Is It Bad That the FDA Has No Idea if Some Additives in Our Food Are Safe?

The loopholes for companies to put in additives in their food products are many; depending on what they’re adding, sometimes it’s up to the company itself, and not a third party, to put together scientific evidence to determine whether or not an additive is safe. With this voluntary certification system, as opposed to a more formal review process, it’s no surprise that the number of additives in food is on the rise, so much so that the FDA has no idea whether the stuff in our food is safe or not.

“We simply do not have the information to vouch for the safety of many of these chemicals,” Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, told the Washington Post.

How does this affect the consumer? With companies determining what’s safe and what’s not, as opposed to the FDA, consumers have no way of being absolutely sure that those additives are safe or not.

“We aren’t saying we have a public health crisis,” Taylor told the Washington Post. “But we do have questions about whether we can do what people expect of us.”

There are now more than 9,000 additives in use, many of them banned outside of the United States, but according to the Washington Post, on average only “two additive petitions seeking formal approval are filed annually by food and chemical companies.” In the meantime, many more get added without us ever knowing about them, or their potential side effects.

Yet another problem is when the FDA does in fact approve an additive, but then it’s used in a much larger capacity than what the agency originally envisioned. Once those additives hit the market, the FDA can do little to monitor them.

A good example is caffeine, which was originally approved in 1959 and commonly used in soft drinks. These days, however, you can find caffeine in a variety of products, from energy drinks to jelly beans. The Washington Post cites yet another additive that seems to be taking a negative toll on health: carrageenan. Extracted from red seaweed, it’s used as a stabilizer. Considering the proliferation of processed low-fat and vegan foods, it’s commonly used to keep ingredients blended together and provide a smooth texture, like with almond milk.

“But doctors say the proliferation of carrageenan in the food supply is taking a mounting toll on health. As its uses have multiplied, so have gastrointestinal disorders such as diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease, according to some doctors who specialize in treating patients with gastrointestinal tract problems,” reports the Washington Post.

Beyond that, there are those people that have allergies to some of the most common additives, like MSG which is associated with headaches, and Red (carmine) and yellow (annatto) food coloring, which have been linked to anaphylaxis, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

So what’s a conscious consumer to do?

If you want to take action, there are organizations like the Center for Food Safety, who earlier this year sued the FDA over the question of food additives. To avoid unknown effects of additives, the best way is to avoid additives entirely, and that means cutting processed foods from your diet. It also means not assuming that a product that’s branded as healthy is necessarily good for you. There are plenty of health brands out there that use a lot of additives, so if you are buying a food product, make sure you read the label.

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography

104 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for the article.

Jeannine A Johnson
Jeannine Johnson2 years ago

Yes We Have A Right To Know What Is In The Food We Buy !

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore2 years ago

Yes it's bad if they have no idea if the additives are safe!

Graziella Veri
Graziella Veri2 years ago

Noted,liked and shared.Thank you

john james Parr
john james Parr2 years ago

Police State run by big Business .... the is no way out,,, the political parties are all the same... Put in by Big Business for favors in return... God Bless America

Sybil G.
Sybil G.2 years ago

Back in the 70s, there was a massive consumer movement that demanded the labeling of food. Once upon a time, our parents bought food without knowing what it contained. We don't have this issue. We can read the labels. The problem is many people still don't read the labels, assuming, incorrectly as it turns out, that "food is food".
I check every label. Anything suspicious long, I immediately put back on the shelf. I don't buy anything if it has "ingredients" I can't identify: long, unpronounceable, mysterious names. I don't buy anything that has colorings, artificial flavors, vegetable oils, GMOs.
I want simple ingredients. And everything must be organic.

It's disingenuous to believe the FDA is here to protect its citizens. It may have been the goal, once upon a time. Now, they will give the green light to any product, any additive, if they are given enough "cash evidence" that it's safe...

If you buy conventional, prepared, processed food, if you are willing to eat industrial food (like those out of the freezer sections), you should be prepared to pay the price associated with that type of food. You cannot eat industrially and be surprised when you become sick. Do not give in to what your tong wants. Nourish your body, take care of it, feed it. You wouldn't put soybean oil in your carburetor, would you? Think of your body as a temple!

Luis Brantuas

Thanks for sharing!

Magdalena J.
Alice L.2 years ago

Thank you!

Steven G.
Steven G.2 years ago

_ Continued_

...before and after creation of the FDA’s substantial equivalence policy, had expressed concerns that genetic modification of the food supply was a potential threat to human health requiring more study before being approved for public consumption.

Steven G.
Steven G.2 years ago

Is it any wonder the FDA gives corporations free rein, when it allows corporate employees to revolve in and out of its doors? In other words, the FDA like all our other regulatory agencies have been hijacked. They no longer represent the safety and security of the people; they now protect the profits of the corporate.

Example: Michael Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner of Food since January 2013, is the architect of the FDA’s substantial equivalence policy, used to justify no safety testing and no labeling of GMOs. One look at Taylor’s career trajectory and it’s clear how he arrived at such a policy.

Taylor’s first job out of law school, in 1976, was staff attorney for the FDA. In 1981, he left the FDA to work as an attorney in the food and drug practice of King & Spalding, a private law firm representing Monsanto. In 1991, it was back to the FDA, in the newly created post of Deputy Commissioner for Policy. Between 1996 and 2000, after briefly returning to King & Spalding, Taylor became vice president for public policy at Monsanto.

Dizzy yet? There’s more. In 2009, Taylor once again returned to the FDA as senior advisor to the FDA Commissioner. Then, in January 2010, President Obama appointed Taylor to yet another newly created post at the FDA: Deputy Commissioner for Foods.

GMO safety testing doesn’t stand a chance, as long as Taylor bounces between the FDA and Monsanto - despite the fact that numerous FDA scientists