EWG statement on FDA response to phthalates food petition

WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration is denying a 2016 petition from environmental and consumer advocacy groups asking it to revoke approval of harmful phthalate chemicals in food packaging and food production materials.

A coalition of advocacy groups filed the original petition and has waited years for the FDA to respond. The coalition includes the Environmental Defense Fund, Learning Disabilities Association of America, Center for Food Safety and Center for Environmental Health, among others.

They sued the agency in December 2021 to force a decision, and the FDA last week formally denied the petition in a letter to the groups.

The FDA admits its safety assessment is out of date and is opening a 60-day comment period this week requesting new information from the public about the safety of phthalates.

Phthalates are a class of chemicals that for decades have been authorized for use in food packaging and processing materials. They leach into the food and beverages from the materials, creating potential health risks for people.

Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, and exposure is associated with reproductive harm, including infertility, miscarriages, pregnancy complications and birth defects. Exposure is also associated with the development of uterine fibroids.

Phthalates can transfer from a pregnant woman’s blood to the fetus, and early childhood exposure to phthalates is linked to negative effects on brain development and behavioral disorders.

The following is a statement from EWG Legislative Attorney Melanie Benesh:

The FDA’s decision needlessly puts more babies and young children at risk from exposure to these toxic chemicals in their food. The FDA’s inaction adds to the agency’s long history of dragging its feet when it comes to regulating harmful substances in our food. This story has played out in the recent saga of toxic heavy metal contamination of baby foods, its decades-long failure to address toxic PFAS in food packaging, and the current baby formula shortage.

The FDA has more than enough data to ban these toxic substances today, and we hope the information collected under its new request will convince the agency to change course.


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.

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