Flavours banned in the US due to links with cancer

The Federal Drug Administration in the USA have just announced that they are banning seven artificial flavours. These flavours are used by manufacturers to trick you into believing you are eating the real thing. These flavours help mimic natural flavours and are used to infused foods with mint, cinnamon and other flavours.

So which flavours are banned?

The seven artificial flavours that have been banned in the US are:

1. Synthetically-derived benzophenone

2. Ethyl acrylate

3. Methyl eugenol

4. Myrcene

5. Pulegone

6. Pyridine

7. Styrene

Why have you never heard of these?

 You may be thinking I don’t recognise any of these additives! You would be right! There is a reason why you don’t recognise them! You wouldn’t find these names when you are reading food labels as they don’t need to be disclosed.

I can hear your confusion….

The FDA and the FSANZ do not require these to be listed by name. Any of these flavourings can be lumped into the all-encompassing “natural” or “artificial” flavours.

Why have these flavours been banned?

These additives have been banned in response to a petition by environmental and consumer groups including:

  • Natural Resources Defence Council;
  • Centre for Food Safety; and
  • Centre for Science in the Public Interest

The petitions pointed out that these chemicals were linked to cancer in animals.

In the US the law is very clear, if any chemical causes cancer in humans or animals it cannot be used as a food additive. Manufacturers have been given 24 months to remove these additives and reformulate their products.

What is Food Standards Australia New Zealands’ (FSANZ) position on these flavours?

At this stage I haven’t been able to find FSANZ’s official statement on these flavours. I will be contacting them to seek their response.

In the past, the FSANZ stance has been that just because substances cause cancer or illness in animals it doesn’t mean that they will always cause cancer in humans as the ‘substances act in very different ways in people”.

FSANZ view is that “Some chemicals can cause adverse effects at high doses, as used in animal safety studies, but are innocuous at low doses. This may occur because the body is unable to detoxify the chemical above certain levels – a type of overload situation. Effects seen at such high levels may not be relevant to the much lower levels in food as consumed. Therefore when adverse effects are reported in animal studies this does not mean that the same effects will be caused when people eat the substance”

We must remember though that additives are approved on an adult’s body mass and additives are not tested in combination. So, do we really know what the effect is on our young? Could it be the case that cancer in animals is a very real warning sign that we should keep our young away from these additives?

Why are these flavours used?

Usually manufacturers use these flavours to mask the flavour of highly processed, inferior quality ingredients. Without these flavours there is no way that you would eat the processed food! The food would be bland and tasteless. These flavours trick you into thinking that you are eating something with nutritional value.

What to do?

The crazy thing is, the consumer has no line of sight on what all the flavours are that could be used in our products. Manufacturers have labelling loopholes that allow them to list these additives under the simple label ‘flavour’.

In the past you may have seen these listed as ‘artificial flavours’. These artificial flavours were rejected by consumers and manufacturers changed their flavours to be ‘natural flavours’ instead. Consumers think that these ‘natural flavours’ are healthier.

Sadly, this is not the case.

I recommend you avoid any products that contain the word flavour – any type of flavour. – artificial or natural.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If other countries ban additives based on them causing cancer in animals, do you believe Australia should take the same approach?


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