Read an Excerpt
GUESS WHAT YOU ATE?
In this completely revised and updated seventh edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, you will learn how safeguards have weakened since the last edition and that hundreds of new and untested chemicals have entered the market.
Are you aware, for example, that direct and indirect additives in your food and drink at this writing may be
•sex life disrupters?
•untested new chemical compounds?
Additives are substances, or a mixture of substances, other than basic foodstuffs, that are present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage, or packaging. BHT and BHA are examples of preservatives and Red No. 3 and annatto are examples of colorings. Some substances, vitamins E and C, for example, are both nutrients and additives. The two vitamins are sometimes added for their ability to retard rancidity. The majority of food additives, however, have nothing to do with nutritional value, as you will see from the contents of this dictionary. Most are added to feed our illusions. We want enhanced food because all our lives we have been subjected to beautiful pictures of foods in our magazines, on television, and on the Internet. We have come to expect an advertiser’s concept of perfection in color and texture, even though Mother Nature may not turn out all her products that way. As a result, the skins of the oranges we eat are dyed bright orange to match our mental image of an ideal orange. Our poultry is fed a chemical to turn the meat yellower and more appetizing, and our fruits and vegetables are kept unblemished by fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, and other antispoilants. Our meat and fish have color added to give the appearance of greater freshness. Food additives are estimated to be $23 billion market worldwide.1
Lest you think that all additives are harmful, I want to reassure you that many are beneficial. They delay spoilage, keep us well-fed, and protect against illness. But scores of added substances are unnecessary, and some may be harmful, even lethal. I know how all this can be confusing with all the overlapping underfunded regulatory agencies, the conflicting media reports about the newest studies, and the advice from the latest diet guru. This seventh edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives has been written to help you choose more wisely in today’s marketplace.
Since the first edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives was published in 1978 there have been major positive changes.
•First, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO); the European Union; and the Japanese, Australian, and New Zealand food protection agencies have, among others, increased computerization of information about food additives and made the data available to us and to each other on the Internet.
•Second, the evaluation of food additives has become international, so many more eyes are watching the potions cooked up in the lab.
•Third, readers like you are making an effort to become educated about what is good for you and what is not and how to pierce the hype that surrounds food and drink today. If this weren’t true, you wouldn’t be reading this book.
However, some problems mentioned in all six previous editions haven’t gone away.
The body of evidence linking extensive antimicrobial use in food- producing animals and resistant antibiotic strains in human beings continues to grow. Other nonhuman uses of antimicrobials (in pet animals, aquaculture, and horticulture) may also play a role in this transfer of resistant bacteria. When resistant pathogenic bacteria are the cause of infections in humans (as well as in animals), it will often result in inappropriate and/or more protracted therapy to cure infections and, increasingly, the infections become incurable. Since the first edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, regulators, including the FDA, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and WHO, have been trying in vain to deal with the situation in which the same classes of antimicrobials may be used in both humans and animals. Few new antibiotics have been developed to replace those that have become ineffective through resistance.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based nonprofit organization, estimates that each year 25 million pounds of valuable antibiotics—roughly 70 percent of total U.S. antibiotic production— are fed to chickens, pigs, and cows for nontherapeutic purposes like growth promotion.2 In fact, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is theoretically empowered to withdraw agricultural antibiotics from the market under existing law, in practice its procedures are so cumbersome that such withdrawals would take years for each type of antibiotic. Indeed, withdrawal proceedings for other kinds of agricultural drugs have taken up to twenty years to complete. To avoid these unacceptable delays, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007 (PAMTA) amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to withdraw approvals for feed- additive use of seven specific classes of antibiotics: penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, lincosamides, streptogramins, aminoglycosides, and sulfonamides. Each of these classes contains antibiotics used in human medicine. The cancellations automatically take effect two years after the date of enactment unless, prior to that date, the antibiotic’s producer demonstrates to a reasonable degree of certainty that use of the drug as a feed additive does not contribute to development of resistance affecting humans.3
The bill bans only the feed-additive uses of the named drugs for “nontherapeutic” purposes, defined as use “in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.” By specifically targeting the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, the bill allows for sick animals to receive treatment and for legitimate prophylaxis. The bill leaves farmers with many options, including other nontherapeutic antibiotics that are not used in human medicine, as well as improved animal husbandry practices such as those utilized in Europe and on some U.S. farms. In addition, the legislation provides that if a nontherapeutic antibiotic that is now used only in animals (i.e., one that is not one of the seven named antibiotics) also becomes potentially important in human medicine, the drug would be automatically restricted from nontherapeutic use in agricultural animals unless the FDA determines that such use will not contribute to development of resistance affecting humans.
The consumer is becoming more aware of the danger of nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed; thus you now see raised without antibiotics signs on many products in the supermarkets. PAMTA will help cut down on the salting of animal feed with antibiotics just for weight gain.4 The European Union has banned most antibiotics in feed. This is progress!
Progress has not been made as far as stopping the addition of potentially cancer-causing additives on our plates and in our glasses. In fact, some regression has occurred. A major report on the relationship between nutrition and the development of cancer concludes that 3 to 4 million cases of cancer per year could be prevented by appropriate diet.5 As you will read in this dictionary, scores of food additives are known or suspected cancer-causing agents, such as the furan flavorings, some colorings, and benzene.
The Delaney Amendment was written by Congressman James Delaney as part of a 1958 law requested by the FDA. The law stated that food and chemical manufacturers had to test additives before they were put on the market and the results had to be submitted to the FDA. Delaney’s Amendment specifically states that “no additive may be permitted in any amount if the tests show that it produces cancer when fed to man or animals or by other appropriate tests.” Ever since it was enacted it has been severely attacked by food and chemical manufacturers and the Nutrition Council of the American Medical Association. Even several FDA commissioners and scientists were critics because they claimed the law was unenforceable. They all agreed that an additive used at very low levels need not necessarily be banned because it may cause cancer at high levels. Proponents justified the clause on the basis that cancer experts have not been able to determine a safe level for any carcinogen. This was the underlying basis in 1959 for a nationwide FDA recall of cranberries contaminated by the weed killer aminotriazole. Notwithstanding publicity critical of the FDA, this action had beneficial results, particularly in convincing farmers that pesticides must be used with care.
The problems with identifying exposure to a cancer-causing additive include the following:
•In most instances, exposure to cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) takes place twenty to thirty years before a statistically significant increase is observed.
•Animal studies may give clues, but laboratory conditions and the bodies of other creatures may not result in valid conclusions for us.
•Each of us is unique in the way our bodies process chemicals based on our age, sex, heredity, medical history, diet, and behavior. Epidemiologists estimate that approximately one-third of all cancer deaths can be attributed to diet.6
•No one knows how much of a cancer-causing agent it takes to cause cancer.
The Delaney Amendment, as pointed out, is being ignored by many producers and regulators. The listings in this dictionary describe scores of additives known to or suspected of causing cancer. There are well-publicized ones, such as nitrates and nitrites (see) and lesser-known ones, such as the flavorings furfural and allyl isovalerate (see both).
There have been continued attacks against the Delaney Amendment since it was enacted. When Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996, many in the press announced that this law effectively repealed the Delaney Amendment, which they claimed had banned all traces of cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods. The act concerned the so-called Delaney paradox, which, according to Delaney critics, resulted from one bill that seemed to prohibit residues of cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods, and two others that permitted the setting of tolerances for carcinogenic pesticide residues in raw agricultural products. What the FQPA of 1996 did was repeal the prohibition on cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods that exceed the raw agricultural commodity tolerances plus added a new, more restrictive safety standard that allows no more than a one-in-one-million risk of cancer from pesticide residues in both raw and processed foods.7
Doesn’t that mean equal amounts of cancer-causing pesticides must be in both raw agricultural products and processed foods?
Beside the pesticide interests, two other great lobbying efforts to abolish or weaken the Delaney Amendment are fighting in the ring. They are the producers of artificial sweeteners and the makers of food colorings, who both have additives that are potentially carcinogenic.
The late FDA toxicologist Dr. Adrian Gross told Congress that the artificial sweetener aspartame violated the Delaney Amendment because it caused cancer in lab animals, especially brain tumors.8 Congress sided with Monsanto. Dr. Gross’s last words on the subject were: “Given the cancer-causing potential of aspartame, aka ‘NutraSweet’ and ‘Equal,’ how would the FDA justify its position that it views a certain amount of aspartame as constituting an allowable daily intake or ‘safe’ level of it? Is that position in effect not equivalent to setting a ‘tolerance’ for this food additive and thus a violation of that law? And if the FDA itself elects to violate the law, who is left to protect the health of the public?”
Although the testing for cancer-causing additives in our food may be imperfect, testing for nerve- and brain-damaging additives in our food is really lacking. This is true even though many scientists believe neurotoxins are more of a problem in food than carcinogens. 9,10 No one knows how much of a problem because the testing for toxicity is relatively new as far as food safety is concerned. The suspected toxins—aside from those in poisonous botanicals, and certain bacteria production—are usually linked to synthetic food colorings and flavorings.
In humans, neurotoxicity can adversely affect a broad spectrum of behavioral functions, including the ability to learn, to interact appropriately with others, and to perceive and respond to environmental stimuli; basically these represent everyday functions that enable people to live productive lives. The FDA is now focusing on neurotoxicity and is trying to develop more relevant information about the potential adverse effects of chemicals in food on the nervous system.
In the meantime, this dictionary cites those chemicals, such as monosodium glutamate and Red No. 3 (see both) that have been found to be suspected neurotoxins. Most of the other chemicals identified as neurotoxins are pesticides, since they have long been linked to nerve damage. They are difficult to avoid unless you grow your own food without chemicals and don’t buy processed edibles. You can reduce your intake by avoiding other additives listed in The Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives that have been cited as potential neurotoxins, such as glutamates used in flavorings, butyl phosphorotrithioate used in animal feed, and the food coloring Red No. 3 (see all).
The estimation of the dietary intake of a chemical residue can rarely completely reflect the long-term exposure of a population (or individual) to that residue because of the difficulties inherent in determining long-term food consumption patterns. Nonetheless, an initial approximate assessment of dietary intake is essential to indicate whether current regulatory practices for a contaminant are adequate; to provide triggering mechanisms for deciding whether further, more detailed assessments of intake are required; and, ultimately, to determine whether further controls over the use of a toxic substance should be considered.