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What are E numbers?
An "E" number is a number used to represent an additive put into a food product. For example, if a food contained an artificial sweetener, we could name this sweetener "number 1". When we look at the listing of ingredients in a particular foodstuff, we would see the number "1" listed if this sweetener were contained in the product. This is the essence of the "E number" system and was designed to replace the names of additives with numbers. for legal status of an additive, and perhaps, convenience.
The 'E' prefix indicates the additive is approved for use in the European Union. However, the addition of E-numbered additives to foodstuffs has been the concern of many over the years. A percentage of these additives are believed to be linked to the signs and symptoms of certain allergies, types of arthritis, bowel disorders, cancer, heart disease and other disease. Additionally, concerns have been expressed in regards to the possibility of these additives being genetically modified (GM). In regards to religious beliefs and customs, E-numbered additives may also be considered to be unsuitable for kosher, halal, or vegetarian diets. Keep in mind, that a proportion of the additives incorporated into foodstuffs have nutritional value and/or cause no harm whatsoever. Therefore, it is always a good decision to verify the ingredients of anything that you are planning on eating, especially if you find these topics significant. Note that foods coming from outside the EU and US may not have ingredients listed, and this may come with associated risks, considering many additives that have beened banned from use within the US and EU may be contained in these "imported" products.
Is the E-number system beneficial?
Although the "E number" system was designed with good intention, there are several drawbacks. Most food shops do not have a visible key available in order for consumers to decode an E number that is listed in the ingredients of a particular food product. Thus, while browsing the ingredients listed on a food product, the consumer is left in limbo with merely a number. This does not tell you what the additive is. Some shops claim that you can go to the desk and they can show you the list of E numbers. Imagine the queue! I still fail to see E number listings made accessible to the public, even in the major food outlets.
Major chain food stores in the "Western World" operate pretty much on the "capitalism ethos" of doing business: That is to say, if there is a demand, then they will usually supply. Saying this, if more people did request to have additive lists, etc., posted on each isle of the store, this would most likely be done. The major chains would probably drag their heels a bit, since this would cost a few million, and that would mean keeping the Merc for an extra month before upgrading. However, it would eventually be done. The disappointment is that not enough consumers are "piping up." Most people seem to have little concern in regards to what's in the food they consume. The majority of those who do not care, clearly overshadow the minority who are concerned. The main reasons I people becoming less concerned is because they are being "dumbed down" with needless systems in place. Most people find number systems ambiguous, and would rather simply have the actual ingredients listed, insteading of looking up a number each time. Simple, isn't it?
In any event, the results are disturbing. People are becoming less healthy "internally." Through science and medicine, we may have moderately increased our life spans. However, are they "quality added years" when we have to take a handful of medication each day in order to alleviate the side effects of what we eat? Keep in mind, that the majority of chronic diseases (eg., heart and vascular, diabetes). are caused from our diet and lifestyles. These are a few things to consider in regards to additives and eating habits in general.
Last but not least, we must take in consideration that teaching E numbers can be misleading, especially when there are other hazardous chemicals in existence that begin with the letter "E".Consider "E605", which is not an E number, but rather stands for Parathion, an insecticide. It is obviously not a food additive; in this case the "E" stands for Entwicklungsnummer (German for development number), and not for Europe as used in the E number system. This can be potentially hazardous, especially for a child.