A few months ago, I wrote a short article about food additive regulations in the US. In particular, caramel color, BVO, and BPA are buzzwords when potentially dangerous chemicals in our foods are discussed. Consumer Reports, in accordance with its long history of independent reviewing of consumer goods, published an article about the dangers of those additives, and has taken a stand for food safety by advocating for transparency in the food industry. They have even started their own blog on the subject, which you can read at notinmyfood.org.
Earlier this year, Consumer Reports called for government intervention in limiting the amount of caramel color present in food and drinks. And in the November 2014 edition, the magazine followed up on this issue. This time, it was good news.
In a column entitled “Heroes and Watchdogs,” Consumer Reports included the account of high school senior Sarah Kavanagh. Kavanagh pressed PepsiCo to remove BVO from its drinks after seeing this chemical included in the ingredients on her Gatorade. Using the online petition-making service change.org, she amassed over 200,000 supporters. In a statement to Consumer Reports, PepsiCo said, “We removed BVO from Gatorade in response to our consumers. Since [then], we have been actively working to remove it from the rest of our product portfolio.” In a New York Times interview with the “watchdog,” Kavanagh stated that “’B.V.O. is banned other places in the world, so these companies already have a replacement for it’,” and “’I don’t see why they don’t just make the switch.’” To that, companies say the switch would be too costly.”
In a related statement from the magazine, Consumer Reports noted that 42% of Americans are willing to pay more for goods from companies who are “committed to positive social and environmental impact” – so much so that “socially conscious companies” see a 5% increase in their overall annual sales.
Arguments for and against these additives can be found all across the media. But the truth is, we don’t really know how dangerous their long-term effects will be. Why not avoid the risk all together and use additives we know to be safe and effective? It would simply cost the food industry too much money.
If you’re wondering just what it is that these additives do and why they should be avoided:
Caramel Color: Caramel color is a food-coloring ingredient, made by caramelizing carbohydrates. I will restate a part of my previous post to add some weight to the danger of caramel color: in 2012, the Center for Science in the Public Interest issued a report stating that approximately 15,000 cancers could be caused by the levels of caramel color currently found in drinks. “Coke and Pepsi, with the acquiescence of the FDA, are needlessly exposing millions of Americans to a chemical that causes cancer,” CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson asserted in a written statement. Furthermore, in an article from CBS News, toxicologist Dr. Urvashi Rangan, executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center, stated: “There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown.”
BVO: Short for brominated vegetable oil, BVO is an additive used to stabilize components of liquids. According to the Mayo Clinic, it is often used in citrus drinks to keep the flavorings from separating, and “Controversy has long surrounded the use of BVO. It’s banned as a food additive in Europe and Japan but not in the U.S.” In an article in the New York Times, author Stephanie Storm wrote “Brominated vegetable oil contains bromine, the element found in brominated flame retardants, used in things like upholstered furniture and children’s products. Research has found brominate flame retardants building up in the body and breast milk, and animal and some human studies have linked them to neurological impairment, reduced fertility, changes in thyroid hormones and puberty at an earlier age.”
BPA: According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, BPA is a very dangerous and very common toxin: the “National Toxicology Program completed a review of available research on the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and concluded that there was “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures.” Adding to the concern, BPA exposure is pervasive: the “CDC found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of 2517 urine samples from people six years and older” in a 2003-2004 survey.
For further reading, see these sites: