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Hold the Mayo & Azodicarbonamide: Fixing FDA Should Be First Step to Overhaul National Regulatory System

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Last summer, Jared Fogle celebrated his 15th year as spokesperson for the Subway chain. He's the guy who claimed to have lost 245 pounds by eating the fast-food chain's turkey and veggie subs without the oil, cheese or mayo on them.

Since then, he's been helping the chain, which has more locations than McDonald's and is valued at over $5 billion, sell its subs as a diet alternative to other fast-foods like hamburgers and fried chicken.

But you have to wonder how healthy Jared really is after eating 15 years worth of Subway subs after last week's announcement that the chain was discontinuing the use of Azodicarbonamide. That's a chemical additive Subway uses in its bread, but it's also used in a variety of plastics products.

The fact that Jared has been peddling a product that contains a plastics additive banned in many countries also makes you wonder how healthy 300 million other Americans are if the Food and Drug Administration condones the use of this chemical.

Many other food chains use the additive, including McDonald's.

The World Health Organization has linked azodicarbonamide to asthma in people. While the FDA approves its use, azodicarbonamide is banned as an additive in the European Union and Australia.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest says the FDA should ban it in foods:

"Considering that many breads don't contain azodicarbonamide and that its use slightly increases exposure to a carcinogen, this is hardly a chemical that we need in our food supply," said CSPI Senior Scientist Lisa Lefferts.

This revelation shows it's time not only to ban Azodicarbonamide, but to also reform regulators like the FDA.

Azodicarbonamide is a food additive that reacts with moist flour as an oxidizing agent that bleaches flour and conditions dough. It's also used in plastics to increase elasticity in everything from yoga mats to shoe rubber.

At this point, millions of American ingest the chemical every day in food products made by manufacturers that are using it legally under FDA guidelines. Here's a list of such items.

Subway decided to eliminate the additive after a food blogger named Vani Hart, otherwise known as the "Food Babe," began a petition effort to have Subway remove the chemical from its baked goods.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer took the opportunity to grandstand in front of a New York City McDonald's to call on the FDA to ban the use of Azodicarbonamide.

"In a day where cancer rates are rising... you have to be careful," he said as he held up a hamburger bun.

Yet, Schumer did not talk about the need for Congress to reform how the FDA, and most other federal agencies, regulate our food supply.

Big business and the GOP have passionately focused on reducing federal and state regulations.

But the azodicarbonamide episode should be the beginning of a discussion of not only what goes in our food, but whether FDA regulations are outdated and even dangerous.

Remember how Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungle exposed the disgusting conditions of the meatpacking industry? It lead to the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 (and the eventual establishment of the FDA).

Over the years, regulators have required food manufacturers and vendors to display the calories and even the preservatives and additives in foods as a way to improve Americans' health.

Forget the calories, the question that Americans should be asking, and demanding an answer to, is whether regulations over the preparation and delivery of our food are improving our diet and health.

The Food Babe's exposure of the use of azodicarbonamide should be a turning point in stimulating a major congressional overhaul of the regulatory oversight of the way our food is prepared and sold.

We shouldn't have to depend on the "voluntary" action of McDonald's or Sara Lee to stop using unsafe substances in our food.

It's time for Americans to breathe a little easier, not harder, when eating a Big Mac or Jared's veggie subs.

This article appeared in Context Florida on February 11, 2014

Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary (stevenkurlander.com) and writes for Context Florida and The Huffington Post and can be found on Twitter @Kurlykomments. He lives in Monticello, N.Y.

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