Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What Else Do We Need To Ban Besides Azodicarbonamide (Subway, Are You Listening?)

Subway Sandwiches announced last week that they are no longer going to be making their bread from flour that has azodicarbonamide in it. This is the result of an effort by "The Food Babe" to have the additive removed since it is also used to "make yoga mats and shoe rubber". The logic of this is clear: if a chemical is used to make polymers, it should not be used in food. Since I have good knowledge of polymer chemistry, let me suggest some other chemicals that are used in both food and polymers and so that the Food Babe can take up the charge against these dangerous chemicals as well.

  • Water. Water is used in the manufacture of emulsions polymers such as all the water-based paints that are used around the world. And water is used as a foaming agent in making polyurethane foams. Such as for yoga mats. The water reacts with the isocyanate to form a carbamic acid, an unstable entity which gives off CO2 as a gas to make the foam.
    Ironically, azodicarbonamide is added to polyurethanes to foam them as well. So here we have 2 chemicals, water and azodicarbonamide, that are both used in making bread and foaming polyurethanes. Obviously both should be banned. The Food Babe's job is only half way done.
But there are other ingredients that we eat that are also used in making plastics and rubbers. Let me continue.
  • Vitamin E. Plastic manufacturers will add this to their materials as an antioxidant. We must protect our food supply and ban vitamin E.
  • Calcium carbonate. This is commonly used in plastics as a filler and sometimes as a colorant to make plastics appear white-ish. It must be removed from our food supply. If you are looking for calcium supplements or antacids, you will soon have to look elsewhere.
  • Stearic acid. This is a major component in beef and pig fat, and it finds its way into plastics as a slip agent - something that helps make plastic films a little bit slippery so that they can be processed on high speed equipment without catching and tearing. It will take some clever genetic engineering to develop new breeds of beef and pork that do not store energy reserves as stearic acid, but it is critical that this be done. The Food Babe doesn't have issues with GMO's, does she? Oh no, she does. This might be a problem...
I could go on for pages and pages, but the point is already clear. Just because something is used in making plastic doesn't mean that it also can't be used as a food ingredient. The Food Babe's argument is clearly chemophobic but worse yet, it is plastiphobic. It associates the chemical with plastics. If azodicarbonamide was used in making ceramics or metals or paper, would the Food Babe have gotten anywhere as far with her complaint? No, it was because of associating the material with plastic that she scored points.

The worst result of this is that the Food Babe and her supporters will now feel empowered to take on other chemicals, not because of scientific data, but because of fear and playing with emotions. We deserve better than this.

Previous Years
February 11, 2011 - Top Killing with Oobleck


Dan Burke said...

Acetic acid is downright caustic. Carolina style BBQ be damned!

Chantal Mendes said...

This is a fantastic article! Thanks for speaking out - it's so frustrating when people who haven't fully educated themselves decide to start scaring people about these "potential hazards" that may not even exist!

Curryworks said...

As a PC that has made my fair share of PUs I have put down bread in the store that contained such ingredients as azodicarbonamide since I imagine the tanker delivering the material to the bread facility and it ruins any notion of my concept of food. My other issue is who knows what ppm contaminants are in the synthetically derived chemicals (natural product impurities are harder to avoid)

John said...


I'm not sure what you meant by your last sentence about impurities, natural vs. synthetic. It's not as if synthetic impurities are inherently more dangerous than natural impurities.

glacierre said...

I hate a-scientific hysteria, but I have to say in this case the substance looks not so innocuous (forbidden since 10 years in EU in plastics that contact food, suspected to cause allergic reactions) and unlike other additives (which prevent bacteria proliferation, etc), for me bleaching flour does not justify even that very slight risk.

Somebody should talk to "the food babe" about PDMS in all fast food fried stuff. That should be fun :D