The action is the latest to be trumpeted by Hari, who is not a scientist but whose blogging about food additives has the ability to make big companies jump. Last year the Subway sandwich chain removed a dough conditioner, azodicarbonamide, from its breads after similar haranguing by Hari.
Many of America’s favorite cereal brands contain a dash of BHT, a synthetic antioxidant that prevents vegetable oils from going rancid. BHT may be added directly to cereal, though it is commonly added to the plastic or wax paper liner of the packaging. From there, it migrates into food.
“BHT is an FDA-approved food ingredient, but we’re already well down the path of removing it from our cereals. This change is not for safety reasons but because we think consumers will embrace it,” General Mills says. The company claims the move has been under way for more than a year and was not motivated by the petition that Hari launched on Feb 5. Hari also has called on Kellogg’s to remove BHT.
There is no scientific evidence that BHT is harmful in the amounts used in packaged food. Indeed, in small amounts, it may have anticancer effects similar to those provided by naturally occurring antioxidants. But studies of larger doses have shown mixed results. In some mouse and rat studies, BHT appeared to trigger cancer in the forestomach, an organ that humans don’t have.
BHT is approved for use in both the U.S. and Europe, but Hari points out that cereals marketed in Europe by General Mills and Kellogg’s do not contain the additive. Already, General Mills says, the Cheerios, Trix, Kix, and Lucky Charms it sells in the U.S. contain no BHT. Cheerios products, for example, rely on vitamin E, also called mixed tocopherols, to keep them fresh. Other label-friendly antioxidants available to cereal companies include vitamins A and C and extracts of rosemary and thyme.