Is the FDA Food Additives Safety System A Farce?

shutterstock_72680119Is the FDA’s food additives safety system a farce?  A new study suggests it is.

A new study from scientists at The Pew Charitable Trusts and Environmental Management Institute, asserts that the FDA’s food additives safety system “lacks the relevant information needed to estimate the amount [of additives] that consumers can safely eat.”

Are Food Additives Safe?

The study points out that more than 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be added, directly or indirectly, to human food. They are used for a many things including preserving flavor, enhancing taste or appearance, preventing spoilage, and as part of packaging. Over 90% of these food additives are allowed in human food under the categories known as “food additives” or as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) substances. GRAS substances include everything from common ingredients to GMOs. The remaining 10% are in other categories such as color additives, pesticides, or substances. The bottom line is that chemical additives cannot be used in food without the FDA or the additive manufacturer positively proving that the additive is safe and that a safe level of exposure can be estimated.

This new Pew/EMI study is significant because the researchers looked at all FDA approved chemical additives that are allowed in human food and created the first searchable list. The list of additives was then cross-referenced to supporting toxicology studies. When the researchers analyzed how many chemical additives allowed in human food actually have the necessary toxicology studies, they found some very disturbing facts:

In practice, almost 80% of chemical additives directly—intentionally—added to food lack the relevant information needed to estimate the amount that consumers can safely eat in FDA’s own database and 93% lack reproductive or developmental toxicity data, although FDA requires feeding toxicology data for these chemicals.

The study’s conclusion:

The scientific basis for determinations of safety to humans may be questioned.

No kidding!

Photo: Szasz-Fabian Ilka Erika/Shutterstock

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About the Author

is a former marketing consultant who decided, at the age of fifty, to turn her hand to creative non-fiction. Jennifer continues to write about sustainable food and wine, the intersection of food and marketing and food politics for and is the author of Greening Your Small Business (November 2009, Penguin Group (USA)). She was named one of The 16 Women You Must Follow on Twitter for Green Business. She has four kids, a dog, a hamster and an MBA - follow her on and .