A few years ago, headlines exploded after it became known that fast food chain Subway was putting a chemical used to make yoga mats in its sandwich bread to save money.
Then it was revealed that the “yoga mat” chemical, azodicarbonamide (also known as ADA), is actually found in hundreds of food “products.”
A 2014 report from the Environmental Working Group found that the chemical is in nearly 500 processed food products from Little Debbie deserts to Pillsbury Dinner Rolls, Wonder Bread to everything else in that category of processed food that you’d imagine.
Ever ate a Little Debbie Honey Bun? You ate a yoga mat.
The chemical is banned in the European Union and Australia, although the regulatory authorities don’t usually help situations like this.
Azodicarbonamide is used in, according to Wikipedia, “plastics, synthetic leather, and other industries and can be pure or modified. Modification affects the reaction temperatures. Pure azodicarbonamide generally reacts around 200 °C. In the plastic, leather, and other industries, modified azodicarbonamide (average decomposition temperature 170 °C) contains additives that accelerate the reaction or react at lower temperatures.
An example of the use of azodicarbonamide as a blowing agent is found in the manufacture of vinyl (PVC) foam, where it plays a role in the formation of air bubbles by breaking down into gas at high temperature. Vinyl foam is springy and does not slip on smooth surfaces. It is useful for carpet underlay and floor mats. Commercial yoga mats made of vinyl foam have been available since the 1980s; the first mats were cut from carpet underlay.”
Surprisingly, the actions of a few dedicated activists led to a wave of public opposition to acodicarbonamide, and Subway was pressured to remove it from their sandwiches. Any number of corporations could have come under fire for using the rubbery chemical, but Subway happened to take the hit, in the characteristically explosive way the truth sometimes bubbles up to the surface.
The organization Food Babe created a video and petition that helped spread word of Subway’s practice.
Factory workers who handle azodicarbonamide are known to be afflicted with respiratory issues. The petition notes that in 2001, a truck carrying the chemical tipped over in Chicago causing people to suffer from burning eyes and skin irritation. City officials issued the highest possible hazardous materials alert and told people to evacuate within a half mile radius.
Several health organizations have admitted the chemical is linked to asthma, allergies, respiratory issues, and cancer and tumor development, particularly cancer when it is heated and breaks down into semicarbazide and urethane.
What if it doesn’t leave the body or break down easily?
According to NPR:
“‘This is an unnecessary chemical that’s added to bread,’ says EWG scientist David Andrews. And there are viable alternatives, such as ascorbic acid, which is a form of vitamin C.
But the FDA considers small amounts of azodicarbonamide to be safe. The agency long ago set an allowable level of 45 parts per million in dough.
And food scientist Kantha Shelke of Corvus Blue, who works as an independent consultant to the food industry, says this is reasonable. After all, it’s the dose that makes the poison. And ’45 parts per million is very, very, very small,’ she says.”
Who said eating the yoga mat chemical is reasonable? A “food scientist.” Food and this type of “science” should remain separate, in the eyes of most people, probably including the executives at corporations who use “food science” to make “food products.” If the amount of ADA is so small, why do they put it there in the first place? A small amount of it adds up to a lot of profit.
Like a drug dealer cutting his product, what would make efficiency-attentive large processed food corporations hesitate to try such a thing?
Here is a nearly full list of products containing ADA as of 2014, thanks to the report from Environmental Working Group. For the entire list, visit the report here.