We are what we eat: New paper outlines how the regulatory gaps in the US threaten our health

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

In a new paper published in PLoS Biology today, Maricel Maffini, Tom Neltner and I detail the regulatory gaps in how the US manages chemicals in food. We explore how failures in our current regulatory system put the public’s health at risk as exemplified in the case of perchlorate, a chemical allowed in food and a well-known endocrine disrupting compound. Perchlorate’s ability to disrupt normal functioning of the thyroid means that even low levels of exposure, especially in those with inadequate iodine intake, can adversely impact the developing brains of infants and children. It is not a chemical that should be in the food of pregnant women, infants and children. And yet it is, and the levels children consume have increased in recent years.

Nearly sixty years ago, Congress passed the 1958 Food Additive Amendment to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act that gave new authority to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure the safety of chemicals in food. The American diet has changed considerably in the intervening decades, and today there are more than 10,000 chemicals allowed in food for use in processing, packaging, and transporting. And while Congress intended that companies test chemicals before using them in food and the FDA address chronic health effects and cumulative exposures to chemicals in the food supply when considering safety, in reality, safety assessments of chemicals in food are woefully inadequate.

EDF is working to make safer food available for all. We're urging corporate leaders to improve the safety of food additives, and together with allied organizations, we are committed to strengthening the law and modernizing the current regulatory system to remove hazardous chemicals from the food supply. Protecting the most vulnerable from hazardous chemicals is a common goal that we should all be striving towards to build a safer and healthier future.

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