Food Flavoring Additive Causes Rare Disease in Plant Workers

May 1, 2007

Exposure to diacteyl, the butter flavoring used in some of the U.S.’s most popular foods, including microwaveable popcorn and some charddonnays, has been linked with a rare disease called bronchiolitis obliterans.

The disease affects the lungs, has no known cure but transplant, and has been found in 8 individuals who worked at food flavoring plants in California between 2004 and 2007. An epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Dr. Rachael Bailey, is reluctant to only pinpoint the blame solely on diacteyl.

“…there are literally thousands of chemicals that are used in making these flavorings and not all of them have been evaluated, so other chemicals may cause the disease as well.”

There are currently no regulations for the use of these chemicals in plants and factories, and unfortunately, also no regulations for the use of these chemicals IN OUR FOOD. Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine, is concerned.

“If the chemicals used in the flavoring industry are this potentially dangerous to the workers handling them, how good an idea can it be for the rest of us to be eating them? Personally, I think artificial flavors should neither be inhaled, nor ingested.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health does not have authority to issue regulations over these poisons, and can only recommend “that employers minimize occupational exposures to flavorings or flavoring ingredients…”

Regulations over the use of food flavoring chemicals in factories would benefit workers but would still leave consumers in danger. The employers have no motivation to change ingredients if they continue to bring profit.

If we choose not to buy these products, they will be forced to change; and we may be rewarded with a few extra years to thank ourselves.

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