Quantcast

Self-Policed Regulations Lack Transparency

Pew Charitable Trusts

Safety decisions concerning one-third of the more than 10,000 substances that may be added to human food were made by food manufacturers and a trade association without review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to an analysis spearheaded by the Pew Health Group.

The report, published Oct. 26 in the peer-reviewed journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, illustrates potential problems with the U.S. food additive regulatory program.

“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, Food Additives Project director in the Pew Health Group.

The research also found that the FDA developed an expedited process in the mid-1990’s that essentially eliminated the opportunity for public involvement in decision making prior to FDA’s safety determination. This shift doubled the rate of industry requests for FDA review. In contrast, standard operating procedure for other federal regulatory decisions regarding drug, workplace and environmental safety requires public notice and an opportunity to comment.

“While the shift to a new regulatory process—one in which companies make safety decisions and ask FDA to confirm them—has sped up agency review, it has also bypassed the public,” Neltner said. “Subjecting safety decisions to comment from competitors, academic scientists, public interest groups and the general public can result in stronger protections for consumers. In an age of growing demand for government transparency, there is virtually no meaningful opportunity for participation in decisions about large classes of substances added to the food supply.”

When Congress passed the Food Additives Amendment of 1958, it created a structure that has limited the FDA’s ability to effectively regulate substances added to food because the law:

1. Allows manufacturers to determine that the use of an additive is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), and then use that substance without notifying the FDA. As a result, the agency is unaware of many substances that may be added to food and lacks the ability to ensure that safety decisions were properly made.

2. Does not require that manufacturers inform the FDA when health reports suggest new hazards associated with additives already used in food. Therefore, the agency has no access to unpublished reports and must expend limited resources sifting through published information to identify potential problems and set priorities.

In addition to the article examining the state of the food additive regulation, a piece in the same publication summarizes a workshop, co-sponsored by the Institute of Food Technologists and the journal Nature, examined how FDA evaluates the potential hazards posed by substances added to food. The two-day session, held in April 2011, brought together science and food policy experts from government, industry, academia and public interest organizations. Issues discussed at the workshop and presented in the journal article include:

  • The need for clear procedures to develop validated toxicological tests and regularly revise guidance documents to reflect advances in science

  • Opportunities to improve academic research to make it more usable for regulatory decision making and enhance coordination between federal agencies, and

  • Challenges to reassessing a chemical’s safety after it is on the market

Both journal articles appear in the November issue of Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. They are the first in a series of the Pew Health Group’s assessments of the scientific evidence and FDA’s regulatory system, evaluating whether the agency ensures chemicals added to food are safe as required by law. Future articles will consider other aspects of the scientific analysis and the law, and will provide case studies of issues raised about the FDA’s food additives program. The Pew Health Group will develop policy recommendations to reduce unnecessary and hidden risks that are informed by their evaluation.

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Juvenile hatchery salmon flushed from a tanker truck in San Francisco Bay, California. Ben Moon

That salmon sitting in your neighborhood grocery store's fish counter won't look the same to you after watching Artifishal, a new film from Patagonia.

Read More Show Less
Natdanai Pankong / EyeEm / Getty Images

By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD

Coconut meat is the white flesh inside a coconut.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Arx0nt / Moment / Getty Images

By Taylor Jones, RD

Oats are a highly nutritious grain with many health benefits.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

Get ready to toast bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. National Pollinator Week is June 17-23 and it's a perfect time to celebrate the birds, bugs and lizards that are so essential to the crops we grow, the flowers we smell, and the plants that produce the air we breathe.

Read More Show Less
Alexander Spatari / Moment / Getty Images

It seems like every day a new diet is declared the healthiest — paleo, ketogenic, Atkins, to name a few — while government agencies regularly release their own recommended dietary guidelines. But there may not be an ideal one-size-fits-all diet, according to a new study.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Logging shown as part of a thinning and restoration effort in the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon on Oct. 22, 2014. Oregon Department of Forestry / CC BY 2.0

The U.S Forest Service unveiled a new plan to skirt a major environmental law that requires extensive review for new logging, road building, and mining projects on its nearly 200 million acres of public land. The proposal set off alarm bells for environmental groups, according to Reuters.

Read More Show Less
Maskot / Getty Images

By Kris Gunnars, BSc

It's easy to wonder which foods are healthiest.

Read More Show Less
Homes in Washington, DC's Brookland neighborhood were condemned to clear room for a highway in the 1960s. The community fought back. Brig Cabe / DC Public Library

By Teju Adisa-Farrar & Raul Garcia

In the summer of 1969 a banner hung over a set of condemned homes in what was then the predominantly black and brown Brookland neighborhood in Washington, DC. It read, "White man's roads through black men's homes."

Earlier in the year, the District attempted to condemn the houses to make space for a proposed freeway. The plans proposed a 10-lane freeway, a behemoth of a project that would divide the nation's capital end-to-end and sever iconic Black neighborhoods like Shaw and the U Street Corridor from the rest of the city.

Read More Show Less