Posted On May 22, 2008
ANTIOXIDANTS retard the oxidation of unsaturated fats and oils, colorings, and flavorings. Oxidation leads to rancidity, flavor changes, and loss of color. Most of those effects are caused by reaction of oxygen in the air with fats.
CARCINOGEN is a chemical or other agent that causes cancer in animals or humans.
CHELATING AGENTS trap trace amounts of metal atoms that would otherwise cause food to discolor or go rancid.
EMULSIFIERS keep oil and water mixed together.
FLAVOR ENHANCERS have little or no flavor of their own, but accentuate the natural flavor of foods. They are often used when very little of a natural ingredient is present.
THICKENING AGENTS are natural or chemically modified carbohydrates that absorb some of the water that is present in food, thereby making the food thicker. Thickening agents “stabilize” factory-made foods by keeping the complex mixtures of oils, water, acids, and solids well mixed.
Chemicals usually are tested for an ability to cause cancer by feeding large dosages to small numbers of rats and mice. Large dosages are used to compensate for the small number of animals that can be used (a few hundred is considered a big study, though it is tiny compared to the U.S. population of more than 300 million). Also, the large dosages can compensate for the possibility that rodents may be less sensitive than people to a particular chemical (as happened with thalidomide). Some people claim that such tests are improper and that large amounts of any chemical would cause cancer. That is not true. Huge amounts of most chemicals do not cause cancer. When a large dosage causes cancer, most scientists believe that a smaller amount would also cause cancer, but less frequently.
It would be nice if lower, more realistic dosages could be used, but a test using low dosages and a small number of animals would be extraordinarily insensitive. It would also be nice if test-tube tests not using any animals were developed that could cheaply and accurately identify cancer-causing chemicals. While some progress has been made in that direction, those tests have not proven reliable. Thus, the standard high-dosage cancer test on small numbers of animals is currently the only practical, reasonably reliable way to identify food additives (and other chemicals) that might cause cancer.
The Delaney Clause is an important part of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. That important consumer-protection clause specifically bans any additive that “is found to induce cancer when ingested by man or animal.” The food and chemical industries are seeking to weaken or repeal that law.
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