Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Food for thought: Protect children from toxins

If you ask kids what their favorite “subject” in school is, they’d probably chorus with cherubic glee: “Recess!” Levity aside, what students eat in school has been an absorbing topic over the years. Hogging the headlines these days are the blacklisted toxic foods and drinks from Taiwan that have landed on our shores — and probably on the shelves of some stores. This has prompted a toxic watchdog to urge the Department of Education (DepEd) to come up with proactive measures that will protect students from these harmful foods and drinks.

“Now that we know which products from Taiwan are tainted with DEHP, we call on our education officials to welcome the new academic year with an enthusiastic campaign on food safety,” says Roy Alvarez, EcoWaste Coalition president.

Adding Teeth To Food Campaign

To add teeth to this food safety awareness and action campaign, Alvarez suggests that it should be carried out in cooperation with school administrators, teachers, non-teaching personnel, students, parents, and food service providers, concessionaires, and vendors.

What are these food products we should keep our children away from? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released a tentative list of beverage and food products believed to be contaminated with di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or DEHP, the dangerous chemical being blamed for the still unfolding toxic food scandal in Taiwan.

The FDA list of dreaded DEHP-tainted products from Taiwan includes: fruit juices, fruit juice powders, fruit concentrates, fruit candies, fruit tablets, fruit powders, sports drinks, teas, jelly, and yoghurt. DEHP, a suspected carcinogen, can damage the kidneys, liver, and lungs, and cause reproductive and developmental disorders such as underdeveloped penises and testicles in boys and early puberty in girls.

Zeroing In On School Canteens

Like any concerned parent, Alvarez asserts, “The campaign’s immediate objective should be to keep the tainted goods away from school canteens and snack kiosks, as well as convenience stores near schools. Just as important is educating parents, students, and other stakeholders to shun unhealthy foods such as those laden with synthetic and toxic chemicals, and those high in fat, salt, and sugar.”

Alvarez urges school officials to initiate dialogues with canteen operators and food concessionaires to ensure that no DEHP-tainted goods find their way into the school canteens. Likewise, convenience stores (which may be not-so-conveniently located around school campuses) should in no way sell recalled goods or high-risk products from Taiwan that have no safety certifications.

EcoWaste Coalition also enjoined all parents out there to exercise their right to ask questions, if only to ensure their children are not fed with injurious stuff. Hear ye, parents: You have the right to ask for full product details. You have the right to secure safety guarantee for your kids and get the best value for your hard-earned money.

Taiwanese Heroine Cited

To celebrate World Environment Day last Sunday, the EcoWaste Coalition honored the woman who called attention to these contaminated Taiwanese food and beverage products and caused their massive recall.

At simple rites held outside the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in Makati City, Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the Philippines, members of the EcoWaste Coalition gave “Mrs. Yang,” a Taiwanese food safety inspector, a “Salamat Po” (Thank You) award “for her perseverance in protecting the public good.”

The 52-year-old heroine is an employee of Taiwan’s Department of Health - Food and Drug Administration (DOH-FDA) whose professional dedication led to the detection of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), a toxic substance used as plasticizer in some Taiwanese drinks and foods.

These words of praise were heaped on Mrs. Yang: “Through the faithful performance of her duty, she has prevented the distribution and sale of more DEHP-tainted products in Taiwan and in importing countries like the Philippines, thus reducing consumer exposure to the cancer-causing DEHP, a toxic additive to plastics. Her meticulous and faithful performance of her job as a food safety inspector should be emulated by all public servants, especially by government officials and employees charged with ensuring that manufacturers and businesses fully comply with health and environmental laws such as those regulating chemical substances in products. Mrs. Yang is an exemplary model of a conscientious government regulator that every society needs in order to eliminate toxic threats to public health — particularly to the most vulnerable population groups — and the environment. We hope her action will inspire increased consumer vigilance against toxic harm and bring about lasting chemical reforms in our societies, including the implementation of toxics use reduction and clean production, food traceability processes, and good manufacturing audits, for the sake of public health and safety.”
Meanwhile, EcoWaste Coalition lauded the decision by local food and drug regulators led by FDA Director Suzette Lazo to protect local consumers from DEHP exposure with the issuance of FDA Advisory 2011-008, which directs the immediate recall of tainted goods from Taiwan.

Toxic Toys, Too

From toxic food, we go to toxic toys. Surely, our children are under constant threat from toxin-tainted products.

Thus, this urgent appeal from Thony Dizon on behalf of EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats): “We urge DepEd to enlist the help of health authorities in weeding out the toxic toys, as well as those that pose choking, laceration, physical and strangulation hazards to young children.”

He adds, “DepEd should take all precautionary measures to shield and save children from unsafe toys. They should come out with a health-based criteria on what toys can be donated and received. We should not let our guard down knowing that children are most prone to chemical and other hazards.”

Other chemicals of concern often found in toys include aniline, bisphenol A, brominated flame retardants, cadmium, chlorinated paraffins, chromium, formaldehyde, lead, nonylphenol, organotin, perfluorinated chemicals, and triclosan.


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