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DeLauro Introduces Legislation to Keep Dangerous Chemicals Out of Food Supply

June 4, 2021
Press Release

Supported by Consumer Advocates, Toxic Free Food Act Would Expand Federal Oversight of Chemicals Added to Food

WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-03) today introduced the Toxic Free Food Act, legislation to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) process for determining the safety of chemicals used in the food supply. An array of chemicals is often added to foods to improve flavor, enhance appearance, or extend shelf life. For decades, FDA has allowed food and chemical manufacturers to designate such chemicals as ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS), without FDA review or public notice. Consumer advocates have long criticized the current GRAS notification system due to issues of transparency, effectiveness, and ethics. The Toxic Free Food Act would require FDA to close the so-called GRAS loophole and make the industry’s chemical food additives subject to FDA approval.

“American families deserve to trust that the food in our stores and supermarkets is safe,” said Congresswoman DeLauro. “The current notification system for ‘generally recognized as safe’ erodes the public’s trust in food safety. The food industry is designating new ingredients as GRAS to take advantage of this loophole so they can rush new chemicals to market with no oversight. Those that choose to notify FDA of their new substance get to supply their own, company-funded science and keep it away from the eyes of the public. This approval process must be mandatory, transparent, and independent in order to maintain the trust of American consumers. We need to close the GRAS loophole.”

In 2010, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that FDA’s performance was inadequate and did not ensure the safety of GRAS substances. To date, the current GRAS notification system is voluntary, not available to the public, and has major issues with conflicts of interest. Consumer Reports estimates there are about 1,000 GRAS substances where safety determinations were made by food companies without notifying FDA. The food industry has no requirement or incentive to notify FDA of a new GRAS ingredient. The evidence of safety that is submitted to FDA is conducted by industry scientists, and FDA regulators are not provided with the underlying data and research to determine safety.

The Toxic Free Food Act is supported by a broad group of consumer, health, and food safety groups including Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Working Group, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Reports, Healthy Babies Bright Future, Defend our Health, Earthjustice, the Center for Food Safety, and Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

“None of us should have to worry about the safety of our food,” said Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Scott Faber. “But, for too long, the FDA has let the food and chemical companies decide whether toxic forever chemicals like PFAS (per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances) are safe to eat. The Toxic Free Food Act will put the FDA in charge of food safety, not the food and chemical companies.”

“This bill does an excellent job of correcting the problems and loopholes associated with the current GRAS system, which essentially allows the industry to determine the safety of substances added to food without informing the FDA,” said Director of Food Policy at Consumer Reports Brian Ronholm.

“For far too long, food manufacturers have secretly introduced new chemicals into our foods without providing the FDA or the public with any safety data,” said Executive Director and President of Center for Science in the Public Interest Peter Lurie, MD, MPH. “The Toxic Free Food Act of 2021 is an important step in providing the FDA with the information needed to keep dangerous chemicals out of our foods.”

“Environmental Defense Fund applauds Representative DeLauro for introducing the Toxic Free Food Act,” said Environmental Defense Fund Chemicals Policy Director Tom Neltner. “The bill would direct FDA to fix the most significant flaws with the agency’s Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule that allows companies to secretly decide on the safety of chemicals in our food – without the agency’s review or the public’s knowledge.”