PFAS, BPA Among Chemicals Targeted in FDA Food Safety Review
Federal regulators have launched a safety review for a number of chemicals found in the U.S. food supply, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and bisphenol-A (BPA), as concerns continue to rise over the potential health risks.
In an announcement issued July 12, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicated that it will conduct a food safety review to address concerns over a growing list of chemical additives, many of which have been targeted by petitions from various advocacy groups.
Chemicals and additives are currently allowed to be used in the U.S. food supply through a loophole, known as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) substances. This allows companies to use chemicals, additives, and dyes in food products without stringent FDA oversight.
Most of the chemicals and additives commonly found in the food supply in the United States were last evaluated by the FDA decades ago. In some cases, food additives that are widely used in the U.S. and considered GRAS are actually banned by other countries, due to potential toxic side effects that have been identified, including links to cancer, developmental or behavioral issues.
Food safety evaluations are conducted before the chemicals and additives are allowed on the market. However, the FDA admits it has struggled to evaluate and address potential safety issues which have arisen only after certain chemicals and additives have been introduced to the U.S. food supply.
FDA Food Safety Review
Under the FDA review, a number of chemicals will be evaluated for safety in the food supply, including PFAS, BPA, red dye no. 3, brominated vegetable oil, and titanium dioxide.
While petitions from consumer protection groups and inquiries from Congress played a role in focusing the FDA’s attention on specific concerns, the agency says it is evaluating chemicals and additives based on emerging research suggesting a substance may be carcinogenic, unsafe for human consumption, or may lead to other health side effects.
If evidence indicates a food additive is unsafe, the FDA may take further action, which could include a wide range of responses, from issuing safety alerts, to conducting recalls, or even revoking approval of the food additive for some or all uses.
The agency did not give insight into how it will conduct the review process or when the process for certain chemicals will be completed, and it has not issued a full list of chemicals and additives under review.
The FDA is requesting new funding in the 2024 budget for a post-market review plan to help assess the safety of food ingredients after products have entered the market. It would also allow the agency to conduct new evaluations based on emerging research and take into account actions from other countries.
“Ultimately, food manufacturers are responsible for ensuring the food they market is safe and meets all applicable FDA requirements,” said Kristi Muldoon-Jacobs, acting director of the Office of Food Additive Safety.
PFAS Exposure Risks
PFAS are one of the substances which has garnered a lot of attention and health concerns in recent years. Rarely added directly as a food additive, the chemicals may be present in water used during food production or can leach into food through its use in plastic and paper food packaging.
The chemicals include a group of over 9,000 man-made substances that have been widely used for decades, to resist grease, oil and water. However, they are commonly referred to as “forever chemicals”, since they persist in the environment and human body, building up over time and increasing the risk of a myriad of adverse health effects, including liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer.
PFAS have been widely found in products ranging from non-stick pans, to pizza boxes and other materials, but high volumes of the chemicals have been released into local water supplies from use in firefighting foam, especially near military bases, airports and firefighter training locations.
Recent research suggests that PFAS chemicals contaminate nearly half of the U.S. water supply, and exposure has been linked to a risk of multiple different cancers, ulcerative colitis, and other toxic side effects.
Chemical manufacturers, like 3M Company, DuPont and others now face thousands of firefighting foam lawsuits and PFAS water contamination lawsuits, alleging they have concealed findings that indicate the chemicals are highly toxic. Internal corporate documents revealed in various lawsuits suggest manufacturers knew of the risks and health consequences since at least the mid-1970s and continued to hide the truth from the public.
BPA is a controversial chemical used in food products, such as the lining of canned foods, soft drink bottles, and cash register receipts. Research indicates it is a known endocrine disruptor and can affect hormone function in the body, increase the risk of death, and lead to neurodevelopment problems in unborn infants.
Side effects of BPA exposure have been linked to serious health consequences even at low levels, and recent research has suggested that levels of BPA in the body are much higher than previously believed.
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