The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
Even the FDA Doesn't Know What Chemicals Are in Your Food
We all have secrets, from small ones (the scale isn’t broken, I ate too many cookies!) to bigger ones (yes, we knew for a long time that tobacco kills people).
For more than 50 years, many in the food industry have not had to disclose information to consumers and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the safety of chemicals they put in our food. Additives manufacturers have taken advantage of a dysfunctional regulatory system that allows for minimal or no disclosure, is plagued with conflicts of interest, and provides weak oversight of something as vital to our health as food.
For consumers, it’s bad enough that most of the ingredients listed in packaged food have hard to pronounce names and we do not always know why they are there; we don’t know how much and how many chemicals leach from the packaging into the food; or little is known about the safety of those chemicals because a small percentage are actually tested.
But it gets worse: Companies can add chemicals into our food without ever telling the FDA about their identity, their uses and (wait for it) their safety!
As long as a company designates a chemical as being ‘generally recognized as safe,’ or GRAS in regulatory parlance, according to FDA’s interpretation of the law, it has no responsibility to inform the agency. FDA doesn’t know about the safety of an estimated 1,000 chemicals because they aren’t disclosed.
I’m still a child at heart and what do children do when they are told something is secret? Curiosity is innate. So, we sought to find out what these chemicals are, who is making these safety decisions and why companies choose to forgo FDA’s review process. We identified 56 companies that appear to rely on undisclosed GRAS safety determinations for 275 chemicals. Sixty-two percent of them responded to our inquiries but did not share their safety determination with us; the remaining 38 percent, selling 218 chemicals, never responded us. The great majority of the chemicals were active ingredients in dietary supplements. You can read more about these companies and their reasons to go around the FDA in our Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States.
How does this impact me and my family, you may ask? As long as FDA doesn’t know about the safety of thousands of chemicals, it cannot ensure the safety of the food we eat and cannot protect public health. It’s that simple. FDA has tried to figure out how to be informed about the safety of GRAS chemicals for many years; its last attempt was creating a voluntary program whereby companies submit their safety assessment and the agency’s scientists punch holes in their argument. If the company’s argument for safety is strong, the agency sends a “no questions” letter to the company.
If FDA starts raising concerns and the company sees that its argument could fail, a company can withdraw the submission without prejudice and can continue marketing the chemical.
We submitted a Freedom of Information Act (see Appendices) request to the agency for information about 16 chemicals that companies submitted for review but along the evaluation process asked FDA to stop its assessment. In reviewing the FDA records we got, we noticed that the agency’s scientists asked excellent questions and had many concerns about the safety of chemicals. For instance, they were justifiably concerned about epigallocatechn-3-gallate (EGCG) because of its apparent liver, thyroid, testis, spleen and gastrointestinal toxicity in animal tests, and its ability to break down DNA in human cells which may be associated with fetal leukemia.
They were also concerned about GABA, a brain chemical, or theobromine, a stimulant, because by the companies’ own calculations people could be exposed to 5 times more than the safe dose if these chemicals were added to food. In other words, if the exposure is several times higher than the safe dose, the chemical’s use is not safe. Although our report shows the value of FDA’s reviews, the broken system doesn’t stop these potentially unsafe chemicals from reaching our plates, especially for those safety decisions that industry chooses not to disclose to FDA and the public.
How can something be ‘generally recognized’ and not disclosed at the same time? We have heard that these chemicals are “natural” (even though some are highly purified components of the natural source) and people have been eating them for centuries.
We also are told that companies don’t disclose because FDA posts the GRAS notifications it receives in its website and competitors can take advantage of it with little investment. But the lack of disclosure—at least of the studies used to justify a finding of safety—seemingly contradicts the regulations stating that “general recognition of safety through scientific procedures shall ordinarily be based upon published studies…” (21 CFR § 170.30(b)). Or, as an FDA reviewer told a company “[i]n other words, if a panel of experts reviews data that are not publicly available and subsequently renders an opinion regarding safety, even if the experts are well-recognized, the opinion does not meet the general recognition of safety (emphasis added) for GRAS ingredients because the data were not publicly available.”
The GRAS exemption, as it is currently being implemented by the FDA, means that the agency is unable to protect our food and our health. The law places the responsibility on FDA to ensure the safety of chemicals in food. If it doesn’t know what chemicals are in our food or have the documentation demonstrating their safety, it can’t do its job.
We must demand that FDA require that food manufactures inform the agency of safety decisions of chemicals in food. You can help us by taking action here.
YOU ALSO MIGHT LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Cabin fever is often associated with being cooped up on a rainy weekend or stuck inside during a winter blizzard.
In reality, though, it can actually occur anytime you feel isolated or disconnected from the outside world.
What is cabin fever?<p>In popular expressions, cabin fever is used to explain feeling bored or listless because you've been stuck inside for a few hours or days. But that's not the reality of the symptoms.</p><p>Instead, cabin fever is a series of negative emotions and distressing sensations people may face if they're isolated or feeling cut off from the world.</p><p>These feelings of isolation and loneliness are more likely in times of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/yes-covid-19-cases-are-rising-why-you-still-need-to-practice-social-distancing" target="_blank">social distancing</a>, self-quarantining during a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/what-is-a-pandemic" target="_blank">pandemic</a>, or sheltering in place because of severe weather.</p><p>Indeed, cabin fever can lead to a series of symptoms that can be difficult to manage without proper coping techniques.</p><p>Cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological disorder, but that doesn't mean the feelings aren't real. The distress is very real. It can make fulfilling the requirements of everyday life difficult.</p>
What are the symptoms?<p>Symptoms of cabin fever go far beyond feeling bored or "stuck" at home. They're rooted in an intense feeling of isolation and may include:</p><ul><li>restlessness</li><li>decreased motivation</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irritability" target="_blank">irritability</a></li><li>hopelessness</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/unable-to-concentrate" target="_blank">difficulty concentrating</a></li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/irregular-sleep-wake-syndrome" target="_blank">irregular sleep patterns</a>, including sleepiness or sleeplessness</li><li>difficulty waking up</li><li><a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/lethargy" target="_blank">lethargy</a></li><li>distrust of people around you</li><li>lack of patience</li><li>persistent <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/depression-vs-sadness" target="_blank">sadness or depression<br></a></li></ul>
What can help you cope with cabin fever?<p>Because cabin fever isn't a recognized psychological condition, there's no standard "treatment." However, mental health professionals do recognize that the symptoms are very real.</p><p>The coping mechanism that works best for you will have a lot to do with your personal situation and the reason you're secluded in the first place.</p><p>Finding meaningful ways to engage your brain and occupy your time can help alleviate the distress and irritability that cabin fever brings.</p><p>The following ideas are a good place to start.</p>
When to get help<p>Cabin fever is often a fleeting feeling. You may feel irritable or frustrated for a few hours, but having a virtual chat with a friend or finding a task to distract your mind may help erase the frustrations you felt earlier.</p><p>Sometimes, however, the feelings may grow stronger, and no coping mechanisms may be able to successfully help you eliminate your feelings of isolation, sadness, or depression.</p><p>What's more, if your time indoors is prolonged by outside forces, like weather or extended shelter-in-place orders from your local government, feelings of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety" target="_blank">anxiety</a> and fear are valid.</p><p>In fact, anxiety may be at the root of some cabin fever symptoms. This may make symptoms worse.</p><p>If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse, consider reaching out to a mental health professional who can help you understand what you're experiencing. Together, you can identify ways to overcome the feelings and anxiety.</p><p>Of course, if you're in isolation or practicing social distancing, you'll need to look for alternative means for seeing a mental health expert.</p><p>Telehealth options may be available to connect you with your therapist if you already have one. If you don't, reach out to your doctor for recommendations about mental health specialists who can connect with you online.</p><p>If you don't want to talk to a therapist, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/top-iphone-android-apps" target="_blank">smartphone apps for depression</a> may provide a complementary option for addressing your cabin fever symptoms.</p>
The bottom line<p>Isolation isn't a natural state for many people. We are, for the most part, social animals. We enjoy each other's company. That's what can make staying at home for extended periods of time difficult.</p><p>However, whether you're sheltering at home to avoid dangerous weather conditions or heeding the guidelines to help minimize the spread of a disease, staying at home is often an important thing we must do for ourselves and our communities.</p><p>If and when it's necessary, finding ways to engage your brain and occupy your time may help bat back cabin fever and the feelings of isolation and restlessness that often accompany it.</p>
Pope Francis spoke about the novel coronavirus, suggesting that the global pandemic might be one of nature's responses to the man-made climate crisis.
Thousands of swallows and other migratory birds have died in Greece trying to cross from Africa to Europe this spring.
- Trump Admin Moves to Weaken Restrictions on Killing Migratory Birds ›
- Millions of Songbirds Do Not Need to Suffer Gruesome Deaths So ... ›
Ringed seals spend most of the year hidden in icy Arctic waters, breathing through holes they create in the thick sea ice.
But when seal pups are born each spring, they don't have a blubber layer, which is their protection from cold.
- Trump Administration Approves Exploratory Drilling in Arctic Ocean ... ›
- Arctic Ship Traffic Threatens Narwhals and Other Extraordinary ... ›
New York state now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any single country save the U.S. as a whole.
- U.S. Now Leads the World in Coronavirus Cases - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Slowdown in Washington Suggests Social Distancing ... ›