General Mills, the corporate parent of Annie’s Homegrown, announced last week that it will begin eliminating phthalate chemicals from Annie’s packaging and food processing equipment, about four years after the chemical was identified in popular macaroni and cheese products. Phthalate chemicals*, which make plastic more flexible, are often used in food packaging, as well as food processing equipment, such as tubing and conveyor belts, and can leach into the food, particularly dairy products such as cheese, during processing. Defend Our Health, a Portland, Maine advocacy group, was instrumental in getting General Mills, owners of Annie’s Homegrown, a popular macaroni-and-cheese brand, to work toward eliminating the potentially harmful chemical from its packaging process. However, General Mills has so far resisted the group’s request that it lay out a timeline for when they will be eliminating the phthalate chemicals. (source)
More on phthalate chemicals…
*Phthalates are easily unbound from plastics and released into the environment; most exposure is from diet (where they are part of food packaging), air (as they are used in air fresheners, perfumes, etc.), and skin absorption (as they are used in personal care products). Phthalates cross the blood-placenta barrier and are associated with shortened gestational age, disrupted male reproductive development, and deficits in cognitive function and behavioral outcomes.
Phthalates have been shown to alter the levels of thyroid hormones, which are critical for brain development, especially the development of the cerebellum, which is in part accountable for coordination and fine-motor movements. Phthalates have also been shown to disrupt specialized neurons associated with the development of motor skills, including fine motor skills, which are known to develop earlier in girls than in boys.
For more information about the health hazards linked with phthalate chemicals in scientific studies see some of CFL’s other posts on the topic here: