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A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives, 7th Edition: Descriptions in Plain English of More Than 12,000 Ingredients Both Harmful and Desirable Found in Foods Paperback – April 14, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

RUTH WINTER, M.S., is an award-winning author of thirty-seven books. She has contributed to Good Housekeeping, Harper’s Bazaar, Self, and Vogue, and has also appeared on many TV programs, including Good Morning America and Today. She runs an informational website at BrainBody.com and blogs about food and cosmetic additives at IngredientBlog.blogspot.com.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


In this completely revised and updated seventh edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, you will learn how safeguards have weakened since the last edition and that hundreds of new and untested chemicals have entered the market.

Are you aware, for example, that direct and indirect additives in your food and drink at this writing may be



•cancer-causing agents?

•digestion disturbers?



•sex life disrupters?


•untested new chemical compounds?

Additives are substances, or a mixture of substances, other than basic foodstuffs, that are present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage, or packaging. BHT and BHA are examples of preservatives and Red No. 3 and annatto are examples of colorings. Some substances, vitamins E and C, for example, are both nutrients and additives. The two vitamins are sometimes added for their ability to retard rancidity. The majority of food additives, however, have nothing to do with nutritional value, as you will see from the contents of this dictionary. Most are added to feed our illusions. We want enhanced food because all our lives we have been subjected to beautiful pictures of foods in our magazines, on television, and on the Internet. We have come to expect an advertiser’s concept of perfection in color and texture, even though Mother Nature may not turn out all her products that way. As a result, the skins of the oranges we eat are dyed bright orange to match our mental image of an ideal orange. Our poultry is fed a chemical to turn the meat yellower and more appetizing, and our fruits and vegetables are kept unblemished by fungicides, pesticides, herbicides, and other antispoilants. Our meat and fish have color added to give the appearance of greater freshness. Food additives are estimated to be $23 billion market worldwide.1

Lest you think that all additives are harmful, I want to reassure you that many are beneficial. They delay spoilage, keep us well-fed, and protect against illness. But scores of added substances are unnecessary, and some may be harmful, even lethal. I know how all this can be confusing with all the overlapping underfunded regulatory agencies, the conflicting media reports about the newest studies, and the advice from the latest diet guru. This seventh edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives has been written to help you choose more wisely in today’s marketplace.

Positive Changes

Since the first edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives was published in 1978 there have been major positive changes.

•First, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization (WHO); the European Union; and the Japanese, Australian, and New Zealand food protection agencies have, among others, increased computerization of information about food additives and made the data available to us and to each other on the Internet.

•Second, the evaluation of food additives has become international, so many more eyes are watching the potions cooked up in the lab.

•Third, readers like you are making an effort to become educated about what is good for you and what is not and how to pierce the hype that surrounds food and drink today. If this weren’t true, you wouldn’t be reading this book.

Persistent Problems

However, some problems mentioned in all six previous editions haven’t gone away.


The body of evidence linking extensive antimicrobial use in food- producing animals and resistant antibiotic strains in human beings continues to grow. Other nonhuman uses of antimicrobials (in pet animals, aquaculture, and horticulture) may also play a role in this transfer of resistant bacteria. When resistant pathogenic bacteria are the cause of infections in humans (as well as in animals), it will often result in inappropriate and/or more protracted therapy to cure infections and, increasingly, the infections become incurable. Since the first edition of A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, regulators, including the FDA, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), and WHO, have been trying in vain to deal with the situation in which the same classes of antimicrobials may be used in both humans and animals. Few new antibiotics have been developed to replace those that have become ineffective through resistance.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, a science-based nonprofit organization, estimates that each year 25 million pounds of valuable antibiotics—roughly 70 percent of total U.S. antibiotic production— are fed to chickens, pigs, and cows for nontherapeutic purposes like growth promotion.2 In fact, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is theoretically empowered to withdraw agricultural antibiotics from the market under existing law, in practice its procedures are so cumbersome that such withdrawals would take years for each type of antibiotic. Indeed, withdrawal proceedings for other kinds of agricultural drugs have taken up to twenty years to complete. To avoid these unacceptable delays, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2007 (PAMTA) amends the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to withdraw approvals for feed- additive use of seven specific classes of antibiotics: penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, lincosamides, streptogramins, aminoglycosides, and sulfonamides. Each of these classes contains antibiotics used in human medicine. The cancellations automatically take effect two years after the date of enactment unless, prior to that date, the antibiotic’s producer demonstrates to a reasonable degree of certainty that use of the drug as a feed additive does not contribute to development of resistance affecting humans.3

The bill bans only the feed-additive uses of the named drugs for “nontherapeutic” purposes, defined as use “in the absence of any clinical sign of disease in the animal for growth promotion, feed efficiency, weight gain, routine disease prevention, or other routine purpose.” By specifically targeting the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, the bill allows for sick animals to receive treatment and for legitimate prophylaxis. The bill leaves farmers with many options, including other nontherapeutic antibiotics that are not used in human medicine, as well as improved animal husbandry practices such as those utilized in Europe and on some U.S. farms. In addition, the legislation provides that if a nontherapeutic antibiotic that is now used only in animals (i.e., one that is not one of the seven named antibiotics) also becomes potentially important in human medicine, the drug would be automatically restricted from nontherapeutic use in agricultural animals unless the FDA determines that such use will not contribute to development of resistance affecting humans.

The consumer is becoming more aware of the danger of nontherapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed; thus you now see raised without antibiotics signs on many products in the supermarkets. PAMTA will help cut down on the salting of animal feed with antibiotics just for weight gain.4 The European Union has banned most antibiotics in feed. This is progress!


Progress has not been made as far as stopping the addition of potentially cancer-causing additives on our plates and in our glasses. In fact, some regression has occurred. A major report on the relationship between nutrition and the development of cancer concludes that 3 to 4 million cases of cancer per year could be prevented by appropriate diet.5 As you will read in this dictionary, scores of food additives are known or suspected cancer-causing agents, such as the furan flavorings, some colorings, and benzene.

The Delaney Amendment was written by Congressman James Delaney as part of a 1958 law requested by the FDA. The law stated that food and chemical manufacturers had to test additives before they were put on the market and the results had to be submitted to the FDA. Delaney’s Amendment specifically states that “no additive may be permitted in any amount if the tests show that it produces cancer when fed to man or animals or by other appropriate tests.” Ever since it was enacted it has been severely attacked by food and chemical manufacturers and the Nutrition Council of the American Medical Association. Even several FDA commissioners and scientists were critics because they claimed the law was unenforceable. They all agreed that an additive used at very low levels need not necessarily be banned because it may cause cancer at high levels. Proponents justified the clause on the basis that cancer experts have not been able to determine a safe level for any carcinogen. This was the underlying basis in 1959 for a nationwide FDA recall of cranberries contaminated by the weed killer aminotriazole. Notwithstanding publicity critical of the FDA, this action had beneficial results, particularly in convincing farmers that pesticides must be used with care.

The problems with identifying exposure to a cancer-causing additive include the following:

•In most instances, exposure to cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) takes place twenty to thirty years before a statistically significant increase is observed.

•Animal studies may give clues, but laboratory conditions and the bodies of other creatures may not result in valid conclusions for us.

•Each of us is unique in the way our bodies process chemicals based on our age, sex, heredity, medical history, diet, and behavior. Epidemiologists estimate that approximately one-third of all cancer deaths can be attributed to diet.6

•No one knows how much of a cancer-causing agent it takes to cause cancer.

The Delaney Amendment, as pointed out, is being ignored by many producers and regulators. The listings in this dictionary describe scores of additives known to or suspected of causing cancer. There are well-publicized ones, such as nitrates and nitrites (see) and lesser-known ones, such as the flavorings furfural and allyl isovalerate (see both).

There have been continued attacks against the Delaney Amendment since it was enacted. When Congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA) of 1996, many in the press announced that this law effectively repealed the Delaney Amendment, which they claimed had banned all traces of cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods. The act concerned the so-called Delaney paradox, which, according to Delaney critics, resulted from one bill that seemed to prohibit residues of cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods, and two others that permitted the setting of tolerances for carcinogenic pesticide residues in raw agricultural products. What the FQPA of 1996 did was repeal the prohibition on cancer-causing pesticides in processed foods that exceed the raw agricultural commodity tolerances plus added a new, more restrictive safety standard that allows no more than a one-in-one-million risk of cancer from pesticide residues in both raw and processed foods.7

Doesn’t that mean equal amounts of cancer-causing pesticides must be in both raw agricultural products and processed foods?

Beside the pesticide interests, two other great lobbying efforts to abolish or weaken the Delaney Amendment are fighting in the ring. They are the producers of artificial sweeteners and the makers of food colorings, who both have additives that are potentially carcinogenic.

The late FDA toxicologist Dr. Adrian Gross told Congress that the artificial sweetener aspartame violated the Delaney Amendment because it caused cancer in lab animals, especially brain tumors.8 Congress sided with Monsanto. Dr. Gross’s last words on the subject were: “Given the cancer-causing potential of aspartame, aka ‘NutraSweet’ and ‘Equal,’ how would the FDA justify its position that it views a certain amount of aspartame as constituting an allowable daily intake or ‘safe’ level of it? Is that position in effect not equivalent to setting a ‘tolerance’ for this food additive and thus a violation of that law? And if the FDA itself elects to violate the law, who is left to protect the health of the public?”


Although the testing for cancer-causing additives in our food may be imperfect, testing for nerve- and brain-damaging additives in our food is really lacking. This is true even though many scientists believe neurotoxins are more of a problem in food than carcinogens. 9,10 No one knows how much of a problem because the testing for toxicity is relatively new as far as food safety is concerned. The suspected toxins—aside from those in poisonous botanicals, and certain bacteria production—are usually linked to synthetic food colorings and flavorings.

In humans, neurotoxicity can adversely affect a broad spectrum of behavioral functions, including the ability to learn, to interact appropriately with others, and to perceive and respond to environmental stimuli; basically these represent everyday functions that enable people to live productive lives. The FDA is now focusing on neurotoxicity and is trying to develop more relevant information about the potential adverse effects of chemicals in food on the nervous system.

In the meantime, this dictionary cites those chemicals, such as monosodium glutamate and Red No. 3 (see both) that have been found to be suspected neurotoxins. Most of the other chemicals identified as neurotoxins are pesticides, since they have long been linked to nerve damage. They are difficult to avoid unless you grow your own food without chemicals and don’t buy processed edibles. You can reduce your intake by avoiding other additives listed in The Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives that have been cited as potential neurotoxins, such as glutamates used in flavorings, butyl phosphorotrithioate used in animal feed, and the food coloring Red No. 3 (see all).

The estimation of the dietary intake of a chemical residue can rarely completely reflect the long-term exposure of a population (or individual) to that residue because of the difficulties inherent in determining long-term food consumption patterns. Nonetheless, an initial approximate assessment of dietary intake is essential to indicate whether current regulatory practices for a contaminant are adequate; to provide triggering mechanisms for deciding whether further, more detailed assessments of intake are required; and, ultimately, to determine whether further controls over the use of a toxic substance should be considered.

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Product Details

  • Series: Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives
  • Paperback: 608 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 7 Rev Upd edition (April 14, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307408922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307408921
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #421,913 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By D. Zhao on April 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
I normally don't write reviews on Amazon but the fact that this book is only rated a 2.5 stars is ridiculous. I've recently completed a project that had to do with quantifying the human effects of food additives. In the process, I've found that there is almost no scientific agreement on many of the popular additives like MSG. There are heated debates on either side and you never really know who is funding what website or what study. It is also equally frustrating that the FDA recommendations and ratings are horribly outdated.

What this book excels at is presenting all the available information. It does not give you recommendations or tell you what you do with your life. You can still eat as many products with BHT as you want but the book will tell you that the substance is already banned in the UK and it is reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogenic based on _____ studies. The book is basically a collection of all the important scientific studies about an additive in one place. Since it is fairly up to date compared so some of the other sources I've seen, I can say that it is reliable. If you don't believe any of the information in the book, you can easily look up the studies yourself and make your own judgements.

That said, I don't believe that people should base all of their information about food additives on one source, even a reliable one. For those who are interested, I also recommend the Center for Science in the Public Interest's food additives list, which you can find on the Internet. You can also look at the list of banned substance from Whole Foods as a general guide. Again, I encourage everyone to do their own research and make their own judgements about various substances in their diet. This book is a good way to start.
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Any book about the dangers of toxic food additives is certainly important, and I would applaud the author for undertaking such a daunting task, especially in today's minefield of chemical additives which are ever changing and growing; but most of the information in this book can be found on the FDA's GRAS list. (Generally Recognized as Safe list.) It fails to note many of the independent studies that have shown GRAS items to be anything BUT safe. And just to be clear, there is no FDA requirement for safety testing for an item to be including on the GRAS list to begin with.

But there is some useful, if not whitewashed, information here. For instance, the author touches on a few of the benefits of pasture raised and grass fed products, and applauds the USDA for regulating this - which is good - but then fails to mention a loophole they put in place regarding the grass fed regulations. It allows producers to sell sub-standard grass fed meat at the same price as legitimate counterparts. Unless you are getting 100% grass fed and FINISHED beef, you aren't getting beef that is any better than beef marketed as just plain "natural" but you will pay a premium when "grassfed" is added to the label. Almost all cows are at some time allowed to eat grass so you can see how this can be misused. And many so-called grass fed cows, even if they forged on grasses their entire life, end up at a finishing facility where they are fattened up on corn and other grains the last 90 to 120 days before slaughter, yielding a much larger and valuable cow not much different than conventional beef. (Good bye healthy CLA's and Omega 3's, and hello e-coli!
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Perfect if you need to know what you are eatting and what you are putting on your body or in your air. A must have for the sensitive person. (intolerances and allergies)
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By Kdee on February 14, 2012
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This dictionary of food additives is exactly that; a dictionary. All you do is look up whichever additive you want (the book is in alphabetical order) and there is a description. It does not give you an opinion of what to eat or what not to eat, there is just cold hard facts. In depth and easy to read. I recommend this to EVERYONE because there is a lot of harmful things being put in our food.
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Though this is generally a great source of information, it stands on the FDA opinion of things, so if you trust the FDA - go for it, otherwise I would stay away from this book.

The book is not clearly lying, but the information included is a very formal view on things, that view that food industry is pushing through fabricated studies, congress, FDA and our throats. Then - bam - it gets approved and this book will display it as something like "despite the controversial studies of Indonesian scientists in 1993, further dispute comity was formed, and in over 200 studies outweigh the possibility of potential hazards so the ingredient is now considered safe is doses not over 0.7g and is associated with any adverse effects" (this is not a citation, just mimicking the style)
The other reviewer mentioned the canola oil example, which made into a broad discussion, I don't want to go into that one, but I will mention the one I know good - aspartame.
You may believe it, or start fighting for it, but I tell you this - it is really bad for health. Check it out independently, if you don't trust my word on it.
It has been pushed through the law by diet idea induced billion dollars industry, which was worth any penny spent for them, but we should not consume it and more importantly, if we go for it, we should be aware of poisoning the body.
The book goes onto the formal 'history' of aspartame invention, making an illusion of completeness in the topic. After each statement that is casting doubt on its safety and health effects the book ends by 'a more comprehensive' study, performed at a later time, that shown all risks to be a mistake, if not a joke.
It (of course) doesn't go dirty into how it was managed to be approved and who made which studies, when and what for.
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