Pediatrians raise alarm about dangerous chemicals in children's food

More than 10, 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and packaging, many without FDA approval

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued an urgent warning about emerging child health concerns related to food additives and packaging.

The academy warns that colorings, flavorings, and chemicals added to food during processing, as well as packaging materials like adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other polymers, may be harmful to health — especially to growing children.

Concern about food additives has increased over the past two decades, as studies document endocrine disruption and other adverse health effects. In some cases, exposure to these chemicals is disproportionate among minority and low-income populations.

There are critical weaknesses in the current regulatory system for food additives, the academy says. Current requirements for a “generally recognized as safe” designation are insufficient, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have the authority to acquire data on chemicals on the market or reassess their safety for human health.

Today, more than 10, 000 chemicals are allowed to be added to food and food contact materials in the United States, either directly or indirectly. Many of these were grandfathered in by the federal government before 1958, and an estimated 1,000 chemicals are used under a “generally recognized as safe” designation without FDA approval. Yet, accumulating evidence shows that chemicals in food and packaging materials may contribute to disease and disability. Children may be particularly susceptible to the effects of these compounds, since they have higher relative exposures compared with adults.

Other contaminants inadvertently enter the food and water supply, such as aflatoxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, metals including mercury, and pesticide residues, such as DDT, and vomitoxin.

Endocrine system disruption is of great concern, especially in early life, when developing organs may sustain permanent damage.

Some phthalates, often used in adhesives, lubricants, and plasticizers, can affect fetal reproductive development. Perfluoroalkyl chemicals, used in grease-proof paper and packaging, have been linked to reduced immune response to vaccines. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used as flame retardant, may be contributing to the increase in neonatal hypothyroidism. Artificial food colors may be associated with exacerbated attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Nitrates and nitrites can interfere with thyroid hormone production and, under certain conditions, may cause cancer.

How to avoid additivesIt is difficult to know how to reduce exposures to many of these chemicals, but here are some recommendations:

Prioritize consumption of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible, and support that effort by developing a list of low-cost sources for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Avoid processed meats, especially during pregnancy.

Avoid microwaving food or beverages (including infant formula and pumped human milk) in plastic, if possible.

Avoid placing plastics in the dishwasher.

Use alternatives to plastic, such as glass or stainless steel, when possible.

Look at the recycling code on the bottom of products to find the plastic type, and avoid plastics with recycling codes 3 (phthalates), 6 (styrene), and 7 (bisphenols). Plastics are labeled as “biobased” or “greenware” indicate they are made from corn and do not contain bisphenols.

Wash your hands before handling foods and/or drinks, and wash all fruits and vegetables that cannot be peeled.

Source: The American Academy of Pediatrics:

Chemicals of increasing concern

Chemicals of increasing concern include the following:
Bisphenols, used in the lining of metal cans to prevent corrosion
Phthalates, which are esters of diphthalic acid that are often used in adhesives, lubricants, and plasticizers during manufacturing
Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs), used in grease-proof paper and packaging
Perchlorate, an antistatic agent used for plastic packaging in contact with dry foods with surfaces that do not contain free fat or oil and also present as a degradation product of bleach used to clean food manufacturing equipment
Additional compounds of concern discussed in the accompanying technical report include artificial food colors, nitrates, and nitrites

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