Because of a loophole in a 1958 law that exempts from FDA approval ingredients in foods that are “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), hundreds, and possibly thousands, of potentially unsafe food additives are included in common food products and sold without any FDA oversight.
The Food Additives Amendment of 1958, which was intended to restore the confidence of the public that the chemicals which are added to foods are safe, has since been used as a way to get away with adding ingredients that may have a big negative impact on personal health.
This loophole has allowed companies to declare hundreds of chemical food additives as “safe” without any notification to the FDA, and may be putting our health at risk, according to a new investigative report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“Americans should expect that their food is safe to eat, but sadly today there’s no guarantee because safety oversight from federal agencies and food manufacturers is shockingly weak and hidden from public scrutiny. Congress should close the loophole responsible for this failing now. Until it does, FDA should strictly limit companies’ conflicts of interest and require them to disclose to the agency when they self-approve the safety of a chemical. And consumers should demand that their grocery stores and their favorite brands sell only food with ingredients deemed safe by federal food safety experts.” – Tom Neltner, NRDC health scientist and report co-author
The findings from the NRDC’s report, title “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” highlight the glaring loophole, which allows companies to hire their own experts (which could be their own employees) to determine if the chemicals used in their foods are considered to be safe.
The report also shows:
- 275 chemicals used by 56 companies appear to be marketed as GRAS and used in many food products based on companies’ safety determinations that, pursuant to current regulations, did not need to be reported to the FDA or the public. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg.
- Information obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act shows that when FDA does learn of a chemical proposed to be used in food, the agency often asks tough questions, but because of the GRAS loophole a company is not bound to answer them and not prohibited from continuing to sell the chemical for use in food.
- Based on information from notices submitted to the FDA, but later withdrawn, companies have sometimes certified their chemicals as safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions, or adverse reactions in combination with common drugs, or have proposed using amounts of the chemicals in food at much higher levels than company-established safe levels.
- When companies seek FDA’s voluntary review of their GRAS safety determination, the agency rejects or triggers withdrawal of that determination in one out of every 5 cases. At least in some instances, companies may have withdrawn their notices in order to avoid having an FDA rejection made public.
- The public and FDA are in the dark about hundreds of chemicals found in our food because companies aren’t required to submit the safety determination to FDA for its review.
Find out more about this important food safety issue at NRDC: Generally Recognized as Secret