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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

US Lawmakers Call for Urgent Action on Diacetyl

Posted to the IUF website 13-Jan-2008

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Three key members of the United States House of Representatives have publicly called on the US National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) to conduct a systematic workplace survey of all industries which may be using the dangerous food flavouring ingredient diacetyl. Diacetyl has been linked to the devastating lung disease bronchiolitis obliterans. In a September 10 letter to the head of NIOSH, George Miller (Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections), Lynn Woolsey (Chairwoman) and Rosa Delauro (Chairwoman, Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies) cite the recent study of potential health risks linked to diacetyl exposure in commercial kitchens as further evidence that "it is urgent that we finally determine the national scope of exposure and illness related to diacetyl-containing food flavoring", urging "that a comprehensive survey be conducted where diacetyl-containing flavorings may be used in order to assess potential exposure and health effects that may result from exposure to flavoring products containing diacetyl, particularly where they are used in high volume. Such a survey may include a survey of death certificates and provider reporting systems where they exist."

The congressional representatives have been working closely with US unions on diacetyl and were active in promoting the legislation adopted in the House of Representatives last year (still to pass the Senate) calling for mandatory regulation and safety standards for diacetyl use. Their initiative for a comprehensive workplace study of the potential impact of past and current diacetyl exposure on foodworkers at all stages of production echoes the call issued by the IUF on November 6 last year for urgent action by national and supranational health and safety regulatory agencies. The IUF at that time demanded that "All available information regarding products and brands using diacetyl in food manufacturing must be made publicly available and readily accessible. Food workers' unions must be officially involved as active partners in a program of comprehensive research into the hazards associated with workplace exposure to diacetyl in food processing, including on-site investigation to monitor possible exposure, evaluation of production methods, assessment of protective measures and rigorous medical surveillance of all workers potentially at risk."

The IUF also stated at that time that "Risk assessment must include an evaluation to determine whether the substance could be eliminated entirely and, if necessary, replaced with safer alternatives. The current state of knowledge warrants an immediate suspension of the use of diacetyl pending a thorough appraisal of its workplace risks."