A newly published study says U.S. food companies have “undue influence” in vouching for the safety of common food additives such as salt, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners.
The analysis, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, showed that all 451 notices of additive safety voluntarily submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 1997 and 2012 came from people with a vested interest in the outcome of the assessment. Under current practices, companies are allowed to decide whether their additives can be classified as GRAS—generally recognized as safe—and voluntarily inform the FDA of their decisions, according to Reuters Health.
Additives are typically used to enhance flavor or color or as preservatives. When a manufacturer notifies the FDA that it believes an additive is safe, the agency either affirms the GRAS determination or informs the manufacturer that the notice did not provide enough evidence for the decision, according to Reuters Health.
Thomas Neltner, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ food additives project, who led the study, suggests the GRAS program could reduce conflicts of interest by adopting rules that exclude people with food-industry ties from submitting safety notices.
In analyzing additive notices submitted to the FDA, Neltner’s group found that 22 percent were made by an employee of the additive manufacturer; about 13 percent by employees of consulting firms hired by manufacturers; and another 64 percent were submitted by food safety expert panels whose members were picked by either manufacturers or consulting firms. According to Reuters Health, none of the panel members were selected by third parties.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO), in a 2010 report, found multiple instances of the FDA prohibiting an additive previously recognized as GRAS, but the GAO says that the FDA’s oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new GRAS determinations. The FDA says it plans to issue guidance to the food industry on meeting the GRAS criteria, Reuters Health reports.