Food Additives in the Food System

Food Additives in the Food System


Food Additives in the Food System

There are more than 2500 chemical substances added to modify or enhance the physical aspects of a food item. Food additives are used to improve or maintain texture, taste, color, and freshness of processed foods. Food additive use dates back centuries ago, originally intended for the preservation of food through natural substances such as salt. In the age of today, consumer demands for more accountability with toxic substances used in the food system are at a rapid incline.

Should Additives be Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

The European Union (EU) and the United States (US) have very different regulations when it comes to food additives. In fact, some additives are actually banned in many countries in Europe, while used excessively in the US with limited restrictions. Scientific proof of harm to human health must be demonstrated before action is taken in the US. Some examples of additives banned in the EU, while legally used in the US are the following:

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) - BVO is added to processed beverages like soft drinks and sports drinks primarily to emulsify the liquids to avoid separating. BVO contains bromine, an element classified as toxic that has been shown to accumulate in the body, affecting the nervous system and cognitive function. While BVOs are banned in Europe, the FDA considered it as “safe” for consumption in limited quantities.  

Food Coloring Dyes - Food dyes are typically found in candy, baked goods and condiments such as ketchup. Food dyes are not banned in the EU, but manufacturers are required to announce the adverse health effects of the coloring agents used in their products on the label. In the US, the FDA does not require a warning label for any food dyes. A few examples of common dyes that have shown significant toxicity dangers are Red Dye #40 and Yellow Dye #5 and #6.

Potassium Bromate and Azodicarbonamide (ADA) - In the US, these additives are commonly used in baked goods, while banned completely in the EU. Even though potassium bromate was classified as a carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the FDA denied requests to ban it. ADA is considered “safe” to consume in limited quantities in the US, despite the science-based evidence on the deadly long-term effects.

How are Controlled Additives Getting in the Food System?

While the US has a reputation for loose regulation controls on substances, a lot of reasons why dangerous additives are in the food system is because of outdated regulations set years ago. For example, a loophole within an amendment created by Congress in 1958 allows for some substances to fly under the radar of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The amendment, referred to as the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, was originally enforced to ban potentially carcinogenic additives from being distributed into the market. However, some additives that were used before the amendment's passage are considered to have been “approved prior” with unknown regulations or controls. The act dismisses these potentially toxic substances, allowing them to be used without official FDA approval.

In addition to enhancing food flavors and textures, some companies will add certain substances for solely economic gain. Companies diluting food products with unnecessary, low-cost quantities of an already present ingredient to increase the activity of a specific ingredient is very common. This is considered economically-motivated adulteration, enforcing the FDA to initiate the Food Defence Plan - an act aiming to protect food against companies adding ingredients with ulterior motives (like cutting costs). Alternatively, there are some food additives that don’t appear on labels but are finding their way into both organic and conventional processed foods. For example, the chemical Perchlorate isn’t added to the food itself, allowing the company to not add it to the ingredient list. Perchlorate is used in packaging processes and has been shown to contaminate food items. Perchlorate is both a natural and synthetic chemical, and research suggests that consuming contaminated foods can lead to disruption of hormones and thyroid function.

In all areas of the world, consumer’s confidence in public health agencies that are meant to protect human health is deteriorating, and it’s incredibly important to stay informed on the health effects that food additives have proved to carry. The need for governing agencies taking action to overlook outdated regulations, modernize their science research, and review the safety of older chemicals is long overdue. Until these developments are resolved, food additives are largely governed by the motivation of companies, rather than the governing agencies themselves. Get your own food independently tested with TestSharing. Know the truth about what’s in your food.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5