If you have an ACS member number, please enter it here so we can link this account to your membership. (optional)

ACS values your privacy. By submitting your information, you are gaining access to C&EN and subscribing to our weekly newsletter. We use the information you provide to make your reading experience better, and we will never sell your data to third party members.


Food Ingredients

FDA urged to overhaul food additive safety evaluations

Agency should consider cumulative effects of chemicals that act similarly, groups say

by Britt E. Erickson
October 1, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 38


Food platter with cured meat, cheese, and olives.
Credit: Shutterstock
Nitrates in cured meat and thiocyanates in soft cheese harm the thyroid in the same way, but regulators do not consider the combined health effects when evaluating safety risks.

A coalition of environmental and public health groups is challenging the US Food and Drug Administration’s process for evaluating the safety of new food additives. The groups want the agency to consider the combined health effects of all food additives that act similarly rather than assess each chemical individually.

In a Sept. 23 petition, the groups claim that the FDA and food manufacturers “have not taken into account the many chemicals we consume in our daily diet that are similar in structure or affect similar function(s) of organs in the body when making safety determinations for new additives.”

An investigation by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the petitioners, revealed that manufacturers considered health effects from other, similar substances in the diet for only 1 of 877 food additives deemed generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Despite a legal mandate to consider cumulative effects, the FDA allowed the GRAS additives to enter the market, the petitioners say.

“Several food additives and contaminants in common foods—including nitrates, perchlorate, and thiocyanate—all harm the thyroid’s ability to use iodine to make a hormone essential to brain development,” Maricel Maffini, a consultant to the EDF, says in a statement. “Exposure to these related chemicals from various foods should be considered together, as a class, to reduce the risk for pregnant women and young children, as the chemicals all harm fetal and infant brain development in the same way.”

The FDA is required to respond to the petitioners within 180 days. It is currently accepting public comments on the requested changes.



This article has been sent to the following recipient:

Chemistry matters. Join us to get the news you need.