Have the Chemical Additives in Our Food Been Tested?

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food chemical additives man with syringes

Is the process for approving ingredients in food working?

I have been asking myself that question for years but to be honest, I’ve only nibbled at the edges.

Recently I’ve wanted to delve deeper and find some answers. For some, the first question may be what food product they can buy that is safe. It’s a good question and one I’ll answer in this series.

But first I want to take a trip back into history to learn a little about a phrase that worked in 1958 and is now a major loophole in our processed food system: Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS).

What is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS)?

If you’ve been following news and research about chemical food additives, you’ve likely come across the term GRAS. In addition to sounding blasé when you say it (I can’t help but think it sounds like the word “gross”), this phrase was first developed in 1958 for the Food Additives Amendment signed into law by the late President Eisenhower.

The idea behind GRAS is that food additives, mostly ingredients like salt and sugar (known natural preservatives) and vinegar were “generally recognized as safe” and didn’t therefore need to have approval from the Food and Drug Administration to be used in processed food.

Seems pretty reasonable, right?

But as we know, it’s no longer 1958 and the amount of chemicals used both our consumer products and food has exponentially grown since then. (More on that in Part II of the GRAS series where we talk about just how much we’re in the dark about chemical food additives.)

In modern age, GRAS has turned out to be a giant loophole for food companies to get a free pass to use whatever chemical additives they want in our food with little to no oversight. Even worse, there is no other developed country in the world that has a system as archaic as GRAS for approving food additives.

The researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest created an infographic to tell the story about what a food company needs to do (or not do) in order to use a chemical additive in our processed food. This is the first infographic I have seen on GRAS that breaks down how broken the system is.

If you start on the right side of the graphic you’ll see the process most food companies use to use food additives. You’ll quickly notice that even if the FDA raises concerns about the additive, they still get carte blanche to use the additive.

The system is a joke.

Reforming GRAS

I’m a solutions kind of lady, I like to learn what I need to know about broken systems like GRAS and let it inspire me to act. Here are a few important steps you can take to help change the system:

Adapted from lindsaydahl.com. Published with permission.


Listen to this Green Divas Radio Show Foodie-Phile segment about common foods that help our bodies detox.

Adapted from lindsaydahl.com. Published with permission.
Asst. Ed.~ Green Diva Anne-Marie | Images via shutterstock.

About the author / 

Green Diva Lindsay Dahl

Lindsay Dahl is an activist, a native Minnesotan, a lover of adventure and a professional agitator. She loves the Great Lakes, spandex, Bikram yoga, spontaneous adventures, people and companies taking bold steps, the smell of clean fresh air, kind people, and demonstrating awkward dance moves. Check out Lindsay's blog LindsayDahl.com.

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