The Food and Drug Administration has announced that it is cracking down on BHT, a widely used preservative found in cereals, potato chips, vegetable oils, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and other foods.

FDA's announcement that BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) would be removed from the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list and placed under an interim food additive regulation 'while its' safety is studied comes 14 months after the agency said it would act and several years after the agency was aware that there are questions about its safety.

BHT is an antioxidant that increases the shelf life of processed foods far beyond their natural ability to stay fresh by preventing them from turning rancid. It may be a matter of months instead of weeks - even years instead of months. This is of significant benefit to manufacturers because it cuts distribution costs and spoilage. It does not appear to be of any benefit to consumers, because products that contain no anti-oxidants are priced competitive with those that do.

But BHT has some adverse effect on the livers of test animals. Questions about its safety when ingested by people who take hormones or oral contraceptives or use steroids have not been fully answered. BHT has induced fetal abnormalities and raised cholesterol levels in test animals. In addition, some people are allergic to the preservative, particularly asthmatics.

The use of BHT as an ingredient in a processed food must be listed on the label, but its use as an "incidental additive" in packaging material does not have to be indicated.

The use of BHT as an ingredient in a processed food must be listed on the label, but its use as an "incidental additive" in packaging material does not have to be indicated.

Studies that have been conducted on BHA, a similar preservative, appear to show that there is less cause for concern.

Under FDA's new proposal companies that want to continue using BHT must undertake the necessary scientific testing to prove safety.