Subway. Eat Fresh. Eat Azodicarbonamide!

Subway to remove yoga mat chemical from its bread, the UK Daily Mail shouted out.

The days of “I’ll have a Veggie Delight on 9-Grain with lettuce, tomato, cheese, pickles, onions, jalapeños, yoga mat – no, make that double yoga mat and throw in a shoe sole for good measure – mustard and mayo too please” are over!

Vani Hari from started an online petition to demand Subway remove the chemical from its bread.  Subway is complying.  So, what’s all the fuss about?

It’s called Azodicarbonamide.  A-zo-di-car-bon-uh-mide.  It’s a chemical that bleaches flour and also makes bread dough more flexible.  To everyone else besides the less than 1% of the population that has celiac disease (and not the 70% or so who think they have it – get a grip people!), we wouldn’t want inflexible gluten now would we?  The UK labels it a ‘respiratory sensitizer’ which might cause asthma. Wikipedia calls azodicarbonamide, or ADA, a food “improving agent,” and as a food additive it’s legal in Canada and the States where it’s considered GRAS, which means Generally Recognized as Safe.

I’m not happy with that adverb, ‘generally’.  That is not a confidence-inspiring acronym for a chemical that is banned in other parts of the world.  Europe, the UK and Australia consider ADA unsafe.  In Singapore, its use in food can draw a huge fine and a jail sentence of up to 15 years.  So, is it OK or is it poison?  Well that depends on where your feet are planted when you ask the question.

It’s because there’s a fundamental difference in the way Europeans view food additives compared to North American food regulatory agencies.  Where the burden of proof in Europe lies on the food manufacturer to prove that the additive is safe, in North America the burden rests on governments to prove it’s not (which just goes to show the influence that Big Food has on our governments).  Across the pond Subway failed to prove the safety of the chemical, so it’s not allowed; in the US and Canada it is. Neither the US FDA or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have a problem with it.

So, at the end of the day it comes down to rabble-rousers to make conglomerates like Subway change their evil ways.  When we feel helpless to change things Hari’s action just goes to prove that we’re not entirely, that a little ripple can cause a big wave. Yet Subway’s not alone.  McDonald’s, Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken and others use ADA in their bread.

The irony is that since Subway has committed to removing the chemical their market share may go up. If you want to avoid ADA, then Subway might soon be the only ‘safe’ fast food place to eat.



(According to, ADA is characterized by dual oxidations in the maturation of wheat flour. It not only bleaches flour by oxidizing carotene in fresh flour, it also improves flour strength by oxidizing cysteine. The increased strength improves the gas retention of dough and elasticity of bakery products.)


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