U.S. allows chemicals in food that are illegal elsewhere
Consumer advocates, scientists question FDA's diligence in ensuring safety of food additives
Sarah Kavanagh, 15, of Hattiesburg, Miss., started an online petition requesting that the ingredient brominated vegetable oil be removed from Gatorade products. The ingredient is not in all Gatorade products. (James Edward Bates, Photo for The New York Times)
"In the U.S., money rules, and industry wields a lot of influence, and that's how it has been for a while," Hansen said, "but in Europe they take into serious consideration what their population wants too. And why shouldn't the population be concerned about new things being put into food?"
Lupien said the precautionary principle can be manipulated for business purposes. "Their domestic market ... is sometimes very highly subsidized, and they don't want competition," he said of the European Union.
Lupien and Hansen have served as experts for U.N. panels on food additives and agree that there is no reason for brominated vegetable oil to remain in U.S. food without undergoing the testing called for four decades ago.
"If you look at some of the toxicological reviews ... it's pretty clear that more data should be prepared," said Lupien, who worked at the FDA in the 1960s and '80s.
Lupien said a lack of resources at the agency is "a lousy excuse because they shouldn't be the ones paying for testing. It should be the (manufacturer) producing this product and selling it."
Companies contacted for this story stressed that they are not breaking the law by using brominated vegetable oil and other ingredients in American products. Gatorade said no changes to its U.S. formulation are planned in response to the recent petition.
"Manufacturers are going to try to meet the regulations," Lupien said, "but they are certainly not going to use product X if it costs three times as much as product Y, if both are approved and relatively effective."
Kavanagh, who started the Gatorade petition, said it "shows greed" when companies use cheaper ingredients that could cause health problems. "It shows that they care less about consumers than about how much money they spend and make," she said.
Although the teen said Gatorade has given her no specific response to her petition, she hopes the effort has opened some eyes and started some discussions.
"We are seen as such a powerful, strong country that cares so much about its people, but I don't think we are taking as many steps as we should to ensure the safety of our citizens," Kavanagh said. "I just think we take too many risks that don't need to be taken."