Gerry Koenig, former chairman of the Iron Disorders Institute and the Hemochromatosis Foundation,9 women with a GGT above 30 U/L have a higher risk of cancer and autoimmune disease. In the video above, Koenig discusses this and other health hazards associated with iron overload.

What Causes Excess Iron Buildup?

Two of the most common causes of iron overload are:

1.Having one or both genes for hemochromatosis (indicating mild or severe form). In the video below, Masterjohn provides an overview of these two genetic markers. About 1 in 3.5 or an estimated 100 million people in the U.S. have the single gene for hemochromatosis

Approximately 1 million people have the double gene variant, considered the genotype most predictive of liver disease complications. However, this only becomes a serious problem if significant iron overload occurs before a diagnosis is achieved and proper treatment can be administered

2.Inadequate iron elimination. Adult men and post-menopausal women are at increased risk due to the fact they do not have monthly blood loss, which is one of the best and most efficient ways to rid your body of excess iron

Another common cause of excess iron is the regular consumption of alcohol, which will increase the absorption of any iron in your diet. For instance, if you drink wine with your steak, you will likely absorb more iron than you need. Other possible causes of high iron levels include:

  • Cooking in iron pots or pans. Cooking acidic foods in these types of pots or pans will cause even higher levels of iron absorption
  • Eating processed foods fortified with iron
  • Drinking well water that is high in iron. The key here is to make sure you have some type of iron precipitator and/or a reverse osmosis water filter
  • Taking multivitamins and mineral supplements, as both of these frequently have iron in them

Why Excess Iron Is So Dangerous

Your body creates energy by passing the electrons from carbs and fat to oxygen through the electron transport chain in your mitochondria to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Ninety-five percent of the time, the oxygen is converted to water. But 0.5 to 5 percent of the time, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are created.

Iron can react with hydrogen peroxide in the inner mitochondrial membrane. This is a normal part of cellular aerobic respiration. But when you have excessive iron, it catalyzes the formation of excessive hydroxyl free radicals from the peroxide, which decimate your mitochondrial DNA, mitochondrial electron transport proteins and cellular membranes.

This is how iron overload accelerates every major disease we know of, and how it causes the pathologies associated with liver and cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, few doctors understand the molecular biology of this reaction, which is why iron overload is so frequently overlooked.

If you eat unhealthy levels of net carbs (total carbs minus fiber) the situation is further exacerbated, as burning carbs as your primary fuel can add another 30 to 40 percent more ROS on top of the hydroxyl free radicals generated by the presence of high iron.

Unfortunately, most people reading this are burning carbs as their primary fuel. If you struggle with any kind of chronic health problem and have high iron and eat a standard American diet that is high in net carbs, normalizing your iron level (explained below) and implementing a ketogenic diet can go a long way toward improving your health.

Taking extra antioxidants to suppress ROS generated by high iron alone or in combination with a high-sugar diet is inadvisable, as ROS also act as important signaling molecules. They’re not all bad. They cause harm only when produced in excess.

Your best bet is to lower the production of ROS rather than squelching them after the fact. One of the easiest and most effective ways to do that is to eat a diet high in healthy fats, adequate in protein and low in net carbs. Eating healthy fats can make a bigger difference than you might think, especially if you have high iron.

How to Address Low Iron

If your iron is low, you can improve your iron status by:

  • Eating iron-rich foods : i.e., organ meats such as liver, grass fed red meat, dark turkey meat, clams, spinach, pumpkin seeds quinoa, broccoli, dark chocolate (minimum 70 percent cooca) and seaweed.

As a rule, animal-based iron is more readily absorbed while plant-based sources are less bioavailable. Avoid iron-fortified foods, as these provide an inorganic iron that is far from ideal and may actually promote oxidative stress and could cause gastrointestinal side effects

  • Taking vitamin C can help improve bioavailability of the iron in your food. Avoid combining iron-rich foods with calcium-rich foods, as calcium binds to iron, thereby limiting absorption
  • Taking a liposomal iron supplement. Beware of ferrous sulfate, a form of iron found in many multivitamins, including children’s multivitamins, as it is relatively toxic and can lead to significant problems. The biggest danger is acute overdose, which can be lethal. A safe form of supplement is carbonyl iron.

However, keep ALL iron supplements away from children, even carbonyl iron, and do not take any kind of iron supplement if you have hemochromatosis, hemosiderosis or hemolytic anemia such as sickle cell anemia or thalassemia (aka Mediterranean anemia, a type of genetic anemia where hemoglobin is not well formed)

How to Address Iron Overload

If your iron level is high, the easiest and most effective solution is to donate your blood. If you’re an adult male, you’ll want to donate blood two to three times a year once your levels are normal. If ferritin levels are over 200 ng/mL, a more aggressive phlebotomy schedule is recommended.

It is also wise to have a percentage transferrin saturation done. Ideally, this value should be between 30 and 40 percent. If it is higher, and you have an elevated ferritin level, then I am sad to tell you, but you have iron overload that is hurting your mitochondria. This needs to be addressed if you want to lower your risk for chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.

A recent study in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience notes that iron-restricted diets “affect brain ferritin levels, dopamine metabolism and cellular prion proteins in a region-specific manner” — effects that highlight the importance of adequate iron for general brain health and for the prevention of neurological diseases.

That said, if your iron is high, you may want to avoid combining foods high in vitamin C with foods high in iron, as the vitamin C increases iron absorption. On the other hand, calcium will bind to iron, limiting absorption, so eating iron-rich foods with calcium-rich foods can be helpful.

Avoid using phytate or phytic acid (also known as IP6) to prevent iron absorption and chelate iron out of your body, however, as this can easily result in other mineral deficiencies, such as zinc deficiency. A far safer alternative is curcumin. It actually acts as a potent chelator of iron and can be a useful supplement if your iron is elevated.

To learn more visit Dr. Glen Matejka’s website:    https://www.comprehensivebackcare.com/