Pear in mind: A blog in the public interest

Although not directly added to foods, phthalates are found in many, including meat, dairy products, infant foods, oils, and spices.

CSPI is committed to keeping unsafe chemicals out of your food. That’s why, in 2016, CSPI and other nonprofit organizations filed two petitions urging the FDA to ban the ubiquitous and harmful chemicals known as phthalates from use in food packaging and processing equipment. But more than five and a half years later, FDA still has not acted. Yesterday, together with a coalition of health advocacy groups, we sued the FDA to force the agency to respond to the petitions.  

Phthalates are a family of chemicals primarily used to make plastics more flexible. For decades, FDA has authorized the use of numerous phthalates in a variety of food packaging and processing materials. From there, phthalates leach into the food and beverages that we eat and drink daily. As a result, certain phthalates can be found in most foods, making them nearly impossible to dodge.

Phthalates are hormone disruptors—chemicals that can turn on, turn off, or change the signals sent by hormones like estrogen, testosterone, thyroid hormone, and insulin—linked to a variety of health harms, including impairment of male fetal genital developmentpoorer reproductive success, and reduced IQ. Babies and young children, as well as Black, Latino, and low-wealth individuals, face heightened risks of serious health problems from phthalate exposure compared to the general population, according to the lawsuits.

Evidence of phthalates’ harmful effects on human health led Congress and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to effectively ban eight of the phthalates addressed by the petitions from use in toys and childcare articles starting in 2008. And foods and beverages are responsible for higher exposures to phthalates than children’s toys. Yet, the FDA continues to permit them in food. It hasn’t acted on our requests in over 2,000 days, despite a federal law requiring the agency to respond to the principal petition within 180 days. The lawsuits filed today send a clear message to the agency: stop allowing these toxic chemicals in our food.

In addition to CSPI, the lawsuits were filed on behalf of Environmental Defense Fund, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Center for Food Safety, Center for Environmental Health, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Defend Our Health, and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. This coalition is respresented by Earthjustice. 

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Matthew Simon was CSPI's Deputy Litigation Director from 2017 - 2024. He focused on identifying and bringing consumer class actions challenging food and supplement companies’ deceptive advertising and labeling practices. He also identified and litigated administrative lawsuits pressuring federal agencies to enact regulatory reforms to protect the health and safety of consumers.