Press Release

NRDC, Others Petition FDA to Ban Eight Carcinogenic Flavorings in Food

WASHINGTON (June 10, 2015) – Eight synthetic flavorings—which may be found in ice cream, baked goods, candy and beverages—are known to cause cancer in lab animals, and should be banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a coalition of leading health groups said in a petition filed with the agency today.

The law requires the FDA to prohibit the use of food additives known to cause cancer in lab animals. The eight chemicals covered by the petition have been demonstrated in studies using government-approved methods to cause cancer in animals. But  the agency knows little about the human health risk posed by the eight additives because the FDA and the public does not know which of the flavorings are added to what food items, or in what amounts.

That makes it impossible for informed consumers to protect themselves from potentially harmful chemicals, the groups filing the petition say.

“Consumers are vulnerable, the government isn’t doing its job and the food industry is calling the shots,” said Erik Olson, director of the Health Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the petitioners. “The FDA should be doing much more to ensure our food is safe, and that should start with obeying the law by banning these synthetic flavorings known to cause cancer in animals, rather than just continuing to let the food industry have its way.”

The petition—filed by NRDC, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Improving Kids’ Environment, the Center for Environmental Health, the Environmental Working Group, and Dr. James Huff, the former associate director for chemical carcinogenesis at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—seeks two specific actions by FDA.

First, the groups urge FDA to revoke its 1964 approval allowing seven flavorings to be used in food, and overturn the industry’s 1974 self-approval of the eighth synthetic flavor which they assert can be used under a loophole in the law for chemicals that are “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS.

Second, the groups urge FDA to formally ban the eight flavorings from use in food, which were allowed on the market long before animal studies showed that the chemicals cause cancer.

Each of the synthetic flavorings has been found by the National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program to induce cancer in humans or animals. The petition states that the flavorings which have been allowed for more than 40 years in food should be prohibited immediately to prevent their continued use.

Other government agencies and authoritative bodies also have evaluated some of the synthetic flavors and confirmed the cancer hazard. For example, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, an arm of the World Health Organization, designates five of the synthetic flavorings as causing cancer in animals and “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” and the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in California designates seven of them as carcinogens, the petition states.

The synthetic flavorings that should be banned for use in food are: 

  1. Benzophenone (also known as diphenylketone);
  2. Ethyl acrylate;
  3. Eugenyl methyl ether (also known as 4-allylveratrole or  methyl eugenol);
  4. Myrcene (also known as 7-methyl-3-methylene-1,6-octadiene);
  5. Pulegone (also known as p-menth-4(8)-en-3-one);
  6. Pyridine;
  7. Styrene; and
  8. Trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal.

The full petition is here: http://docs.nrdc.org/health/files/hea_15060901a.pdf

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