Fruit Loops

Apparently you can’t recall 28 million boxes of children’s cereal due to methylnaphthalene contamination without raising a few red flags…

…or opening a Pandora’s box about our completely inadequate chemical reporting system.

Kellogg’s June recall involved millions of boxes of Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Apple Jacks and Honey Smacks that had an ‘off -taste and smell’  which reportedly caused nausea and vomiting in some consumers of the products.   The culprit?  Methylnapthalene, a chemical in the cereal bags which leached out into the cereal.

Now the House Energy and Commerce Committee has a few questions for Kellogg’s, such as: what policies and procedures do you follow to make sure your products are safe, and what do you guys know about this methylnapthalene stuff anyway?

If Kellogg’s is anything like the FDA or the EPA, the answer is:  very little.

The Washington Post laid it out like this:

Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene — even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.

Ah.   Good thing we all start our mornings eating bowls of cereal poured from packaging made of chemicals that no one knows are safe.

The Post article, bluntly and honestly titled “U.S. regulators lack data on health risks of most chemicals,” draws a straight line between what we don’t know about methylnapthalene and what we don’t know about most of the 80,000 chemicals currently on the market.

When the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, it exempted from regulation about 62,000 chemicals that were in commercial use — including 2-methylnaphthalene. In addition, chemicals developed since the law’s passage do not have to be tested for safety. Instead, companies are asked to volunteer information on the health effects of their compounds, and the government can decide whether additional tests are needed.

Volunteer?   So consumers are supposed to trust the chemicals in our food, clothing, and home products based on information that companies selectively choose to share with us?

Not so, says this op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun.   Perhaps the companies themselves don’t even know anything about the chemicals they’re using.

In the case of the EPA, manufacturers with proof that a chemical poses a health or environmental problem are required to inform the agency. But manufacturers can simply refuse to test their chemicals, allowing them to claim that they do not have information on toxicity or cancer-causing potential.

So when consumers dove into their Froot Loops with concentrated levels of methylnapthalene and came away with nausea and diarrhea, this might have well been a complete shock to Kellogg’s.   After all, who knows if they’d ever tested the safety or potential side effects of the chemicals in their cereal bags?  And why would they if they knew they’d have to report any scary findings to government agencies?

No wonder the EPA’s been waiting 16 years for that data on methylnapthalene.

And until Congress gets around to reforming our laws on toxics, the EPA – and the rest of us – will keep on waiting.

In the meantime… sniff your cereal before eating.