FDA Bans Cancer-Causing Food Additives, But Won’t Enforce Until 2020


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Americans are no strangers to food additives: the preservatives, coloring and flavoring agents that keep foods looking fresh and tasting better for longer. A product of our desire for fast, cheap and satisfying eats that underscores our detachment from actually fresh, locally sourced foods, they are found in everything from nutrition-boosting salad dressings to McDonald’s French fries. But are they safe?

In ancient times, additives may have been used not only to make food more flavorful but to keep it safe for consumption, too. Bruce Eaton, a retired professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado, Boulder, points out that “the proliferation of the spice trade, which began as early as 3000 B.C., led to increasing demand for additives to enhance the taste of food,” adding that, “historical records … include the use of spices to preserve meat and inhibit the growth of bacteria.”

Fast-forward to the 20th century. As the U.S. diet became more synthetic, processed and commercialized, food additives became more common. In 1958, Congress passed the Food Additives Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, requiring the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve all additives used in food production. To date, there are hundreds of FDA-approved food additives, ranging from vitamin D3 (a nutritional supplement found in beverages like orange juice) to sulfaquinoxaline (an antibiotic used for livestock and poultry), and another list of approved color additives.

Though these additives exist in trace or larger quantities in nearly every packaged food we consume, after they are approved, there isn’t enough research to understand their long-term health effects. Now, however, regulators are moving in.

Following pressure from several environmental and consumer safety groups, the FDA in October 2018 opted to ban seven synthetic food additives known to cause harm—synthetically derived benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, methyl eugenol, myrcene, pulegone, pyridine and styrene—ingredients you typically don’t see on food labels since they’re grouped together under the term “artificial flavors.” Food companies have 16 months to remove the additives from their products. While that’s welcome news for food safety advocates, it means that the newly banned ingredients, which have been proven to cause cancer in lab animals, will still be ingestible in the United States for all of 2019.

But don’t panic just yet. Like so many terms in nutrition, the word “additive” isn’t inherently negative. “Additives can come from natural sources, can be mimics of natural products or they can be synthetic,” says Emma Beckett, a molecular nutritionist at the School of Environmental and Life Sciences at Newcastle University in Australia. She points out that plenty of poisons are, in fact, 100 percent natural, such as mushrooms.

“There are rules about testing additives and limits to their use so that even if someone ate lots of processed foods with additives, they wouldn’t be exposed to large amounts,” Beckett says. “That said, ‘no known risks’ doesn’t mean ‘no risks.’ Foods and additives—and their role in health and disease—are constantly under scientific investigation and review.”

A banned additive could be lurking in your favorite processed snack, but before purging your kitchen, Beckett recommends reframing the way you think of the FDA-approved food labels. “‘Banned’ makes it sound scary, but rather, the [additives] were ‘delisted,’” she says.

Styrene is an example. Classified as a “reasonably anticipated” human carcinogen in 2011 by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, it was delisted in this recent batch as the additive is no longer used in the food industry.

The other six additives the FDA removed from the approved list are often used in trace amounts, like pulegone, used to flavor mint gums, and methyl eugenol, found in commercially baked goods, vinaigrettes and more. The amount of methyl eugenol found to cause liver cancer in lab rats would likely never be present in similar proportions in human food, but additives as a buzzword get special attention due to the 1958 Food Additives Amendment, which requires any food additive known to be carcinogenic to subsequently be banned. Sugar, processed meats and alcoholic beverages are all food products linked to cancer risks, but they still remain rampantly available in U.S. supermarkets.

“The phaseout is safe because [these additives] are only in foods at very low levels, levels much lower than will cause cancer,” Beckett points out about the additives still on shelves for the next year or so, though she believes food companies will be eager to phase out the additives sooner, thanks to the bad PR and public perception of risk. “Remember that the dose makes the poison. The phaseout will allow time for manufacturers to change their products, but it is likely many will change sooner to avoid losing customers.” Removing the additives is “unlikely to change the taste of foods dramatically,” Beckett says, though the texture, appearance or shelf life may be altered.

Common nutritional guidance points to eating whole foods; that is, food that hasn’t been tampered with in any way (i.e., a piece of fruit rather than a “fruit snack”) to avoid any potentially dangerous additives, but Beckett points out that the advice is classist and not always implementable. “Advice like that comes from a very privileged position; many of us need to buy processed foods that won’t perish to keep within our food budgets,” she says.

So while our food system heals and hopefully moves toward a time when everyone has access to fresh, healthy, local and whole food that’s affordable, it’s best for consumers to know how to read package labels, avoid unfamiliar ingredients when possible and stay informed on current food policies. As food scholar Michael Pollan recommends, don’t eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer based in New York. She is a writing fellow at Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She’s written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Travel & Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Glamour, AlterNet, Cosmopolitan, Teen Vogue, Architectural Digest, Them and other publications. She holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Columbia University and is also at work on a forthcoming novel. Follow her on Twitter: @melissabethk.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute, and originally published on Truthout.

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September 23, 2019

During the predawn hours the Sun slips into Libra and Autumn begins. The Fall Equinox is a short-lived time of year when the hours of daylight and darkness are balanced. If you’ve been putting off preparations for the coming winter, set to it. The waning…
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September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
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Sponsor: Medicine My Way
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In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

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Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
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Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

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The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
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Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

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VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
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2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

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Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
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Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

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Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
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September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

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Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
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September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

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Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
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Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
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Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

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Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
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Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
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Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

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First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
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Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

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Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
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Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
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Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

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Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
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Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
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This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

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Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
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Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
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Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

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Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
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Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
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With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

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Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
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Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

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Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
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Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
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September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

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The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
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Telephone: 617-366-6042
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September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

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Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
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Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

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Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
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Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
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