Home > Dr. Greger’s Medical Nutrition Blog > Food Manufacturers Get to Decide if Their Own Additives Are SafeFood Manufacturers Get to Decide if Their Own Additives Are SafeWritten by: Michael Greger M.D. on March 19th, 2015
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In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their plans to all but eliminate trans fats from processed foods, citing a CDC statistic that the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply could prevent more than 10,000 heart attacks and thousands of deaths every year. Up until that point, trans fats enjoyed their so-called “GRAS” status: “Generally Recognized As Safe.” How did these killer fats get labeled as safe?
Who decides what’s safe? Currently, a “generally recognized as safe” determination is made when the manufacturer of a food substance evaluates the safety of the substance themselves and concludes that the use of the substance is safe. In other words, the company that manufactures the substance gets to determine if it is safe or not. This approach is commonly referred to as ”GRAS self-determination.” To make matters worse, not only do companies not have to inform the public, they don’t even have to inform the FDA. A company may voluntarily tell the FDA they just came up with a new food additive that they’ve decided is safe, but are not required to do so.
The cumulative result is that there are an estimated 6,000 current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10,000 substances to be used in food (See Who Determines if Food Additives are Safe?). In addition, an estimated 1,000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to FDA or the public. “Manufacturers and a trade association made the remaining decisions without FDA review by concluding on their own that the substances that they themselves were selling were safe.”
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What could possibly go wrong?
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