by Marion Nestle
Aug 7 2013

You think the FDA gets to approve all food additives as safe? Not a chance.

I was invited to write the editorial to accompany a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine looking at the highly conflicted process used to decide whether food additives are Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

Here’s the study.

Here’s my editorial.

I know this sounds completely crazy, but here’s what the study found:

  • Manufacturers get to decide whether food additives are safe or not.
  • Manufacturers get to decide whether to bother to tell the FDA the additives are in the food supply.

And if they do volunteer to inform the FDA (and many do),

  • Manufacturers get to decide who sits on the panels that review the evidence for safety.

In reading the study, it seemed to me that:

  • As long as not too many people roll over dead after eating foods with new additives, nobody will ever have a clue whether the additive is safe.
  • The regulatory gap has spawned an entire enterprise of GRAS consultants and GRAS consulting firms who are in the business—presumably lucrative—of providing the scientific documentation the FDA needs to determine additive safety.

Some of the consultants need to do a better job.  The FDA raises enough questions that about 15% (my estimate) of the requests would be denied.

The good news: If the FDA sees the safety documentation, it does its job.

But what happens to the rejected additives?  Or the ones that don’t get voluntarily sent to FDA?

Nobody really knows (think: caffeine in alcohol drinks–the FDA had no idea).

We need a better food safety system in this country and conflicts of interests in GRAS additive approvals are a good place to start.

Here’s what USA Today has to say about this (I’m quoted).

 

 

Comments

[...] This is why I have little enthusiasm for the manufactured meat. Version 1.0 is not very good overall, but things improve. What doesn’t change is that corporations like to keep secret what they add to food, and they are driven to increase profits by any means necessary. This is why I buy little processed food and mostly cook from scratch. Marion Nestle at Food Politics points out: [...]

  • Margaret Cihocki
  • August 7, 2013
  • 6:07 pm

Best to eat real food and not processed foods as much as possible!

  • Leoluca Criscione
  • August 8, 2013
  • 11:26 pm

As native from Corleone (Sicily), this seems to me a “mafia-like” regulation!

[...] You think the FDA gets to approve all food additives as safe? Not a chance. <<And while we’re talking politics, how do you think food additives are handled by the FDA? Shockingly badly. (Food Politics) [...]

[...] up part of the panel that votes on the final safety ruling. For a complete look at the additive review process, see Dr. Marion Nestle’s [...]

[...] food quality guru Marion Nestle writes in her blog, Food Politics, about a recent study concerning food additives published in JAMA Internal Medicine, a very [...]

  • Lee Carter Nutritional Coach
  • August 17, 2013
  • 11:21 am

In 1940 there were 300 chemicals used to grow food, color it package it, preserve it, etc. In 2000 there were over 80,000 New chemicals in our environment and 20,000 of them are directly on the crops, or in the food, or in the air & water. The Gov. tells us that a little of one will not heart us. Of the new chemicals less than 1/3 have been tested by the Gov. or privet Co’s. to see if it may heart someone & No 2 have been tested together to see if they hay heart someone. Pop corn – Reese’s peanut butter candy 7 ice cream as well as Cheese it crackers and a lot more have TBHQ in them. I do not want eat or have my kids eat Butane Lighter Fluid. With chemicals & GMO crops & Lo information getting out to the public is it any wonder that the USA is not the healthy country that it should be?

  • Anonymous
  • August 17, 2013
  • 2:43 pm

The only way to establish TRUE food safety is to eliminate the corporote mafioso control of the food and pharmaceutical industries. And that includes voting politicans out of office. As long as Big Food owns the politicians and the food regulators, there will never be true food safety.

  • Geeta
  • August 18, 2013
  • 2:59 am

Do you know if this lack of regulation of additives apply to certified organic processed foods as well?

Marion Nestle
  • Marion
  • August 19, 2013
  • 8:32 am

@Geeta: Certified organics are regulated by the USDA under elaborate rules. How well the rules are enforced is a matter of debate but by and large if it’s USDA Certified it is what it’s supposed to be.

[…] You think the FDA gets to approve all food additives as safe? Not a chance. by Dr. Marion Nestle […]

[…] from one of my previous posts the shocking gap in FDA regulatory authority over GRAS […]

[…] get to decide whether food additives are safe or not,” writes Marion Nestle in an editorial on the JAMA study. “Manufacturers get to decide whether to bother to tell the FDA the additives are in the food […]

[…] get to decide whether food additives are safe or not,” writes Marion Nestle in an editorial on the JAMA study. “Manufacturers get to decide whether to bother to tell the FDA the additives are in the food […]

[…] [Source: Marion Nestle, Food Politics] […]

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