The October 5 announcement from the U.S. Food And Drug Administration carries a yawn-inducing title: “FDA Removes 7 Synthetic Flavoring Substances from Food Additives List.” It sounds like a regulatory move aimed at food-makers, and it is. But it’s one that has a slightly alarming backstory: The FDA is effectively banning these artificial substances because they have been shown to cause cancer in animals.
Under a provision of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act known as the Delaney Clause, the FDA cannot approve ingredients for use in food that have been found “to induce cancer in humans or animals at any dose.” Six of the substances “delisted” (effectively, banned) by the FDA have been found to cause cancer in animals exposed to very high doses. The seventh ingredient was delisted because it is no longer used at all by the food industry, the FDA says.
The six other artificial flavorings—benzophenone, ethyl acrylate, eugenyl methyl ether, myrcene, pulegone, and pyridine—are now no longer permitted for use in food, even though the FDA states that previous testing found “they do not pose a risk to public health under the conditions of their intended use.” Eager to not incite any kind of a panic, the FDA is stating the animals that developed cancer did so after exposure to very high levels of these flavorings—much higher doses than any human would likely ingest: “The FDA is only revoking the listing of these six synthetic flavorings as a matter of law. The FDA has concluded that these substances are otherwise safe.”
Still, the delisting is a victory for the groups who brought about the initial petitions, which include the Breast Cancer Fund, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and others. If you’re concerned that some foods in your pantry might contain the six now-banned ingredients, good luck finding those. NPR reports consumers won’t be able to tell which foods contain them because the additives are permitted to be labeled simply “artificial flavors” on nutrition labels.
This latest FDA mandate comes on the heels of two other moves away from non-natural ingredients: In January, Dunkin’ announced it would phase out artificially derived coloring in its products by the end of the year, and last month, McDonald’s pledged that it would remove all artificial colorings and preservatives from its classic burgers (minus those pesky pickles). Taken together, these individual developments suggest the movement away from artificial colorings, preservatives, and flavorings is gaining serious traction.