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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide


UK Foodworker Lungs Destroyed by Diacetyl Highlights Need for Global Action

Posted to the IUF website 22-Feb-2008

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Calls for regulatory action and medical surveillance of food workers exposed to the flavouring ingredient diacetyl have so far elicited no response by European health and safety agencies. When hundreds of cases of "popcorn workers lung" were revealed in the US, workplace and food safety agencies continued to repeat that diacetyl was "safe for human consumption" and that workplace risks were minimal and under control.

A new report prepared by the UK's Hazards in close cooperation with the IUF confirms that there is no room for complacency.

In 2003, Martin Muir took a job at the Yorkshire, UK factory of the transnational flavouring company Firmenich. Three months later, the symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans set in. Today, aged 38, he has the lungs of an eighty-year-old man.

His symptoms were only spotted thanks to an alert and informed specialist aware of the US situation.

How many other Martin Muirs has the food industry scarred or destroyed? The symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans are typically misdiagnosed as asthma or other lung ailments, letting the companies and the governments off the hook. In response to queries, the UK agency responsible for workplace health and safety stated only that diacetyl is not used in UK microwave popcorn manufacture…but that its use is widespread in other food products. The Muir case suggests that we should be speaking of "food flavouring lung" rather than "popcorn lung". A recent study in the US measured higher exposure levels to diacetyl among commercial restaurant workers than those seen in microwave popcorn plants).

Read the full story on the Hazards website here – and take action!