Few of us realize that the rules governing FDA regulation of food safety date back to the 1950s and allow additives that are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) to be exempted from adequate testing. This GRAS loophole results in an insufficient assurance of food safety because, among other things, it allows the use of thousands of food additives that have not been thoroughly tested for toxicity—a fact that concerns Associate Professor Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana and her colleagues at The American Academy of Pediatrics.
|Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana is the Co-Director of the EDGE Center’s Developmental & Reproductive Disorders Collaborative Research Team. Photo by UW Medicine.|
|Dr. Rachel Shaffer is an EDGE Ph.D. student in UW's toxicology program. Photo by Jeremy Shaffer.|
Several categories of compounds are of particular concern to pediatricians. These include the bisphenols and phthalates used to in plastic food containers and manufacturing equipment; the perfluoroalkyl chemicals used in grease-proof paper and paperboard; the perchlorates used in food packaging; and the nitrates and nitrites used as preservatives and color-enhancers, particularly in meat. Growing evidence suggests that these compounds are associated with a range of health problems from obesity and cancer to disruptions in hormone systems and reproductive and neurological development.
The report also includes steps individuals can take to minimize their exposure, including buying more fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and fewer processed meats; avoiding microwaving in plastic containers and wrapping when possible; and using alternatives to plastics such as glass or stainless steel.
Despite these recommendations, Sathyanarayana and Shaffer emphasize that the purpose of these articles is to encourage better federal regulation. “Our real goal here is to prompt policy change. The burden should not be placed on individuals or families; instead, we need stronger national policies to ensure that direct and indirect food additives are not harmful,” said Shaffer. Sathyanarayana adds “We did this story because most people don’t know that chemicals can be added to their foods without adequate safety/toxicity data.”