Dioxin in Your Cake

Dioxin, as I’m sure you know, is an extremely harmful chemical. Sucralose, under the brand name Splenda®, is, as I’m sure you also know, a widely used sugar substitute produced by a subsidiary of the Johnson & Johnson corporate giant.

In November, a review of sucralose in the open access Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health found that sucralose was associated with a wide range of harm. Some of this harm comes from the transformation of sucralose into dioxin at cooking temperatures: starting at 245° F—well below the temperature at which you’d bake a cake.

You see, although sucralose is actually made from sugar, the process that makes it inert from a calorie counting standpoint consists of adding chlorine molecules to the sugar molecule. This tricks your body into failing to convert sucralose into glucose and hence does not affect your blood sugar load. But that chlorinated hydrocarbon complex, when heated, is further transformed under low cooking heat to become another kind of chlorinated hydrocarbon: dioxin.

Dioxin is a member of the class of chemicals called persistent organic pollutants, a class that includes many other biological active chemical such as pesticides and herbicides. Virtually all have negative health effects, including endocrine disruption, metabolic disruption, and cancer—all true of dioxin, but only revealed over a long stretch of time and persistence by underfunded researchers.

Even without the transformation of sucralose into dioxin in baked goods, the sweetener has serious health effects all on its own. It affects body weight and metabolic processes—remember: it’s a chlorinated hydrocarbon. As an organochlorine compound, sucralose interferes with detoxification pathways. Your body transforms sucralose into other chemicals called metabolites, the effect of which is not known. However, what we can say about the metabolites of other organochlorine compounds is not comforting. Sucralose alters your gut biome and with that potentially affects your immunity as well as digestion.

Sucralose is completely off FDA’s radar. Until a few months ago, the food watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest classified Sucralose as officially “safe.” What took it so long? These problems have been in the research literature for over a decade—some over many decades.

Here’s a clue…

In November, Matthew Bowman of Dallas cut a deal with the DA for violating OSHA regulations, violations that caused the death of a worker at Bowman’s chemical plant. As a result, Mr. Bowman will spend a year in a federal prison and pay a $5000 fine.

The title to the article is “OSHA no match for workplace dangers that kill thousands.”

In our political economy, the power to put us in harm’s way is held by those who produce commodities—things for sale. Potential victims have little power to prevent those actions. They must wait until the harm is done—until they become actual victims. And then those victims must prove that the harm they suffered was actually the result of the production or consumption of the commodity—in other words, the burden of proof is on the victim. And even when harm is found to have occurred, even if the punishment is proportionate to the harm, the victims still suffer, the harm is still done.

In our political economy, the regulator steps in. We are led to believe that the role of the regulator is to protect public health. That is similar to the belief that “they” wouldn’t let someone sell something harmful. Functionally, the regulator enforces laws that balance the interests of victims and sellers: people who do not want to be exposed to dioxin in their baked goods or explosive gases at their place of workplace versus people who want to produce a commodity, a thing for sale.

This is obviously a stacked deck.

But it doesn’t have to be.

To enforce labor rights, for example, the most effective way to enforce the law is for regulators to work with civil society organizations. I know that seems obvious, yet our political economy works against that very thing by setting up the regulator as somehow neutral. But, of course, they’re not and cannot be because they can only re-enforce the existing balance of power.

Regulators have to take our side. Currently, they do not.

A reasonable person could conclude that an organochlorine chemical such as sucralose has the potential to cause harm simply because it is an organochlorine chemical. That reasonable person could reasonably argue that exposure to those chemicals should be prohibited unless they are proven safe—they should not be assumed safe until a mountain of evidence shows that they cause harm. That same reasonable person might also conclude that, until proven otherwise, chemicals whipped up in the lab, ingredients not the same as natural substances with a history of beneficial use are not safe.

In the meantime, it’s good to follow this thought from a toxicologist: “Agents foreign to the reactions constituting life will be toxic to life.”