Many Additives Go Into Foods Without Federal Scrutiny, Report Finds

It’s impossible to know everything that’s in the processed food we eat. Loose federal food labeling rules allow food companies to hide many of their ingredients behind vague terms — “spices,” “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors.”

And it turns out that the safety of many of these ingredients has never been reviewed by the federal government.

That was the main assertion in a new report  by the Pew Health Group, part of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a Washington-based nonprofit. The report found that, since the 1960s, more than 3,000 food ingredients have been classified as safe by the food industry without being scrutinized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“We don’t know the names of a lot of these chemicals because the companies have never told FDA or the public about them,” Erik Olson, a Pew Health Group official and one of the study’s authors, told The Associated Press. “Often there is not publicly available data on the potential health impacts because FDA has never evaluated them.”

In a news release, the Pew Health Group said the industry was given wide lattitude by the Food Additives Amendment of 1958. It has allowed manufacturers to use additives,  if the companies determine that the ingredients are “generally recognized as safe,” without notifying the FDA.

The amendment, Pew said, also imposes no requirement on manufacturers to alert the FDA about their ingredients when new hazards become known about additives already being used in food. “Congress established our food additive regulatory program more than 50 years ago, and it does not stand up well to scrutiny based on today’s standards of science and public transparency,” said Tom Neltner, one of the report’s other authors from the Pew Health Group.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association countered that ingredients aren’t classified as safe until they have undergone a battery of rigorous tests. And, in some cases, manufacturers voluntarily turn over information to the FDA.

Still, the association’s chief science officer, Leon Bruner, added, “The system is less transparent than it should be so we’re looking to open that dialogue.”

“We are completely comfortable with increasing the transparency or the visibility of ingredients that go through the process,” he said.

A senior FDA official sounded a similar note, saying that the agency “considers it timely to explore whether the statutory and regulatory framework for food additives adequately addresses today’s need for transparency.”

The Pew report was published in the Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety journal.

ROBERT T. NELSON

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One comment to “Many Additives Go Into Foods Without Federal Scrutiny, Report Finds”

  1. Reggie Corpus

    Anything that touches food (or touches something that touches food) may be an Indirect Food Additive. The U.S. FDA requirements regarding the use of Indirect Food Additives are known as “Food Contact Substance” (FCS) regulations. Examples of FCS products may include:
    •Food Packaging, Cookware, Tableware, etc.•Food Processing Equipment, Production Aids, Sanitizers, etc.•Chemicals used as Adhesives, Lubricants, Coatings, etc.
    Having a FCS product reviewed by Registrar Corp can prevent costly errors.

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