Monday, October 20, 2014


These days consumers are bombarded with so much information, some useful and others just trash that it is difficult to "pick the grains from the chaff". Even well informed food scientist are confused by such information explosion that they also become victims of misinformation and distortions. Every day one can come across reports, most of them of academic value and some even planted by vested interests in the name of science with no evidence that it is difficult to get a coherent picture on any aspects of food or related issues. Latest to emerge is an alarmist report from the United States of America which says sensationally that Ebola threat is nothing compared to the threat to public life from dangerous chemicals used by food industry. How serious is this allegation can be revealed only by the food safety experts who run the safety monitoring programs in that country. Here are some excerpts from the above mentioned report. 

Pizza boxes (and other kinds of food packaging) harbor what are called perfluorochemicals or PFCs. Manufacturers employ PFCs for several reasons, but the primary role of PFCs is to make products resistant to water and grease. Now do you see why it's in pizza boxes?  PFCs are dangerous though. How dangerous? Dangerous enough that even retailers like H&M won't sell clothing containing PFCs. As the Washington Post reported, PFCs have been linked to thyroid disfunction, slowed prenatal and postnatal brain development, and testicular degeneration.  So what the hell is it doing in food packaging?  In 2011, the FDA banned the substance due to its ill effects. However, food suppliers are still allowed to import pizza boxes containing the chemicals from overseas. The imported pizza boxes, as well as other kinds of food packaging, also contain perchlorate, a hazardous chemical pollutant with similar health defects as PFCs that's used in the sealing for food containers and as an antistatic agent.  So does this mean we have to stop eating pizza? No, not unless you want to anyway. What it does mean though is that we might want to be paying attention to two recent petitions filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). One asks the FDA to prohibit the use of perchlorate in food packaging. The other asks the FDA to amend its ruling on PFCs so that food companies can no longer use packaging containing PFCs period, regardless of where it's from. The NRDC petition protesting perchlorates cites studies noting the chemical is fairly ubiquitous in dry-food packing. The most alarming part is that perchlorate has made their way into baby formula packaging. The petition noted why that's harmful: "If the formula packaging used the perchlorate as an antistatic agent to allow the powder to flow more fully and freely from the container, then the infant would have much greater exposure to perchlorate. Also, infants and children consume more food per body weight than adults, adding to a higher exposure." The petition about PFCs is similar. It discusses the FDA oversight that allows companies to get away with using PFC-laden packaging. Then it states there are "significant gaps in our knowledge of the safety of long-chain perfluorocarboxylates" in regards to how it impacts our health. Like perchlorates, PFCs also had a detrimental effect on fetal and infant development. Studies in the petition found PFCs could be responsible for decreased fetal body weight, "skeletal variations," delayed hair growth, and other symptoms. The documents (all 70+ pages of each one) are embedded at the end in case you'd like to check them out.

There is no doubt that all chemicals are dangerous when consumed by people through processed foods but the extent of threat depends on factors such as their degree of toxicity, concentrations used and their long term effect on human body. Therefore whether it is perfluorochemicals or perchlorates their use in food packing or wrapping, must be certified to be safe at concentrations transferred to the consumers due to storage, distribution, vending or retailing. If the above report is true food safety authorities in the US seem to be more sympathetic to the industry than to the citizens by obfuscatory attitude. Regarding the sensationalism inherent in such reports, citizens will have to be wary about such alarming proclamations and learn how to wade through them to reach at the truth. How can any sensible person compare Ebola virus epidemic with Obesity in terms of potential for death? Of course both are dangerous but in different ways. While Ebola can kill millions if an epidemic arrives in a matter of few months, obesity is an affliction of choice for those who indulge in gluttony and consumption of junk foods. There must be a right perspective when such issues are brought to the public domain by investigative journalists.  


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