WASHINGTON – Today, the Environmental Working Group applauds new legislation that would require the Food and Drug Administration to meaningfully review the safety of food chemicals.
The Food Chemical Reassessment Act of 2021, introduced today by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), would create an Office of Food Safety Assessment within the FDA to ensure that chemicals that have entered the food supply chain through loopholes or that were reviewed by the FDA decades ago are safe to eat.
The bill also identifies for immediate reassessment 10 chemicals added to food or food packaging: the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, phthalates, TBHQ, titanium dioxide, potassium bromate, perchlorate, BHA, BHT, BVO and propyl paraben.
“Many of these food chemicals have never been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA or were last reviewed decades ago,” said Scott Faber, EWG senior vice president for government affairs. “EWG applauds Rep. Schakowsky for making the safety of these food chemicals a priority.”
Thousands of chemicals are added to food and food packaging to make food last longer, taste better or look more enticing. But most of them have never been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA. Instead, they have entered the marketplace through a loophole – called the Generally Recognized as Safe, or GRAS law – that Congress intended to apply to obviously safe ingredients.
Some food chemicals have been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA. But many of those reviews were completed decades ago and do not reflect the most recent science. For example:
- TBHQ, a preservative used in Pop-Tarts, has not been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA for all health concerns since the 1970s.
- Titanium dioxide, a food color used in Skittles, has not been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA since the 1960s.
- Potassium bromate, a leavening agent, has not been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA since the 1970s.
- Propyl paraben, a preservative found in cinnamon rolls, has not been meaningfully reviewed by the FDA since the 1960s.
“Other countries periodically review the safety of food chemicals to reflect new science,” Faber said. “And other U.S. agencies periodically review chemical safety standards, including those for pesticides, to reflect new science. But food chemicals have fallen into a regulatory black hole.”
Many of the chemicals identified for immediate review by Schakowsky’s bill have been linked to health concerns. For example:
- PFAS have been linked to cancer and harm to the immune and reproductive systems.
- TBHQ has been linked to harm to the immune system.
- Titanium dioxide may damage DNA and is no longer consider safe for food by European food safety experts.
- Perchlorate has been linked to neurological harm.
Schakowsky’s bill would also re-establish a Food Advisory Council to advise the FDA on the best methods to review the safety of food chemicals.
“For too long, food and chemical companies, not the FDA, have decided whether many food chemicals are safe to eat,” Faber said. “Even when the FDA has reviewed chemicals, it uses outdated methods. It’s time to modernize federal food chemical reviews to protect consumers and to reflect the state of the science.”
The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.