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.