Opinion: Food additives need stricter legislation

California’s state assembly moves towards banning some food additives, showing a shift towards further regulating food additives


Food additives have been shown to have detrimental effects on the health of consumers. Photo courtesy Wikimedia commons.

Food additives – substances added to food that are not normally consumed as a food itself – have been used for centuries to improve preservation as well as the appearance. However, as increasingly more studies show the harmful effects these chemical additives have on consumers, action is necessary now more than ever.

The socioeconomic and health issues stemming from the use of these chemicals in our foods will continue to have a negative impact on our country’s poorest citizens, while company owners reap the benefits both in the food and manufacturing industry.

A bill proposed by California State Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel presses to ban five of these toxic additives from food manufacturing.

These chemicals, erythrosine, known as Red No. 3, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, brominated vegetable oil and propylparaben, are currently banned in the European Union. Yet, they are still used in the U.S. despite demonstration of increased risk of health concerns like cancer and obesity alongside behavioral and reproductive issues.

The legislation scratches the surface of a much larger scale concern. The current system of reviewing food additives is clearly flawed and is long due for revision.

“The overwhelming majority of chemicals in our food in the United States get no meaningful review by the Food and Drug Administration,” Gabriel said in a webinar.

However, the loophole described should be addressed in its entirety, not simply in the form of the five chemicals listed above.

The FDA currently allows “qualified experts” or manufacturers of these additives to obtain evidence of safety for consumption. Rather than the FDA’s analysis, products may be generally recognized as safe by the food and chemical companies that produce them.

Gabriel reiterated that these compounds have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems as well as developmental and behavioral issues in kids. He also said for each chemical the legislation intends to ban there is a, “readily available and safer – and in many cases a cheaper alternative.”

It is no question the food industry has been corrupted by the for-profit capitalist system that it operates within. For example, titanium dioxide is used in most popular candies to make them more appealing and striking in appearance.

This chemical is banned by the EU for links to damaging DNA, but it is still utilized in U.S. products.

Additionally, it offers no nutritional benefit but is used only for the appeal and soft texture of candy.

You have to question how the FDA is really protecting us just because brands like Skittles, Nerds, Hot Tamales and others may have to adjust their additives. Yet, companies approve obesogens into the supply chain without FDA involvement. Obesogens are chemicals that increase fat accumulation and cause obesity by interfering with metabolic processes.

Food additives such as monosodium glutamate, commonly referred to as MSG, “make our food taste better” causing an inclination to eat more which results in weight gain, according to dietitian Beth Czerwony.

MSG has long been considered an obesogen in animal studies.

Red No. 3 was banned in 1990 in the U.S. for cosmetic use when research suggested connections to thyroid cancer were found. The synthetic food dye is still allowed in food products and is known to cause cancer in research animals.

Red No. 3 is just one of several synthetic food dyes which has been linked to hyperactivity in children.

Since 2010, the EU required products containing Red No. 40 and other dyes to come with a warning label saying, “may have adverse effects on the activity and attention of children.”

“This bill will correct a concerning lack of federal oversight and help protect … public health and the safety of our food supply,” Gabriel said.

Banning five measly chemicals in California is not going to change the safety of food supply in its entirety or the federal oversight in manufacturing.

However, it is a step in the right direction. Progress doesn’t happen overnight.