Federal protections to keep potentially unsafe chemicals out of foods are “woefully inadequate” and may be putting the health of Americans at risk, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council investigative report.
The food safety protection system is marred by minimal supervision by the US Food and Drug Administration, rife with apparent conflicts of interest in safety evaluations, and rendered all but toothless by a gaping loophole that allows companies to simply declare as safe hundreds of chemicals added to our foods—without any notification to the FDA or the public, according to Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States.
The report shows:
- Some 275 chemicals used by 56 companies appear to be marketed as “generally recognized as safe,” or 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.
- 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- Based on information from notices submitted to the FDA, but later withdrawn, companies have sometimes certified their chemicals as safe for use in food despite potentially serious allergic reactions, or adverse reactions in combination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 the 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 At least in some instances, companies may have withdrawn their notices in order to avoid having an FDA rejection made public.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.
In February, Subway agreed to remove the GRAS chemical azodicarbonamide, a leavening and bleaching agent, from its bread, after a campaign by blogger Food Babe.
More than 67,000 people signed a petition for Subway to stop using the chemical after the blogger took the company to task for the chemical, which she said is linked to asthma and cancer, and is “the same chemical used to make yoga mats and shoe rubber.”