Propyl paraben, a controversial preservative considered an endocrine disruptor, has been discovered in close to 50 U.S. snack foods, according to a new report by the Environmental Working Group.
Products including Sara Lee cinnamon rolls, Weight Watchers cakes, Café Valley muffins and La Banderita tortillas all tested positive for propyl paraben, and the group has issued a warning and call to action for consumers.
The ingredient, which is banned from foods sold in the European Union, is a known endocrine disruptor. “The findings are significant because a review of the latest scientific research shows that propyl paraben acts as a weak synthetic estrogen and can alter hormone signaling,” EWG said in a statement. “A recent study by Harvard School of Public Health suggested that exposure to the chemical might be associated with diminished fertility, while another study found that it led to decreased sperm counts in rats.”
Now, EWG has launched an online campaign targeted at the brands whose products contain the controversial ingredient, asking them to remove propyl paraben from their products in order to protect the health of American consumers.
Environmental Working Group has also asked the FDA to reconsider the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status it granted to propyl paraben, particularly as new research points to the human health risks of the ingredient.
“It is of great concern to us that the use of an endocrine-disrupting chemical in our food is considered safe by our own government,” Johanna Congleton, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., a senior scientist at EWG said in a statement. “Studies show that chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to developmental and reproductive problems.”
“The U.S. regulatory process is failing to protect us and our food supply,” Congleton said. “European Union regulators do not permit propyl paraben in food. So why do we?”
Propyl paraben has been restricted in the EU since 2006 after research found it had a significant impact on sex hormones and sperm counts in lab animals.
Propyl paraben is also common in personal care products and cosmetics, including body washes and lotions. “Some companies, including Johnson & Johnson and cosmetics giant Revlon have taken steps to cut out some parabens from their products because of relentless pressure from consumers and health advocates,” the group reports.
“Companies that still add parabens to their products need to hear from us loud and clear,” said Renee Sharp, EWG’s director of research. “Ingredients that can disrupt hormone signaling should not be in any product we eat or put on our bodies.”
“It is clear that some companies have figured out a way to make their products without this unnecessary and potentially harmful chemical,” Sharp said. “It is time for the rest of them to catch on and go ‘paraben free’.”
The EWG says consumers should be diligent in label reading and avoid parabens including “propyl paraben, isopropyl paraben, butyl paraben and isobutyl paraben.”
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Cinnamon rolls image via Shutterstock