No matter how healthy your diet, it's nearly impossible to steer clear of toxic chemicals called phthalates. These hormone-disrupting chemicals are used in the plastic packaging covering meats and cheeses whose fats can promote leaching of the chemicals into the food. Phthalates are also in plastic tubing and equipment in food processing plants and in the plastic gloves worn by food workers. Taking action, Earthjustice and our partners petitioned the FDA to get phthalates out of our food supply. We asked our supporters to write to the FDA, too, and received an overwhelming response.
The FDA received comments from nearly 200,000 people, all of whom strongly urged the agency to withdraw its approval for the 30 phthalates that are used as food additives. Phthalates have been linked to a host of harmful health impacts including severe genital birth defects in boys, lower IQs, impaired reproduction and cancer.
Many commenters were concerned about the effects phthalates have on children -- and rightly so. Growing bodies are extremely vulnerable to toxic chemicals. Exposure to even small doses of chemicals during developmental phases can have lifelong effects on a child.
"As a retired teacher, I have seen firsthand the effects that many things that enter our food stream have on the learning ability of children. Please help protect the future of this country, by protecting the future intelligence of new generations, by repealing any approval for phthalates as food additives."
D. A., Canon City, CO
"I'm 5 months pregnant with my first baby and the last thing I want is to harm her before she's even born. I'm doing everything I can to keep her safe and healthy but with all these things in our food I feel so helpless sometimes. We need this for every baby past and future; we need to stop harming our children."
A.C., Fontana, CA
Many commenters mentioned their battles with cancer and other diseases, and their desire to spare others similar pain.
"I am a breast cancer survivor and have tried to keep myself free of phthalates by avoiding cosmetics, fragrances, nail polish, etc. and using glass storage containers. But I was unaware that these products were in our foods, too. Please protect the public."
J. S., Plover, WI
"Between my endometriosis, my uterine fibroids (which have caused constant disruptions and pain all of my adult life and had to be surgically removed twice), and my breast cancer (which required a mastectomy and 4 different surgeries), I am keenly and distressingly aware of the health costs of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Please get them out of our food sources."
A.E., Chicago, IL
"As someone who once had cancer, I really don't need a rematch, I might not win this time. The last thing I need is phthalates in my food."
B. B., Flushing, NY
Other commenters were troubled by the lack of transparency around chemicals in our food system, and reminded the FDA that the American people need this agency to put public health first.
"Sometimes it feels like our food supply is killing us. So many things are known carcinogens or affect our bodies and brains negatively, yet we continue to put them in foods. ... It's time to return to healthy soil, air, and water, which will give us healthier food."
L.W., Upton, MA
"I am careful in what I eat, but I cannot control the processing and packaging of the food. Please ban materials that contain phthalates from food handling and packaging materials."
R.B., Loxahatchee, FL
"For once, I'd like to see a government agency take action based on the existing research... In America, it seems, chemicals are considered safe until they are overwhelmingly proven unsafe, rather than requiring independent research to prove a chemical is safe. Do the right thing -- and definitely don't sit on your thumbs and do nothing."
A. G., Las Cruces, NM
The voice of the people, and of science, is clear on this point: Phthalates don't belong in our food. But how will the FDA weigh the concerns of citizens, scientists and health professionals against the interests of the food and chemical industries? Outdated regulations and a lack of transparency in our food system often give industry the upper hand. But the FDA is duty-bound to protect public health, and Earthjustice, together with our supporters, will continue to remind the agency of that duty. It's all part of our ongoing work to make the food system cleaner and healthier for everyone.
Fertile Grounds is a blog series that examines the challenges and opportunities in ensuring access to healthy, sustainable and affordable food for all. We talk about the entire lifecycle of food--from seed selection and planting to consumption and disposal--because there is potential for improvement throughout. We're informed by the expertise of our many clients and allies and by Earthjustice's years of work to ban harmful pesticides, encourage sustainable farming methods, reduce pollution, support farmworker justice and promote a healthy relationship between farmers and communities.