Food Safety: What the FDA Doesn’t Know, Could Kill You

Do you know what's in your food

When it comes to food safety, a troubling trend is the transfer of responsibility from manufacturers and the government to the shoulders of consumers. One of the areas where this is evident is in the (non existent) approval process for adding new chemical substances into the foods.

In the last 50 years, over 1000 new chemicals and ingredients have been used in food products, without the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even knowing about them, let alone reviewing their safety. We’re talking about preservatives, flavor additives and various other unpronounceable ingredients. The safety determination is solely in the hands of the manufacturers.

A substance is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) if there is “reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use”. The only problem is that the scientists would be out of a job if they discovered a new additive was problematic. Obviously dangerous chemicals don’t make the grade, but there is a large swath of gray area when it comes to long term health effect of various ingredients that nobody can be sure of.

The “innocent before proven guilty” approach, which works great in the judicial system, cannot be applied to food safety. We can’t have millions of Americans serve as lab rats so that some bread can have a 10% increase in shelf life.

Read more about America’s scary food safety program in this great article in the Chicago Tribune.


  • SteveT

    FDA does not have resources or trained personnel necessary to perform GRAS determinations and the food additive petition process is amazingly cumbersome and slow. The food industry has little choice but to do GRAS self-affirmations.

    • Violet

      I think the food industry has another, obvious choice. The food industry could leave that crud out of food.

      • Steve T

        Crud means what? There are amazingly huge amounts of ingredients that go into food products that do not have an approved food additive petition, are not listed on the old GRAS list, are not subject to an FDA GRAS determination, and for which FDA has not received and put its stamp on a GRAS notification. Because it is not one of that exceedingly short list of approved ingredients, does that mean it is “crud” and not safe?

        Here’s a good example. Milk protein concentrate. It’s milk, put through filter, then spray dried. Crud or no crud? It has no chemical or other additives. Yet there’s no food additive petition approved, not on the old GRAS list, no FDA GRAS determination, and no GRAS notification. Same thing for things like guar gum, carob bean gum, evaporated cane sugar, rice syrup, etc.

        Your “obvious choice” is seeking to impose your will on others. I think the better choice is for you to vote with your wallet and buy what you want to buy, and let others buy what they want to buy.

    • jm

      Are there not enough unemployed talented Americans to fill these jobs and become the “trained personnel”?

  • CT

    A comment on — “The “innocent before proven guilty” approach, which works great in the judicial system, cannot be applied to food safety.”…

    Actually, it isn’t reasonable to use the approach that everything is “guilty” and must be proven “innocent” when it comes to food safety. You can’t prove that something is 100%safe and harmless, you can only prove that something is harmful.

    ANY ingredient can be demonstrated to be harmful to health. Even water. The famous toxicology quote “The dose makes the poison” is true. Given that, under the right conditions, EVERY SINGLE ingredient or food can be harmful to human health, it is absolutely impossible to PROVE 100% safety. If we start with the premise that all ingredients or foods are “guilty”, we would be left with nothing acceptable.

    I think it is reasonable for food manufacturers to demonstrate — under controlled conditions of expected consumption (plus a myriad of various safety factors) — that a food or ingredient is not harmful.

    • Fooducate

      Good points.
      It seems that in Europe there are higher standards for “safe” than here. Can we at least get to that level?

      • CT

        I don’t think we need to be Euro-centric to have safe food. Europe doesn’t have “higher” standards than the US — they have “different” safety standards. In some cases, US standards for food safety are actually stricter than the EU. And in others, the reverse is true. I don’t think we would want to model ourselves after Europe.

        The other comment that I will make (having some regulatory experience with foods) is that there is also a difference between having regulations “on the books” and actually enforcing them. While a regulatory system may look good on paper, if it is not being implemented and enforced, then it really isn’t serving its purpose. In the US, our government does enforce our regs (not always the case elsewhere).

        I’d rather know what the standards are, and know that my government is working to assure accountability. If resources are an issue, then that should be considered as regulations are developed — rather than ignoring the regs later and never enforcing them.

  • Clove

    Made even more complicated by the fact that the government doesn’t recognize substances causing chronic disease they only look at those causing acute diseases.

  • malachite2

    Approach in FIFRA (pesticides/herbicide regulations) is that pesticides, etc., are “innocent until proven guilty.” or very similar to the approach of the FDA. “The business of America is business” don’t forget (Calvin Coolidge quote). That approach certainly worked out very well with Agent Orange (2,4,5-T), aldicarb and others, didn’t it? 2,4-5-T was never actually de-registered–when EPA decided to hold (closed) hearings w/the manufacturers, the manufacturers decided to withdraw it from use in the US. It took a huge effort (on the part of many) to get EPA to take that much action.

    Otherwise, all of these compounds are considered to be “safe” for humans as long as used according to the directions on the labels. Which they often aren’t, for example, herbicides are often (still) used on roadsides to keep brush down, and in some states, roads often run near streams/creeks/rivers. Quite a few of the labels on herbicides indicates they’re not supposed to be used near water as they’re toxic to amphibians & fish. Oops.

    Not sure if it’s still true, but at one time, states had to use herbicides (specific herbicides) along roadsides as a condition of receiving federal highway funds. Great deal for the manufacturers, no?

    Generally, mowing works just as well, and the county I live in, despite funding decreases, still mows as well as sprays. Only difference now is that people can (on some state highways) post “no spray” signs and the county will actually pay attention to the signs. Not that many people stopping by the side of the road to pick blackberries (which seem to have developed at least partial immunity to some of the more commonly used herbicides) are aware that, in addition to a possible light coating of the residue of exhaust fumes (particulate matter), they may have the residue of herbicides as well.

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  • R3d3mptional

    The Food Industry, let’s face it people,does not even deserve to even BE The Food Industry. I guarantee you that what they come off and sell, they wouldn’t even touch it. But why, then, will they give US the ill-borne foods when they probably don’t feed it to themselves, their kids, their mommas (;3), or their family.

    Why would they do this to us? Feed us like this? There’s only some people in this whole entire UNIVERSE who would do so — the government. I’ve got my hunches. :0 I may not be a fancy shmancy person whose intelligent but I sure do know when something fishy is happening and will keep happening. What next? They’ll try taking the food AWAY from us? God.