Leave Well Enough Alone?

DSC_1645GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe)

In the August 2013 Food Technology, there is an article titled “GRAS: Leave Well Enough Alone” http://www.ift.org/Food-Technology/Past-Issues/2013/August/Columns/PERSPECTIVE.aspx.  GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) refers to food additives used in the USA.

Our laws dictate that all ingredients added to our foods must be GRAS. We constantly add new GRAS materials to our food supply and many of these additives are flavor ingredients. The consumer will not always be aware of these new additives, because they are labeled with generalities such as “flavor”.

The Gaps in GRAS

The article “Leave Well Enough Alone” are the thoughts of one person in the food industry. The author, Eric Greenberg writes that

“in terms of food ingredients and additives, companies can make their own decisions about whether a substance they want to use in a food is Generally Recognized (GRAS), and can do so without FDA’s approval, concurrence, blessing or knowledge”

In 2010, the GAO (Government Accountability Office) published a report titled” Food Safety: FDA Should Strengthen Its Oversight of Food Ingredients Determined to be GRAS”.  http://www.gao.gov/assets/310/300743.pdf  The report recommends that notification be mandatory and that FDA make GRAS information public. However, Greenberg argues in “Leave Well Enough Alone ” that GRAS conforms to the free-market philosophy “leave companies on their own unless there’s a good reason not to”.  He also goes on to say that “The overall picture does not seem to cry out for dramatic action” and “given use of a substance results in very, very low levels of dietary exposure”.

Conflict of Interest

Besides the GAO report urging FDA oversight, a recent article in JAMA internal medicine, Conflicts of Interest in Approvals of Additives to Food Determined to Be Generally Recognized as Safe Out of Balance (http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1725123), goes on to say that there are “financial conflicts of interest in determinations that an additive to food was GRAS”.  Employees of additive manufacturers or consulting firms selected by the manufacturer may have a financial incentive to approve a material GRAS.  After all, many of us live in fear of losing our jobs.


Personally, I believe  “Leave Well Enough Alone” is not an appropriate response for a matter that affects people’s health. Especially, when we consider the people most vulnerable to small amounts of toxic chemicals: our children.

It’s worth our time and money to invest in more oversight for GRAS. It’s worth our time to re-evaluate toxicity studies conducted 20-40 years ago.  We have better scientific tools and understandings than  20-40 years ago. As compassionate human beings, we are obligated to re-evaluate and oversee.

September is childhood cancer awareness month.  In the U.S., almost 13,000 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed with cancer every year; about 1/4 of them will not survive the disease.  The causes of pediatric cancer are still largely unknown.  My daughter is a survivor of childhood cancer.  I hope to one day understand why a child can have cancer in their body from the day they are conceived.  In September, please consider donating to a childhood cancer non-profit.   There is a widget on my blog where you can leave a donation to Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation.  Please consider giving.

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