November 26, 2007 The Pump Handle 1Comment

Europe is often ahead of the US when it comes to protecting its people from environmental and occupational hazards, but our public health officials led the way in identifying the hazards of diacetyl, the butter-flavoring chemical that causes severe lung disease in workers. When ten workers from a Missouri microwave popcorn plant were diagnosed with the rare lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans in 2000, the state’s Department of Health notified federal officials. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health studied the facility, issued recommendations to improve workers’ respiratory protections, and conducted further research that identified diacetyl as the problem. While our federal regulatory agencies haven’t taken significant action on the issue – despite petitions from unions and health advocates to OSHA and the FDA –  some companies have acted to reduce or eliminate workers’ diacetyl exposure, and California’s OSHA is moving toward regulation. (See our Diacetyl page for more on this topic.)

Things are moving even more slowly in Europe, it seems. Last month, the European Food Safety Authority told that it takes US findings seriously and that “experts of the EFSA [food additives and flavorings] panel and its working group on food additives will look at this issue to see if new scientific evidence is available that may require further action.”

On Friday, the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) issued a call for all unions with members in food processing to take action on diacetyl, urging them to:

• inform your members, and occupational health and safety officers and experts in particular, of the dangers of diacetyl

• demand from your employers, as a matter of urgency, verifiable information on if, where and how diacetyl is used in each workplace

• call on food manufacturers and their industry associations to disclose the location of all manufacturing facilities which use diacetyl and to identify the products and brands containing diacetyl as well as the suppliers of diacetyl

• demand that the relevant government occupational and public health agencies identify and survey the health of all workers potentially exposed to diacetyl through current as well as past employment

• call on the relevant regulatory agencies in their countries to control the use of diacetyl in the light of currently available knowledge, beginning with an immediate suspension of its use in food manufacturing

The US may have taken the lead in identifying diacetyl as an occupational hazard, but unions in other countries may be more successful in getting decisive, meaningful action from their regulatory agencies.

One thought on “International Union Urges Diacetyl Action

  1. One perhaps predictable consequence of the US diacetyl scandal is that employers and trade groups elsewhere – and statutory agencies, for that – are proving very reluctant to admit any use of diacetyl. It is certainly manufactured and used out the US and cases have been reported this year in Holland – they had not been correctly diagnosed or related to work. If it is happening in Holland and the USA, then it will be happening elsewhere – and the current attitude of the food processing industry and regulatory and trade bodies is guaranteeing the problem will be hidden from view longer. The consequences are dire, particularly for those exposed to a wholly unnecessary butter flavouring. There was butter flavour long before there was industrial production of diacetyl.

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