Food Additives: Pros, Cons, and Some Ideas For The Future America and indeed much of the world lives off of foodstuffs to which substances have been added to achieve some desired effect. In many ways it is the by-product of industrialization, rapidly expanding populations, technological advances, and changing consumer demand and expectations. It is now an undisputed fact that the foods which we eat on a daily basis are largely processed.
By processed, in our contemporary day and age we refer not only to simple changes applied to the food with commonly found natural substances as in the pre-industrial era, but to more complexly engineered changes developed from the designs of food scientists in far-off labs. On the whole, there is a very significant amount of processing done to our food between the points at which it is taken from nature as an ingredient, to the point that it reaches our mouths at the table. There are literally thousands of various additives which have been discovered and developed to alter our food. Wikipedia, “Food additives). How then is it that we take this processing for granted? Why do we ignore such great alterations to the very stuff which we rely on for nourishment and survival? It is largely because of the fact that much of the alterations made to our food are invisible to us as well as the fact that most Americans have been born into a world in which food processing and production on a mass level has been commonplace in our social environment. The relationship between human beings and food is a primordial one.
The question now is whether we have gone too far with chemical additives and whether we should begin to scale back or even cease to pursue the use of such additives any more in our processed foods. This paper will examine the pros and cons of food additives, in order to come to a conclusion about whether the costs of additives outweigh the benefits, and how society should approach their use in the future. Briefly looking at history of chemical additives in processed food, it is clear that the original purpose for adding agents to the food was for preservation purposes.
In the introduction to the book, Antimicrobial Food Additives: Characteristics, Uses, and Effects, author/editor Erich Luck traces the history of additive agents in food in order to contextualize the discussions and descriptions of additives which follow in the text. Accompanying a table which lists the dates at which certain preservatives were discovered or invented, the author provides a brief but helpful summary of how preservatives came to become part of human food culture over the course of history: “Initially the preservation technique[s] involve [sic] drying and salting . . in time the list of preservatives used grew to include alcohol, smoke, sulfur dioxide and a number of organic acids, such as acetic and lactic acid . . . food preservation changed with the commencement of industrialization (6). Understandably, as the author of a text which catalogues and explains the identities and uses of preservatives, Luck takes care to emphasize the fact that the use and proliferation of these additives was driven by necessity. He writes, “The need for food preservation increased rapidly, and people became more fastidious.
No longer were they satisfied with the preservatives mentioned above, since these produced a radical alteration in the structure and properties of the foods they preserved” (6). In the same passage he takes care to also mention the fact that the formulation and addition of preservatives is no haphazard matter to food chemists, saying that “advances made in chemistry were [eventually] utilized in preservation techniques [and] thought began to be given to the principles underlying the preservatives. . . ” (6).
People have always had the need to keep their food over longer and longer periods of time, and through discovery and ingenuity were able to do so through the use of outside agents. However, with the march of time, more and more insights into the chemistry of food and food additives became known and a whole host of food additives came into being, and with them an increased ability to affect food. The industrialization and population growth in America during the 19th century and early 20th century also saw the increase in availability of processed foods.
Since that era, a number of different kinds of chemicals and additives have been used those processed foods. Around this time, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a government administration created to ensure the health and safety of population of the U. S. was created. As its name states, matters relating to food and drugs, especially their regulation fell under their care. The great amounts of additives which have come into use have thus regulated by the FDA after being studied and legislated upon. US Food and Drug Administration, “History of the FDA”). Any additives which are introduced into food for consumption in the United States are kept track of and catalogued by the FDA as well. According to the agency, there are five main reasons for additives being introduced into food: 1. ) To maintain product consistency, 2. ) to improve or maintain nutritional value, 3. ) to improve palatability and wholesomeness 4. ) to provide leavening or maintain acidity/alkalinity, and 5. ) to enhance flavor or impart color.
A comprehensive list of all of the particular agents which achieve these effects is kept by the FDA and published on their website as the so-called EAFUS List, with the acronym standing for “Everything Added to Food in the United States”. (U. S. Food And Drug Administration, “Food Additives” and “EAFUS List” ). Figure 1 below shows the large number different types of food additives that are known to scientists today and used in the processing and preparation of food before it reaches the consumer. [pic] Source: FDA – CFSAN/Office of Food Additive Safety) As can be seen in the chart, there quite a few effects which additives produce that that may not be familiar the casual reader. Many of these are commonly seen on food packaging by the average consumer, but most people are ignorant as to what these agents and their effects are. For example, anticaking agents have the effect of keeping powders such as milk powder from “caking” or sticking together. Similarly, antifoaming agents prevent foaming from occurring in foods.
Antioxidants, a popular term in health food marketing these days for their beneficial health effect, are perhaps misunderstood. These are not merely enriching vitamins; rather, antioxidants act as preservatives when used as an additive. They do this by inhibiting the effects of oxygen on food. Emulsifiers are another seemingly foreign class, allow water and oils to remain mixed together in what is called an ‘emulsion’ – a semi-solid, semi liquid state. Stabilizers are used to help foods maintain a firm texture and prevent them from being too easily manipulated physically.
Other additives are more intuitively explained, as in the case of thickeners, flavorings, sweeteners, and chemical preservatives, which do exactly as their names suggest. (Wikipedia, “Food additive”). The publication Food Production Daily is a key publication for those who are interested in the state of food production in our day and age. Being an impartial service that “seeks out news stories and data of value to decision-makers in food and beverage development in Europe”, it publishes both positive and negative news about food production around the world from industry sources and journalistic sources.
Since the U. S. is a major trading partner with Europe and has very similar health guidelines (with Europe having the Codex Alimentarius Commission comparable with our FDA), there are a great number of articles and pieces of information relevant to the use of additives in American processed food, showing both the benefits and harmful effects of such additives. Thus this paper refers to a number of articles from Food Production Daily to make its points.
The upside to the great variety of food additives that are available now is that through chemistry and an understanding of specific foods and how they are affected by spoilage, a wide spectrum of foodstuffs can now be optimally preserved over time and made safer from the threat of spoilage and microbes. The need for this has also been increased by the mass consumption made possible by industrialization – that is, because more food can be consumed by more people, there is a greater risk that large numbers of people can be harmed by contaminated food.
This was seen recently here in the US in the cases of the contaminated peanuts and pistachio nuts. (Food Production Daily,”US-wide pistachio recall”). In this respect, additives in the form of preservatives and antimicrobial agents are welcome, even necessary. The value of longevity in the shelf-life of foods combined with the need for public health and safety make it clear that additives to food cannot and should not simply be done away with without serious thought and planning. The market seems to recognize this and recent numbers have shown it. According to Food Production Daily, “Concerns about food-borne pathogens such as E. oli and Salmonella will contribute to sales of more than $1. 2bn/year for disinfectant and antimicrobial chemicals in the US by 2013, according to the latest report from the international business market research organization Freedonia. . . Particular emphasis was placed on the disinfectant markets for processing food and beverages. . . ” (“Food concerns boost disinfectant sales”). In addition to this health concern, consumers have also grown comfortable and accustomed to having processed food loaded with preservatives and other additives, much of which have been proven to be afe. Some would argue that this contributes to the quality of life of the consumer, who reasonably expects to find all sorts of foods to be available at his or her local supermarket. It is largely additives which make this economically and physically possible, as can be seen in the article “Meat stabilizers designed to help cut production costs”. The article reports that a Danish company, “Danisco[,] has developed a new series of ingredients for processed meat products that it claims can help improve yield and cut costs in production whilst maintaining quality.
The Denmark based company said its Grindsted Meatline Stabiliser Systems give cooked, emulsified, ground and restructured meats a ‘satisfying flavour and texture and good slice-ability’” (Food Production Daily). These are qualities that, if unexamined, seem to lead to a win-win situation between producer and consumer However, there are also many cons to the use of chemical additives, primarily that they can be severely detrimental to the health of those who consume them. Many cases of such harmful additives have been catalogued in the media over the years.
For example, the food coloring methyl yellow is known to be a carcinogen and a mutagen and has been banned, but it still somehow can find its way into food production, as a recent ban on curry spices because of methyl yellow in Europe has shown. (Food Production Daily, Illegal yellow prompts spate of spice recalls”). Similarly, Time Magazine has reported that recent studies have shown that hyperactivity in children is likely caused by artificial preservatives and food dyes that make kids’ foods and beverages appealing and plentiful.
What is notable is that the harmful effects from those augmentations to food that is not directly related to its preservation on a basic level. These are additives which are, in a way, economically driven. That is to say, they are chemicals and compounds which have been developed to make the experience of eating food more pleasurable or different in a way that does not necessarily have safety and nutrition in mind. And, when preservation is the goal, it is to ensure a shelf life that is economically useful.
From an evolutionary perspective, the biological basis behind food looking or tasting good was to encourage ourselves as organisms to eat the food. However, as advanced creatures we are intellectually beyond the point at which we need that adaptation to survive. Rather, now we have mastered the adaptation and manipulate it in order to derive satisfaction of it in various ways. Companies have exploited this through chemistry, changing colors, enhancing smells and flavors, all to create a product which satisfies the senses more than the competitors’ products, thus making more profits. (Time Magazine, “Hyper Kids?. ”) Here we see the idea of health and nutrition set aside for economics, and herein lies the problem. Because of this, the additives which have been developed have been so without regard to the health of the consumers; the only thing that matters is to make the food better and more pleasing as a product. The result has given rise to a number of chemical additives which have caused negative health effects on the end users. From an overview of the pros and cons of the state of food additives in our day and age it is clear that we need many of them to sustain the large variety of processed foods available.
But we surely do not need as much variety and artificial embellishment of our food as is clearly available. We need to ask ourselves, if we really want all this variety. Since many of these preservatives are harmful or have unknown health effects in the long run, maybe we should ask ourselves if as a society and as individual consumers would not mind making a sacrifice for our own health and the health of others. The answer lies in being intelligent consumers and finding ways of putting pressure on companies.
Variety makes them money and if we continue to buy the products loaded with additives things will not change and the risk will not decrease. Consumers must demand that companies minimize their use of chemical additives and look for natural ways of preserving food. Additionally, we as consumers should stop expecting that food always should look shiny and pristine; we ought to know that health is more valuable that having a nicely stabilized yet potentially harmful piece of meat. There is a balance that can be struck, but it is key that it is consumer demand that will fuel it, not a change of mind of those using the additives.
Works Cited Joel Furhman. MD. Disease Proof: Eat Smart Live Happy (blog). “Hyperactivity: The Food Additives Argument”. http://www. diseaseproof. com/archives/adhd-hyperactivity-the-food-additives-argument. html Food Production Daily. “Illegal yellow prompts spate of spice recalls” http://www. foodproductiondaily. com/Quality-Safety/Illegal-yellow-prompts-spat e-of-spice-recalls Food Production Daily, “Meat stabilizers designed to cut production costs” http://www. foodnavigator. com/Financial-Industry/Meat-stabilisers-designed-to-help-cut-production-costs Food Production Daily. Meeting the demand for preservative, additive free foods”. http://www. foodproductiondaily. com/Processing/Meeting-the-demand-for-preservative-additive-free-foods Food Production Daily. “Food concerns boost disinfectant sales” http://www. foodproductiondaily. com/Quality-Safety/Food-concerns-boost-disinfectant sales Food Production Daily “US-wide pistachio recall shows how FDA should work, claim officials” http://www. foodproductiondaily. com/Publications/Food-Beverage-Nutrition/FoodNavigator-USA. com/Financial-Industry/US-wide-pistachio-recall-shows-how-FDA-should-work-claim-officials? ocount The New York Times. Health Guide. “Food Additives” http://health. nytimes. com/health/guides/nutrition/food-additives/overview. html? inline=nyt-classifier U. S. Food and Drug Administration “A History of the FDA” http://www. fda. gov/oc/history/historyoffda/section1. html U. S. Food and Drug Administration CFSAN. “Listing of Food Additive Status”. http://www. cfsan. fda. gov/~dms/opa-appa. html U. S. Food and Drug Administration IFIC Brochure. “Food Additives”. http://www. foodsafety. gov/~lrd/foodaddi. html The Daily Express. “Food Trade’s Juicy Secrets”. http://www. foodsafety. ov/~lrd/foodaddi. html Luck, Yager, & Laichena. Antimicrobial Food Additives: Characteristics, Uses, and Effects. http://books. google. com/books? hl=en&lr=&id=eydHuVtm-p8C&oi=fnd&pg=PA3&dq=food+additives&ots=mqjcDN7FpL&sig=CQeabYsUSPMKuQEszRNayKkt9Co#PPP1,M1 The New York Times. “Yes, MSG, the Secret Behind the Savor”. March 8, 2008. http://www. nytimes. com/2008/03/05/dining/05glute. html? pagewanted=2&_r=1&sq=msg&st=nyt&scp=1 The New York Times. “Some Food Additives Raise Hyperactivity, Study Finds”. http://www. nytimes. com/2007/09/06/health/research/06hyper. html? _r=2&oref=