Op-ed: How the FDA Ignores the Law When Approving New Chemical Additives to Food

2020-12-28

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) failure on food chemical safety has left consumers at risk of chronic diseases.

The agency is required to review the safety of classes of chemicals rather than individual chemicals. Using the class approach, multiple chemicals adversely affecting the same organ or system (such as the immune, endocrine, or nervous systems) are evaluated together and a safe consumption level is determined for the class. This approach prevents the intentional new or expanded uses of chemical additives that increase chronic disease and, when coupled with a systematic review of prior decisions, results in health risk reduction. Instead, the agency has consistently reviewed individual chemicals without regard to the cumulative effect on chronic disease.

In the last 60 years, innovations in processing, preserving, and packaging have made food more affordable, convenient, and available. To accomplish this transformation, industry, with the FDA’s approval, has brought thousands of chemicals into the food system, resulting in diets increasingly composed of ultra-processed foods without regard for the cumulative effect of these additives and their long-term chronic health consequences.

When Congress passed the Food Additive Amendment in 1958 in response to a rapidly changing food system and rising public and scientific concerns about the potential health risks of new chemical additives, it included a health-protective requirement: the cumulative effect of chemically and pharmacologically related substances in the diet must be taken into account when assessing the safety of new additives. That means, additives with similar toxic effects, either because they look alike or affect similar body functions, must be evaluated together to prevent exposures above an amount that would cause harm.

However, food manufacturers and regulators have neglected to consider this cumulative effect, failing to harness changes in food technology and use advances in scientific knowledge to protect the public from dietary chemical exposures. Medical associations and a group of health, environmental and consumer organizations have jointly challenged the FDA to change its practice of not accounting for the cumulative health effect of chemicals in the diet as required by law.

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EcoWatch, 28 December 2020
; https://www.ecowatch.com/fda-chemicals-food-2649660274.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem1