“Plastic chemical” in our bread? So what?

It’s a topsy-turvy world. Instead of basing food policy on science, we now have policy by petition. Subway has decided to remove azidocarbonamide from its baked goods in response to a petition organized by a lady who labels herself the “FoodBabe.” She’s the one who captured the attention of web surfers and the press with her campaign to have synthetic food dyes removed from Kraft Mac and Cheese. Energized by the media attention she garnered, Vani Hari is now on the warpath against azidocarbonamide, a chemical added to bread to improve texture, lengthen shelf live and add fluffiness. It seems that the nasty food industry is trying to poison us with yet another chemical, aided and abetted by the immoral FDA which, it is suggested, caters to corporate profits instead of to people’s health!

Is azidocarbonamide a necessary ingredient? No. Is it harmful? Not if you go by the scientific evidence. But if you go by the wisdom of the FoodBabe, who I suspect would have a difficult time pronouncing “azidocarbonamide, it should be piled on the scrap heap of malicious chemicals carelessly introduced into our food supply, alongside the nasty food dyes. Of course the fact that it has an unpronouncable name is the first strike against this chemical. Second strike is that it is used to make shoe soles and yoga mats. We are also told that the chemical has been shown to be toxic to animals and can cause asthma in humans. Strike three! Out!

Now for a dose of reality. First of all, dose matters. Azidocarbonamide is allowed in bread to the extent of 45 parts per million. That means a Subway sandwich has about 10 milligrams. There’s more rodent poop remnants and insect fragments in there. Of course we can’t dismiss risk just because the dose is so small. There are chemicals, botulin from the Botulinim clostridium bacterium for example, that are toxic at even lower doses. The reason we can dismiss 10 milligrams of azidocarbonamide, is that the toxicity of the compound has been extensively studied. Yes, it has shown toxicity in dogs when fed at levels of about 5-10% of their diet. The percent of the human diet this chemical makes up is so trivial that it cannot even be calculated. As far as the asthma connection goes, well, that refers to inhaling the powder in an occupational setting. It has absolutely nothing to do with the trace amounts in bread. And the fact that azidocarbonamide is used in the manufacture of some plastics and the soles of shoes? Another scientifically bankrupt argument. Salt is used to melt ice on the street. That doesn’t mean it is dangerous in food.

Then there is the tiresome tome about not wanting to eat anything that has a name that can’t be easily pronounced. A giveaway of scientific illiteracy. I suppose our charming “FoodBabe,” would want to stay far away from cyanocobalamine. Not only is it hard to pronounce but it has cyanide! But she would be robbing herself of vitamin B12. So what’s next on tap for the babe?? A petition to ban dihydrogen monoxide, a chemical used to formulate soft drinks? After all, it is an ingredient in many pesticides and drain cleaners. Oops..that’s been done!

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