FDA rules fall short to curb use of 10,000 food chemicals that cause ailments: Petition demands strict action
Studies have suggested that food additives can harm children by interfering with hormones, reducing growth and development and increasing the risk of childhood obesity
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should consider the harmful effects of 10,000 chemicals that are added to food, a group of health, environmental and consumer organizations, who signed a petition demanding more actions from the federal agency, said. These chemicals are linked to a range of health issues, from raising the risk of some diseases to harming brain development in children, they added.
The petitioners argue that the federal agency should consider the knock-on effects of these chemicals and take initiatives to control their use in food and packaging materials. "The FDA never considers the overall effect of these 10,000 chemicals on people's health, which is what Congress was after," Tom Neltner, from the Environmental Defense Fund, who also signed the petition, told CNN. As per rules, the federal agency is expected to respond to the petition in 180 days.
“The collective failure by FDA and the food industry to follow the law may well have contributed to the dramatic increases we have seen in chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and kidney disease in the US in recent decades,” Neltner said in a statement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They are the leading causes of death and disability in the US. They are also leading drivers of the nation’s $3.5 trillion in annual health care costs, the CDC said.
“Every time we eat highly processed food, we are exposed to chemical additives, and – for the chemicals that cause similar toxic effects – that combined exposure can increase the harm to our health. FDA and industry can and must do better to ensure our food is safe.” These chemicals enter the body directly as additives that are used to enhance flavor and coloring or indirectly through adhesives and coatings in packagings. Some examples of the latter are bisphenols, perfluoroalkyl chemicals (PFCs) and perchlorate.
Kids are susceptible to these chemicals. “Pediatricians have been urging the FDA to make urgently needed improvements to the food additive regulatory process. Children are uniquely vulnerable to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight than adults do," American Academy of Pediatrics President Sara “Sally” Goza, said. Studies have suggested that food additives can harm children by interfering with hormones, reducing growth and development and increasing the risk of childhood obesity. Besides, pregnant women and babies are also at risk.
"And it's not simply one plus one equals two. We know that synthetic chemicals that harm hormones have what we call additive or synergistic effects," Dr Leonardo Trasande, Environmental Medicine, and Health Policy, School of Medicine, New York University, told CNN. Low levels of these chemicals can accumulate over time, reducing the IQ and academic performance of children, he added.
The petition said that companies were exploiting loopholes in the law called GRAS — "Generally Recognized As Safe". It was meant for chemicals that are known to be safe like salt, vinegar and oil. "They weren't referring to brand new synthetic chemicals," Neltner said. "And this little exemption was stretched beyond recognition so that now, almost any new chemical added to food goes through the GRAS loophole." The petitioners include the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Food Safety, Clean Label Project, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, Endocrine Society, Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Health Strategy Center, Environmental Working Group, and Healthy Babies Bright Futures.