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Did you know that some other countries have stricter laws on food additives, drugs, and pesticides than the US? This is especially true with the European countries. It is especially aggravating to read that manufacturers sell foods with one set of ingredients in the US and a better set of ingredients in Europe. (Could it be because the FDA has such nice cozy relationships with Big Ag and lobbyists representing big chemical companies?) So... what can the ordinary person do? Read labels carefully. And try to buy as much organic food as possible, or buy from local farmers where you can find out how they are growing crops or raising animals.

Avoid the following if possible for the next 2 years until companies can no longer have them as ingredients: benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methy ether (methyl eugenol), myrcene, pulegone, and pyridine. The following NY Times article lists some ingredients allowed in the US, but not the European Union: potassium bromate, azodicarbonamide (or ADA), BHA and BHT , brominated vegetable oil (BVO), various food dyes (yellow dye #5 and 6, red dye #40), and certain farm animal drugs - the synthetic hormones  rBGH and  rBST, as well as ractopamine. Not mentioned in the article is that the European Union also bans the use of arsenic in chicken feed and formaldehyde (both allowed in US), and olestra or olean (a fat substitute). Unfortunately this is just a partial list.

One way to avoid problematic ingredients is to read labels and avoid foods with names that aren't real foods and that you don't know what they are. By the way, "natural flavors" are also laboratory concoctions - they're so pervasive in foods nowadays that they're tough to avoid, but one can try. From the "Ask Well" column by R.C. Rabin in the NY Times: What Foods Are Banned in Europe but Not Banned in the U.S.?

Q. What foods are banned in Europe that are not banned in the United States, and what are the implications of eating those foods?

A. The European Union prohibits or severely restricts many food additives that have been linked to cancer that are still used in American-made bread, cookies, soft drinks and other processed foods. Europe also bars the use of several drugs that are used in farm animals in the United States, and many European countries limit the cultivation and import of genetically modified foods.  ...continue reading "Food Ingredients Banned in Europe But Not USA"

I've been reading and thinking about "natural flavors" ever since my earlier posts about food additives (April 20, 2015, August 19, 2014). What exactly are natural flavors and how are they different from artificial flavors?  And why are they even found in organic foods? The more I read, the more I want to avoid them , but it seems to be really, really hard to do so because they seem to be everywhere, even in what we think of as basic foods (e.g., butter). Bottom line: both are chemicals concocted in labs and manufactured in factories. Read labels and try to eat as many unprocessed foods as possible to avoid them.We know very little about many of them, and if they have health effects. Note that the term "natural flavors" may include many chemicals in the "flavor mixtures" (incidental additives) that don't have to be listed on the labels. Currently there are more than 2700 natural flavors being used in the USA. The following are excerpts from articles and a book published in 2015.

From CNN:   What are natural flavors, really?

Look at the food label of almost any packaged good you consume and odds are you'll spot the term "natural flavors." But have you ever wondered what this mysterious additive actually contains? The answer isn't as clear as you might think.Though natural flavors may sound better than their presumably chemical-laden alternative — artificial flavors — it turns out they are not actually all that different.

In the Environmental Working Group's Food Scores database of over 80,000 foods, "natural flavor" is the fourth most common ingredient listed on labels. The only ingredients that outrank it: salt, water and sugar. Yet, natural flavoring isn't nearly as simple as these three pantry staples."Natural and artificial flavors play an interesting role in food. They're essentially providing the taste and often they're added to make the food more appealing, or to potentially replace something that's lost through processing, storage or in some cases even from pasteurizing," says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group. One place you'll often spot natural or artificial flavor is in orange juice; manufacturers will add faux flavor to juice after it's packaged in the plant, to ensure uniformity.

"The differentiation is really down to the origin of those molecules, whether synthetically processed in a lab or purified in a lab but from a natural source," Andrews says. Here's where it gets even muddier: Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. And all of the extra ingredients in flavors often aren't as innocent as you'd hope they would be."The mixture will often have some solvent and preservatives — and that makes up 80 to 90 percent of the volume [of the flavoring]. In the end product, it's a small amount, but it still has artificial ingredients," Andrews says.  ...continue reading "What’s In the “Natural” Flavors In Our Foods?"

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative news organization has just published a number of articles about how companies have added thousands of ingredients to foods with little or no government oversight. This loophole is a decades old law that allows an additive to be "generally recognized as safe" or GRAS without the FDA getting involved. This is why there are some additives in American foods that are NOT allowed in Europe or other countries. And that is why I always read the ingredient lists of foods. I even hate to buy foods that have the nice sounding "natural ingredients" in the ingredient list. What are these so-called natural ingredients that have been concocted in some lab and added to our foods? Does anyone know?  Some earlier posts on this issue: August 19, 2014 and June 16, 2014 . The following are excerpts from the April 14, 2015 story from NPR:

Why The FDA Has Never Looked At Some Of The Additives In Our Food

Companies have added thousands of ingredients to foods with little to no government oversight. That's thanks to a loophole in a decades-old law that allows them to deem an additive to be "generally recognized as safe" — or GRAS — without the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's blessing, or even its knowledge.

The loophole was originally intended to allow manufacturers of common ingredients like vinegar and table salt — when added to processed foods — to bypass the FDA's lengthy safety-review process. But over time, companies have found that it's far more efficient to take advantage of the exemption to get their products on shelves quickly. Some of these products contain additives that the FDA has found to pose dangers. And even ingredients the agency has agreed are GRAS are now drawing scrutiny from scientists and consumer groups that dispute their safety.

Critics of the system say the biggest concern, however, is that companies regularly introduce new additives without ever informing the FDA. That means people are consuming foods with added flavors, preservatives and other ingredients that are not reviewed at all by regulators for immediate dangers or long-term health effects. The vast majority of food additives are safe. Some, however, have proved to cause severe allergic reactions or other long-term health effects. Scientists and advocates worry about the growing number of ingredients that the FDA doesn't know about and is not tracking.

Rather than going through the painstaking FDA-led review process to ensure that their new ingredients are safe, food companies can determine on their own that substances are "generally recognized as safe." They can then ask the FDA to review their evaluation — if they wish. Or they can take their ingredients straight to market, without ever informing the agency."FDA doesn't know what it doesn't know," said Steve Morris of the Government Accountability Office, which published a report in 2010 that found that "FDA's oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new GRAS determinations."

For a company to determine that an ingredient is "generally recognized as safe," it must establish that the additive's safety is commonly understood by qualified scientific experts. But some ingredients defy consensus, as consumers, scientific groups and sometimes even the FDA have pointed out. Even GRAS additives that have been used in food for decades are now coming under fire as their uses expand and scientific research emerges that casts doubt on their safety. This is true of one of the most known — and vilified — GRAS additives: partially hydrogenated oil, a form of trans fat. Widely used in food products including fried foods and cake mixes, trans fats have been named by public health experts as a contributor to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Despite strong pushback from industry, the FDA in November 2013 made a tentative determination that artificial trans fats should not have GRAS status, and the agency is likely to make that determination final this summer.

But it's the ingredients the public doesn't know about that have critics of the GRAS system most worried. Researchers for the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council say that allowing companies to make safety determinations without telling the FDA makes it nearly impossible to identify whether there are health effects caused by long-term exposure to certain ingredients.

Their concerns are heightened because safety decisions often rest in the hands of a small group of scientific experts selected by companies or consulting firms with a financial incentive to get new ingredients on the market. Several of these scientists, a Center for Public Integrity investigation found, previously served as scientific consultants for tobacco companies during the 1980s and 1990s, when the tobacco industry fought vigorously to defend its products.

The GRAS loophole was born in 1958. Americans were growing concerned about the increased use of preservatives and other additives in food, so Congress passed — and President Dwight Eisenhower signed — the first law regulating ingredients added to food.

To restore confidence, the law set up a system requiring companies to submit new ingredients to an extensive FDA safety review before going to market..."There are plenty of ingredients that are receiving GRAS status the safety of which are in dispute.In the past five decades, the number of food additives has skyrocketed — from about 800 to more than 10,000. They are added to everything from baked goods and breakfast cereals to energy bars and carbonated drinks.

For the full investigation, head to the Center for Public Integrity's site. 

This research suggests that emulsifiers (which are added to most processed foods to aid texture and extend shelf life) can alter the gut microbiota (the community of microbes that live in our gut) in such a way as to cause intestinal inflammation. Even though the study was done on mice, it is thought it also applies to humans. From Medical Daily:

You Are What You Eat: Food Additive Emulsifier Inflames Mouse Gut And Causes Obesity

Processed foods have changed the way we eat. Food can sit longer on shelves, but what does that mean for the stomach? In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers from Georgia State University investigated how the widely used processed food additive emulsifiers played a role in the gut.

Emulsifiers are added to most processed foods in order to extend shelf life and add texture to the foods. The research team decided to feed mice a couple of the most common emulsifiers on the market — polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcelluloseat doses comparable to a human’s consumption of processed foods. They watched the emulsifier change the mice’s gut microbiota, which is an individual’s personal 100 trillion bacteria inside the intestinal tract. Not only did this increase their chance of developing obesity-related disorders, but also inflammatory bowel disease. It’s no coincidence both conditions have been increasing since the 1950s.

"The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor," the study’s coauthor Benoit Chassaing, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. "Food interacts intimately with the microbiota, so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory."

The emulsifiers, which are groups of oil-and water-friendly molecules, help to hold food together. Mayonnaise without emulsifiers, for example, will separate from an oily top layer to a thicker white layer that rests on the bottom of the jar. Once the emulsifiers were digested by the mice, their blood-glucose levels went awry, inflamed their intestinal mucus layer, which left them with weight gain, specifically concentrated in the abdomen. The bacterial changed triggered chronic colitis from causing intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome, which includes obesity, hyperglycemia, and insulin resistance.

Ultimately, microbiologists say you are what you eat. If your diet is smeared with margarine, mayonnaise, creamy sauces, candy, ice cream, and most other packaged and processed baked goods, you and your gut may be at risk. "We do not disagree with the commonly held assumption that over-eating is a central cause of obesity and metabolic syndrome," the study’s coauthor Andrew T. Gewirtz, a researcher from GSU’s Institute for Biomedical Sciences, said in a press release. "Rather, our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating."

I've always recommended that people eat as many unprocessed foods as possible, and that one should always read the ingredient list when buying processed and prepared foods. The Center for Science in the Public Interest strongly urges that people avoid the following food ingredients: aspartame, food dyes, mycoprotein (Quorn), and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fat). The following article may be an eye opener for those who think that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) carefully regulates what goes into our food. Link to the full article to read all the health concerns with mycoprotein (Quorn), Epigllocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), and carageenan. From The Washington Post:

Food additives on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes

The explosion of new food additives coupled with an easing of oversight requirements is allowing manufacturers to avoid the scrutiny of the Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for ensuring the safety of chemicals streaming into the food supply.

And in hundreds of cases, the FDA doesn’t even know of the existence of new additives, which can include chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents, records and interviews show. “We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.

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.

At a pace far faster than in previous years, companies are adding secret ingredients to everything from energy drinks to granola bars. But the more widespread concern among food-safety advocates and some federal regulators is the quickening trend of companies opting for an expedited certification process to a degree never intended when it was established 17 years ago to, in part, help businesses.

A voluntary certification system 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 result is that consumers have little way of being certain that the food products they buy won’t harm them“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor said. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”

In the five decades since Congress gave the FDA responsibility for ensuring the safety of additives in the food supply, the number has spiked from 800 to more than 9,000, ranging from common substances such as salt to new green-tea extracts. This increase has been driven largely by demand from busy Americans, who get more than half their daily meals from processed foods, according to government and industry records. 

Within the past six months, top officials at the FDA and in the food industry have acknowledged that new steps must be taken to better account for the additives proliferating in the food supply. 

For new, novel ingredients — or when approved additives are used in new ways — the law says companies should seek formal FDA approval, which must be based on rigorous research proving the additive is safe. The agency uses the phrase “food additive,” in a narrow legal sense, to apply to substances that get this approval.

But many other additives are common food ingredients — vinegar is considered a classic example. The law allows manufacturers to certify, based on research, that such ingredients are already Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRASFor both types of additives, FDA scientists initially conducted detailed reviews of the company’s research. The agency also published its own evaluation of that research in the Federal Register.

This oversight system shifted dramatically in 1997. In response to a shortage of staff members and complaints from industry that the process was too cumbersome and did not improve food safety, the FDA proposed new rules. The agency told companies that were going the GRAS route — which turned a years-long process into one of months — that they no longer would have to submit their research and raw data. The companies can share just a summary of their findings with the agency.

The changes didn’t work out as planned. For starters, most additives continued to debut without the FDA being notified. Moreover, companies that did choose to go through the FDA oversight process largely abandoned the formal approval route, opting instead for the new, cursory GRAS process, even for additives that could be considered new and novel, according to agency documents and an analysis of those records by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

An average of only two additive petitions seeking formal approval are filed annually by food and chemical companies, while the agency receives dozens of GRAS notifications, according to an NRDC analysis of FDA data. Hundreds of other food chemicals and ingredients have been introduced without notifying the FDA at all, according to agency officials, trade journals and food safety groups.

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. This is the opposite of what the overisght law intended, the FDA’s Taylor said. 

Even when the FDA approves a new additive or signs off on a company’s GRAS determination, a safe ingredient can turn dangerous if its use becomes more widespread than the agency envisioned. And under the rules, the agency has little way of monitoring this threat after the initial introduction of the additive, called “post-market.”

During the initial review, the FDA sets limits for how much of a chemical or ingredient can be used in a particular product. But the cumulative consumption can soar as the additive is used in more and more types of food and beverages.

But I wonder if the results would be different if the only processed meat (cold cuts, salami, prosciutto) you ate came from antibiotic, hormone, additive, and nitrate-free meat. From Science Daily:

Processed red meat linked to higher risk of heart failure, death in men

Men who regularly eat moderate amounts of processed red meat such as cold cuts (ham/salami) and sausage may have an increased risk of heart failure incidence and a greater risk of death from heart failure. 

Processed meats are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. Examples include cold cuts (ham, salami), sausage, bacon and hot dogs."Processed red meat commonly contains sodium, nitrates, phosphates and other food additives, and smoked and grilled meats also contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, all of which may contribute to the increased heart failure risk," said Alicja Wolk, D.M.Sc., senior author of the study and professor in the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden. "Unprocessed meat is free from food additives and usually has a lower amount of sodium."

The Cohort of Swedish Men study -- the first to examine the effects of processed red meat separately from unprocessed red meat -- included 37,035 men 45-79 years old with no history of heart failure, ischemic heart disease or cancer. 

After almost 12 years of follow-up, researchers found:  - Men who ate the most processed red meat had more than a 2-fold increased risk of death from heart failure compared to men in the lowest category. - For each 50 gram (e.g. 1-2 slices of ham) increase in daily consumption of processed meat, the risk of heart failure incidence increased by 8 percent and the risk of death from heart failure by 38 percent. - The risk of heart failure or death among those who ate unprocessed red meat didn't increase.

"To reduce your risk of heart failure and other cardiovascular diseases, we suggest avoiding processed red meat in your diet, and limiting the amount of unprocessed red meat to one to two servings per week or less," said Joanna Kaluza, Ph.D., study lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Human Nutrition at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in Poland. "Instead, eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grain products, nuts and increase your servings of fish."

An article comparing the U.S. versus the European Union's approach to chemicals in products (including in cosmetics, personal care products, and foods), which explains why a number of chemicals are banned in Europe, but allowed in the U.S. From Ensia:

BANNED IN EUROPE, SAFE IN THE U.S.

Atrazine, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says is estimated to be the most heavily used herbicide in the U.S., was banned in Europe in 2003 due to concerns about its ubiquity as a water pollutant. 

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration places no restrictions on the use of formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing ingredients in cosmetics or personal care products. Yet formaldehyde-releasing agents are banned from these products in Japan and Sweden while their levels — and that of formaldehyde — are limited elsewhere in Europe. In the U.S., Minnesota has banned in-state sales of children’s personal care products that contain the chemical.

Use of lead-based interior paints was banned in France, Belgium and Austria in 1909. Much of Europe followed suit before 1940. It took the U.S. until 1978 to make this move, even though health experts had, for decades, recognized the potentially acute — even deadly — and irreversible hazards of lead exposure.

These are but a few examples of chemical products allowed to be used in the U.S. in ways other countries have decided present unacceptable risks of harm to the environment or human health. How did this happen? Are American products less safe than others? Are Americans more at risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals than, say, Europeans?

Not surprisingly, the answers are complex and the bottom line, far from clear-cut. One thing that is evident, however, is that “the policy approach in the U.S. and Europe is dramatically different."

A key element of the European Union’s chemicals management and environmental protection policies — and one that clearly distinguishes the EU’s approach from that of the U.S. federal government — is what’s called the precautionary principleThis principle, in the words of the European Commission, “aims at ensuring a higher level of environmental protection through preventative” decision-making. In other words, it says that when there is substantial, credible evidence of danger to human or environmental health, protective action should be taken despite continuing scientific uncertainty.

In contrast, the U.S. federal government’s approach to chemicals management sets a very high bar for the proof of harm that must be demonstrated before regulatory action is taken.

This is true of the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act, the federal law that regulates chemicals used commercially in the U.S. The European law regulating chemicals in commerce, known as REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), requires manufacturers to submit a full set of toxicity data to the European Chemical Agency before a chemical can be approved for use. U.S. federal law requires such information to be submitted for new chemicals, but leaves a huge gap in terms of what’s known about the environmental and health effects for chemicals already in use. Chemicals used in cosmetics or as food additives or pesticides are covered by other U.S. laws — but these laws, too, have high burdens for proof of harm and, like TSCA, do not incorporate a precautionary approach.

While FDA approval is required for food additives, the agency relies on studies performed by the companies seeking approval of chemicals they manufacture or want to use in making determinations about food additive safety. Natural Resources Defense Council senior scientist Maricel Maffini and NRDC senior attorney Tom Neltner “No other developed country that we know of has a similar system in which companies can decide the safety of chemicals put directly into food,” says Maffini.  The two point to a number of food additives allowed in the U.S. that other countries have deemed unsafe

Reliance on voluntary measures is a hallmark of the U.S. approach to chemical regulation. In many cases, when it comes to eliminating toxic chemicals from U.S. consumer products, manufacturers’ and retailers’ own policies — often driven by consumer demand or by regulations outside the U.S. or at the state and local level — are moving faster than U.S. federal policy. 

Cosmetics regulations are more robust in the EU than here,” says Environmental Defense Fund health program director Sarah Vogel. U.S. regulators largely rely on industry information, she says. Industry performs copious testing, but current law does not require that cosmetic ingredients be free of certain adverse health effects before they go on the market. (FDA regulations, for example, do not specifically prohibit the use of carcinogens, mutagens or endocrine-disrupting chemicals.) 

For the FDA to restrict a product or chemical ingredient from cosmetics or personal care products involves a typically long and drawn-out process. What it does more often is to issue advisories.

At the same time, built into the U.S. chemical regulatory system is a large deference to industry. Central to current U.S. policy are cost-benefit analyses with very high bars for proof of harm rather than a proof of safety for entry onto the market. Voluntary measures have moved many unsafe chemical products off store shelves and out of use, but our requirements for proof of harm and the American historical political aversion to precaution mean we often wait far longer than other countries to act.