EDF Health

Broken GRAS: How a food award competition revealed a secret GRAS ingredient

 

What happened

The Good Food Foundation recently announced its annual awards recognizing foods with both superior taste and responsible business practices, sparking controversy when a plant-based blue ‘cheese’ product was initially a finalist in the cheese category, then was disqualified and removed from the list of finalists. According to the foundation, the product was disqualified because one of the ingredients, kokum butter, had not been designated as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the Food and Drug Administration.

 

Why it matters

Kokum butter is derived from the seeds of a kokum tree’s fruit, primarily cultivated in India. The substance is not found in any of FDA’s lists of ingredients either approved or reviewed for safety. Someone somewhere determined that the use of kokum butter in food is GRAS. However, who made that determination, when, and the basis for the decision are unknown.  For example, how much of it is safe to eat? Is it safe for anyone—children, pregnant women, people with preexisting conditions? Could it cause allergic reactions or interfere with medication? Does it leave the body quickly? Does it mimic or interfere with hormones? We just don’t know and neither does FDA.

Here’s  a quick overview of the GRAS system, which we have written about extensively in our Broken GRAS blogs.

  • “General recognition” means that a safety assessment was performed and published, and the scientific community agrees that use in food is safe;
  • GRAS substances are exempted from pre-market approval by FDA;
  • FDA has interpreted the law as allowing manufacturers to independently determine the use of a substance is GRAS without informing the agency;
  • FDA created a voluntary program for manufacturers to submit their chemical’s safety determination in the form of a GRAS notice to the agency for review;
  • Manufacturers can withdraw the request for review at any time and still claim their product is GRAS. See the decision tree below.

 

Our Take

Back in 2022, tara flour, another ingredient of unknown safety, caused more than 400 people to get sick. Like kokum butter, tara flour was not approved or reviewed for safety by FDA.

We applaud the Good Food Foundation for requiring that the ingredients used in foods competing for its awards be reviewed by FDA. It is a matter of protecting public health. We fully support, at minimum, company submissions of GRAS notifications and FDA reviews. Although we have been critical of FDA’s outdated science in safety assessment of chemicals, these notifications provide at least some degree of visibility into the food supply that otherwise is not available to the agency in charge of protecting the public.

 

Next steps

We will continue to engage with FDA to ensure the agency has the tools and resources to strengthen the oversight of companies making GRAS claims without disclosing their safety assessments. The ongoing reorganization of FDA and creation of the Human Food Program is a unique opportunity to fix the broken GRAS program so that all Americans can have confidence in the safety of the food they eat.

 

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EU gets ready to ban most BPA uses. Once again: Where’s FDA?

By Maricel Maffini, PhD, Consultant, and Tom Neltner, Executive Director, Unleaded Kids

Warning message written in bold red letters with words Bisphenol A Exposure. 3d illustration.

What’s Happening?

On February 9, 2024, the European Commission published a proposed regulation [PDF, 502KB] that would ban most uses of bisphenol A (BPA) in materials that contact food—including plastic and coatings applied to metal cans—and restrict other uses. Interested parties can comment on the draft until March 8, 2024. (You must register to comment.)

This proposed regulation is based on the 2023 European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) risk assessment of BPA that concluded that dietary exposures are a health concern. The proposed regulation would impact the following bisphenol-based food contact materials:

  • Plastics: Would be banned from use if made from BPA at any stage of manufacturing.1 The only exception is polysulfone resins made from a sodium salt of BPA, which are allowed for use in filtration membranes if there is no detectable migration into food.
  • Varnishes, coatings, printing inks, adhesives, ion-exchange resins, and rubbers: Use of BPA and bisphenol S (BPS)2 would be banned at any stage of manufacture. Use of BPS or other bisphenols may be authorized on a case-by-case basis. The exception to the ban is bisphenol-A diglycidyl ether (BADGE)3 made from BPA and used to make epoxy-based varnishes and coatings, which are allowed only in making materials with capacity of more than 250 liters and there is no detectable migration4 into food.
  • Recycled materials: Unintentional BPA contamination would be allowed if there is no detectable migration into food.

Why It Matters

In its 2023 reassessment, EFSA estimated that the amount of BPA that could be safely consumed daily is 20,000 times less than its 2015 estimate. Among the health problems associated with BPA exposure are harm to the immune and reproductive systems, disruption of the normal function of hormones and reduced learning and memory.

The draft rule would manage the risk of BPA uses to significantly reduce dietary exposure after considering alternatives that are technically feasible at a commercial scale.

Our Take

The European Commission’s proposed rule is an excellent example of a risk management decision that considers safety and achievability. The Commission balanced protecting human health by eliminating as many sources of BPA as fast as possible with the implementation challenges. The Commission has included transition periods to eliminate all uses of food-contact articles manufactured with BPA ranging from 18 months for final food packaging (e.g., plastics, can coating) to 10 years for repeat-use, final food contact articles used in food production equipment.

In a previous blog, we stated that Americans’ exposure to BPA from food is similar to that of Europeans. Unfortunately, FDA doesn’t share the same sense of urgency as the European Commission. While Europe is on track to ban most uses of BPA in food contact materials, FDA is failing to take action to protect our families.

EDF and our allies submitted a food additive petition [PDF, 542KB] asking the agency to limit BPA exposure from food by revoking approvals for using BPA in adhesives and can coatings and to setting strict limits on using BPA in plastic that contacts food. FDA filed the petition on May 2, 2022, and has not made a final decision on it, despite a 180-day statutory deadline. It is now more than 600 days overdue.

Timeline

Once the rules are finalized, compliance would be required within 18 months for most products and within 36 months for:

  • Varnishes and coatings for processed fruit, vegetable, and processed fish products.
  • Varnishes and coatings used outside of metal packaging.
  • Manufacture of repeat-use components in professional food production equipment.

The rule would also allow repeat-use, final food contact articles used in professional food production equipment to remain in service for up to 10 years.

What’s Next?

We will submit comments to the European Commission seeking clarity on some aspects of the proposal. In addition, we will continue to press FDA to make a final decision on our petition, including potentially taking legal action for unreasonable delay in responding to it.

Go Deeper

Read our blogs on BPA.

NOTES

1 The rule is inconsistent regarding status of plastics other than polysulfone. EDF will submit comments seeking clarity.

2 The Commission may expand to more bisphenols if they are added to Annex VI, Part 3 of Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 due to their harmonized classification as category 1A or 1B “mutagenic,” “carcinogenic,” “toxic to reproduction” or category 1 “endocrine disrupting” for human health.

3 BADGE (CAS No 1675-54-3) – is a type of epoxy resin manufactured from BPA.

4 Rule defines the limit of detection as 0.01 milligram of bisphenol per kilogram of food.

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Why are four notorious carcinogens approved by FDA for food?

By Liora Fiksel, Project Manager, Healthy Communities, and Lisa Lefferts, Environmental Health Consultant

Pregnant woman rests a cup of coffee on her belly.

While exposure data are scant, people who are choosing decaf coffee during pregnancy or for other health reasons may not realize that some popular brands contain methylene chloride.

What’s Happening?

On December 21, 2023, FDA filed a food-additive petition and a color-additive petition submitted by EDF and partners that asks FDA to revoke its approval for four carcinogenic chemicals approved for use in food.

There is broad agreement that benzene, trichloroethylene (TCE), methylene chloride, and ethylene dichloride are carcinogenic,1 and federal law2 is clear: additives that cause cancer in humans or animals are not considered “safe.” All the chemicals have been identified as causing cancer in humans or animals since the 1970s and 1980s.3 Read More »

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FDA’s latest study reaffirms short-chain PFAS biopersist. Now it must act.

By Maricel Maffini, PhD, Consultant, and Tom Neltner, JD

Female rat nursing multiple pups

FDA study found biopersistent PFAS in female rats and their pups,

What Happened

In December 2023, FDA’s scientists published a new study showing that when pregnant rats ingest a form of per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substance (PFAS) called 6:2 fluorotelomer alcohol (6:2 FTOH) their bodies break it down into other PFAS that reach the fetuses and biopersist in the mother and the pups.

The study also showed that the body of a non-pregnant animal produces different breakdown products that also biopersist. This study is the latest evidence that the assumptions made about the safety of short-chain PFAS (chemicals with fewer than 8 carbons) have been wrong. Read More »

Also posted in Adverse health effects, Chemical regulation, Emerging science, Health science, Industry influence, Public health, Rules/Regulations, Vulnerable populations / Tagged , , , , , , , , | Authors: / Comments are closed

ICYMI: Secret GRAS determinations may outnumber those FDA reviews

Quote from FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD. "I want to throw in chemical safety as another really, really important area for the future—for humankind, really—and where science is evolving rapidly."

NOTE: This blog was originally published on our Deep Dives blog on April 13, 2023. It predates the recent reorganization efforts at FDA.

What Happened?

FDA estimates that, each year, food companies designate 82 new food chemicals as “GRAS” (Generally Recognized as Safe) for use in food. On average, FDA reviews only 64 of those new chemicals for safety. For the remaining 18 chemicals in FDA’s estimate, the companies making and marketing them for use in food or in the food-production process choose not to seek a voluntary review by FDA.

In comments to the agency, we said we think FDA’s estimate may be too low – and the number of new chemicals added to food that bypass FDA review may be as high as 130 new food chemicals a year (significantly higher than 18). This is based on searches of company marketing claims. In an 8-week period, we identified 10 chemicals claimed as GRAS without a submitted notice to FDA seeking voluntary review. (Please see our comments for a full explanation of our estimate.) Read More »

Also posted in Broken GRAS, Chemical regulation, Food, Health policy, Industry influence, Public health, Regulation / Tagged , , , | Authors: , / Comments are closed

Unleaded Food: FDA acts quickly on contaminated applesauce

What’s Happening?

The North Carolina Departments of Health & Human Services and Agriculture & Consumer Services identified WanaBana cinnamon applesauce pouches as a source for elevated blood lead levels in multiple children. They found extraordinarily high concentrations of lead (1,900- 5,100 ppb) in the products, leading to the identification of at least 34 cases of elevated blood lead levels across 22 states to date.

On October 28, 2023, FDA issued a safety alert advising that “parents and caregivers of toddlers and young children who may have consumed WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches should contact their child’s healthcare provider about getting a blood test.” Three days later, the company issued a voluntary recall.

As the recall expanded, FDA transferred the investigation to its Coordinated Outbreak Response & Evaluation (CORE) Network to determine the source of lead contamination and whether additional products are linked to illnesses.

Brands under a voluntary recall. Photo credit: FDA

Brands under a voluntary recall. Photo credit: FDA

Read More »

Also posted in Chemical exposure, Food, Health hazards, Public health / Tagged , , , | Authors: , / Read 1 Response