It seems that almost every week, another major food company announces plans to remove artificial colors and flavors from their products. In the past six months, major food companies such as Nestle, General Mills, Kellogg's, Hershey’s and Campbell’s committed to reformulating many of their iconic brands to be free of artificial colors and flavors. National restaurant chains such as Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Subway and Noodles & Company also made similar commitments. Tens of billions of dollars of products are being reformulated.
What’s driving all this change?
It turns out more and more Americans are concerned about what goes into their food, especially when it comes to the thousands of chemical additives—substances used to color, preserve, flavor, or emulsify food or to process or package food, like phthalates.
According to a May 2015 industry survey, 36% of consumers polled said chemicals in food was their most important safety issue for them and their families today — more than pesticides, animal antibiotics, undeclared allergens and pathogens. This is up from 9% in 2011. What’s more, 45% said they changed food purchases as a result of information they learned about chemicals, pesticide residues, and animal antibiotics.
Another survey by CivicScience published the same month reported similar numbers with health concerns about preservatives and chemicals rating higher than added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. These weren’t urban foodies following the latest trends on social media: those most concerned were generally from rural areas, more likely to be influenced by TV news, and less likely to eat out or use social media. With numbers like these, no wonder the food industry is scrambling to respond.
There is good reason to be concerned about potentially unsafe chemicals in the food supply, and importantly, the problem extends well beyond whether an ingredient might be artificial. So, while these recent efforts to remove artificial ingredients respond to mounting consumer concerns, they won’t sate the consumer’s appetite for healthier and safer foods.
EDF is launching a new initiative to move potentially unsafe chemicals from the food supply by harnessing the transformative power of supply chains. EDF’s Behind the Label: A Blueprint for Safer Food Additives provides a roadmap for corporate leadership that moves companies from a reactionary response to artificial ingredients to a proactive approach to ensure safer, simpler food. We’re excited to have Tom Neltner leading this new effort on safer chemicals in food. Tom spent years investigating the safety of chemical food additives at the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In the coming weeks and months, we’ll be outlining the problem of potentially unsafe chemicals in food, the current state of the market response to rising concerns, and our vision for corporate leadership for safer chemicals in food.