By Liz Borkowski 

As David Michaels reported yesterday, the Popcorn Workers Lung Disease Prevention Act will come up for a vote in the House some time this week. The legislation will force OSHA to issue a standard that will minimize workers’ exposure to diacetyl, the butter flavoring chemical that’s been causing severe, irreversible lung disease in workers from food and flavoring plants.

Why hasn’t OSHA acted to address diacetyl exposure, even though they’ve known about the problem for several years? It seems that these days, top regulatory-agency officials are more interested in a “voluntary compliance strategy” than in actually, well, regulating.

One of the main problems with the voluntary approach is that it’s very unlikely to convince all of the employers to take the necessary steps. Sure, it didn’t take regulation to get Pop Weaver and ConAgra to announce that they’re removing diacetyl from their microwave popcorn products (perhaps just the prospect of regulation did the trick). On the other hand, Kraft has just provided a timely example of a company that seems to need a more forceful kind of persuasion.

Lorraine Heller at Food Navigator reports:

Kraft Food Ingredients has introduced a new toasted butter flavor, which the firm says can be used in a range of applications to achieve a butter taste without the caloric content.

Golden Toasted Butter, a dairy-free spray-dried flavor, can be dry-blended into applications without any special processing needs, said the company.

The ingredient has been tested for use in baked goods, such as bread, crackers and biscuits, as well as in cheese applications, such as sauces and seasonings.  According to the firm, it could also be used in any application that seeks a toasted butter flavor – for example prepared meats, vegetables, soups, batters and snacks.

[…]

The company did confirm that the standard version of its new flavor contains the ingredient diacetyl, a common ingredient in butter flavoring, but one that has repeatedly been linked to lung disease in employees of manufacturing plants where it is used.

Why introduce such a product? Because it can “help improve the nutritional profile of products by reducing their calorie content” and provide cost benefits to manufacturers who might otherwise be stung by “the current high dairy prices.”

Why introduce a new product that contains diacetyl? Evidently the needs of the customer cannot be ignored, even when workers’ lungs are at stake:

KFI told FoodNavigator-USA.com that it is addressing the potential diacetyl concern by looking at formulating diacetyl-free versions of its ingredient.  In fact, one such version has already been developed, and is currently in testing stages.

“To some customers diacetyl is not an issue, to others it is.  We’re moving forward towards formulating solutions to meet customer needs,” KFI flavorist Susan Parker told FoodNavigator-USA.com.

As long as companies continue to make this kind of bad decision, we’re going to need regulation to limit the harm they cause.

Liz Borkowski works for the Project on Scientific Knowledge and Public Policy (SKAPP) at George Washington University’s School of Public Health and Health Services.
 

Comments

  1. #1 Richard
    September 25, 2007

    My message to Kraft.

    Hello,

    I just wanted to let you know I am very disappointed to hear about your new toasted butter flavor using Diacetyl. I would hope in the future Kraft would be more responsible and not use ingredients that are subject of controversy. After all a few years back Trans Fats were the norm.

    Please rest assured I will use every means at my disposal to denounce products such as this to everyone who will listen.

  2. #2 therealpotato
    September 25, 2007

    Wow. Calorie content is a concern, but to lower by introducing potentially hazardous chemicals?

    I mean, sawdust would lower the calorie content too.. oy.

  3. #3 dianarn
    September 26, 2007

    Just think at how stupid this sounds. Let’s make low calorie food with lots of chemicals that kind of tastes like high calorie food because we want to be gluttonous pigs and eat lots of it and not feel guilty. Forget the fact that these chemicals will give you chronic diseases 20 years down the road. And God forbid you try to push for healthier ingredients… that just makes prices go up at Wal-Mart, as Erin Burnett so famously said on Hardball.

  4. #4 COREY EVANS
    January 6, 2010

    I’M VERY UPSET WITH THIS FOOD ADDITITIVE CALLED DIACETYL CHEMICAL. I WORK AT A FLAVORING PLANT AND JUST FOUND OUT I’M A DIABETIC. COMPANY GAVE SPIROMETRY TESTING ON-SITE, AND WON’T LET ME KNOW MY LUNG CAPACITY.