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Monday, July 17, 2017

EDCs In The Mac n Cheese

It's pretty likely you've seen the New York Times article about phthalates in boxed mac and cheese products.

It's spurred numerous other headlines, and a few knee jerk reactions (more on that later). A consumer advocacy group called the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, commissioned testing of various brands and types of mac and cheese products. This group is led by a woman whose son suffered from a type of genital abnormality that can be caused by phthalates. She states, "my son was born with a birth defect called hypospadias with chordee – one of the most common among babies in the United States. At just eight months old, my son needed a three-and-a-half-hour surgery to dismantle and reconstruct his penis."

The group's choice to test mac and cheese products is based on research that dairy products are a significant source of phthalate exposure for infants and women of reproductive age. This review concludes:

"DEHP in some meats, fats and dairy products were found at high concentrations (≥300 μg/kg) in food monitoring surveys and significantly contributed to exposure in epidemiological studies. Similarly, assessment of daily dietary DEHP intake resulted in dairy as the highest contributor to exposure. Exposure estimates based on actual diets for infants exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s reference level while estimates based on high meat and dairy consumption resulted in exposure above this limit for adolescents. Some of the ADI’s developed by the CPSC for reproductive outcomes were also exceeded. We provide guidance on future research in this area to further understand food as an important phthalate source and to help identify methods to reduce dietary phthalate exposures."

Many studies have shown that phthalate contamination is common throughout the food supply, diet is considered a significant exposure pathway, and levels can be higher in certain foods than others. Additional research on phthalates suggests that it may bioaccumulate in some instances. In 2008 the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the EPA ought to be assessing phthalate toxicity using a cumulative risk assessment approach - because people are exposed to multiple phthalates. Some of these combinations have been shown to be more toxic combined than isolated exposures. These combinations can be as toxic as a high level at low levels, even.

We do have some restrictions in place due to the known risks of exposure to phthalates in the US and other countries in some consumer products. Wouldn't it be awfully prudent then, that we should take measures to remove this contamination from our food supply, as well? It seems that this is exactly what the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging is trying to do with their testing and petition

Of course, rather than look at this evidence and say 'hey, if we can prevent painful genital surgery for babies, maybe we should really take a closer look at this and see what we can do to cut exposures' the reaction from Social Skeptics is unfortunately, predictable. 

Jenny Splitter wants you to 'calm the fuck down'

Kevin Folta wants you to know you're a chemophobe who won't die from eating mac n cheese

When all else fails, invoke the spectre of the Food Babe. OoooooOOOOOoooooo!
I'm not going to break down every detail of these articles but the arguments I've seen have been pretty similar, and pretty flawed - this is an activist organization, the testing wasn't peer reviewed (even though it was done correctly) everything is a chemical, zomg chemophobez, Food Babe, 'dose makes the poison', etc. But anyone who has done even just some cursory reading and looked at the scientific literature isn't going to fall for the 'it's all fear mongering everything's fine' tropes. While I fully agree some of the headlines are alarmist, this still isn't an unfounded concern.

And it's amazing to me that anyone would think that the impetus for this campaign is some random hatred for Kraft, when it's much more likely that watching your eight month old baby boy endure painful genital surgery is the motivating factor here. Is it wrong to want to prevent this and other harmful effects for others? Even yet, this doesn't stop Folta from calling this group shills in his article: 'shouldn’t they be calling themselves shills of themselves?' And making a big blunder with the statement, 'According to the logic of the report, Kraft manufactures this popular product with the intention of causing birth defects. Certainly you can see why Kraft would want that, because it is M&C is an obvious choice for children stricken with reduced limbs and fused fingers.' GENITAL ABNORMALITIES KEVIN. If you don't know enough to even correctly name the health effects these chemicals are being linked to - please sit down and shut up. Also, no one has accused manufacturers of purposely adding phthalates to food. So many of these ridiculous arguments are crafted from straw.

The response from the SSkeptics has not been surprising to me, or probably a lot of you reading but it is once again illustrative of how they stand in the way of moving forward with science and applying it in ways that can help people who are suffering. And so often take the position that benefits industry over one that benefits the public.

I for one am not panicking over the boxes of Annies in my pantry, but I did sign this petition several days ago when I first saw it. This isn't a mac and cheese issue, this is a food production issue, one of public health, and making sure that we eliminate these cumulative dietary exposures that may be putting people at risk of harm. That feels quite reasonable and science based to me.

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