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You Can’t Shop Your Way Out of Toxic Chemicals

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You may have seen the big news: hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates found in macaroni and cheese and other cheese products. The story was huge in print, TV, and on social media. Macaroni and cheese or any food shouldn’t be contaminated with industrial chemicals that can mess with hormones.

So what should we do? While it’s easy to jump to the conclusion, as many news media did, that avoiding processed mac ‘n cheese by making a homemade version is the solution, this isn’t the answer. We must demand companies stop using chemicals we know are harmful and we need stronger laws to ensure they do.

It’s almost impossible to avoid phthalates because they are present in many foods and consumer products like toys and clothing. This latest testing found them in 29 of 30 cheese products, including hard cheeses that we use to make homemade macaroni and cheese. In fact, the testing suggests that phthalates in cheese products are an industry-wide problem, getting into the food through plastic tubing and other processing equipment. So simply avoiding the box version isn’t an answer.

We can thank chemical makers like Exxon for the prevalence of phthalates in our homes. Exxon is a major producer of phthalates and has fought tooth and nail against restrictions on these problematic chemicals. You could drive yourself nuts trying to avoid all the sources they have managed to get their chemicals into. But you shouldn’t have to!

I get so frustrated when people suggest the solution is to reduce toxic exposure by buying a different product. Of course it’s the logical question we all ask ourselves when we hear something might be bad for us – what can I do immediately to protect my health?

We provide toxic-free tips so our supporters can do what they can to protect themselves and their families. But why should all of us have to become experts to safeguard our families given that companies don’t even have to tell us the chemicals in their products?

Here’s the bottom line—if these chemicals are harmful, shouldn’t we be looking at the chemical companies like Exxon that sell them, and the food companies like Kraft that use them to process food? I strongly believe we should.

That’s why our work at Toxic-Free Future is focused on getting to the root of the problem of unregulated toxic chemicals. For too long the status quo has meant companies can sell and use toxic chemicals without fully understanding the health impacts of those choices. We need to reverse this.

We need to demand that companies clean up the products that contain these chemicals and that policymakers stop harmful chemicals from being used in the first place. That’s the focus of our work on PFAS chemicals in food packaging, toxic flame retardants in electronics and kids’ products, and phthalates in dairy products like Kraft macaroni and cheese powder.

The next time you hear about a product containing harmful toxic chemicals, we are not asking you to avoid yet another item. We are asking for your help in demanding accountability from those making and using these chemicals, as well as policymakers who must put in place protections so we can all have safe products. We all have a right to a toxic-free future.

Laurie Valeriano is the Executive Director of Toxic-Free Future.