EWG calls on food manufacturers to stop using the preservative propyl paraben

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

EWG calls on food manufacturers to stop using propyl paraben
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has launched a social media campaign and online petition calling on food manufacturers to stop using the preservative propyl paraben.

The EWG – a Washington DC-based lobby group with strong ties to the organic food industry – claims that the anti-microbial agent propyl paraben, found in “nearly 50 US snack foods​”, is an endocrine disruptor that doesn’t belong in food products. 

While the FDA judged propyl paraben to be safe in 1972 (click HERE​) for direct addition to food at concentrations below 0.1%, subsequent studies have raised serious questions about it, claims EWG, which notes that a 2004 advisory from an EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) panel concluded​ ​that while it was unlikely to represent a risk to consumers at current intakes, EFSA was unable to recommend a specific ADI (acceptable daily intake).

The EFSA panel said: “The panel considered that propyl paraben could not be included in this group ADI due to recent research demonstrating its effects on certain reproductive parameters in rats. While the presence of propyl paraben in the diet is limited and unlikely to represent a risk to consumers, the panel was unable to recommend a specific ADI for propyl paraben… due to the lack of a clear NOAEL (No Observed Adverse Effect Level).

“The panel reviewed findings from new studies on the oestrogenic effects of parabens and their effects on reproductive parameters in juvenile male rats. Dietary administration of propyl paraben affected several parameters including the reduction of daily sperm production at the lowest dose level tested of 10 mg/kg body weight per day.”

In 2006, the European Commission removed​ propyl paraben from the list of food additives authorized for use in the EU​.

Chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to adverse effects on development, reproduction, and the neurological and immune systems

EWG senior scientist Johanna Congleton, who has a Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology from Cornell University, urged consumers to sign the EWG’s petition​, adding: “Despite mounting evidence that propyl paraben disrupts the endocrine system, the FDA has failed to take action to eliminate its use in food or reassess its safety.

In 2002 researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan Institute of Public Health discovered​ ​that propyl paraben decreased sperm counts in young rats at and below the concentrations which the FDA considers safe for human consumption in food.”

Other researchers have confirmed propyl paraben's effects on the endocrine system, claimed Congleton, citing studies published in 1998​, 2006​ ​and 2014​: “It acts as a synthetic estrogenic compound and can alter hormone signaling and gene expression​… “

Meanwhile, a 2013 study​ by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health suggested exposure might be associated with diminished fertility, she claimed.

“Proper endocrine signaling is particularly important during critical windows of development—while in the womb and during childhood and adolescence. Chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to adverse effects on development, reproduction, and the neurological and immune systems.”

FDA: There is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens

FoodNavigator-USA has asked the FDA to comment on whether it has reviewed the safety of propyl paraben in food products in light of recent research, and the conclusions of the EFSA panel, and is awaiting a response. It has also contacted some toxicologists for comment on the safety of propylparaben in food and will update this article when we hear back.

In a statement​ on its website addressing the safety of parabens in cosmetics, however, the FDA said there is no reason for consumers to be concerned: “In a review of the estrogenic activity of parabens, (Golden et al., in Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 2005) the author concluded that based on maximum daily exposure estimates, it was implausible that parabens could increase the risk associated with exposure to estrogenic chemicals.

“FDA believes that at the present time there is no reason for consumers to be concerned about the use of cosmetics containing parabens. However, the agency will continue to evaluate new data in this area.” 

According to the 1972 report​ of the Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS), "The available information reveals that there are no short-term toxicological consequences in the rat, rabbit, cat, dog, or man and no long-term toxicological consequences in rats, of consuming the parabens in amounts greatly exceeding those currently consumed in the normal diet of the U.S. population. There is no evidence that consumption of the parabens as food ingredients has had an adverse effect on man in the 40 years they have been so used in the United States."

More to follow...

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