The Sad Truth About Who Determines if Your Food is Safe

In November, 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced their plans to all but eliminate trans fats from processed foods, citing a CDC statistic that the elimination of partially hydrogenated oils from the food supply could prevent more than 10,000 heart attacks and thousands of deaths every year. Up until that point, trans fats enjoyed their so-called GRAS status: “generally recognized as safe.” How did these killer fats get labeled as safe? Who decides what’s safe?

Currently, a “generally recognized as safe” determination is made when the manufacturer of a food substance evaluates the safety of the substance themselves and concludes that the use of the substance is safe. In other words, the company that manufactures the substance gets to determine if it is safe or not. This approach is commonly referred to as ”GRAS self-determination.” To make matters worse, not only do companies not have to inform the public, they don’t even have to inform the FDA. A company may voluntarily tell the FDA they just came up with a new food additive that they’ve decided is safe, but are not required to do so.

The cumulative result is that there are an estimated 6,000 current affirmative safety decisions which allow for more than an estimated 10,000 substances to be used in food. In addition, an estimated 1,000 manufacturer safety decisions are never reported to FDA or the public. “Manufacturers and a trade association made the remaining decisions without FDA review by concluding on their own that the substances that they themselves were selling were safe.”

While manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a “safe determination,” sometimes they do voluntarily notify the agency. From these notifications, researchers have been able to see which individuals companies select to make these determinations—and many may have financial conflicts of interest.

Of the 451 GRAS notifications voluntarily submitted to the FDA, 22.4% were made by someone directly employed by the company; 13.3% were made by someone directly employed by a firm hand-picked by the company; and 64.3% were made by a panel hand-picked by the corporation or the firm the corporation hired. Are you doing the math? Yes, that means 0% of safety decisions were made independently.

An astonishing 100% of the members of expert panels worked directly or indirectly for the companies that manufactured the food additive in question. And those are just the ones the food companies let the FDA know about. The companies also used the same in-the-pocket rent-a-scientist “experts” over and over, leading food industry watchdog Marion Nestle to ask “How is it possible that the FDA permits manufacturers to decide for themselves whether their food additives are safe?” It may be because many of the companies providing our daily food are corporate giants with “political muscles that national governments would envy.” PepsiCo alone spent more than $9 million in a single year to lobby Congress. The fact that food additives like trans fats have been allowed to kill thousands of Americans year after year comes as less of a surprise to those who realize that “three of Washington’s largest lobbying firms reportedly now work for the food industry.”

Just as the food additive industry gets to decide which food additives are safe, the food industry holds sway over which foods are considered safe. See, for example, my video The McGovern Report.

Tell the FDA to ban trans fat once and for all by signing this Care2 petition.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola
Phosphate Additives in Chicken
Is Caramel Color Carcinogenic?


Panchali Yapa
Panchali Yapa2 years ago

Thank you

Elena P.
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you :)

Elena P.
Elena Poensgen2 years ago

Thank you :)

Christie C.
Christie C.2 years ago

While the subject of this article is bleak, look at how many of you know about this problem and are willing to do things to change it, for yourself and your community. We can beat this!
Grow what you can, where you can, and with everyone you can. A garden in every school, on every rooftop and windowsill. From there we can build even more sustainable communities that don't need federal regulators or national distribution chains. Only then will these jerks lose their grip on our society. That is how we win!

Charmaine C.
Charmaine C.2 years ago

Signed. Thanks for an informative article. Now we know how corporations like Monsanto et al get to peddle their poisons as 'gras' to people all over the world. Self determination in a time when morals and ethics have never been lower and greed never more intense...whose stupid idea was this??

Julia H.
Past Member 2 years ago

Do any of you shop at Trader Joe's because they are supposed to have 'cleaner' food? No MSG, etc.? Sorry to say but many, many of their products DO contain MSG. They are allowed to lie about it via one of the FDA's convenient loop holes.

The way it works is that they make MSG in a lab which allows them to list it as something else ....natural flavorings, seasonings, etc.

If you really want to know if a company has MSG in their product you need to know HOW to ask them. Instead of asking if it contains MSG, ask them "does this product contain PROCESSED FREE GLUTAMIC ACIDS"? they have to tell you yes or no. If they say yes, bingo - you found the MSG! If they say no, ask them what the source is of the natural flavorings.

I have many emails from Trader Joe's trying to weasel their way out of telling me what the 'natural flavoring' on their label is. In the end, they always end up telling me the product does contain Processed Free Glutamic Acids because I ask them straight up. No skirting the issue when you know how to ask the question.

Julia H.
Past Member 2 years ago

Our food supply is corrupted because the big corporations own our government. They will do what pleases them so they can make more and more money. They don't give a darn if it is harming masses of people - children, babies, the elderly - they just don't care.

I used to be one of those people who trusted our government enough to believe the FDA was in place to protect us. What a fool I have been!!! Then I took back control by educating myself on exactly what these toxins are and I avoid them like the plague.

The sad part is that when I share this information with my friends and family, they think I am the crazy one. They have no clue and they do not want to hear the truth. Their eyes glaze over and they stop listening. I suspect the MSG, which is in EVERY SINGLE processed food (listed as natural flavorings), has passed their blood brain barrier and it is killing their brain cells. True story. Do a search for: 'Truth In Labeling' and read all about it.

Rhonda Broes
Rhonda BC2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Muff-Anne York-Haley

That's pretty sad that there is nobody watching out for our best interests when it comes to food additives:(

Marie W.
Marie W.2 years ago

US Government now wholly owned by corporations.