Will McDonald’s, Wendy’s Jump on Subway’s Anti-Chemical Train?

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When Subway agreed earlier this month to remove a chemical found in yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather from its bread, many consumers breathed a sigh of relief. They seemed to agree that it’s hard to “eat fresh” when you’re consuming a chemical, azodicarbonamide, that, although approved for use in the U.S. as a dough conditioner, is banned in Europe and Australia.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recognizes the chemical as safe in certain amounts, many consumer advocacy groups have called for its restriction, claiming it can lead to “increased levels of urethane in bread that pose a small risk to humans” and can cause occupational asthma, as well as other respiratory symptoms.

Activists and Subway loyalists celebrated a significant victory when the chain promised early in February to remove the chemical from its nine-grain wheat, Italian white, and sourdough breads at an undisclosed time, but a report from NBC News shows that fast food lovers haven’t won the battle yet. Although Subway has agreed to remove azodicarbonamide from its bread, many other popular fast food chains have not — including McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD), Burger King (NYSE:BKW), Wendy’s (NYSE:WEN), and Arby’s.

The news outlet shared the unsettling lineup of products it found to contain the chemical as an ingredient, and revealed to consumers that all of McDonald’s buns and English muffins contain azodicarbonamide; so too, do Burger King’s breads, muffins, and croutons; Wendy’s bagels, buns, and panini breads; and Arby’s croissants, buns, breads, and French toast sticks.

Bread coming from the ovens of Jack in the Box (NASDAQ:JACK) and Chick-fil-A also contain the chemical.

It’s disconcerting to recognize that so many fast food products contain a chemical that groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Britain’s Health and Safety Executive recognize as potentially dangerous. It’s equally unsettling that fast-food eaters were not even aware of azodicarbonamide’s  existence until food blogger Vani Hari shed some light on the situation. Hari used her popular blog FoodBabe.com to spread the news about Subway’s food additive and effectively drew more than 75,000 signatures on her petition to have it removed, NBC News reports.

Hari, along with her readers, celebrated their victory on her blog early in February, but now it is clear that food activists have a long way to go if they really want to rid the ingredient from food in the U.S. When contacted by NBC News for comments, all of the aforementioned fast-food chains stood by their decision to market food with azodicarbonamide, citing the FDA’s approval. So while it’s evident that Subway was effectively swayed to purge its dough of the potentially dangerous dough conditioner, other companies might not be so cooperative.

Now that the word on azodicarbonamide is out and more consumers are leery of the ingredient, it is possible that fast-food companies will be pressured to remove the chemical. As of now, they appear to be sticking by their choices and likely hoping they don’t see another petition coming their way.

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