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FDA Refuses to Ban Toxic Chemical Used in Baby Food Packaging

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By Tom Neltner

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a petition Thursday to ban perchlorate from our food, a chemical known to impair brain development in infants.


While best known as a rocket fuel component, perchlorate is approved for use in packaging for dry food such as baby rice cereal, flour and spices. Unfortunately, it also winds up in the food we eat.

Since the FDA approved the use in 2005, the amount of perchlorate that infants and toddlers ingest has increased significantly and more types of food have become contaminated. The use may have contributed to today's high levels of perchlorate in infant rice cereal—often the first solid food infants eat.

A group of health and environmental organizations petitioned the FDA to ban the chemical as a food additive, pointing to the fact that it impairs infant brain development. This concern doesn't end with infants and toddlers: A pregnant woman's fetus is also at risk if the mother eats food tainted with perchlorate—especially in the first trimester—if she is among the 20 percent of women who do not get enough iodine.

The agency's decision Thursday, clearly, puts our kids needlessly at risk and should be reversed.

Consumers Can't Avoid Perchlorate

As the case with perchlorate shows, there is much more to our food than what is listed as ingredients on the label. Chemicals are also used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process and store our food and some of these additives are bad for our health.

Perchlorate is used by food companies to reduce static in dry food packaging, but today, scientists know that perchlorate threatens fetal and infant brain development even at lower levels than previously understood.

The packaging can be used for final products or raw materials such as rice, flour and dyes, before or during processing.

Flawed assumptions paved way for use

Documents obtained from the FDA show that the agency's original approval for using perchlorate in food packaging was based on a flawed and outdated assumption that it would not migrate into food at significant levels.

Tests provided by the chemical's manufacturer late in 2015 showed that perchlorate did in fact migrate into food. The agency discounted the migration as "insignificant" and used flawed assumptions that were inconsistent with the law.

That makes the FDA's denial so much more troubling.

Parents already have a lot to deal with trying to get their kids healthy food. The FDA should be removing this unnecessary use that contaminates food, not increasing the threats to kids' health.

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