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Organic Responsibility for Retailers

Environmental and health organizations call for more transparency about the packaging of food

The Lempert Report

Many shoppers choose the U.S. Department of Agriculture's certified organic products to avoid chemicals or toxic substances, but the truth is that there are about 40 synthetic substances that are allowed for use in organic products.

Certainly better than the 2,000 synthetic substances that are permitted in non-organic products, where they’re used to extend shelf life and add flavor. 

Now there is a fight being led by a number of environmental and health organizations, including the Environmental Working Group and the Environmental Defense Fund, who have been calling on the FDA to ban perchlorate for use in food—to be more specific, in the packaging of food, which is allowed to be used for organic foods.

The chemical appears to have been contaminating a growing portion of food since it was approved as an additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2005, and the problem is that the FDA apparently stopped its own perchlorate testing program after 2012. 

Perchlorate, according to a report on CivilEats, comes from both natural and synthetic sources. It has health experts concerned because it has an outsized impact on children. It’s been found to disrupt thyroid function, reducing production of a hormone needed for healthy brain development, and insufficient levels of this hormone in a developing fetus have been associated with significant declines in IQ, among other impacts.

The report goes on to say that since the FDA approved the chemical, the FDA’s own scientists have found that perchlorate exposure in children has climbed significantly. The agency published a study in 2016, for example, showing that infants were ingesting 34%, and toddlers 23%, more perchlorate through food between 2008 and 2012 than before it made its 2005 approval decision.  

Here’s what retailers need to know: In most or all instances, perchlorate is entirely avoidable. It is added to plastic food packaging as a way to control static electricity and is also a byproduct of bleach (which is widely used to clean food processing equipment and fresh produce) when it breaks down, often from age or improper storage (for example, being left in direct sunlight).

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