Americans Speak Out Against Toxic Phthalates in Food

The FDA received an outpouring of comments from the public voicing concern about phthalates, harmful chemicals used in food packaging and processing equipment.

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No matter how healthy your diet, it’s nearly impossible to steer clear of toxic chemicals called phthalates. These hormone-disrupting chemicals are used in the plastic packaging covering meats and cheeses whose fats can promote leaching of the chemicals into the food. Phthalates are also in plastic tubing and equipment in food processing plants and in the plastic gloves worn by food workers. Recently, Earthjustice and our partners petitioned the FDA to get phthalates out of our food supply. We asked our supporters to write to the FDA, too, and received an overwhelming response.

The FDA received comments from nearly 200,000 people, all of whom strongly urged the agency to withdraw its approval for the 30 phthalates that are used as food additives. Phthalates have been linked to a host of harmful health impacts including severe genital birth defects in boys, lower IQs, impaired reproduction and cancer.

Many commenters were concerned about the effects phthalates have on children — and rightly so. Growing bodies are extremely vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Exposure to even small doses of chemicals during developmental phases can have lifelong effects on a child.

Many commenters mentioned their battles with cancer and other diseases, and their desire to spare others similar pain.

Other commenters were troubled by the lack of transparency around chemicals in our food system and reminded the FDA that the American people need this agency to put public health first.

The voice of the people, and of science, is clear on this point: Phthalates don’t belong in our food. But how will the FDA weigh the concerns of citizens, scientists and health professionals against the interests of the food and chemical industries? Outdated regulations and a lack of transparency in our food system often give industry the upper hand. But the FDA is duty-bound to protect public health, and Earthjustice, together with our supporters, will continue to remind the agency of that duty. It’s all part of our ongoing work to make the food system cleaner and healthier for everyone.

Fertile Grounds is a blog series that examines the challenges and opportunities in ensuring access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all. We talk about the entire lifecycle of food—from seed selection and planting to consumption and disposal—because there is potential for improvement throughout. We’re informed by the expertise of our many clients and allies and by Earthjustice’s years of work to ban harmful pesticides, encourage sustainable farming methods, reduce pollution, support farmworker justice and promote a healthy relationship between farmers and communities.

This blog was first published by the Huffington Post on October 3, 2016.

Based in New York, Peter Lehner (@p_lehner) directs Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food & Farming Program, developing litigation, administrative, and legislative strategies to promote a more just and environmentally sound agricultural system and to reduce health, environmental, and climate harms from production of our food.

Earthjustice’s Sustainable Food and Farming program aims to make our nation’s food system safer and more climate friendly.