The controversial “yoga mat” chemical that Vani Hari, creator of FoodBabe.com, campaigned to remove from Subway sandwich bread has turned up in nearly 500 items and more than 130 brands of bread, stuffing, pre-made sandwiches and snacks, according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.
According to ingredient data obtained for a new food database project that is due out later this year, EWG researchers found azodicarbonamide, an industrial “chemical foaming agent,” on the labels of many well-known brands, including Pillsbury, Sara Lee, Shoprite, Safeway, Smucker’s, Fleischman’s, Jimmy Dean, Kroger, Little Debbie, Tyson, Nature’s Own and Wonder.
“It’s unacceptable that major food companies are using an unnecessary and potentially harmful chemical in their products, when it’s clear they can make food without it,” said Hari. “These questionable additives are not supposed to be food or even eaten for that matter, but they do end up in the U.S. food supply and are consumed by millions of people, including children, every day.”
The information detailed in the EWG analysis is based on data from FoodEssentials, a company that compiles the ingredients and claims made on foods sold in American supermarkets. It was gathered before Feb. 11 and represents a snapshot of the foods recently on the market.
ADA is a synthetic substance used by plastics makers to generate tiny bubbles that make materials light, spongy and strong. These materials show up in flip-flops, yoga mats and many types of foam packing and insulation. In 1956, a New Jersey pharmaceutical and engineering firm discovered that ADA could be used as a “dough conditioner” to make bread that would rise higher, stay soft and resilient and form an attractive crust. The federal Food and Drug Administration approved its use as a food additive six years later.
The World Health Organization has linked ADA to increased risk of respiratory problems and skin irritation in workers handling large volumes of the chemical. The additive has not undergone extensive testing to determine its health effects on humans.
“ADA is just one example of an American food supply awash in chemical additives that can be mixed into foods with little oversight or safety review,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., EWG senior scientist and co-author for the analysis. “Americans have regularly eaten this chemical along with hundreds of other questionable food additives for years. That is why we are putting together an online database that will enable consumers to make more informed decisions about the foods they eat and feed to their family.”
The FDA allows ADA in U.S. food in concentrations up to 45 parts per million. It is not approved for use as a food additive in either the European Union or Australia.
EWG is calling on food manufacturers to immediately end its use of ADA in food. The organization will launch an online campaign to raise public awareness of the widespread use of this chemical in food and to urge companies that have been using it to drop it from their ingredients immediately.
Earlier this month, Hari spearheaded an online petition that collected more than 92,000 signatures urging Subway to remove ADA from its sandwich bread. Soon after, Subway announced that the restaurant chain had already started phasing out the ingredient and that its removal from Subway bread “will be completed in the coming weeks.”
“As my campaign has shown, social media and grassroots advocacy can shake up the food industry and produce real change on behalf of consumers,” Hari said. “I will continue to work with EWG and others to keep the pressure on to get these industrial chemicals out of our food.”
In the meantime, EWG recommends shoppers consult the list of products made available today and read labels to find out if ADA or other chemical additives are in their food and to take steps to reduce exposure to them.