It is likely that you never heard of L-Cysteine, the amino acid present in most industrial biscuits and breads. L-Cysteine is a ‘super protein’ and the way it is made is often kept a secret because of its controversial ingredients. Human hair is often used to create “the L-Cys”.
Because the demand has grown tremendously in the past decade, providing ingredients for the L-Cysteine has become a major business. In countries like China and India, providing human hair in large quantities became a profitable job. Many labs subcontracted people who would gather human hair from hair salons across the country, but also morgues.
Before the scandal came to light around 2010, this business remained something considered normal in many parts of the world. George Cherian, chairman of Indian hair exporter Raj Impex Hair, one of the oldest and cheapest exporters of L-cys globally, told Mother Jones “You’d be hard pressed to find a richer source: Human hair contains up to 20 percent cysteine by weight, while duck feathers may yield about half as much.” (1)
Of course Mother Jones readers didn’t really like the fact that they might have been eating human hair from India or China without knowing. Rapidly more and more consumers expressed their concerns about such practices. In Europe, such importation raised public health concerns. It was even questioned to be a cannibalistic practice forbidden in most religions so the European Commission seized the case.
On March 11th this year, a new article was added to the law n°853/2004 of the European Parliament about the ‘specific exigences applicable to gelatins, collagens, highly refined products made from animal ingredients and their use for human consumption’
The section XVI states that the amino acids industry actors, using amino acids as a dietary complements according to the law N°1333/2008 of the European Parliament have to make sure of the origin of each ingredient to prevent public health issue.
The article states that “Ingredients used for the making of highly refined products must come from:
a) animals, including feathers, that have been slaughtered in a conform slaughterhouse and that have been cleared to be proper to human consumption.
b) fishing products conform to the section VIII.
c) human hair cannot be used as an ingredient for the making of amino acids.”
It’s a milestone for the European Commission, being the first international law making entity to take such action against what is known as ‘the human hair business’ (1).
For the first time, the European Union is also mentioning the possibility of border controls to fight such kind of importation. Yet, new analysis methods have been developed which could analyze if yes or no the Cysteine contains human hair. It is therefore possible to control in details major importations of Cysteine in European countries to make sure that the ingredients used in the making process are allowed by the E.U.
It is a major victory for several consumers associations across Europe that have been fighting this practice over the past decade. The decision is likely to influence other countries that are on the edge with such importations. The United States could follow rapidly with the FDA passing similar laws to prohibit products containing human hair as ingredients for human consumption.
We can also expect most developed countries to pass such laws rapidly. If a public health incident was to happen with such products, governments would rapidly be blamed internationally for not taking the same decision as the E.U.
In today’s world, banning such practices seem more than normal. Yet, today, many consumers still don’t know that they might be consuming breads, pizzas, biscuits or other foods with hair-derived ingredients. This ban is now likely to spread to other products made for human consumption.
Still now, across the world, human hair can be found in various products such as cosmetics, pharmaceutical products and even some clothing, (human hair is regularly found in pillows instead of feathers). In the future, these practices should be widely banned, and the implementation of these new laws become more and more difficult to escape. Hair-Derived products in our daily lives should rapidly become an old memory that will be quite unbelievable for future generations…
(1) The human hair additive in your food, Sonja Sharp, Mother Jones, 03-26-10