Ever wonder what's really in a Twinkie? In the ongoing battle of big food versus transparency, there's an ever growing awareness of how broken the system for oversight of food additives really is.
There are so many new food additives being included in processed foods that the FDA really has no idea about the safety of the chemicals in our food.
“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, recently told the Washington Post.
The mostly self-regulatory system has made it so that big food companies can develop and add chemicals as they see fit and not have to go through a formal review process. That leaves many food additives which aren't even known to the FDA, much less whether or not they're safe.
But in a shocking move, the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents some of the biggest food companies like Nestléand Kraft, recently announced a new initiative that will give the FDA access to an extensive database of safety information for food additives commonly used in processed foods. According to the Wall Street Journal:
The announcement on Wednesday by the Grocery Manufacturers Association covers ingredients that the Food and Drug Administration allows to be used under a principle known as "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS. Rather than being approved by the FDA itself, such ingredients—which provide foods with flavors, textures, colors or longer shelf-life—are deemed permissible by companies based on their own research.
"It’s certainly a step forward," Tom Neltner, a health scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Politico. "It’s good to see them acknowledge some of the problems with the system and take some positive steps forward. We’re glad to see them making that move."
But of course, it all depends on how the GMA puts that initiative into practice. It's one thing to announce that they are going to make information available and it's another thing to do it. The database will only be accessible to FDA officials and GMA members, which means that the consumer will still have to depend on transparency of both the federal agency and the trade union.
Will the initiative ultimately make the question of what's really in our food, and whether or not it's safe, more transparent?" Neltner told Politico, "The proof will be in the pudding,"
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