Legislation introduced to improve food safety and hold FDA accountable

A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate is calling for stricter regulation of “Generally Recognized as Safe” substances and the creation of a new FDA office to assess the safety of chemicals in America’s food supply.

 Senator Edward J. Markey, D-MA, introduced the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act, comprehensive legislation that would ensure the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fulfills its responsibility to promote the health and well-being of American families by directing the Food and Drug Administration to strengthen the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule, which exempts companies from seeking pre-market approval for some food additives.

Markey s legislation would also direct the HHS Secretary to create an Office of Food Chemical Safety Reassessment within the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, which would be charged with reassessing whether existing substances such as bisphenols and PFAS are safe for American families to consume.

Additional co-sponsors of the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act include Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-CN, and Elizabeth Warren D-MA.

“The only mystery families should encounter at mealtime is what’s for dinner, not what’s in dinner. Americans deserve to know that the food at their kitchen table is safe for themselves and their families to eat,” said Senator Markey.

“The FDA too often falls short on their responsibility to promote food safety, highlighted recently by the baby formula crisis where FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy did not learn about the whistleblower complaint for four months. It is long past time we revise existing food safety measures and close the loophole allowing manufacturers to self-regulate what new substances can enter our food supply.”

“This legislation will strengthen important food safety measures, protecting Americans and their families from harmful chemicals and substances,” said Senator Blumenthal. “I’m proud to join Senator Markey in this bill to guarantee healthy, toxic-free food for all households.”

“Americans deserve to know what they are eating, and we know that we cannot count on large corporations to put people and safety before profits,” said Senator Warren. “This bill is a step forward to help the FDA ensure the food families eat is safe.”

A copy of the legislation can be found here. A one-page summary of the legislation can be found here.

Specifically, the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act would direct the Food and Drug Administration to revise the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule to include provisions that:

  • Prohibit manufacturers from designating substances as safe without supplying proper notice and supporting information to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
  • Require safety information to be publicly available on the FDA website and subject to a 90-day public review period.
  • Prohibit carcinogenic substances from receiving GRAS designation.
  • Prohibit substances that show evidence of reproductive or developmental toxicity from receiving GRAS designation.
  • Prohibit people with conflicts of interest from serving as experts in reviewing and evaluating scientific data with regard to GRAS designations.

The Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022 is endorsed by the Environmental Working Group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and Earthjustice.

“For far too long, companies have utilized the GRAS Loophole to secretly introduced new chemicals into our foods without ever notifying the FDA,” said Peter Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “The Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022 helps close the GRAS loophole and keep dangerous chemicals out of our foods.”

“It’s unbelievable that food companies, not the FDA, decide whether 99 percent of new chemicals used in food are safe and that it’s been decades since the FDA evaluated the safety of many chemicals used in the foods we eat every day,” said Melanie Benesh, Legislative Attorney, Environmental Working Group. “The proposed reforms in the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022 are desperately needed to fix FDA’s oversight of food chemicals and keep consumers safe.”

“Earthjustice is proud to support the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022, which will finally fix a system that has allowed thousands of chemicals into our food that have never been scrutinized by the Food and Drug Administration,” said Daniel Savery, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice. “For decades, the FDA has allowed companies to make safety determinations on their own and in secret. This must stop. Critically, this bill will also require the agency to use the best available science to review the safety of harmful food chemicals already in commerce. Consumers rightfully expect the FDA to ensure the food they eat is safe. Earthjustice is grateful for Senator Markey’s leadership on this urgent issue to help turn that expectation into reality.”

“Environmental Defense Fund applauds Senator Markey for introducing the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022,” said Tom Neltner, senior director for safer chemicals at the Environmental Defense Fund. “This bill takes needed steps to redress FDA’s failures to protect the public from chemicals added to or contaminating food and to rebuild consumer confidence in food safety.”

“Chemicals linked to cancer and other health harms don’t belong anywhere near the food we eat – that’s why we support the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022.  It’s unacceptable for the food and chemical industries to keep using secret toxic chemicals in our food and food packaging,” said Lisette van Vliet, senior policy manager for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners.

Sen. Markey has long been an advocate for food safety and FDA accountability. In 2016, Sen. Markey sent FDA a letter recommending the agency take steps to strengthen the GRAS rule and update guidance to mitigate conflicts of interest for outside experts evaluating GRAS substances.

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