No ac­count­ing for tastes: Ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors a mys­tery

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - News - By Candice Choi As­so­ci­ated Press

NEW YORK — Six ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors are be­ing or­dered out of the food sup­ply in a dis­pute over their safety, but good luck to any­one who wants to know which cook­ies, can­dies or drinks they’re in.

The dis­pute highlights the com­plex rules that gov­ern what goes in food, how much the pub­lic knows about it, and a mys­te­ri­ous class of in­gre­di­ents that has evolved over decades out­side of pub­lic view.

On food pack­ages, hun­dreds of in­gre­di­ents are listed sim­ply as nat­u­ral fla­vor or ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vor. Even in minute amounts, they help make potato chips taste oniony or give fruit candy that twang.

“The food sys­tem we have is unimag­in­able with­out fla­vor ad­di­tives,” said Na­dia Beren­stein, a his­to­rian of fla­vor sci­ence based in New York.

The fla­vors are also at the cen­ter of a dis­pute over how in­gre­di­ents should be reg­u­lated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion is giv­ing com­pa­nies two years to purge their prod­ucts of six ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors — even though the FDA made clear it thinks the in­gre­di­ents are safe in the trace amounts they are used.

The six ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors in ques­tion, with names like methyl eugenol, ben­zophe­none, ethyl acry­late and pyri­dine, are used to cre­ate cin­na­mon or spicy notes, fruity or minty fla­vors, or hints of bal­samic vine­gar.

The FDA and the Fla­vor and Ex­tract Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, an in­dus­try group, did not re­spond when asked for ex­am­ples of prod­ucts the six in­gre­di­ents are used in.

But they noted in state­ments that the com­pounds have nat­u­ral coun­ter­parts in foods like basil, cof­fee, grapes and pep­per­mint, and that the ac­tion does not af­fect the nat­u­rally de­rived ver­sions.

The FDA said it had to or­der the ar­ti­fi­cial ver­sions out of the food sup­ply be­cause of a law­suit brought by con­sumer ad­vo­cacy groups that cited a 60-year-old reg­u­la­tion known as the De­laney clause. The rule pro­hibits ad­di­tives shown to have caused can­cer in an­i­mals, even if tested at doses far higher than what a per­son would con­sume.

In a state­ment, the fla­vor in­dus­try group said the De­laney Clause doesn’t al­low reg­u­la­tors to as­sess an in­gre­di­ent’s risk based on mod­ern sci­en­tific un­der­stand­ing, but that chang­ing it would re­quire an act of Congress. As far back as 1981, the Govern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice is­sued a re­port say­ing the clause should be re-ex­am­ined be­cause of its in­flex­i­bil­ity.

Christo­pher Kemp, a pro­fes­sor of can­cer bi­ol­ogy at the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter, doesn’t think the rule is nec­es­sar­ily too strict a thresh­old. He said an­i­mal stud­ies pro­vide the strong­est ev­i­dence about can­cer risk in hu­mans, and that it is bet­ter to err on the side of cau­tion.

In a sep­a­rate but re­lated law­suit, the FDA is also fac­ing a chal­lenge over its over­sight of the uni­verse of in­gre­di­ents com­pa­nies can put into foods, in­clud­ing ar­ti­fi­cial fla­vors.

New fla­vors, sweet­en­ers and other in­gre­di­ents can go through an FDA pe­ti­tion process to be ap­proved as food ad­di­tives.

But an­other op­tion lets man­u­fac­tur­ers deem their own in­gre­di­ents to be “gen­er­ally rec­og­nized as safe,” or GRAS.

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