Drugs, additives and ingredients used to make your food that you don't know about
Did you know farmed salmon is actually white or pale grey?
Author : Esther Han
Thousands of Australians were shocked while watching ABC's latest Four Corners program to find out that farmed salmon flesh is coloured orange by a steady diet of pellets that contain the synthetic additive astaxanthin.
After years of consumer pressure, the major US supermarket chains have begun to declare on labels whether their salmon is farmed and therefore artificially coloured. In Australia, there is no such practice.
Here's a list of drugs, additives and ingredients that you may not be aware are involved in the production of, or contained in, popular food products.
Salmon are fed synthetic additives for colour.
Salmon are fed synthetic additives for colour. Photo: Pat Scala
Australia's biggest producer of farmed salmon, Tassal, says its fish feed consists of fish meal, fish oil, land animal ingredients such as blood meal, and vegetable ingredients such as grain.
The feed also includes a "nature identical", synthetic version of astaxanthin, which gives salmon flesh its bright orange colour.
Tassal doesn't mention astaxanthin on product labels because it is a minor additive that has been approved for use by regulatory authorities.
"It seems to be a clear case of farmers seeking to fish for a price premium by appealing to our appetite for pink salmon," says consumer group Choice's Tom Godfrey. "Clearly many consumers would want to know if there's something fishy with their salmon."
A muscle drug is added to pigfeed in Australia.
It's banned or restricted in about 160 countries but the synthetic drug ractopamine, also known as Paylean, is used by many Australian pork producers to increase feed efficiency, hasten muscle growth and reduce fat deposition, which translate into bigger profits.
While the drug is banned in the EU, China and Russia, peak body Australian Pork says there is no evidence that ractopamine is bad for human health.
"I don't believe there's any obligation to disclose it, but if a consumer wanted to know, absolutely they can find out because we're a transparent industry," says its chief executive Andrew Spencer.
The drug maker Elanco told Fairfax Media that ractopamine was approved more than a decade ago and is used in more than 20 countries.
Antibiotics are used in chicken production.
It's well known that antibiotics are widely used in Australia's chicken industry to treat sick birds and prevent disease.
The industry insists eating chicken meat does not expose consumers to antibiotic residues or antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotics are not generally used in Free Range Egg and Poultry Association accredited or organic farming, and are only used to treat sick birds. If birds are treated with antibiotics they can no longer be sold as free-range or organic.
"[We have] a policy that antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion purposes," Vivien Kite, executive director at the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, told Fairfax Media.
Bread, chips and milk powder
Potato chips have additives as a fattening agent.
Additives are used as preservatives, thickening agents or to provide foods with a certain colour or texture. While some are safe to consume, many have been found to be "dangerous" and banned in other countries.
Some studies have shown butylated hydroxytoluene, an antioxidant, to be carcinogenic, says Grace Smith, compliance manager at the Australian Institute of Food Safety.
"Its use is quite limited, however it is used in dried milk powders, edible oils and oil emulsions, walnut and pecan nut kernels, bubble gum and chewing gum," she says.
Also in her "dangerous" category is polydextrose, a thickening agent found in foods such as baked goods and desserts.
"Some people are sensitive to it and can experience gastrointestinal upset after eating it," she says.
Another one is olestra, a fat substitute, often found in low-calorie fried or baked foods such as potato chips.
Sulphur dioxide is added to raw meat to give it a redder appearance.
Butchers across Sydney have been fined thousands of dollars for using sulphur dioxide to make raw meat appear fresher. It is illegal to use the chemical allergen in raw meat.
Last year, the NSW Food Authority fined one Sydney butcher $12,950, plus $3870 in costs, for using amounts exceeding permitted levels for sausages.
"Some people, particularly asthmatics, are sensitive to sulphur dioxide. When ingested it may trigger typical asthma symptoms," a statement from the authority says. "Due to this, its use in foods is strictly controlled by the Food Standards Code."
Rice and spice
Insecticides are found in some imported rice.
Last month, an SBS Punjabi Radio investigation found pesticides, arsenic, lead and even the carcinogen DDT in food products imported to Australia from India.
It found the popular Indian spice brand MDH contains pesticides above the limit specified by Food Standards Australia New Zealand. It also revealed Kohinoor basmati rice contains the banned insecticide buprofezin.
"This investigation exposes potentially harmful contaminants that may be present in foods that Australians consume on the mistaken assumption that all foods sold in the country comply with strict quality standards," says SBS Punjabi Radio executive producer Manpreet Kaur Singh.
Source : The Sydney Morning Herald