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The Bonvie Blog: FDA Bans Carcinogenic Additives

FDA bans seven cancer-causing food additives. How many more are out there?

After a 30-year hiatus the Delaney Clause makes a return appearance

By LINDA BONVIE

Late last week the FDA announced the ban of seven food additives known to cause cancer.

These consist of a group of tongue-twisting chemicals such as synthetically derived benzophenone, eugenyl methyl ether and one called pulegone. They’re added to beverages, bakery products, cereals, candy, gum and ice cream for a taste of cinnamon and peppermint, a twist of citrus or even the flavor of roasted onions.

These fake flavorings have been used since the 1960s – and they can still be quite legally added for the next two years. Don’t bother checking labels for them, however, as they all fall under the category of “artificial flavors.”

The FDA’s decision to ban them was due to a petition submitted to the agency – as well as a subsequent lawsuit — from 10 public interest organizations, including the Consumers Union, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

But in a food supply filled to the brim with a mad scientist’s array of extremely dangerous additives (MSG, HFCS and aspartame, to name just three), why was this bunch given the boot? It’s especially intriguing since the FDA said in announcing its decision that the seven “do not pose a risk to public health.”

In an oddly logical turn of regulatory reasoning — despite the agency’s steadfast opinion that these additives are as “low risk” as can be — it said they were being revoked “as a matter of law.”

That law is the Delaney Clause. Added to the Federal Food Drug, and Cosmetic Act in 1958, it states that “no additive shall be deemed to be safe if it is found to induce cancer when ingested by man or animal…”

If you’re not familiar with Delaney it could be because it hasn’t made an appearance since cell phones were as big as a brick, around the late 1980s. And by applying the literal meaning of the law, instead of brushing it aside with what’s known as the “de minimis exception” (which is described as a “trivial” hazard, a lifetime cancer risk less than one-in-a-million), it appears that seven unnecessary and risky food additives will bite the dust at some point in the future.

Of course, the Delaney Clause has been nitpicked for decades as being overly cautious and outdated. And then there’s the argument that we know so much more about what causes cancer these days than we did back in the 1950s.

But that’s not entirely true.

While our medical knowledge bank may have increased since then, still, no one can say with certainty that there’s a magic level at which a carcinogen is somehow safe to consume – especially where kids are concerned.

And anyone who claims they know otherwise is simply making a wild guess.

Remember, these seven chemicals have been hiding in the food supply for decades under the guise of “flavorings.” And there are untold numbers more.

As the Environmental Working Group’s nutritionist Dawn Undurraga says, while this is a “positive step forward,” until the FDA mandates that manufacturers give consumers complete “ingredient disclosure,” we can’t make our own “fully informed decisions” about the foods we buy.

According to the EWG, one of every seven conventional (not organic) food ingredient labels lists “artificial” flavorings, with “natural” flavors being even more popular. And both names will tell you absolutely nothing about what those ingredients may consist of.

It’s a loophole that food manufacturers love. But as for consumers, the only safeguard we have right now is to reject every single product made with these secret ingredients.


Linda and Bill Bonvie are regular bloggers for Citizens for Health and the co-authors of Badditives: The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet – and How to Avoid Them.

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