New Legislation Seeks to Ban Several Food Additives from Meat, Dairy Products

Many of the listed chemicals have not been evaluated for food safety in decades, despite being outlawed in other countries, legislators warn.

A group of Congressional legislators are calling for federal food regulators to reassess the safety of seven chemicals commonly used in meat, dairy, and egg products.

Introduced by Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois on March 8, the Agricultural Food Chemical Reassessment Act (PDF) calls for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to reassess seven chemicals used as emulsifiers, colorants, preservatives, and disinfecting agents used in the food packaging process.

The bill is being co-sponsored by Representatives Eleanor Holmes Norton, from D.C., Ro Khanna of California and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, and would require the reevaluation butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), cetylpyridnium chloride, sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium nitrite, sulfuric acid, and titanium dioxide, to determine if they are safe for use in human food.

Some Food Additives Not Reviewed for Decades

According to a press release issued by Schakowsky, these chemicals have not been evaluated for food safety in decades, and several are banned in the European Union (EU) and other countries due to potential health concerns.

BHA was last evaluated for safety in 1977, and has been listed on California’s Proposition 65 list of dangerous chemicals since 1990. BHT has not been reviewed since 1977, and cetylpyridnium chloride was last reviewed in 2004, but was banned for use in the EU.

Sodium aluminum phosphate was reviewed in 1977 and banned for most uses in the EU, including for use in all meat, poultry, and egg products. Sodium nitrite was reviewed in 1984 but was banned in Norway and Sweden. Sulfuric acid was last reviewed in 1980. Titanium dioxide was reviewed in 1972, but the EU and six other countries banned the chemical from use.

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The lawmakers say these chemicals were chosen for the bill because their use can be traced to adverse health side effects. Prior research indicates exposure to the additives can cause cancer, hormone disruption, reproductive toxicity, ulcerative colitis, DNA changes, damage to the kidneys, liver, lungs, eye and skin irritation, inflammation, and environmental toxicity.

“As a longtime champion for food safety, it is imperative that we continue to make progress on food chemical safety across agencies,” Schakowsky stated in the press release. “Consumers deserve to know that the foods they are eating are safe and free from harmful chemicals.”

Emulsifier Food Additive Risks

Research links emulsifier food additives to an increased risk of developing different types of cancer, including breast and prostate cancer. Emulsifiers are widely used in food products such as frozen pizzas, ice cream, and other processed foods.

Most of the chemicals on the list entered the food supply through the generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food approval designation.

The GRAS designation allows food additive manufacturers, instead of federal regulators, to determine if the chemicals are considered safe and allow them for use in the food supply.

Last year, California lawmakers enacted legislation to ban the use of four chemicals in food, including brominated vegetable oil, red dye number 3, potassium bromate, and propylparaben chemicals. The chemicals are allowed for use in food by the FDA, but California banned them due to research linking their use to increased risk of cancer, behavioral problems in children, reproductive issues, and endocrine disruption.

If the bill is passed, an assessment will be carried out by the administrator of the USDA’s FSIS. However, the bill must first be voted on by the full House of Representatives, after which it would move to the Senate for a final vote and, if approved, be signed into law by the President.

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