A New Reason to Worry

By Yarett, Ian | Newsweek, December 20, 2010 | Go to article overview

A New Reason to Worry


Yarett, Ian, Newsweek


Byline: Ian Yarett

The Food Safety Modernization Act, if it survives the political process, would strengthen the FDA and hold food producers to higher safety standards. The bill reflects a growing national concern about bacterial contamination of foods--from spinach to eggs--which sickens 76 million Americans and claims the lives of thousands each year. But while it would go a long way toward dealing with pathogens in our food supply, the bill largely ignores a different type of food-safety worry: hazardous man-made chemicals.

Just last week, a study in Environmental Health Perspectives found disturbingly high levels of a flame-retardant chemical in a sample of butter. The compound, a polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE), is widely used in electronics and furniture, and is associated with developmental and reproductive issues, cancer, and other health problems. It appears that the butter was contaminated by the PBDE from its paper wrapping, but how the chemical got into the packaging is a mystery--and of great concern. "Flame retardants should clearly not be in food at all," says lead researcher Arnold Schecter, a public-health physician at the University of Texas.

Butter is not the only food known to be contaminated with PBDEs--they're ubiquitous in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy--but it is the first found to contain them at such a high concentration, Schecter says. …

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