Cracking the Clandestine Code of Chemical Additives?

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We may soon know a lot more about the additives that go into our processed foods. In reaction to consumer pressure and advocacy, the Grocery Manufacturers Association recently announced that they will be giving the FDA a database of safety information about chemical additives that are “general recognized as safe” (GRAS).

These are everyday additives which seemingly won’t harm the consumer, however, we have now learned through the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) that over 1,000 of these chemicals never received FDA approval.  Helena Bottemiller Evich of Politico explains more about the content of the database and cites that the GMA and the NRDC are both touting this announcement as a positive move forward:

GMA’s own database will focus primarily on new GRAS ingredients or new ingredient uses, but will also include some that are currently used in the market. Parts of the database will be made public, but the bulk of the information will only be accessible to FDA officials and GMA members. The association said FDA officials have recently indicated the agency will soon be re-reviewing some ingredients that have been determined to be GRAS over the years, if there’s new science that warrants another look. “GMA members are committed to participating in and contributing to the re-review process,” according to a new code of practice that top industry executives agreed to last week."

It does seem promising, but we tend to be a bit wary of moves by the GMA; they are, after all, the same trade association that has backed anti-GMO labeling campaigns and fought against GMO labeling laws, and opposed better nutrition standards in school lunches. The folks at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) share our trepidations, pointing out the absurdity of the FDA’s role in chemical additives thus far, and that giving information for the database will be voluntary:

That this is seen as a step forward neatly illustrates the dysfunction built into the current system. It is outrageous that FDA doesn’t already have the identity, much less the safety data, of all substances added to the nation’s food supply. FDA has become too reliant on the corporations’ own safety evaluations. A voluntary submission fails to fix the core problem, which is that there are no appropriately stringent scientific standards for companies’ private safety determinations on food additives, and insufficient review and oversight of those evaluations."

It’s pretty clear that though this move by the GMA will be helpful for consumer safety, it still gives corporation an inordinate amount of control over what’s in our food supply. We will continue to seek opportunities to demand for more transparency in chemical food additives.

PHOTO: credit to Dwight Eschliman

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