Can a Labeling Loophole Compromise the Safety of Our Food?
Generally Recognized As Safe. These four words– also known as GRAS, have allowed food companies to add thousands of ingredients to foods with little to no government oversight or even knowledge, according to a report by the Center for Public Integrity.In 1958, Congress passed the first law regulating ingredients added to food to quell the worries of an American public that was concerned about the growing use of preservatives and other additives being used in food. This new law set up a system that required companies to submit new ingredients to a FDA safety review before they went to market. However, part of that bill had a loophole that allowed the use of ingredients that were “generally recognized as safe;” think vinegar and salt to bypass the lengthy FDA safety review.
However, in the nearly 60 years that this law as been in effect, food companies have found ways to take the GRAS exemption so that they can get their products to market faster. As a result, the number of additives has grown exponentially—from about 800 to 10,000. Some of these additives that companies have claimed are GRAS, have been found to pose dangers by the FDA and there are others that the agency have deemed safe that are now drawing backlash from scientists and advocates. All you need to do is pick up a soda, energy bar, breakfast cereal or baked good to see this in action.
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Can One Small Loophole Compromise the Safety of Our Food?
One great example is partially hydrogenated oil. It seems like it is in everything, which is too bad because it is a trans fat. Trans fat may be the worse type of fat for health as it has been linked to heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. In November 2013, the FDA made a preliminary determination that artificial trans fats should not have GRAS status. But it’s the ingredients that the FDA doesn’t know about that have been released to market under the GRAS loophole that worry many.
The FDA’s food additive approval system takes two years to complete on average and for manufacturers who are trying to keep up with trends this may seem like forever — which is why companies regularly introduce new additives without ever informing the FDA, says a report done by NPR. Scary stuff, right? By buying food stuff off our shelves that makes us the guinea pigs of the food industry’s labs, figuring out whether the new preservatives, additives, ingredients or added flavors will have short-term or long-term effects on our health.
Let’s look at the ingredient mycoprotein, which is a type of fungus used in vegetarian products. It went through the FDA review process but still caused nausea and anaphylactic shock in some consumers. In 2011, the Center for Science in the Public Interest urge the FDA to revoke its GRAS status. And this is an example of an ingredient that the FDA knew about.
Ultimately, it is clear that if you are serious about the safety of your food then you need to be eating whole foods and seeking out foods with minimal ingredients that you can pronounce or at least recognize. Only you can deem ingredients as generally recognized as safe.
Carey Rossi is a writer and editor with 10 years of experience covering all aspects of nutrition and fitness. She was the editor-in-chief of Better Nutrition, a shopping magazine for natural living, and the founding editor of Muscle & Fitness Hers. In addition, her work has appeared in Muscle & Fitness, Looking Good Now, Healthy Family, Vegetarian Times and Natural Health. She is the author of No More Diets Ever, Lose Weight the Natural Way.