EDF Health

Selected tag(s): GRAS

The hidden – and potentially dangerous – chemicals in your diet

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

While picking up groceries for the week, a shopper may compare brands, prices, and nutritional information to ensure they make economical and healthy choices for their family. Unfortunately, there’s much more to our food than meets the eye – or makes the label.

Approximately 10,000 food additives are allowed in our food. Food additives are substances used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process, and store our food. While some of the chemicals added to food or used in packaging are harmless, others are downright dangerous and linked to health concerns. Certain additives are linked to reproductive problems, developmental issues, and even cancer.

Perchlorate was approved in 2005 as a component of plastic packaging for dry food despite the fact that it is a known endocrine disruptor that impairs infant brain development. Benzophenone – an artificial flavor added to baked goods, dessert, beverages, and candy – is classified as a possible human carcinogen. The list goes on. No matter where you shop, your family’s health may be at risk.

Check out the cupboard below to see what else could be lurking in your food.

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Lost opportunity for safer food additives

In DC, “Take Out the Trash Day” refers to federal agencies releasing unpopular decisions on Friday when the media and public are not watching.  It is especially common around the holidays or in August when many people, especially those in Congress are on vacation.  On Friday, August 12, FDA took out the trash by issuing a final rule regarding chemicals added to food more than two weeks before a court ordered deadline

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

On August 12, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule defining how companies should voluntarily notify the agency when they conclude that a chemical added to or used to make food is “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS).

The decision is a lost opportunity to close a widely-abused loophole that allows chemicals to be approved for use in food with no notification to or review by FDA. The rule allows the industry to continue making secret decisions about what we eat without the agency’s – or the public’s – knowledge.  The agency has the legal authority to significantly narrow the GRAS loophole to prevent companies from deliberately avoiding FDA’s safety review process.

Just two years ago, the senior FDA official overseeing food safety acknowledged that the agency “cannot vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals” as a result of the GRAS loophole. Read More »

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Senator Markey asks: What if people could buy food they know is free of secret ingredients?

Senator Markey (D-MA) asked FDA if it can require a label to tell consumers when the food they are eating contains chemicals it has not reviewed for safety. In his April 26 letter, he asked the agency to respond by May 17.

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

In May 2015, 36% of consumers said that chemicals in food was their most important food safety issue and 23% of consumer said they changed their purchase habits out of concern with chemicals in their food. Leading food manufacturers responded by reformulating their products to remove artificial flavors and colors.

What if these same consumers knew that chemicals added to their food had not been reviewed for safety by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)? As the Natural Resources Defense Council made clear two years ago, 56 food additive makers chose to avoid FDA’s scrutiny by taking advantage of a loophole in the law for “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) substances. They purposely chose not to be transparent by keeping secret the safety evaluation conducted by their employees or consultants. These companies appear to make only a few of the estimated 1000 chemicals that FDA has not checked for safety or is aware they exist.

In February, we learned that 51% of consumers think that safety means not only that a product is free of harmful ingredients but that its labeling is clear and accurate. Forty-seven percent want clear information on ingredients and sourcing. With this in mind, it’s fair to assume that consumers also expect that all food chemicals are safe and known to the FDA. Many consumers would likely not buy products where the labeling failed to disclose that the food they serve their families contained ingredients the FDA has admitted it “cannot vouch for their safety”.

On April 26, Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) put the issue front and center when he asked FDA whether it has “sufficient authority to require a special label on any foods or beverages containing ingredients that have been self-determined to be GRAS without an FDA review?” If FDA had sufficient authority, then “what would the label look like?” Read More »

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Towards Safer Food Additives

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

EDF strives to make safer food available by partnering with companies to reduce and eliminate potentially unsafe chemical food additives and supporting efforts to fix a broken regulatory system.

For many years this blog has focused on the safety of chemicals and nanomaterials used in industrial and consumer products.  Most of these substances are regulated federally by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).  But we also encounter chemicals in other ways, including those present in or added to food.  Such chemicals are regulated under a different law, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA), administered by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  This blog introduces EDF’s “Safer Food Additives” initiative to get unsafe and questionable chemicals out of our food by using dual levers of change—corporate leadershIFIC Charts - 5-16-16ip and public policy.   Making our food trustworthy demands leadership in both the private sector and the FDA.

The food market is changing rapidly as manufacturers work to keep up with consumer concerns about what’s in our food. And it’s not just about added sugar, salt and trans fats, or whether the food was grown locally or with or without pesticides. Public campaigns increasingly put the spotlight on many chemicals commonly used in food and food packaging—food additives—with growing scientific evidence questioning the safety of their use.

A respected industry survey released in May 2015 showed that 36% of consumers rated chemicals in food as their most important food safety concern – greater than pathogens, pesticides, animal antibiotics and allergens, and up from 23% in 2014 and 9% in 2011. These concerns translated into action; 23% of consumers reported changing their buying habits (corrected from 45% on May 16, 2016). Read More »

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