"Grocery shoppers examining colorful packages bearing long lists of hard-to-pronounce ingredients might take comfort in the belief that those substances were deemed safe by the government.
They might also believe that some federal agency must, at least, be notified when a new substance enters the U.S. food supply.
But that's not the case.
Over the past 15 years, the vast majority of new ingredients added to U.S. food never received a safety determination from the government. And since 1958, at least 1,000 legally entered the food supply without the knowledge of government officials, according to the Pew Health Group.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acknowledges that since 1997, it has largely transferred the responsibilities for pre-market safety determinations on ingredients — including flavorings, preservatives, texturizers and binders — from its own scientists to food manufacturers."
"Last year, the Pew Health Group added to the debate by publishing a report with estimates on the number of substances the FDA has reviewed (7,000) since 1958, those it hasn't (3,000) and those it has never been notified about (1,000). These include ingredients added directly to food but also indirect ingredients, which come into contact with food during processing and in packaging.
Pew plans to publish more studies in coming months focusing on how other countries treat U.S. GRAS ingredients and how the program deals with conflicts of interest between scientists and manufacturers, among other topics.
Although Pew researchers acknowledge that the 1997 rule change encouraged more manufacturers to submit notifications about new ingredients to the FDA, very few of those manufacturers ask for an FDA review, preferring to make their own determinations. The change also limits the opportunity for the public to provide input on new ingredients.
"The FDA no longer writes specific regulations for the use of the substance or puts those rules up for public comment by consumers, academics and competitors," said Tom Neltner, who heads the Pew Health Group project."
"Neltner advises consumers to consider the source when making food decisions.
"Ask yourself if you can trust that company, because it ultimately comes down to them making the safety decisions," he said.
"Do they see themselves in it for the long term or short term? Some take their responsibilities very seriously and are very conscientious and are going to be very careful. But it's also a global market out there today."
On Wednesday, August 7, 2013, the Food Additives Project at The Pew Charitable Trusts hosted a multi-stakeholder workshop that discussed approaches to managing these conflicts of interest. The workshop was meant to explain the concerns that have been raised regarding the potential for COI in GRAS selfdeterminations, and identify and discuss approaches to resolving those concerns.More info
The peer-reviewed journal Reproductive Toxicology published a paper from The Pew Charitable Trusts' food additives project examining the data used to make safety recommendations for chemicals added to food sold in the United States. The analysis of three major sources of toxicology information found significant gaps in the data for chemicals that are added to food and food packaging.More info
"All of the notices U.S. regulators received to vouch for the safety of common food additives between 1997 and 2012 were submitted by people who had a vested interest in the outcome of those assessments, according to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine on Wednesday."More info
"Experts selected by the food industry have often been the ones approving the safety of food additives for the past 15 years, a new report claims."More info
"How safe are the additives that make your food tastier, thicker, more vitamin-filled or less likely to spoil? It depends on how much you trust the companies that make those additives. A study out today finds that the scientists who judge the safety work for the additive manufacturers or for consultants they've hired."More info
According to a new article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, financial conflicts of interest are ubiquitous when food company employees, paid consultants or professional experts conclude that chemicals are "generally recognized as safe" and can be added to food. The article was co-authored by researchers from The Pew Charitable Trusts.More info
A recent article by Pew experts concludes that the science the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses to assess the safety of food additives has not kept pace with recent scientific developments, and the agency should review and retool its approach to making decisions about the safety of chemicals used in food and packaging in the United States.More info
"Amid growing public concern over the safety of additives in products ranging from caffeinated energy drinks to industrial chemicals in food containers and water bottles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is under pressure to reexamine its rules, and there are signs it may do so."More info
The complexity of our food supply and the oversight of its safety raise fundamental questions about what we eat — some of which were answered for the first time in "Navigating the U.S. Food Additive Regulatory Program," an analysis undertaken by Pew and published in the peer-reviewed journal, Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. The following "frequently asked questions" summarize the findings and conclusions of this article.More info
From oil in Gatorade to the amount of caffeine and other stimulants in energy drinks and the so-called "pink slime" found in beef, previously unnoticed ingredients are coming under scrutiny as health-conscious consumers demand more information about what they eat and drink, and sometimes go public via social networking and the Internet.More info
More than 70 stakeholders examined how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ensures that people are exposed to safe levels of chemicals in food.The proceedings, published in the January 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, lay out participants’ perspectives for enhancing the FDA’s methods.More info
Sarah Kavanagh and her little brother were looking forward to the bottles of Gatorade they had put in the refrigerator after playing outdoors one hot, humid afternoon last month in Hattiesburg, Miss. But before she took a sip, Sarah, a dedicated vegetarian, did what she often does and checked the label to make sure no animal products were in the drink. One ingredient, brominated vegetable oil, caught her eye.More info