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Can You Trust the System? Experts Who Decide on Food Additives Conflicted

Can You Trust the System? Experts Who Decide on Food Additives Conflicted

We see processed foods lining shelves at every supermarket across the U.S, many containing food additives deemed safe by the FDA. Yet, a new study reveals that a large portion of these additives have been validated by experts that have a vested interest in the food additive manufacturing companies that produce them.

America’s food additives law has changed little since 1958, when Congress gave additive manufacturers the ability to decide if their own products were “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) without FDA involvement, reports USA Today. This law was set in place at a time when oil, vinegar and salt were the commonly used food additives. Today though, there are over 10,000 on the GRAS list including carnauba wax, modified food starch, caffeine, monosodium glutamate, gum Arabic, mineral oil and rosemary, among others.

The 1958 law does not require additive companies to tell the FDA when they have decided that an additive is safe for use and consumption. And when they do choose to do so, a letter that summarizes the scientific literature supporting their decision is submitted to the FDA.

“Rules governing the chemicals that go into a tennis racket are more stringent than (rules for) the chemicals that go into our food,” said Thomas Neltner, lead author of the newly released study on food additive reporting published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study, conducted by The Pew Charitable Trusts from Washington D.C., has found that all of the 451 voluntarily-submitted food additive notifications submitted between 1997 and 2012 where done by people that had direct and indirect relationships with food additive manufacturers.

22 percent of the filed notifications were completed by an employee of the food additive manufacturer while another 13 percent were made by employees of manufacturer-hired consulting firms. A larger amount of the notifications, about 64 percent of them, where submitted by expert panels picked by the manufacturers and consulting firms. According to the study’s researchers, none of the expert panels were selected by third parties, reports Reuters.

Neltner has said that he does not believe companies desire to put substances on the market that would hurt people but, “we’re suggesting that the system creates its own momentum that’s likely to skew in favor of the additive manufacturers.”

The study’s researchers urge the FDA to address issues with the GRAS system. By reducing conflicts of interests in the GRAS system, the U.S. will be taking a step in the right direction towards more sound food safety.

Image source: ilovebutter / Flickr

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