On Thursday, General Mills tweeted to concerned consumers, informing them that they are in the process of removing a preservative from their foods that has been banned in other parts of the world.
This came in response to actions by influential blogger Vani Hari of Foodbabe.com, who launched a petition crusade against General Mills and Kellogg’s for their use of Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) in many of their cereals. Within a few hours, the petition gained over 17,000 signatures (the figure is now more than 32,000) demanding the companies remove the controversial chemical from their breakfast foods.
Some petitioners tweeted at General Mills to prompt action, and soon they received responses:
While allowed by the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA), BHT has raised some red flags in the food industry. The European Food Safety Authority reported multiple concerns with the preservative that were found during animal testing, including adverse developmental effects and toxicity.
The New York Observer reported that Ms. Hari reached out to General Mills a few weeks ago regarding the presence of BHT in their American-marketed cereals. She told the Observer that the company informed her “not to sweat it” since it was FDA-approved. However, following the petition’s success, they claimed to have been in the process of removing the chemical for over a year.
“BHT is an FDA-approved food ingredient, but we’re already well down the path of removing it from our cereals. This change is not for safety reasons, but because we think consumers will embrace it ... Many of our US Cereals do not contain BHT including: Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix, Kix and Lucky Charms. Our removal of BHT from cereals is well underway and has been for more than a year,” General Mills said in a statement, according to the New York Observer.
Kellogg’s has yet to respond.
BHT is already banned in European countries and Japan, which Hari said shows that the US should follow suit and make more strides for getting the preservative out of its own foods. She believes that the petition and General Mills’ response is a huge step, but is now wondering when it will be fully implemented.
“Now, I must ask this: Why is it taking so long for General Mills to remove a chemical they already don't use in Europe? When will children get to stop eating this unnecessary but potentially harmful additive like kids overseas?” Hari said on her Facebook page.
This is not the first time Hari has used her “Food Babe Army” to instigate change in America’s food industry.
After publishing a post titled “Chick-fil-A or Chemical-fil-A?” in 2012, she met with Chick-fil-A executives to advocate for antibiotic-free products. After a year of follow-ups, the company started to remove a controversial ingredient, TBHQ (a chemical made from butane), from their products and committed to going antibiotic-free in 5 years.
In February of 2014, she spearheaded the efforts to remove a “chemical found in yoga mats” from bread at Subway, which they successfully did in April of the same year after the petition gained 68,000 signatures.
While Hari has led effective campaigns in the food industry, her efforts have not been without criticism. Some critics say she is a "fearmonger," and that her tactics take advantage of the public's scientific ignorance and growing distrust of food producers and retailers. Companies would rather bend to her demands—whether or not they are scientifically sound—than risk a negative public perception, NPR recently reported.
"Unfortunately, the Web is cluttered with people who really have no idea what they are talking about giving advice as if it were authoritative, and often that advice is colored by either an ideological agenda or a commercial interest," Yale's Steven Novella writes on his blog. "The Food Babe is now the poster child for this phenomenon."
Hari has gotten results. Major food companies – such as Whole Foods, Starbucks, Lean Cuisine, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Chipotle, Yoforia, and Moe’s South West Grill – have been prompted to act after her impassioned activism. Hari hopes that General Mills and Kellogg's respond appropriately to the 32,000 people in support of removing BHT from their products.
In the post on her Facebook page, Hari added, "We are going to hold the [two] largest cereal manufacturers in the United States accountable for their hypocrisy and double standards. American children are given no other choice than to eat this very controversial additive, when the same product is sold in other countries without it. It’s time for this to stop."