Who Determines if Food Additives Are Safe?

Who Determines if Food Additives Are Safe?
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The safety of food additives is determined not by the FDA, but by the manufacturers of the chemicals themselves.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 that?

“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’s 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” even do that.

“The cumulative result is that there is an estimated [6,000] current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10000 substances to be used in food.” “In addition, an estimated 1000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to the 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 are selling “were…safe.”

While “[m]anufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a [quote-unquote safe] determination,” sometimes they do notify the agency, with a little FYI. At least in those cases, where they’re going public with their decision as to what they’re putting in 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 were just the ones the food companies told FDA about. And, they used the same rent-a-scientist “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 “[t]hree of Washington’s largest lobbying firms [reportedly] now work for the food industry.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to mseery via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

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 that?

“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’s 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” even do that.

“The cumulative result is that there is an estimated [6,000] current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10000 substances to be used in food.” “In addition, an estimated 1000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to the 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 are selling “were…safe.”

While “[m]anufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a [quote-unquote safe] determination,” sometimes they do notify the agency, with a little FYI. At least in those cases, where they’re going public with their decision as to what they’re putting in 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 were just the ones the food companies told FDA about. And, they used the same rent-a-scientist “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 “[t]hree of Washington’s largest lobbying firms [reportedly] now work for the food industry.”

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to mseery via flickr

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