Transcript: Who Determines if Food Additives are Safe?
November 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their plans to all but eliminate trans fats from processed foods, citing a CDC statistic that the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply could prevent more than 10,000 heart attacks and thousands of deaths every year. Currently, trans fats enjoy so-called GRAS status: “generally recognized as safe.” How did these killer fats get labeled as safe? Who gets to determine it?
Currently, a generally-recognized-as-safe determination is made when the manufacturer of a food substance evaluates the safety of the substance themselves and concludes that the use of the substance is safe. Did I just read that right? The company that manufactures the substance gets to determine if it is safe or not. This approach is commonly referred to as ‘‘GRAS self- determination.’’ To make matters worse, not only do they not have to inform the public, they don’t even have to inform the FDA. In a footnote they explain that a company may voluntarily tell the FDA they just came up with a new food additive that they’ve decided is safe, but are not required to do so.
The cumulative result is that there are an estimated 6,000 current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10,000 substances to be used in food. In addition, an estimated thousand manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to FDA or the public. Manufacturers and a trade association made the remaining decisions without FDA review by concluding on their own that the substances that they themselves were selling were safe.
While manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a “safe determination,” sometimes they do notify the agency with a little FYI. The individuals that companies select to make these determinations may have financial conflicts of interest. At least in those cases, where they’re going public with their decision as to what they’re putting into our food, presumably they’re being above board and finding some independent third party panel. The objective of this study was to find out.
What did they find? Of the 451 GRAS notifications voluntarily submitted to the FDA, 22% were made by someone directly employed by the company. 13% were made by someone directly employed by a firm hand-picked by the company, and 64% by a panel hand-picked by the corporation or the firm the corporation hired. Are you doing the math? Yes, that means zero percent of safety decisions were made independently.
An astonishing 100% of the members of expert panels worked directly or indirectly for the companies that manufactured the food additive in question. 100%. And those are just the ones the food companies let FDA know about. And they used the same in-the-pocket rent-a-scentist “experts” over and over, leading food industry watchdog Marion Nestle to ask “How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?” Maybe it’s because many of the companies providing our daily food are corporate giants with political muscles national governments would envy. PepsiCo alone spent more than $9 million in a single year to lobby Congress. The fact that food additives like trans fats have been allowed to kill thousands of Americans year after year comes as less of a surprise to those who realize three of Washington’s largest lobbying firms reportedly now work for the food industry.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.
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