Your fast food packaging contains toxic chemicals. Why is this allowed? | Norah MacKendrick


IIt’s no surprise that fast food is generally unhealthy. But now there’s a new reason for concern: According to a new study from George Washington University, fast food containers (such as wrappers used for burgers and burritos) contain toxic chemicals known to interfere with our reproductive system and contribute to attention and learning. troubles. Simply put, our burgers and burritos are packaged in toxic waste.

Many ready meals come with an ingredient list that tells consumers what has gone into the product they eat or drink. Of course, this list does not include the chemicals used to make the box, bag or wrapper containing the food, or other materials that come in contact with our meal, such as the plastic gloves used to handle the food. sandwich fillings. But these compounds are found in our food and we ingest them.

George Washington’s study found ortho-phthalates in burritos and hamburgers, while another study determined that PFAS chemicals (the non-stick chemicals made famous by the recent Dark Waters movie) are in over half of the contact paper used to wrap desserts and pastries. goods and line your pizza box.

Exposure to PFAS is associated with testicular cancer, thyroid disease, and immune dysfunction, among many other alarming conditions. According to population studies, all Americans now have traces of ortho-phthalates and PFAS in their bodies, along with dozens of other compounds.

It’s understandable if you make a commitment to never eat a burrito or burger again, or at least if you make a commitment to stop giving them to your kids. But, as I’ve shown in my research, blaming ourselves and promising to eat or shop differently gets us almost nowhere in the long run. To make the food system safer for everyone, we need to direct some of our disgust and anger at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the companies that make food packaging.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring that convenience foods and food packaging are safe, but it has absolutely failed to do so. Time and time again, the FDA has ignored calls to reform the way it assesses the safety of food and food packaging materials, or has relied on the goodwill of manufacturers to voluntarily change the packaging materials it uses. they use.

Fast food chains bear the lion’s share of the blame for this problem. Campaigns demonstrating the toxicity of food packaging materials have made the industry aware that its packaging is full of toxic substances. A few companies, like McDonald’s, have promised to phase out some of these harmful compounds, like PFAS, but many have not.

In fact, the chains continue to actively promote their products to black and Hispanic youth through targeted marketing. It is worrying that companies are actively promoting products that they know are harmful. This is particularly alarming because adolescence is a time of rapid growth and development which is susceptible to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals. As sociologist Naa Oyo Kwate shows in her work, these companies are trying to lock in their consumer base and a low-wage workforce by locating their franchises in poor neighborhoods and communities of color.

Some might argue that consumers should take the blame here, arguing that there is no excuse to buy foods known to be unhealthy. But pointing fingers at consumers ignores how systemic and regulatory this problem is. It allows the government and fast food chains to extricate themselves to enrich shareholders at the expense of public health.

To protect the public from the chemicals in all food packaging, the FDA must radically review its food packaging standards and force food companies to find safer and greener options. We know the agency can be attentive to public health – it has, after all, scrutinized the safety data of Covid-19 vaccines in order to come up with safe and effective options to end the pandemic. The FDA must take the same cautious approach to monitoring our food supply.

Until we have real action from government and business, the responsibility for finding safe packaging will shift to neighborhoods with high density of fast food franchises and busy consumers looking for a convenient meal on their way home from work. With our busy lives, we have enough worries. It is time for US government and business to act.

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