Eating and drinking is about as basic to our survival as it gets.

While we might debate whether various manufactured foods are the healthiest choices we can make in a day, we assume the FDA has approved their ingredients before we eat them.  We assume all the ingredients meet the standard of a “reasonable certainty” that no harm will come to us from consuming them.  We assume all the ingredients are known.

We are assuming wrong.

In an 80 page filing with the FDA, the consumer advocacy group, The Center for Science in the Public Interest, argues that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s process for overseeing food additives is illegal.
FDA doesn't know what is in our food

"...the agency cannot fulfill its obligation to protect public health."

“Consumers are being exposed to potentially dangerous chemicals that industry self-certifies as safe for use in foods, with little or no scrutiny from the Food and Drug Administration."

There are now over 10,000 known food additives in the form of chemical preservatives, flavorings and thickening agents.  As the FDA admits and was quoted in the Washington Post in 2014:

“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food.

Why The FDA Doesn’t Know What’s In Our Food

At the heart of the problem is a loophole in the regulatory law passed in 1958 to protect consumers worried about the increased use of additives and preservatives in manufactured foods.  The loophole says if a company can establish an additive (flavor, preservative or ingredient) is GRAS “generally recognized as safe” by qualified scientific experts it can bypass the FDA safety review process.

The logic 57 years ago was to grandfather in certain basic additives like salt and vinegar.  A 1997 update to stream-line FDA rules opened the GRAS notification door even wider.  In a must read, eye-opening report, Public Integrity details how that large loophole in our food additive safety system actually works.

Here is a quick run down of how little the FDA is involved in monitoring, let alone regulating the ingredients and chemical additives we consume.

No Approval Necessary

The FDA does not have to certify an ingredient as being safe, before it can be legally added to our food and beverages.

  • Even when the FDA says an ingredient or chemical additive “could pose safety risks” in our food, it can still be “marketed.”

No Review Necessary

A formal FDA review process is not required before an ingredient, additive, or chemical can be added to our food and beverages.

  • The GRAS determination notification process allows companies to by-pass a formal review and self-determine the safety of an ingredient through company selected “experts.”
  • Using a GRAS determination, companies can declare ingredients to be safe with just a summary of their findings and without reporting the results of toxicity tests to prove it safe.

Worse yet …

No Notification Necessary

New and/or novel ingredients and chemical additives can be added to (and already exist in) our food and beverages — without the FDA ever being notified of its use or even warn of the intent to use secret ingredients.

  • To preserve “proprietary” information, FDA’s GRAS determination notification process is voluntary.
  • Companies are not required and have shown a preference to not report all ingredients they put in our food.
  • Unknown ingredient are conveniently less linkable to immediate adverse reactions or long-term health exposure issues.

So how bad has the FDA non regulatory process gotten?

An average of only two additive petitions seeking formal approval are filed annually by food and chemical companies, while the agency receives dozens of GRAS notifications, according to an NRDC analysis of FDA data. Hundreds of other food chemicals and ingredients have been introduced without notifying the FDA at all, according to agency officials, trade journals and food safety groups.

~~Food additives on the rise as FDA scrutiny wanes, Washington Post

Hat tip to Robyn O’Brien  for this great video from The Center for Public Integrity:

Even if the FDA doesn’t know what is in our food, shouldn’t we?


Use your dollars wisely.