On January 4, 2016, the FDA banned three PFC chemicals that are used in these and other product packaging. These “three grease-resistant chemical substances” are “linked to cancer and birth defects” (1).
The ban is the result of a January 2015 petition filed by:
–> Natural Resources Defense Council
–> Center for Food Safety
–> Breast Cancer Fund
–> Center for Environmental Health
–> Clean Water Action
–> Center for Science in the Public Interest
–> Children’s Environmental Health Network
–> Environmental Working Group (EWG)
–> Improving Kids’ Environment
Nearly 10 years ago, pleas to the FDA to prohibit these and other chemicals fell on deaf ears. However, the chemical companies stopped manufacturing these three chemicals five years ago. So, why would a petition even be necessary?
The double-edged sword comes from imported packaging that is still using these chemicals.
While the ban is a significant victory for anyone wanting cleaner foods, it is a small splash in a very deep pool of more than 400 other industrial chemicals that are either deliberately or inadvertently introduced into American processed foods. Chemicals that have no business being in our foods (1).
EWG President Ken Cook stated in a January 2016 press release, “This is another egregious example of how, all too often, regulatory actions under the nation’s broken chemical laws are too little and too late to protect Americans’ health.”
Cook summed up the threat saying, “Industrial chemicals that pollute people’s blood clearly have no place in food packaging. But it’s taken the FDA more than 10 years to figure that out…”
The cogs in the wheel of getting effective policing and protecting of the US food supply is maddening to those trying to effect change that’s actionable and timely.
Cook believes that Congress is the only real path for making sure such chemicals are kept out of foods. He states that this includes, “deliberate additives or as contaminants from packaging and other outside sources, are thoroughly investigated.”
The ban certainly doesn’t mean consumers can sit back and trust there aren’t any other harmful chemicals contaminating processed foods. In fact, the EWG stated there are still nearly “100 related chemicals that may also be hazardous” that are still being used by food processors and packagers.
Two Decades of Public Consumption
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) class of chemicals are used in the manufacturing of Teflon, Scotchgard and according to the EWG literally thousands of products.
Cook revealed, “PFCs have polluted the blood of virtually all Americans. They can be passed through the umbilical cord to the fetus. They contaminate drinking water for more than 6.5 million people in 27 states, according to water tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
DuPont, the maker of Teflon, was outed in 2005 by an employee who’d worked for the company for twenty-two years. Whistleblower Glen Evers, a senior engineer with DuPont told the world that DuPont knew its chemical Teflon, known as PFOA was leaching into foods.
PFOA is a “synthetic perfluorinated carboxylic acid and fluorosurfactant” commonly referred to as Perfluorooctanoate or C8 (2).
Randal Fitzgerald’s book “The Hundred-Year Lie: How to Protect Yourself from the Chemicals that Are Destroying Your Health” discusses the efforts of manufacturers like DuPont to hide data about the harmful effects of these and other chemicals from the public (3).
Evers stated, “The company knew that the Teflon chemical called PFOA, widely used in fast-food packaging, microwave popcorn bags and candy wrappers leaches into the food in greater concentration than had been reported to the FDA.”
More disturbing was the visual Evers painted, “You don’t see it, you don’t feel it, you can’t taste it. But when you open that bag and you start dipping your French fries in there, you are extracting fluorochemical and you’re eating it.”
Thanks to Evers coming forward, the US government filed a lawsuit against DuPont that resulted in a $10.2 million fine. Still the war between watchdog groups like EWG and manufacturers continues with battles won and lost.
Who Is in Control?
The struggle to weed out such harmful chemicals is often self-defeating. For example, the EWG writes that the organization was responsible for getting fast food companies like Burger King to discontinue using harmful wrappers.
Yet, those efforts were quickly shot down when, “In 2008, the California Legislature approved an EWG-backed bill to ban some PFCs in food packaging, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.”
It doesn’t stop there. It’s not only state government but various federal agencies that are often pitted against each other.
Bureaucracy at its finest was demonstrated in 2005, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was able to get companies to agree to “phase out production and use of some PFCs.” But the approval of these chemicals isn’t controlled by the EPA. That power falls in the lap of the FDA.
The very chemicals that the EPA was negotiating with companies to discontinue were at the same time listed as approved chemicals by the FDA.
Revolving Door of Harmful Chemicals
Even when harmful chemicals are banned that doesn’t mean chemical companies give up. EWG stated that during the past 10 years, “Chemical companies have introduced dozens of chemicals similar to those phased out under the EPA-led deal. The FDA has approved almost 100 other PFC compounds for use in food packaging.”
Unfortunately, the risk falls squarely on the shoulders of unsuspecting consumers. According to the EWG, the next generation of PFCS haven’t been properly assessed by the FDA for long-term health ramifications.
Since 2009, the FDA approved “20 more PFC chemicals for use in food wrappers. Public information on the safety of these substances is largely non-existent.”
EWG Senior Scientist David Andrews concluded after analyzing these recent FDA chemical approvals that, “…their chemical structure is very similar to the ones that have been phased out, and the very limited safety testing that has been done suggests they may have some of the same health hazards.”
With the chemical companies not required to prove the safety of their chemicals to the FDA and EPA, it appears that the newer chemicals simply replaced the bad ones with possibly equally harmful properties.
To win this war taken on by watchdog groups against harmful chemicals leaching into the American food supply, it will take a far greater public outcry (4). One that can no longer be ignored by those charged with protecting public health and welfare.
References & Image Credits:
(2) Wikipedia: Perfluorooctanoic Acid
(3) Google Books
(4) TSW: Blogger Fights to Make Subway Remove Chemical from Its Bread
(5) Image of Microwave Popcorn Bag