Faux GRAS?

Is industry too influential in process?

Is the fox guarding the additive hen house? Looks that way, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts. U.S. food companies have "undue influence" in vouching for the safety of common additives such as salt, trans fats and artificial sweeteners, alleges an analysis released this week, published in JAMA Internal Medicine and noted on Reuters.

The report calls for better oversight of the additive process, which is currently self-governed by industry. The research showed that all 451 notices of additive safety voluntarily submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 1997 and 2012 came from people who had a vested interest in the outcome of those assessments. 

"If the company makes the decisions or picks the people, there are a lot of possibilities for undue influence," Thomas Neltner, of the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C., told the news service.

Currently, companies are permitted to decide whether their additives can be classified as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) and only voluntarily tell the FDA about their decisions. "The good news is that once the FDA gets the documentation, it does its job and encourages manufacturers of questionably safe additives to withdraw their notices," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade organization, said GRAS determination is an important part of the FDA's current regulatory framework and that it is "a very thorough and comprehensive process," the group said in a statement. "We also recognize that the GRAS process, like any other, can be improved. That is why we are committed to working with the FDA and other stakeholders to identify ways of strengthening the GRAS review process so that it can continue to help ensure the safety of our food supply, just as it has done for decades," it continued.

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