Pop culture has given a new meaning to the word “toxic” and Britney Spears’ 2004 hit written by Bloodshy & Avant, Cathy Dennis, and Henrik Jonback has not dampened the use of its colloquial meaning. Toxic means poison but, today, it is commonly used to describe work-related hyperactivity. Toxic is also the word used to describe any substance that alters behavior, whether fatal or not.
On April 10, EUbusiness.com released a report about 42 organizations that sought a ban on six food colorings based on findings that they were strongly suspected of altering the behavior of children. Other news Web sites that carried the story specifically mentioned ADHD or Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a neuro-behavioral developmental disorder.
The food colors sought to be banned are E102 Tartrazine, E104 Quinoline Yellow, E110 Sunset Yellow, E122 Carmoisine, E124 Ponceau 4R and E129 Allura Red.
Referred to as cosmetic food ingredients from which no health benefits can be derived, the call came after the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) published the “Southampton Study”. A snippet from the joint statement of the organizations:
The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) recently published opinion on the UK Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) “Southampton Study” acknowledged that mixtures including the six colorings and one preservative in question had an effect on children’s behavior, yet recommended no reduction in the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI). In doing so, the EFSA gave greater weight to the need to prove a substance â€˜harmful beyond any doubt’ before removing it, than to the need to prove it harmless in order to allow its use. We find the EFSA conclusion, that the Southampton Study gives no grounds for a reduction of the ADI for these ingredients, deeply disconcerting.
Days after I posted a Web log entry about the controversy, a reader posted a comment with links to pages of the US Food and Drug Administration which lists food products from various countries that have been “detained without physical examination” in the United States because they contained illegal and/or undeclared food colors. The list was first drawn up in May 20, 1996 and last revised on April 16, 2008.
Before anyone makes any knee-jerk reactions, there are two pertinent pages. One is an “import alert [that] contains guidance to FDA personnel only” while the other lists “Refusal Actions by FDA as Recorded in OASIS”. OASIS, or Operational Administrative System for Import Support, is “an automated FDA system for processing and making admissibility determinations for shipments of foreign-origin FDA-regulated products seeking to enter domestic commerce.”
It’s a long list with dozens of products originating from the Philippines. Some of the manufacturers I have never heard of but others are big-time food companies. All food products are not only exported, they are also sold locally. The ones that caught my eye are those we consume at home although not on any regular basis–red and green palm fruit (kaong) and coconut gel (nata de coco), hopia ube, chocolate mallows, banana kechup, colored tapioca balls (sago), mango pudding and soy curd, among others. Note that the products were disallowed entry NOT on a generic level. The detention pertains to the products of specified manufacturers ONLY. The links to the USFDA pages that contain the names of those companies are provided at the end of the column so you can read for yourself. The list is very long and columns can only occupy so much space on the page of a newspaper. I do heed my editor’s reminder to keep a column concise for larger and more readable print although other columnists don’t seem to.
Now I do not take anything that the FDA does or says as Gospel truth. I will forever be suspicious of the agency because of the manner in which it approved the local sale and export of genetically modified corn. Still, I note that, in true American fashion of protecting its interests beyond and despite all others–the USFDA will likely ban the entry of food products from other countries that are tainted with any irregularity, no matter how arbitrary, following the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
But there is another compelling reason why I took a long hard look at the USFDA list. One of the food colors that recurred in the “detention” list is tartrazine. If you note the list of the food colors sought to be banned in the EU, a specific kind of tartrazine is included. I am not a chemist but that’s enough to alert me.
As I have mentioned before, the food products in the USFDA’s “detention” list are sold locally. You will find them in supermarkets and sari-sari stores. In short, no alerts have been raised by our own government. Whether that’s because our own government’s findings conclude that these products are safe for consumers, or whether that means no investigations whatsoever had been conducted, is anyone’s guess.
Personally, I feel that we consumers have a right to demand utmost protection from our government. Is that wishful thinking? You tell me.