According to the National Resources Defensive Council (NRDC), food manufacturers are taking advantage of a “legal loophole”, which allows the manufacturers to use new chemicals in their products based on their own safety studies.
Fifty-six companies were identified by the NRDC and found responsible for marketing products using 275 chemicals without disclosing this information to the FDA.
The hired experts for these companies decided that these chemicals met federal standards known as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).
Are There Hidden Ingredients In Our Food?
Until recently artificial trans fats were considered GRAS, but the FDA has believed them to be dangerous and the cause of as many as 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
The GRAS process was defended at a Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) Science Forum in Washington.
A prepared statement by GMA said “It is a very thorough and comprehensive process that has, under the current law provided FDA with authority to challenge the improper marketing of an ingredient as GRAS, and if necessary, act to remove products containing that ingredient from the food supply.”
Although the FDA allows food manufactures to determine their own safety regulations, the agency strongly encourages companies to consult with them when developing new ingredients.
When the 1958 Food Additives Amendments was enacted, the GRAS process was originally meant for harmless additives like vinegar.
Now it is commonly used for chemicals that are potentially dangerous and have never before been in the American food supply.
How Are the Chemicals Classified as GRAS?
The FDA’s food additive process allows the companies to take different paths to determine the safety of each new chemical or other ingredient.
The most difficult path involves companies submitting a food additive petition, along with the science of the ingredients safety, to the FDA in efforts to gain formal approval from the agency.
An alternate path allows companies to determine GRAS status based on their own studies without notifying the FDA. Lastly, a final path allows companies to voluntarily submit their own GRAS determinations for FDA review and sign off.
However, the manufacturer has the right to withdraw the petition if the FDA is worried about the safety of the additive. The FDA announces the withdrawal, but does not disclose whether they had safety concerns or not. The manufacturer is then allowed to precede with its own safety findings.
In light of this controversy, the FDA council said it is encouraging consumers to demand their grocery stores sell only food products with ingredients the FDA have found to be safe.