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US FDA: Amount of perchlorate increasing in food products

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A study from the US FDA has revealed a rise in the amount of perchlorate found in food products, including those traditionally given to infants and toddlers. And some in the NGO community believe the increase may be linked to the FDA allowing the substance in food packaging materials.

The study, US Food and Drug Administration's Total Diet Study: dietary intake of perchlorate and iodine, compared the amount found in food from two different time periods.

The perchlorate in food sampled between 2008 and 2012 was higher than similar samples from 2003 to 2006. The amount increased 34% in food for toddlers and 23% in that for infants, a “concerning” number as the substance has been known to threaten fetal and child brain development, according to the agency.

Perchlorate are salts derived from perchloric acid and are used commercially as oxidisers in propellants for rockets and fireworks. It is also used in some fertilisers that has been reported to contaminate drinking water if overused.

The substance is also used in food packaging, both to seal gaskets on food containers and to reduce static in dry food packaging.

NGO concerns

Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at NGO the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), and Maricel Maffini, an EDF consultant, say the increase may come from a 2005 decision by the FDA to allow perchlorate as an anti-static agent in plastic food packaging.

Citing the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Mr Neltner and Ms Maffini said this was based on a “flawed and outdated assumption” that the substance would not migrate into food at a significant level.

They said that the FDA’s study provides significant data that shows a rise in exposure, since the substance was allowed in food containers. They added the agency should act now to ban perchlorate for use in contact with food.

Petitioning FDA

In 2014, nine NGOs petitioned the FDA to revoke the substance's use in dry food packaging as both a conductivity enhancer in the manufacture of antistatic agents to be used in food contact articles, and as a permitted additive in sealing gaskets for food containers.

The petition argued that the company that sought approval for the use made a mathematical error in its application that “underestimated the perchlorate exposure by 83 times”.

Six of those NGOs filed suit against the FDA in March last year over its failure to act on the petition.

In a July response, the agency said it needed additional time to properly review the necessary data.

“The issue with respect to standing is not whether there is a risk that petitioners may be harmed by perchlorate, but whether there is an actual, imminent injury caused by the claimed marginal increase in exposure, resulting from the limited uses of perchlorate in food packaging,” the FDA argued in its opposition to the lawsuit.

The agency was granted a stay until 31 March, by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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