Tag Archives: food additives

GAO: FDA designation doesn’t ensure safety

Ammonium Hydroxide and Phosphoric Acid, both GRAS. Photo by Benny BNut via Flickr.

On his blog Cold Truth (and on AOL News), Andrew Schneider brought our attention to the GAO’s recent investigation into the well-known FDA loophole created by the “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS designation.

The GRAS designation is meant to spare manufacturers lengthy and expensive testing that might otherwise slow the flow of new products to market. It’s conferred, Schneider writes, as long as a “scientific panel selected by the manufacturer can rule that no harm will result from the intended use of an additive.”

Schneider’s version of the highlights of the GAO report:

  • The FDA generally doesn’t know about most of these determinations of “generally regarded as safe,” or GRAS, because companies are not required to inform the agency.
  • The FDA has not taken steps that could help ensure the safety of additives listed as GRAS.
  • Food products may contain numerous ingredients, including GRAS substances, making it difficult, if not impossible, for public health authorities to attribute a food safety problem to a specific GRAS additive.
  • The FDA does not systematically reconsider the safety of GRAS substances as new information or new methods for evaluating safety become available.

The GAO said nanomaterials and imported additives were of particular concern.

(Hat tip to OMB Watch in general and Matthew Madia in particular)

Toxicologists: Media gets chemical risks wrong

Writing for STATS, a research organization affiliated with George Mason University, Robert Lichter reports on a study of “how experts view the risks of common chemicals” that says “the media are overstating risk,” according to toxicologists.

Based on the survey responses of about 1,000 industry and academic toxicologists, the study was conducted by STATS, The Center for Health and Risk Communication at George Mason University, and the Society of Toxicology.

According to the survey, toxicologists say the news media overstates risk. Among the media, TV networks get the worst rap, the print media does slightly better and public broadcasting is seen as doing the best “with ‘only’ two out of three toxicologists describing PBS and NPR as overstating chemical risk.”

Also among the survey’s findings:

  • Toxicologists “tend to downplay the dangers to human health” from chemicals and only a minority of them find cosmetics (one in four) or food additives (one in three) to be particularly risky. The majority saw more risk in pesticides and endocrine disruptors.
  • Almost all say the amount of a toxin matters more than its mere presence, and deny that organic/natural products are inherently safer.
  • Most agree that the regulatory system’s doing a good job, but that the media and regulators aren’t doing enough to accurately communicate with the public on these issues.
  • In a sidebar titled “The Internet – a sober corrective to unruly journalists?” Trevor Butterworth reveals that toxicologists viewed WebMD and Wikipedia as far more accurate than mainstream media like The New York Times.