The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will withdraw its approval for 3 chemicals used to make grease, stain, and water-repelling food packaging. The agency is also considering banning 8 other food additives used in both “artificial” and “natural” flavors. Is the agency finally going to hold food companies accountable for the use of toxic ingredients?
The ban of these chemicals goes into effect in February, and is likely in response to a petition filed with the FDA by a handful of environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and others.
What makes the bans significant, says Erik Olson, health and environment program director at NRDC, is the fact that:
“It is the first time the FDA has actually banned a [chemical’s] use based on a petition” and done so “based on safety information.”
Though this move shows some hope that the FDA is turning over a new leaf, others say it is too little, too late.
All three chemicals are used to make things ‘non-stick,’ called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). These can be found in everything from frozen food containers, take-out packaging like pizza boxes, and non-stick cookware. These chemicals have been used to make DuPont’s Teflon and 3M’s Scotchgard.
PFCs have been the subject of environmental and health concerns for quite some time. They last perpetually long in the environment, so even after their ban, not unlike Monsanto’s PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), they can continue to wreak havoc on our ecosystems.
PFCs, like PCBs are likely harming our unborn children, as well. PFCs can be passed through the umbilical cord to the fetus, and are responsible for contaminating drinking water for more than 6.5 million people in 27 states, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In lab studies, PFCs have been linked to adverse effects on hormones, reproductive, developmental, neurological, and immune systems, and to certain cancers. Last year, a group of more than 200 scientists from 38 countries issued a statement expressing their concern about this type of chemical, calling for policies to limit their production and use.
In its announcement this past week, the FDA said it will be taking this action because it can no longer say there is “a reasonably certainty of no harm” from use of these chemicals in food contact products. What is more probable is that the FDA doesn’t want to face another lawsuit from environmental groups, such as the one it faces for approving GMO salmon.
While this honesty on the part of the agency might be refreshing to some, Olson says it “highlights concerns we have with the whole system that has approved chemicals for these uses without fundamental data.”
The FDA is seriously lagging in its ban of these chemicals though. As EWG’s president Ken Cook said in a statement:
“Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging…But it has taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out, and it’s banning only three chemicals that aren’t even made anymore.”
These three chemicals are three of what are known as “C8,” or long-chain PFCs which the agency worked with manufacturers to voluntarily discontinue about 5 years ago. PFCs are still produced in China and India.
Just in case you thought the agency was truly changing its tune, consider that it is not clear whether or not the shorter-chain chemicals that are being used to replace them are actually safe. The latter are also environmentally-persistent and there’s a lack of information about their toxicity.
“What is obviously worrisome is that there are a lot of other compounds out there and we don’t know what’s being used,” says Olson.
The FDA approves them anyway.
8 Other Toxic Food Additives the FDA ‘Should Ban’
The FDA is accepting public comments on the food flavoring petition until March 4, 2016. This ban would mean that the following 8 additional health-hazardous chemicals would no longer be allowed in our food supply:
- 1. Benzophenone (also known as diphenylketone)
- 2. Ethyl acrylate
- 3. Eugenyl methyl ether (also known as 4-allylveratrole or methyl eugenol)
- 4. Myrcene (also known as 7-methyl-3-methylene-1,6-octadiene)
- 5. Pulegone (also known as p-menth-4(8)-en-3-one)
- 6. Pyridine
- 7. Styrene
- 8. Trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal
The Environmental Defense Fund’s chemicals policy director, Tom Nelter, has said:
“FDA has such limited resources that it rarely looks back at old decisions even when its sister agency, the National Toxicology Program, demonstrates that they cause harm. When it does look back, it is usually as a result of petitions submitted by the public interest community.”
We must demand that the U.S. food industry discontinue the use of banned ingredients that are not allowed elsewhere in the world. The FDA should be a last resort. The agency acts too slowly, and without the health of the public in mind.
We deserve to have quality food without potential toxins. These 3 chemicals being banned is a good start, but there are countless more that need to be addressed. If we send our message directly to the food makers, they’ll have to change. Look at what Campbell’s Soup is doing due to consumer pressure.
It’s up to us. We are making the difference. Our food choices, not the FDA, move the food markets.