In early February, Subway agreed to stop using a potentially carcinogenic chemical called azodicarbonamide in its bread. The chemical is used in various other fast food chains, including McDonalds, along with being found in items in grocery stores. On Monday, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer has encouraged the Food and Drug Administration to ban the chemical entirely across the nation.
Last updated in August 2013, azodicarbonamide, used to create yoga mats and shoe rubber, is listed by the FDA as an additive that is toxic according to their PAFA (Priority-based Assessment of Food Additives). However, the group notes they have not yet been reported of its usage in foods across the States, despite their knowledge that it is being used. Azodicarbonamide is one of 3,000 additives in the FDA’s database known as EAFUS (Everything Added to Food in the United States). In 2009, it was reported that 700 of these chemicals had not gone through a toxicology test.
Used in breads to strengthen the dough and to bleach the flour, the FDA allows the usage of the chemical as long as food chains minimize it to half an ounce for every 100 pounds. Fast food chains known to use the chemical include McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Burger King.
Elsewhere, in many countries around the world, the carcinogenic chemical is frowned upon. It has already been banned in foods in the United Kingdom and most European countries, along with Australia. Singapore considers azodicarbonamide so dangerous that if used there is a prison sentence of up to 15 years, along with a fine of $450,000.
According to Subway, it began eliminating the potentially carcinogenic chemical from its bread last year and have developed a new and improved formula. Performance and consumer tests were done, and upon government approval, the conversion should be complete within the next few weeks.
The Subway ban is just the beginning. Despite McDonalds and other fast food chains, along with various chains of grocery stores using azodicarbonamide, the FDA still lists it as not being reported. Furthermore, the fact it is banned in other countries does not seem to raise concerns in them. The ban Schumer is pushing for would be under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act’s Delany Clause, which disallows the usage of additives, pesticides or any other carcinogenic chemicals found in processed foods.
According to a report in 1999 by the International Labor Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Health Organization, azodicarbonamide can also cause asthma in workers involved in the manufacturing or usage of the chemical. Moreover, another effect is skin sensitization.
A senior scientist at the Center for Science In the Public Interest, Lisa Lefferts, told Food Safety News that azodicarbonamide breaks down into two suspicious chemicals when it is baked. The first chemical is known as semicarbazide, which causes cancer in mice, yet it still is not known to be carcinogenic for humans. The second chemical, called urethane, is more of a concern as it has a small chance of causing cancer.
The recent voluntary and commendable Subway ban on the chemical brings discussions of azodicarbonamide in fast food chains, such as McDonalds, to the forefront in the U.S. The FDA has said they use a process that is scientific and extensive when evaluating the safety of food additives and they make sure the chemicals are used in approved conditions with a certainty of not causing harm.
By Kollin Lore