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Groups Petition FDA to Ban Eight Synthetic Flavorings

Jun 12, 2015

On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) received a petition calling for a ban on eight synthetic flavorings currently permitted in small amounts in baked goods, candy, and ice cream.

The petition sponsors say the substances have been shown to cause cancer in lab animals and should fall under the ban on substances that induce cancer in humans or animals, Food Safety News reports.

The eight substances are: benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone, pyridine, styrene and trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal. The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association has recognized trans,trans-2,4-hexadienal as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) since 1974; the other seven have been considered GRAS since 1965. The maximum amounts of these substances that may be used in foods are mostly minute, according to Food Safety News. Pyridine can legally be used at just 1 part per million in ice cream. But the petition sponsors call for a zero-tolerance standard and say the eight flavorings should be removed from the GRAS list.

The petition was signed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Improving Kids' Environment, and individual scientists Maricel Maffini and James Huff.

The approved uses for the additives are outlined in detail in the petition, but the petition does not advance any claims about the current use of the "carcinogenic flavors" in specific products currently on the market. The petition simply states that the flavorings "may be found" in ice cream, baked goods, candy and beverages, and that neither FDA nor the public knows which of the additives might be added to a particular food product, according to Food Safety News. The NRDC said it is impossible for consumers to protect themselves from these "harmful chemicals." Erik Olson, NRDC's director of health programs, said, "Consumers are vulnerable, the government isn't doing its job and the food industry is calling the shots."

Olson said 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 groups filing the petition urge FDA to revoke the approvals granted in of the eight flavorings, which they assert can be used under a loophole in the law for chemicals that are GRAS.

The petitioners urge the FDA to formally ban the eight flavorings from use in food. The petition explains that these additives were deemed GRAS long before animal studies showed that the chemicals cause cancer. The National Institutes of Health's National Toxicology Program says that each of the eight synthetic flavorings has been found to induce cancer in humans or animals. The petition says the flavorings, which have been allowed for more than 40 years, should be prohibited immediately to prevent their continued use in food, according to Food Safety News.

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