Six artificial flavors to be banned from mystery list of foods
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 our food, how much the public knows about it, and a mysterious class of ingredients that has evolved over decades largely 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 also are 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 believes the ingredients are safe in the trace amounts they are used.
The 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 even 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.
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.