Senate Bill Seeks Stricter Scrutiny of ‘Safe’ Chemicals in Food

May 27, 2022 by Dan McCue
Senate Bill Seeks Stricter Scrutiny of ‘Safe’ Chemicals in Food
The different forms of the emulsifier lecithin – powder, two different concentration liquids, granular and powder lecithin. (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — A bill introduced by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., on Thursday would tighten the rules for companies seeking pre-market approval for chemicals included in food.

The legislation would also direct the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to create an Office of Food Chemical Safety Reassessment which would be charged with reassessing whether existing substances such as bisphenols and PFAS are safe for American families to consume.

“The only mystery families should encounter at mealtime is what’s for dinner, not what’s in dinner,” Markey said in a written statement.

“Americans deserve to know that the food at their kitchen table is safe for themselves and their families to eat,” he said.

“Generally recognized as safe” is a United States Food and Drug Administration designation that a chemical or substance added to food is considered safe by experts under the conditions of its intended use.

The roots of the current designation process go back to 1958 when the Food Additives Amendment was signed into law.

At the time, it listed 700 food substances that were exempt from the then-new requirement that manufacturers test food additives before putting them on the market.

Other substances are added on a regular basis, based on the manufacturer having performed “all necessary research, including the formation of an expert panel to review safety concerns.”

“This legislation will strengthen important food safety measures, protecting Americans and their families from harmful chemicals and substances,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., another co-sponsor of the bill, in a written statement.

Specifically, the bill would revise the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe to include provisions that:

  • Prohibit manufacturers from independently designating substances as GRAS (or manufacturing or selling food containing said substances) without supplying proper notice and supporting information to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • Require the GRAS notice and supporting information be publicly available on the FDA website and subject to a 90 day public review period.
  • Prohibit carcinogenic substances from receiving GRAS designation.
  • Prohibit substances that show evidence of reproductive or developmental toxicity from receiving GRAS designation.
  • Prohibit people with conflicts of interest from serving as experts in reviewing and evaluating scientific data with regard to GRAS designations.
  • Create a procedure of reassessment for substances receiving previous GRAS designations.

“Americans deserve to know what they are eating, and we know that we cannot count on large corporations to put people and safety before profits,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., another co-sponsor, in a written statement.

According to Markey, “The FDA too often falls short on their responsibility to promote food safety, highlighted recently by the baby formula crisis where FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy did not learn about the whistleblower complaint for four months. 

“It is long past time we revise existing food safety measures and close the loophole allowing manufacturers to self-regulate what new substances can enter our food supply,” he said.

A copy of the legislation can be found here. A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.


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  • bisphenols
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