GAO: FDA could strengthen oversight of substances used in food manufacturing, packaging & transport

WASHINGTON D.C. — There are a lot of things that come in contact with your food before it ever gets to your plate – and a new report says the Food and Drug Administration could improve how it makes sure they’re safe. The report refers to the materials used in manufacturing, packaging and transporting the food you feed your family. This includes the bags around your salad or bread and the container from your takeout order.

There have been questions about whether they’re safe – if materials in them are leeching into what you eat. The FDA oversees this.

Lawmakers asked the Government Accountability Office to look into the FDA’s oversight of these substances.

“There are big concerns from just numerous stakeholders about some potential negative effects to human health and some of that’s been documented over the years, in terms of say, impacts on hormone disruption and thyroid disease, etc.,” GAO Director Steve Morris said.

GAO found there are a lot of benefits and some limits to what the FDA can do.

“Once the substances are out being used on the market, FDA doesn’t’ really have the authority to compel the companies to provide that information,” Morris explained.

Congress could give the agency authority to do that.

Morris also said the FDA doesn’t really have an easy way to track all the reviews it has done.

“We are identifying internal processes that we can build on and strengthen to prioritize our work on activities that have the greatest public health impact,” an FDA spokesperson wrote in a statement. “The FDA must be equipped to meet both present and future challenges.”

“The oversight is important because it gives you opportunities to do evaluation, assessments and try to get it right,” Morris added.

Officials said the FDA’s program has already helped prevent and stop unsafe uses of certain substances.


“We value the GAO’s recommendations on the FDA’s review of food contact substances. These recommendations support our work to update and enhance our science-driven approach to food additive safety. We are committed to ensuring the safe use of chemicals as food additives (including as food contact substances) as we respond to rapid innovation in food technologies. As the report notes, the FDA’s food additive safety program has helped to prevent and stop unsafe uses of substances, and yet the report also affirms that the FDA’s current authorities limit its post-market access to unpublished information on chemical safety and current uses.

“We are identifying internal processes that we can build on and strengthen to prioritize our work on activities that have the greatest public health impact. In addition, adopting new methods and tools, with adequate resources, will enhance our ability to make science-based decisions on removing food additive authorizations for certain chemicals, or affirming their safe use. It is critical that we have access to all available data about chemicals, the tools to assess and integrate these data, and an increase in funding to sustain this high priority program area.

“The FDA’s science-driven approach to food additive safety is grounded in evaluating the available information on the safety of food contact substances together with the expected levels of consumers’ exposure to ensure it meets our safety standard. As we continue to strengthen our approach, we will also seek additional scientific perspectives and improved transparency.

“The FDA must be equipped to meet both present and future challenges. These include reviewing pre-market submissions that have steadily increased in number and complexity, while exercising the authorities Congress has granted us to monitor food additive safety and to take action when necessary. The FDA welcomes opportunities to engage with our stakeholders on our food additive safety program.”

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