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Subway to Remove Chemical Found in Shoe Soles and Yoga Mats From Its Bread

Food

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for the use of azodicarbonamide under certain conditions, but that doesn't mean it belongs in your food.

After all, it's a chemical that is used to make yoga mats and shoe soles.

That's likely why Subway announced that it would stop using the chemical to strengthen and condition the dough used for its famous six-inch and $5 footlong sandwiches.

A Subway restaurant in New York City.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

"We are already in the process of removing azodicarbonamide as part of our bread improvement efforts despite the fact that it is (a) USDA and FDA approved ingredient," Subway said in a statement, according to The Associated Press (AP). "The complete conversion to have this product out of the bread will be done soon."

A Subway representative told the AP that a change was underway before Vani Hari, known as the blogger behind FoodBabe.com, launched a petition that garnered nearly 80,000 signatures. Still, nobody has been able to discern when "soon" will be.

"We know this is just a corporate spin and how big companies operate," Hari wrote in a recent post. "They don’t want us to know how much power we have over their decisions ... There’s been dead silence on their end. Every single reporter I talked with yesterday and today (over 30) has tried to get the same answer from Subway headquarters and they aren’t responding."

According to an ingredient list that was last revised in January, azodicarbonamide is found in its nine-grain wheat, Italian (white), Italian herbs and cheese, parmesan/oregano, honey oat, roasted garlic, Monterey cheddar and sourdough breads. Subway does not use the chemical in the sandwiches the company sells in Europe or Australia—two continents where azodicarbonamide is banned.

McDonald's also uses the additive for the bun on its McRib sandwich. The company behind the golden arches says that the variation it uses "shouldn't be confused" with the variety used to form yoga mats. According to CNN, Starbucks and Arby's have also used azodicarbonamide.

When speaking to CNN, a representative from the American Bakers Association defended the use of the agent in bread.

"Past FDA sampling results have indicated appropriate low-level use in products. As a dough conditioner it has a volume/texture effect on the finished loaf," an unnamed representative told the network. "It is a functional ingredient that improves the quality of bread and any substitutes are likely not to work as well as [azodicarbonamide]."

A 1999 report published by the World Health Organization says the chemical can impact breathing and skin sensitivity after repeated exposure. Though the study is 15 years old, it appears to be the best resource available on the chemical. While the experts said the human impact needed further evaluation, the study issued a warning.

"The level of risk is uncertain; hence, exposure levels should be reduced as much as possible," the study reads.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD page for more related news on this topic.

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"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.