Preservatives are substances (either man-made or occurring naturally) that slow down the decomposition of biological products. Preservatives are now commonplace in vegetables, fruits and manufactured foods, such as candy. Because of their often artificial origins in factories, preservatives are sometimes targeted by concerned consumers as part of an unhealthy food environment. Whether or not preservatives are significantly harmful to one's health is still up for debate, as controversy still ensues the topic.
Pro: Preservatives Preserve
As one might assume, preservatives (whether they are in food or other organic material) preserve the content of a product. A preservative acts as decomposition-preventer by actively working to prevent microbial growth. Any sort of change to the composition of a food item, for example, could greatly harm consumers by getting all kinds of bacteria, microbes and diseases into their system.
Con: Preservatives Raise Mental Health Issues
It comes as no shock that preservatives have been a source of controversy in recent years. Some studies, such as Dr. Richard W. Pressinger's 1997 study, have concluded that artificial food preservative consumption is positively correlated with ADD and ADHD. Dr. Pressinger was also one of the first to criticize preservative testing by the federal government. Other claims, such as those made by famous allergist Dr. Benjamin Feingold, who came up with the Feingold Diet, express ambiguity when it comes to this issue. Feingold once praised the effectiveness of some food preservatives in combating hyperactivity in children. Natural Ovens Baker in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, conducted a five-year program and study on children's meals at local schools and their effects. The school district concluded that academic performance was on the rise after introducing healthier options with less artificial preservatives in them.
Pro: Preservatives Are Often Natural
What many people don't know is that preservatives often naturally occur in nature. Natural sugars and salts are preservatives in and of themselves. Foods can develop these preservatives to prevent their own decomposition or invasion by predator species. While this isn't the case for the vast majority of all preservatives found within a given product, natural preservation definitely does exist and occur outside anthropogenic means.
Con: Food Preservatives and Cancer
The food additives BHA and BHT have inconclusively been linked to cancer and carcinogenic activity before, according to a study by G. Hocman. There is definitive evidence that different people metabolize BHT/BHA differently; this conclusion has lead many to speculate that these two common food preservatives can be carcinogenic in some individuals but not others. BHT is commonly used in cereals and fats, while BHA is found within potatoes, meats, beer, other baked goods and even chewing gum.
Pro: Food Preservatives Enable Mass Production
While wealthy countries like the United States, Britain, France and the rest of the western world might have the option of organic food without preservatives, less fortunate countries might not. Preservatives enable food to be processed and stored for long periods of time so as to feed millions or even billions of people with cheap production costs. That being said, synthetic food is not feeding the world's hungry people currently (although future speculation can be made).
Con: Preservatives Can Have Allergic Consequences
As with most everything about preservatives, the link between allergic reactions and synthetic preservation is still not clear, reports Dr. Adrian Morris. Yet, some preservatives, such as tartrazine, carmine and saffron (the "yellow food coloring"), have been reported as hazardous to those susceptible to anaphylaxis and angioedema, according to Dean Metcalfe, et. al. Skin rashes, joint/muscle aches, asthmatic symptoms, weakness and fatigue are all commonly reported allergic reactions to food preservatives and additives. The number of adults susceptible to this has been stated as less than 1 percent, with children being notably more prone to these allergic reactions, explains Dr. Cas Motala, et. al.