Why Haven’t We Banned these Additives?

Trust no one, especially the FDA

Photo by Eduardo Soares on Unsplash

A recent Medium list ranted about the five worst things about America. Number five was our food, and I couldn’t agree more. We are manufacturing poison for our kids and much of it is hidden.

The best defense is education, so here is a list of additives and how to avoid them. Many are banned outright in other parts of the world, others are taxed in nations where corporate interests haven’t overrun government.

The US Food and Drug Administration has a lax standard when it comes to deciding whether a substance might harm you.

1 / BHA and BHT

You’ve probably seen milk that says “BHA and BHT free” on the label. The first is butylated hydroxyanisole and the second is butylated hydroxytoluene. If you remember chemistry, toluene is a carcinogen.

Both of these substances are used to preserve any food with oil or fat, to keep the comestible from becoming rancid. BHT is commonly used in cosmetic products.

A 2011 report from the Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that BHA causes cancer, based on rodent studies. BHT has been shown to cause thryoid toxicity in animals.

They are both banned as food additives in Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and Europe but are allowed in make-up products in Canada. In California, all products with BHA and BHT must include a warning label.

Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

2 / Titanium Dioxide

Known to damage DNA, this stuff doesn’t remove itself from your system, and was banned in Europe as of May 21, 2021. It’s a coloring found in brightly colored candies such as Starburst and Skittles but also in sauces, sandwich spreads, and soups.

On this list you will notice a theme: baked goods and candy have a lot of additives. Soups aren’t far behind, as anyone on a low-salt diet can attest.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has not been able to determine a safe level of titanium dioxide so to be on the safe side, they banned it. The first country to raise the alarm was France.

The Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association was not happy and responded with:

“The French [study] is not scientifically justified.”

“Taste the Rainbow.” Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

3 / Potassium Bromate

This additive makes bread appear flufflier. Only Japan and the U.S. allow it. The bromide itself isn’t know to cause harm, but when it turns to bromate it is a carcinogen.

In California, this additive is rarely used because in 1986 the state passed a law (Prop 165) that says any potentially carcinogenic chemical (or any chemical that causes reproductive danger) must include a warning label.

Once again — processed flour is a problem.

The Environmental Working Group provides a list of 86 breads that should be avoided because they still use potassium bromate.

The UK outlawed its use in 1990. In 2016, India jumped on board. The European Union, China, and Brazil all prohibit using this substance in the foods they feed their citizenry.

Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

4 / Dyes: Red #40, Yellows #5 and #6

Scientists are concerned food dyes can cause behavioral changes in children, and recommending banning red and yellow specifically. Such dyes are added to products like fruit roll-ups, juices, and frosting. Since kids commonly eat such sweets, the build up of these substances is concerning.

FDA studies on these dyes are from 35 to 70 years old, and what literature does exist indicates these substances are problematic.

Food dyes aren’t banned in European countries but all products containing them carry the following warning label:

“[This product] may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Baked goods and candies are the most likely place to find yellow and red synthetic dyes but they are used widely in condiments, marshmallow, chocolates, and any food resembling fruit. The product does not have to appear red or yellow to contain these dyes. A case in point are Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.

Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

5 / Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)

BVO causes problems with the nervous system in rats, manifesting in behavioral changes. It was once found widely in soft drinks, particularly Gatorade and Mountain Dew, but in the US companies stopped adding it after a Mississippi teenager began an online petition.

Avoid Sundrop, generic lemon-lime beverages, and Keurig Dr. Pepper if you want to steer clear of this additive.

This study explains how BVO also causes reproductive harm.

As with the other synthetic additives on this list, avoiding all sodapop will keep you safe from BVO.

6 / Farmed Salmon and Sugary Sodas

In Mexico, Chile, and England soft drinks are taxed. In the US, only the Navajo Nation and a few states and cities currently tax sugar-laden soft drinks.

Australia and New Zealand have banned farm-raised salmon because such fish are fed a petrochemical (astaxanthin) to give the fish the red color they lack.

Sodas of all kinds are terrible for human health, and manufacturers like Pepsi and Coke have a long history of adding whatever makes them tasty and addictive — from sugar to cocaine. Sodas carry dangers beyond synthetic additives, too: they are full of high fructose corn syrup. Consuming liquid calories from sucrose, and especially fructose, isn’t prudent for living things.

The natural color of wild salmon. Image courtesy WikiMedia Commons.

The US Plays Roulette with Your Health

According to an article in Every Day Health, the reason US food regulators are more lax than European (and many other) nations is because in the US risk is all about probability. The FDA assumes most people won’t drink two six-packs of diet coke a day, or eat a whole loaf of chemically-enhanced white bread over the weekend.

You probably won’t get cancer from an array of additives that are known to be cancer-causing because you probably won’t consume enough.

In Europe, the standard is strict because any possibility of harm means the substance should never hit the shelves. Many other countries have the same approach, but in the US it’s “buyer beware.”

To recap, read labels carefully on:

— all sodas, which are best avoided anyway

— baked goods and cereals

— cosmetics that include BHA and BHT

— candies, juices, and sweet treats marketed to kids

— soups and sauces

Be aware that even US meats and frozen items may include additives. Foods you would never suspect often include sugar (dill pickles, mustard, ketchup) and high-fructose corn syrup.

Health food stores aren’t innocent, either, so check all packaging. The safest approach to eating is to buy fresh or frozen foods and organic meats when you can, and avoid restaurant food.



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