The FDA Approved These 8 Questionable Additives — but Are They Really Safe?

by Meagan Morris
Oct 16, 2017 at 8:00 a.m. ET

We've all learned the hard way over the past year or so that when it comes to the government, you can't really believe everything they say and do. Many elected officials have hidden (or not-so-hidden) agendas that clearly negatively influence their ability to put the safety of the American people first. But when it comes to government bodies regulating what companies are able to sell us as food, you'd hope we could expect said government bodies to keep us from consuming chemicals that aren't so much food as they are poison — right?

Sadly, in the case of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, our trust isn't 100 percent there. The FDA seems to be pushing through additives that seem questionable, to say the least, and Americans are eating and drinking ingredients they believe are safe — when there's evidence these things are harmful.

The FDA has the power to ban foods, so why are these iffy ones still approved?

Originally posted June 2016. Updated October 2017.

1/8 :Aspartame

The FDA approved aspartame for use in things like soda in 1981, and it continues to be common despite studies that point to it being a possible carcinogen. 

2 /8: Butylated hydroxytoluene

2/8 :Butylated hydroxytoluene

The FDA has the food additive on its "generally recognized as safe" list, though some studies have pointed to it being a possible carcinogen. It may be dangerous at high levels, says the FDA, but "no evidence in the available information on BHT demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced." 

3/8 :Propylparaben

Propylparaben is often used as a preservative in tortillas and muffins and is suspected of causing a decrease in testosterone and sperm count in men. However, the FDA stands by its ruling, saying, "there is no evidence that consumption of the parabens as food ingredients has had an adverse effect on man" in the four decades it's been used in the U.S.

4/8 :Ractopamine

Though it's banned in several countries, ractopamine was approved by the FDA in 1999 for use in several types of livestock. The drug, used to lower fat in animals, is known to cause them stress and has been shown to poison humans.

5/8 :rBGH

A growth hormone, rBGH is given to dairy cattle to increase their milk production capacities, but it has been linked to several types of cancer. The FDA approved rBGH for human consumption, though Canada and the European Union have banned its use.

6/8 :Propyl gallate

Used as a preservative for fats in sausage and lard, propyl gallate is suspected of causing tumors in rats. However, the FDA says, "[T]here is no evidence in the available information on propyl gallate that demonstrates it to be a hazard to the public when used at levels that are now current or that might reasonably be expected in the future."

7 /8: Butylated hydroxyanisole

7/8 :Butylated hydroxyanisole

A relative of BHT, BHA is used in snack foods like chips and is classified by the National Toxicology Program as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen," but the FDA still recognizes it as safe.

8 /8: Brominated vegetable oil

8/8 :Brominated vegetable oil

Though banned in dozens of countries because of its endocrine-disrupting reputation, BVO is still approved for use in the U.S. within certain concentrations. First developed as a flame retardant, it's now used as an emulsifier in products like citrus-based sodas.