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'Alarming' New Study: 'Ubiquitous' Food Industry Influence in Determining Food Additive Safety

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Food Safety Research Center page.

In another sign of undue corporate influence, a new study has found widespread conflicts of interest by the people deciding whether food additives are determined to be "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) over the past 15 years.

The study was published on Wednesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The team of researchers looked at 451 voluntary notices manufacturers sent the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 1997 and 2012 that vouch for the safety of a specific additive, such as caffeine or a sweetener. A GRAS determination means that there is "a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists that the substance is not harmful under the intended conditions of use."

In none of those cases was the safety assessment made by an outside panel, the researchers report; rather, "financial conflicts of interest were ubiquitous in determinations that an additive to food was GRAS."

The researchers write that

22.4% of the safety assessments were made by an employee of an additive manufacturer, 13.3% by an employee of a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer, and 64.3% by an expert panel selected by either a consulting firm or the manufacturer.

"If the company makes the decisions or picks the people, there are a lot of possibilities for undue influence," said Thomas Neltner, lead author and director of Pew's food additives project.       

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