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Some Harmful Food Additives Could Finally Be Banned

Finally... two states (California and New York) are seeking to ban 5 chemicals frequently added to food that are known to cause health problems (cancer, neurological problems, hormone disruptors). They have no reason to be in food (and yes, safer alternatives exist). The five chemicals of concern are: red dye 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, bromated vegetable oil, and propylparaben.

These additives are most commonly found in candy, baked goods, and soda. They are already banned in Europe. Once again the FDA is not protecting consumers, while Europe is way ahead of the US in protecting consumers. Of course the chemical industry is pushing back ($$ before consumer health!).

The bills are AB-418 Food product safety (California) and Bill S6055A - Prohibits certain food additives and food color additives (New York). If approved, both would go into effect in 2025.

Bottom line: Read ingredient lists on labels and avoid these 5 ingredients, plus as many other additives, preservatives, colors, artificial or natural flavors (all laboratory concoctions) as you can. Avoid ultra-processed foods and high-fructose corn syrup as much as possible. Best are ingredients that we all have in our kitchens.

Excerpts from NY Times: Two States Have Proposed Bans on Common Food Additives Linked to Health Concerns

Newly proposed bills in California and New York are putting food additives — the chemicals manufacturers add to food to act as preservatives or to enhance color, texture or taste — under the microscope.

The state legislators are seeking to prohibit the manufacturing and sale of products containing additives that have been linked to cancer, neurodevelopmental issues and hormone dysfunction. The five additives named in the bills are most commonly found in baked goods, candy and soda and are almost totally banned in food products in Europe. Several health associations, including the Endocrine Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics, have raised concerns about the potential health harms of food additives as a whole.

The bills, if approved, would both go into effect in 2025. The sponsors of the California bill, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel and Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks, said the restrictions would especially protect children, who are more susceptible than adults to the potential risks.

“Kids eat more, pound for pound,” said Dr. Leonardo Trasande, a professor of pediatrics at NYU Langone Health who specializes in environmental health. “Their developing organs are especially vulnerable.”

When deciding which to include, the state legislators, collaborating with the nonprofits Consumer Reports and the Environmental Working Group, looked for additives that were prohibited in Europe and still widely used in the U.S., and where research showed strong evidence of health risks.

“These five were truly the worst of the worst,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

    • Red dye No. 3 is used in nearly 3,000 food products, including icings, nutritional shakes, maraschino cherries and peppermint-, berry- and cherry-flavored candies. It has been shown to cause cancer in animals, which prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban its use in cosmetics in 1990. At the time, the agency said it would work to extend the ban to food, but the chemical remains in use today. There are also concerns that it and other synthetic food dyes may contribute to behavioral problems, such as hyperactivity, in children.

    • Titanium dioxide acts as a whitener, color enhancer and anti-caking agent in thousands of food items. It’s present in many candies, as well as baked goods, creamy salad dressings and frozen dairy products, like cheese pizza and ice cream. A safety assessment conducted by the European Food Safety Authority in 2021 concluded that titanium dioxide damages DNA and can harm the immune system, resulting in its ban in the E.U. in 2022.

    • Brominated vegetable oil serves as an emulsifier in fruit drinks and sodas. Research in rats — including a study published by the F.D.A. in 2022 — suggests that brominated vegetable oil acts as an endocrine disrupter, especially affecting the thyroid hormone. An earlier study found that it can also harm the reproductive system. Because of its potential risks, many large brands, including Coca-Cola and Pepsi, recently stopped using the chemical, but it’s still in some smaller and grocery store beverage brands.

    • Potassium bromate is primarily found in baked goods, including breads, cookies and tortillas, where it acts as a leavening agent and improves texture. The additive is classified as being “possibly carcinogenic to humans” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, based on studies conducted in animals.

    • Propylparaben is a preservative used in packaged baked goods, particularly pastries and tortillas. It’s also present in many cosmetics and personal care products. Numerous studies, in humans and animals, indicate that propylparaben acts as an endocrine disrupter and affects male and female reproductive health.

In response to the California bill, which was released ahead of New York’s, a coalition of food industry companies wrote an opposition letter stating that, “All five of these additives have been thoroughly reviewed by the federal and state systems and many international scientific bodies and continue to be deemed safe.” A spokesman for the National Confectioners Association, a trade organization that represents candy manufacturers, echoed this in an email to The Times, saying their members adhere to F.D.A. guidelines.

An F.D.A. official wrote in an email to The Times that the agency evaluates food additives based on a number of factors, including the “amount expected to be consumed (dietary exposure)” and “laboratory studies supporting safety.”

In practice, however, many chemicals are approved under a provision known as Generally Recognized As Safe, which states that a food additive can forego review by the F.D.A. if it has been deemed safe by “qualified experts.”

If concerns arise after a chemical is already approved, or if new, relevant research becomes available, “The F.D.A. does re-evaluate the safety of ingredients,” the agency official wrote. For example, the F.D.A. reviewed the evidence about titanium dioxide after the E.U. decided to ban it in 2022. The resulting report determined that there was “no evidence to suggest dietary exposure to the additive is a concern for human health.”

Dr. Sathyanarayana added that, “Although one individual food may not have a potentially harmful exposure concentration, the fact that we eat so many foods, it starts to add up in the body. And our regulatory system misses that entire concept.”

The best way to steer clear of potentially hazardous food additives is to avoid eating prepared, processed foods and instead stick to fresh ingredients. If you are buying something packaged, be sure to read labels. Dr. Sathyanarayana said a good rule of thumb is to opt for foods with short ingredient lists and to skip foods with ingredients you can’t pronounce. She mentioned the preservatives butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite, and meat with bovine growth hormone as other chemicals to try to avoid.

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