Organic Consumers Association

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Chemicals in America Are Woefully Unregulated

The EPA, FDA and USDA have not been exercising adequate oversight to protect Americans' health.

This excerpt is adapted from Michelle Perro and Vincanne Adams’ new book What’s Making Our Children Sick?: How Industrial Food Is Causing an Epidemic of Chronic Illness, and What Parents (and Doctors) Can Do About It (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

The concerns raised by environmental health scholars are similar to those raised by researchers looking at pesticides. Most people would be surprised, however, to learn there is a shocking lack of rigorous testing and regulation of chemicals in the United States. One would expect our food supply to be well regulated, but in far too many cases the three federal government agencies that bear responsibility for some aspect of food safety have not been exercising adequate oversight. These agencies are the FDA, the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), and the EPA.

The FDA has been granted the major role, and it is supposed to be exercising great precaution. According to the stipulations of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, this agency must ensure that all new additives to our food that do not have a safe history of use prior to 1958 are demonstrated to be safe via standard scientific testing before they’re allowed on the market. In cases where sufficient technical evidence of safety has already been produced, and this evidence is well-recognized among experts, the new additive can be deemed to be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), and the manufacturer is not required to produce additional evidence. But these precautionary safeguards have been violated when it comes to genetically engineered foods. As the public interest attorney Steven Druker has revealed in his book, Altered Genes, Twisted Truth, even though the FDA has acknowledged that the various pieces of DNA inserted into genetically engineered organisms are within the purview of these laws, it has claimed they are exempt from testing because they are GRAS—despite the fact its own files demonstrate the agency knew that neither of the requirements for GRAS status had been satisfied. Druker argues that although (1) the FDA’s own experts concluded that GM foods pose abnormal risks and need to be tested, (2) the agency also knew that a significant number of experts outside the agency also believed that safety testing is needed, and (3) the agency additionally knew that no technical evidence of safety had been generated, it covered up these facts and falsely proclaimed that the conditions for GRAS had been satisfied. Accordingly, Druker states that the FDA allowed GM foods to come to market without requiring any testing whatsoever. GM foods that are pesticides or PIP (plant-incorporated protectant) are regulated by the EPA.

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