Food additives have gotten a lot of attention of late as more people worry about the processing in their processed foods. The safety of food additives, from trans fats to dyes to dough conditioners in bread (and yoga mats), continues to raise concerns with the public. In a surprise move, the food industry itself has made a move to improve food additives transparency in the absence of clear U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) unveiled initiatives they are launching increase the transparency of “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) food ingredients. Recognizing that a significant percentage of food items today have chemical additives to enhance color, texture or flavor or a range of preservatives to keep food fresh longer. For example, artificial food colors that are used in drinks, processed foods, candies and other items. Public concerns have arisen on whether additives, and their potential side effects, have been adequately tested.
For years, the manufacturers themselves tested and determined whether many of their substances were safe or not. So things like trans fats were labels as GRAS and countless other ingredients. Many of the GRAS notifications submitted to and cited by the FDA were actually submitted by the food manufacturers or an “independent panel” they hired. Additionally, they did not report all safety decisions and tests to the FDA. As a result, considerable mistrust of the food industry exists and people question whether food additives they are eating are really safe.
As a result, the GMA developed its new initiatives seeking to enhance information about which ingredients have been proven safe, which have not and the testing process. The GMA’s new plans include:
- Leading the effort to provide guidance on how to conduct transparent ingredient safety assessments that will be based on standards yet to be developed by an independent body of experts. They plan to establish Publicly Available Standards (PAS) and document their processes.
- Ensuring the FDA has better access to information on the ingredients that are assessed by the food industry. They plan to establish a GMA-sponsored database that will contain information on the GRAS assessments that have been conducted and be accessible to the FDA and other stakeholders.
- Adding GRAS education and training efforts to improve the capabilities of the scientists who conduct food ingredients testing.
- Educating the GMA members about scientific procedures that should be followed to complete adequate and open food safety testing.
- Creating a communications outreach program to educate consumers about the efforts the food industry is making to improve their ingredient safety procedures.
The GMA is confident that they will be strengthening the food safety programs used by throughout the industry. However, it remains to be seen if there will be true transparency of the food additive testing efforts in the industry and who will have access to the information.
The database that GMA is developing should be completely available to the public, according to regulatory affairs attorney Laura MacCleery, who is with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). “It is outrageous that FDA doesn’t already have the identity, much less the safety data, of all substances added to the nation’s food supply,” she noted, questioning the industry effort to improve transparency and information available on food additives.
By Dyanne Weiss