Q. What is the difference between "natural" and "artificial" additives?
A. Some additives are manufactured from natural sources such as soybeans and corn, which provide lecithin to maintain product consistency, or beets, which provide beet powder used as food coloring. Other useful additives are not found in nature and must be man-made. Artificial additives can be produced more economically, with greater purity and more consistent quality than some of their natural counterparts. Whether an additive is natural or artificial has no bearing on its safety.
Q. Is a natural additive safer because it is chemical-free?
A. No. All foods, whether picked from your garden or your supermarket shelf, are made up of chemicals. For example, the vitamin C or ascorbic acid found in an orange is identical to that produced in a laboratory. Indeed, all things in the world consist of the chemical building blocks of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen and other elements.These elements are combined in various ways to produce starches, proteins, fats, water and vitamins found in foods.
Q. Are sulfites safe?
A. Sulfites added to baked goods, condiments, snack foods and other products are safe for most people. A small segment of the population, however, has been found to develop hives, nausea, diarrhea, shortness of breath or even fatal shock after consuming sulfites. For that reason, in 1986 FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh fruits and vegetables intended to be sold or served raw to consumers. Sulfites added as a preservative in all other packaged and processed foods must be listed on the product label.
Q. Does FD&C Yellow No.5 cause allergic reactions?
A. FD&C Yellow No.5, or tartrazine, is used to color beverages, desert powders, candy ice cream, custards and other foods. The color additive may cause hives in fewer than one out of 10,000 people. By law, whenever the color isadded to foods or taken internally, it must be listed on the label. This allows the small portion of people who may be sensitive to FD&C Yellow No.5 to avoid it.
Q. Does the low calorie sweetener aspartame carry adverse reactions?
A. There is no scientific evidence that aspartame causes adverse reactions in people. All consumer complaints related to the sweetener have been investigated as thoroughly as possible by federal authorities for more than five years, in part under FDA's Adverse Reaction Monitoring System. In addition, scientific studies conducted during aspartame's pre-approval phase failed to show that it causes any adverse reactions in adults or children. Individuals who have concerns about possible adverse reactions to aspartame or other substances should contact their
Q. Do additives cause childhood hyperactivity?
A. No. Although this theory was popularized in the 1970's, well-controlled studies conducted since that time have produced no evidence that food additives cause hyperactivity or learning disabilities in children. A Consensus Development Panel of the National Institutes of Health concluded in 1982 that there was no scientific evidence to support the claim that additives or colorings cause hyperactivity.
Q. Why are decisions sometimes changed about the safety of food ingredients?
A. Since absolute safety of any substance can never be proven, decisions about the safety of food ingredients are made on the best scientific evidence available. Scientific knowledge is constantly evolving. Therefore, federal officials
often review earlier decisions to assure that the safety assessment of a food substance remains up to date. Any change made in previous clearances should be recognized as an assurance that the latest and best scientific knowledge is being applied to enhance the safety of the food supply.
Q. What are some other food additives that may be used in the future?
A. Among other petitions, FDA is carefully evaluating requests to use ingredients that would replace either sugar or fat in food. In 1990, FDA confirmed the GRAS status of Simplesse, (registered trademark) a fat replacement made
from milk or egg white protein, for use in frozen desserts. The agency also is evaluating a food additive petition for olestra, which would partially replace the fat in oils and shortenings.
Q. What is the role of modern technology in producing food additives?
A. Many new techniques are being researched that will allow the production of additives in ways not previously possible. One approach, known as biotechnology, uses simple organisms to produce additives that are the same food components found in nature. In 1990, FDA approved the first bioengineered enzyme, rennin, which traditionally has been extracted from calves' stomachs for use in making cheese.