Vani Hari, better known as the “Food Babe,” started a petition Feb. 5 asking cereal companies to quit using BHT.

MINNEAPOLIS – General Mills, Inc. said it began working to get butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) out of its cereals more than a year ago, or before blogger Vani Hari, better known as the “Food Babe,” started a petition Feb. 5 asking cereal companies to quit using BHT. The Kellogg Co. also said it is working to remove BHT from U.S. cereals. More than 45,000 people out of a total U.S. population of 316,128,839, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, had signed the petition by Feb. 12.

The Food and Drug Administration considers BHT, which is used to preserve freshness, as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) for use in food, but Ms. Hari said scientific studies have found BHT caused tumors in animals such as mice. Also, cereal companies such as Minneapolis-based General Mills and the Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., do not use BHT in the cereals they sell in Europe, she said.

“BHT is an F.D.A.-approved food ingredient, but we’re already well down the path of removing it from our cereals,” General Mills said Feb. 5. “This change is not for safety reasons, but because we think consumers will embrace it.  We’ve never spoken with Vani Hari, and she did not play any role in our decision.  Many of our U.S. Cereals do not contain BHT including: Cheerios, Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix, Kix and Lucky Charms. Our removal of BHT from cereals is well under way and has been for more than a year.”

Kellogg said in a statement: "BHT is used in small amounts primarily in the cereal package liner and helps protect the flavor and freshness, which we know is important to our consumers. We are always listening to the needs of our consumers and know some people are looking for options without BHT. And so, we have already been actively testing a number of natural alternatives to ensure the same flavor and freshness. Several of our cereals do not contain BHT in the liner, including Special K Original, Special K Red Berries, Raisin Bran Original, All-Bran Original and Crispix."

Ms. Hari said several cereals sold in the United States, including Frosted Flakes, Wheaties and Froot Loops, contain BHT. She said General Mills on Jan. 21 sent an e-mail to her saying BHT was safe, but the e-mail said nothing about plans to remove BHT.

“I am not surprised that General Mills was so quick to announce their removal of BHT because obviously, as we have seen in Europe, they know how to formulate their cereals without BHT,” Ms. Hari said. “I am surprised and a bit amused by the response that the removal of this risky ingredient has been already in the works for a year. I understand from a business and legal perspective this is their response though I question the legitimacy of it taking so long to remove an ingredient they have already removed for citizens in other countries. Regardless I am happy and am ready to see General Mills care as much for the health of their consumers as they do their public relations and image as a company.”

Ms. Hari in her petition cited a study appearing in the January issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Researchers from the University of the Basque Country in Spain said the ubiquitous presence of BHT, its controversial toxicological data and a lack of information about its true dietary intake have increased consumer concern.

“Further research is needed to evaluate the current extent of human exposure to BHT and its metabolites, not only as a result of their presence in authorized foods, but also as related to other additional sources that reach the food chain, such as carryover processes from feed to farmed animal products, migration from plastic pipelines and packaging to water and food, and their presence in smoke flavorings and in natural environments,” the researchers said.

Some of the animal studies mentioned by Ms. Hari go further back in time, such as a study appearing in April 1989 in Carcinogenesis. University of Colorado researchers found that indirect and direct evidence implicates BHT-BuOH formation as a step in the chain of events leading to promotion of lung tumors in mice.

Ms. Hari has a history of creating petitions that focus on food ingredients. In February of 2014 she asked Subway to stop using azodicarbonamide (ADA), a dough conditioner, in its bread. Subway at the time said it already was working to remove ADA, and the restaurant chain did remove ADA from its bread later in 2014.