This was written by Tom Neltner, J.D. Chemicals Policy Director for EDF:
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a “Food Additives and Child Health” policy statement calling for “urgently needed reforms to the current regulatory process at the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food additives.” The policy applies to chemicals deliberately added to food or to food packaging or food processing equipment that get into food. These substances are used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process and store our food, but many never appear among the list of ingredients. AAP’s statement calls specifically for the following:
- “Greatly strengthening or replacing the GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] determination process;
- Updating the scientific foundation of the FDA’s safety assessment program;
- Retesting all previously approved chemicals; and
- Labeling direct additives with limited or no toxicity data.”
EDF applauds AAP’s policy statement and its decision to add its influential voice to the rising call for reform of the process by which FDA and food manufacturers decide additives are safe. AAP, a professional society representing 67,000 pediatricians, develops policy statements regarding federal, state, and community policies that affect children through an extensive, deliberative process that draws on tremendous scientific expertise. As with past policies, such as those concerning lead toxicity and fruit juice consumption, this statement on chemicals in food presents a well-reasoned assessment of the problem and clear recommendations for reform.
Over 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process, or store food in the US – and 1,000 of these bypass FDA review. Due to a flawed law – the Food Additives Amendment of 1958 – and weak enforcement, many chemicals are inadequately tested, or not tested at all, and others are never even independently reviewed for safety. FDA and industry interpret the law as exempting additives that companies secretly determine to be “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) from agency or public review. While originally intended for common ingredients such as oil and vinegar, the process has become a massive loophole that companies have used to bypass FDA review and oversight.
In its statement, the AAP also draws attention to certain chemicals of concern and describes how they exemplify the failures of the food safety system. The following additives are cited as of most concern due to growing evidence of harm:
- Bisphenol A (BPA),
- Perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs),
- Artificial food colors, and
- Nitrates/ nitrites.
Health risks of these chemicals range from worsened attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder symptoms associated with synthetic food colorings common in children’s food to impaired fetal and child brain development, a known effect of perchlorate exposure.
For years, consumers have increasingly demanded food that is healthier and safer including limiting chemical additives and carcinogens. Food manufacturers have taken steps to respond to consumer concerns, but meaningful change will require strengthening and modernizing the regulatory system. EDF is striving to make our food safer by encouraging corporate leaders to remove chemicals of concern from their food and by strengthening and modernizing the current regulatory system. To properly ensure the safety of our food, we are working to:
- End secrecy: The Generally Recognized as Safe loophole allows companies to secretly decide on the safety of chemicals in our food — without FDA’s review or the public’s knowledge. Congress needs to create a more streamlined, public process for FDA to make safety decisions and encourage innovation.
- Use modern science: When FDA reviews chemicals in our food before they are used, it makes our food supply safer. But the agency needs to use the most modern science to do the best job.
- Ensure existing chemicals are safe: Thousands of chemicals were approved by FDA decades ago, when we had far less understanding about their impacts on human health. FDA needs to reassess their safety. Congress needs to provide FDA with the tools so the agency can get the information it needs to set priorities and make decisions about the 10,000 chemicals in our food.
We’re greatly encouraged to see the AAP take such a strong stance on the issue of chemicals in food, and we hope that FDA and policymakers will take immediate action to implement the critical changes needed to fix our nation’s broken food regulatory system and better protect children.