Cereal makers poised to ditch one of these two controversial preservatives

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March 13, 2015


Here at Food Identity Theft, we consider the approach of our third annual “Read Your Labels Day” as an opportunity to both update you on any developments concerning our 10 top additives to be avoided and if necessary, to change the order of importance we’re assigning them if we think it’s indicated.

In the latter regard, the changes we’re making this year include moving “trans fats,” which was ninth on our list, much closer to the top (and also renaming the category “partially hydrogenated oil”), and moving the preservatives BHA and BHT to ninth place because of some encouraging new signs in the marketplace.

Number 9: BHA and BHT (Butylated Hydroxyanisole and Butylated Hydroxytoulene)

Just as artificial colors are in the process of being phased out by about the country’s two biggest chocolate makers, Nestle’s and Hershey’s (as noted in our previous blog), one of the above named preservatives may also be on the verge of being dumped by two major cereal manufacturers, General Mills and Kellogg’s.

As we noted a year ago, both BHA and BHT, which are banned in Japan and most European countries, have been found to alter brain chemistry in mice exposed prenatally.  In fact, by adding these chemicals to its list of “eliminated” ingredients, the Feingold Diet almost doubled its success rate for treating kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)!

But, as in other instances, it wasn’t until a contemporary champion of consumer advocacy, “Food Babe” Vani Hari, got involved with a petition on the Internet that things started to click in regard to anything being done by the industry to find replacements. As she pointed out, the fact that European versions of some of the top-selling cereals made by these companies don’t contain BHT shows that it’s not an essential ingredient.

Not that whether General Mills or Kellogg’s will acknowledge that Hari deserves the credit or that “food safety” has anything to do with their reevaluation.  A General Mills media relations manager is quoted as saying the company was “well down the path of removing it from our cereals … not for safety reasons, but because we think consumers will embrace it,” while a spokesperson for Kellogg’s has maintained that the company has been in the process of “actively testing” natural alternatives to BHT “to ensure the same flavor and freshness,” adding, “we know some people are looking for options without BHT.”

Both BHA and BHT, which are actually made from coal tar or petroleum, have been the focus of behavioral and health concerns for decades, although the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow the use of these industrial anti-oxidants in food products (as well as medicines and cosmetics).

Over 30 years ago studies found that after pregnant mice were fed BHT and BHA, their offspring were born with altered brain chemistry. According to the researchers, “the affected mice weighed less, slept less and fought more than normal controls.” On top of that, BHA is considered a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization and listed as a carcinogen in California.

While there has been some controversy over how much BHT should be considered potentially carcinogenic, Hari wants to know why it’s “OK for Americans to eat this risky chemical for breakfast when these companies have already figured out a way to make and sell their cereals fine without it?”