Pediatricians, with blast at FDA, warn of food additive and packaging risks to kids

kiddocs-300x107Moms and dads who have tried to safeguard their kids’ health by emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet may need to take yet more steps to protect youngsters from harms associated with chemicals found in common foods and their packaging.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a formal, research-based caution to consumers about “colorings, flavorings, and chemicals deliberately added to food during processing (direct food additives) as well as substances in food contact materials, including adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other polymers, which may contaminate food as part of packaging or manufacturing equipment (indirect food additives).”

As the New York Times reported of the advisory from the group representing 67,000 doctors who care for kids:

Among the chemicals that raised particular concern [for pediatricians] are nitrates and nitrites, which are used as preservatives, primarily in meat products; phthalates, which are used to make plastic packaging; and bisphenols, used in the lining of metal cans for canned food products. Also, of concern … are perfluoroalkyl chemicals, or PFCs, used in grease-proof paper and packaging, and perchlorates, an antistatic agent used in plastic packaging.

The group said kids, because they’re smaller and developing, may suffer greater harm from food additives and packaging chemicals. These may be tied to cognitive problems and hyperactivity, as well obesity and long-term developmental disruptions, linked to how substances affect hormones in the body.

The pediatricians urged grown-ups to avoid foods packaged in plastic or metal cans, many of which rely for stability and durability on bisphenol A or BPA. Consumers also should be wary of putting plastic containers in dishwashers or microwave ovens, where heat may release harmful chemicals into foods. They may wish to use glass or stainless-steel containers for food storage and wax paper over plastic wraps. The New York Times also reported that consumer may wish to:

Check the recycling code on the bottom of products and avoid plastics with recycling codes 3, 6 and 7, which may contain phthalates, styrene and bisphenols, unless they are labeled ‘biobased’ or ‘greenware,’ indicating they’re made from corn and do not contain bisphenol.

In my practice, I see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, as well as the damage that can be inflicted on babies and children, especially by defective and dangerous products. Big Food and Big Chemical interests, of course, deny their products have any potential problems, and they chided the pediatricians’ for issuing their alert, in an abundance of caution.

The kid doctors, rightly, also dogged the federal Food and Drug Administration for failing to safeguard American youngsters and grown-ups with far too lax regulation and oversight of the nation’s foods, especially additives that research increasingly shows pose health risks.

The doctors’ published statement noted:

[T]here remain substantial gaps in data about potential health effects of food additives. A recent evaluation of 3,941 direct food additives revealed that 63.9 percent of these had no feeding data whatsoever (either a study of the lethal dose in 50 percent of animals or an oral toxicology study). Only 263 (6.7 percent) had reproductive toxicology data, and 2 had developmental toxicology data.

The pediatricians ripped the FDA for its excessive reliance on safety data submitted by Big Food, and the agency’s blindness to re-examining harms caused by products already on the market, particularly as chemicals become damaging as they build up in Americans’ bodies.

Yes, food oversight — as with regulation of pharmaceuticals — can be complex and daunting. But it bears repeating — and action — that the FDA is too cozy with Big Pharma, Big Food, and Big Chemicals at the expense of taxpaying Americans. This is unacceptable and needs big changes, including and especially for the protection of America’s young.

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