Food additives have become central to the food industry as a tool to enhance the marketing of the product. Additives are extremely common in some form in most modern food. Through the years, an ongoing debate continues whether food additives are appropriate for use due to inconsistencies and controversy over public health risks. Research shows that synthetic food additives have a negative human health and consumer dissatisfaction effect which calls for stricter regulation of their use in products.
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In their basic forms, additives are added to food commodities for improvement. They are either natural or synthetic. Natural additives such as spices (salt) or herbs are proven to be acceptable and safe for use. Meanwhile, synthetic additives have developed with the spread of food processing and marketing to be used for preservation and sensory purposes. Food can be chemically altered to improve taste and texture as well as enhanced visually.
There is a focus on strengthening and preserving the nutritional value and longevity of food. Everything is done by altering the product chemical composition by introducing agents that can change the PH balance and influence human senses (“Food Additives”). The use of food substances and additives is inevitable in the modern industrial world as food must be shipped, prepared, and presented to the consumer far from its source. Taking this into account, federal regulatory agencies in cooperation with scientific communities establish the safety limits of various substances allowed in food products (Carocho et al. 378).
With the growing costs of public health, there is a social concern in the United States to determine the sources of the impact that have the most detrimental effect. Food intake of the US population consists heavily of packaged and processed products that are abundant in food additives. With industrial food processing increasing, there has been a rise of numerous health hazards, many stemming from food addictions thought to be caused by additives. Autoimmune diseases are on the rise due to the chemicals irradiating the human epithelial barrier function which increases intestinal permeability and allows entry to immunogenic antigens.
The chemical modifications of molecules and delivery systems result in physiochemical and immunogenic changes to the human body. Further research is called for to begin to understand the mechanisms of how such biological alterations occur. (Lerner and Matthias 479). This is a direct indicator that research conducted about food additives is extremely narrow and underfunded. Meanwhile, it has become one of the cornerstones of modern food consumptions approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The most concerning chemical additives in foods are artificial dyes, nitrates, and sweeteners. Food coloring and dyes have been practiced in the food industry for decades using various methods. Some, such as amaranth and carnosine was declared dangerous and banned in the U.S. but are still commonly used in Europe. Numerous compounds of coloring agents have been linked to attention deficit, hyperactivity, and possibly being carcinogenic. Sodium nitrate, potassium nitrite, and sulfites are compounds used in food additives which are used for preserving the freshness and shelf life of products. All of these cause many physiochemical reactions in the body which lead to allergic reactions, worsening asthma, skin conditions, gastrointestinal issues, and potentially cancer.
Finally, sweeteners which have almost a cultural popularity, are extremely dangerous. Along with artificial coloring, federal agencies in industrialized nations have asked producers to reduce sweeteners voluntarily. Saccharin and fructose, both common in many products, are sources of obesity and diabetes due to the way they are digested.
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Aspartame, a non-nutrient artificial sweetener often seen in sugar packets, has been controversially linked to brain-related afflictions, such as poor mental performance, headaches, and seizures. All artificial sweeteners have been identified as potential carcinogens (Carocho et al. 392). It is important to understand that many studies are inconclusive, biased, or present flawed results by experimenting with unrealistic amounts of exposure to additives. However, there is a clear correlation and trend between food additives and potential health problems as many scientists agree that the impact of our food intake on the organism is unparalleled.
Policies regarding food additives are lenient, and research shows that there is a correlation to adverse health outcomes. Such regulation allows consumer access to potentially harmful substances in daily food intakes. Even dangerous substances are allowed if they are at 1/100th of the established hazardous dose. It fails to account for any outlying cases of hypersensitivity or allergies to the additive which is immensely unlikely for a regular consumer to predict. This endangers public health and leads to rising health care costs which are a severely negative outcome (Hensley 1).
The role of federal agencies and food producers is to improve legislation and mass production that results in medically safe and commercially tested food additives. Many issues that exist, which essentially lead to the current controversy, are legitimate concerns rather than ideological premonitions. Premarket experimentation conducted by regulatory agencies is often inconclusive or flawed, but the released additive is then discovered to have detrimental effects. It is then banned, but the lack of consumer confidence and mass hysteria lead to severe distrust of any food additives in general.
Also, there is an issue of varying regulations for food additives in countries; therefore, foods produced abroad may contain substances banned in the United States as laws are only usually applied to internal processing. With core studies being unaltered for 40 years, it is important to review protocols on food safety related to additives (Carocho et al. 392).
The intended audience for research into this topic would be consumers of food products to understand the process and regulation of food additives. Furthermore, legislators and the scientific community which are also consumers should understand the potential public health and social risks. In the minds of a consumer, there is a differentiation between natural and synthetic additives. Most show distrust of synthetic and chemical additives which is exacerbated by the lack of or poorly attempted communication on production and regulation. Producers are pressured to improve food technology and safely make the switch to as many natural additives as possible. Knowledge and trust in regulation that weighs the risk-benefit assessment of food additives, as well as a desire for more natural products, are points that should be considered in further legislation to improve the industry (Bearth et al. 14).
Food additives have been shown to have an adverse effect on human health and social consumer confidence. Lack of uniformed worldwide legislation and conflicting results of scientific studies lead to furthermore controversy. It is important to understand that in the global economy, additives are necessary for extending shelf life as well as for economic and marketing sustainability. However, there should be a careful consideration from both government and private entities to value the social well-being and opinion.
Carefully regulating both, scientific studies and legislation enforcement, result in achieving safety and accountability. This will lead to a gradual switch to affordable natural additives, improvement in food technology, and consumer education on the processes which increase trust in the product. In turn, sales will increase, and health care costs decrease which is beneficial for public health and economic perspective. Overall, the consumer’s voice is the most influential force to drive social change drastically needed in the industry.
Bearth, Angela, et al. “The Consumer’s Perception of Artificial Food Additives: Influences on Acceptance, Risk and Benefit Perceptions.” Food Quality and Preference, vol. 38, 2014, pp. 14-23.
Carocho, Márcio, et al. “Adding Molecules to Food, Pros and Cons: A Review on Synthetic and Natural Food Additives.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 13, no. 4, 2014, pp. 377-399.
“Food Additives.” MedlinePlus, 2016.
Hensley, Mariah. “Food Additives: Regulations and Repercussions.” UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research, vol. XIV, 2017, pp. 1-8.
Lerner, Aaron, and Torsten Matthias. “Changes in Intestinal Tight Junction Permeability Associated with Industrial Food Additives Explain the Rising Incidence of Autoimmune Disease.” Autoimmunity Reviews, vol. 14, no. 6, 2015, pp. 479-489.