Why the Additives in Processed Foods May Be Even More Dangerous Than You Think

Want to get a good sense of just how utterly screwed up the Food and Drug Administration is when it comes to regulating all those unpronounceable ingredients on the labels of so many processed foods? Just check out the much ballyhooed announcement from the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents most of the processed-food industry, of its newfound openness about food additives. The association has launched a “five-part initiative to help modernize the process” of evaluating whether additives should be considered safe, including establishing a “GMA-sponsored database” that will provide the FDA and “other stakeholders” access to the food industry’s safety assessments of its own products.

Hold up a minute: The FDA doesn’t already have its hands on the data food companies have been using to determine whether the additives they’re putting into the food we eat are safe for human consumption?

In a word, nope.

Oh you poor, silly, naive American consumer. Did you really think that the FDA was poring over reams of scientific data before it gave the green light to an additive like epigallocatechin-3-gallate or gamma-amino butyric acid ? Not only does the agency not require food makers to submit scientific studies to back up claims that the additives they’re using are safe for humans to eat (that is, “generally recognized as safe,” or “GRAS,” in bureaucratic-speak), but the agency basically allows food companies to make that determination themselves. No FDA stamp of approval is necessary; it’s pretty much been that way for the last 17 years.