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Best practices for reducing cadmium in food: New review from FDA scientists

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID19, we want to acknowledge the essential services that the professionals at the Food and Drug Administration and in the food production, processing and retail industries provide in continuing to deliver food. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health protections – including reducing chemicals in food. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

Two years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put cadmium on our radar when the Toxic Elements Working Group included cadmium together with arsenic, lead and mercury as metals affecting children’s neurological development. As part of that effort, FDA committed to look at all four metals across all foods instead of one contaminant, one food at a time. Last year, FDA’s scientists published a peer-reviewed article assessing children’s exposure to lead and cadmium in the diet. They found that spinach, lettuce, sunflower seeds, potato chips and wheat cereal were among the top 10 foods with the highest cadmium concentration.

New review of mitigation strategies

This year, FDA’s scientists published in a peer-reviewed journal a review of mitigation strategies to reduce dietary exposure to cadmium. Because plants uptake cadmium from the soil and “70 to 80% of dietary cadmium intake in humans comes from plant-based food,” the article focuses on methods to “reduce or prevent initial uptake by plants.” The authors explained that cadmium enters the food supply through natural and manmade sources, highlighting that cadmium often is a contaminant in phosphate fertilizers. Cadmium is also a contaminant in zinc used to galvanize steel.

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FDA scientists push back on an industry-funded analysis about bioaccumulation and toxicity of short-chain PFAS

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

Note to readers: As we all grapple with the grave global health challenge from COVID19, we want to acknowledge the essential services that professionals at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and in the food production, processing and retail industries provide in continuing to deliver food. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards improved health protections – including reducing chemicals in food. We’ll plan to keep sharing developments that may be useful to you. In the meantime, please stay safe and healthy.

Last year, we reported on a sophisticated analysis performed by FDA’s scientists showing that 5:3 acid, a breakdown product of a short-chain PFAS known as 6:2 fluorotelomer (6:2 FTOH) was slow to be eliminated by the body. The authors concluded that the metabolite was an important biomarker for assessment of long-term exposure to 6:2 FTOH and showed potential bioaccumulative (aka biopersistence[1]) properties. The chemical 6:2 FTOH is a common starting substance in the manufacture of many PFAS polymers, including those used to greaseproof paper and paperboard. As a result, it is a major impurity in, and degradation product of, these polymers.

We are now reporting on two recent publications by the same group of FDA scientists (Kabadi et al.[2] and Rice et al.)[3] in which they not only confirmed their initial findings but also produced new evidence on the behavior of short-chain PFAS when they enter the body. The new evidence highlights:

  • Bioaccumulation: 6:2 FTOH is transformed by the body into several metabolites; one of them, called 5:3 acid, bioaccumulates, and the bioaccumulation is greater with lower exposure to 6:2 FTOH.
  • Toxicity: The toxicity of 6:2 FTOH is concerning and its risk to human health may have been significantly underestimated previously. Data on perfluorohexanoic acid (PFHxA), the industry’s proposed reference chemical for the short-chain PFAS class are not appropriate for assessing the potential health effects of 6:2 FTOH.

The FDA’s scientists reached these important conclusions after reviewing “recently received additional data on 6:2 FTOH and 5:3 acid” and more than a dozen reports on oral toxicity studies that “had been conducted and submitted by industry in support for food contact uses” of short-chain PFAS in addition to a study by the National Toxicology Program. They also called out flaws in industry-funded analyses that reached different conclusions.

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Posted in FDA, Health Policy, Industry Influence, PFAS / Also tagged | Comments are closed

When it comes to testing heavy metals in food, the result is only as good as the lab.

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director and Boma Brown-West, Senior Manager.

“Even though the levels of a metal in any particular food is low, our overall
exposure adds up because many of the foods we eat contain them in small amounts.”

 

Dr. Conrad Choiniere, leader of FDA’s Toxic Elements Workgroup on April 20, 2018

Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, and lead are present in most foods, whether conventional or organic, usually as the result of environmental contamination. Because heavy metals pose significant threats even at low levels, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made reducing cumulative exposure a priority. The Baby Food Council – consisting of Beech-Nut Nutrition Company, Happy Family Organics, Earth’s Best, and Gerber Products Company and supported by Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF), Cornell University and EDF – shares this goal and seeks to reduce heavy metals in the companies’ products to as low as reasonably achievable using best-in-class management practices.

Through the Council, EDF is coordinating a proficiency testing program to enable retailers, food manufacturers, ingredient suppliers, and others to identify laboratories that are capable of measuring arsenic, cadmium, and lead at levels in the low parts per billion (ppb). The Council has arranged for FAPAS, a leading proficiency testing provider for the food and water testing industries, to manage the testing program.

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FDA’s updated results for PFAS in food suggest progress but raise questions about its method

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently released revised lab results from testing for 16 PFAS in food. Initial results of the testing were announced last June and gained wide attention because the levels of PFAS in certain foods were quite high. Surprisingly, the revised lab results show significantly fewer detections and, in the case of ground turkey and tilapia, concentrations of PFOS that are almost nine times lower than the values initially reported in June. In addition to the revised lab results, the agency also released a validated method for analyzing food for the substances and updated its PFAS webpage.

We were glad to see FDA’s ongoing work on PFAS and have already heard from commercial laboratories who are considering using the validated method as a potential new service to offer their customers. In analyzing the documentation that FDA provided,[1] we have concerns about the agency’s criteria to determine whether a sample had detectable levels of a PFAS. It appears unnecessarily restrictive and effectively underestimates the public’s exposure to PFAS. We are planning to meet with the agency to better understand their rationale for the criteria selection and its implications.

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Think PFAS in food packaging are safe simply because FDA accepted their use? Think again.

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Consultant

PFAS manufacturers’ claims that the agency demands scientific data, including toxicity and exposure, and conducts a rigorous review before allowing the use of the chemicals in contact with food are not accurate.

Per- and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances (PFAS)—recently dubbed “forever chemicals”—have received a large amount of national attention, mostly due to contamination of drinking water affecting millions of Americans. Since June 2019, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its testing results from three studies, questions have arisen about food as a source of PFAS exposure. The main routes by which PFAS enter the food supply are environmental contamination—such as from nearby chemical manufacturing facilities, airports or Department of Defense operations—and from food packaging and processing equipment.

With greater attention on PFAS in food, we’ve noticed several misleading PFAS manufacturers’ talking points asserting that FDA review and acceptance is required for any PFAS to be used in contact with food, and that, due to this review, PFAS that go through this process are safe. However, their claims that the agency demands scientific data, including toxicity and exposure, and conducts a rigorous review before allowing the use of the chemicals in contact with food are not accurate.

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Posted in FDA, Food, GRAS, PFAS / Also tagged , , | Read 1 Response

Time for a safer food supply: The legal challenge to FDA’s GRAS Rule

Tom Neltner, J.D.Chemicals Policy Director, Environmental Defense Fund

This blog initially was published as a guest column in Chemical Watch on September 9, 2019. After publication, FDA filed its reply brief to the plaintiff’s August 23, 2019 brief. The briefings are complete and the case awaits a decision by the judge.

Litigation is a time-consuming and often inefficient means to fix a broken regulatory system. However, when there is a fundamental disagreement about a regulatory agency’s responsibilities under the law, it is an essential option. Such is the case with the “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) exemption from the requirement for pre-market approval of food additives in the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) interprets this exemption as allowing companies to determine whether a substance’s use is GRAS in secret without any notice to the agency.

Next year, I anticipate a federal district court will make a final decision on a lawsuit[1] challenging the FDA’s 2016 GRAS Rule that formalized the agency’s broad interpretation of the exemption and its narrow interpretation of its responsibilities under the FFDCA to “protect the public health by ensuring that . . . foods are safe, wholesome, sanitary, and properly labeled . . . .” (21 U.S.C. §393(b)). It would come a decade after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress, concluded that “FDA’s oversight process does not ensure the safety of all new GRAS determinations.” The GRAS Rule does little to address the shortcomings described by GAO.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), represented by Earthjustice, and the Center for Food Safety (CFS) are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit asking the court to declare the GRAS Rule unlawful and vacate the rule. On August 23, we filed with the court our response to the agency’s brief on both parties’ motions for summary judgment. FDA is expected to file a reply in September. Based on these briefs, the court may order oral arguments before making a decision.

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