In 2008, when an Australian food manufacturer wanted the US federal government’s stamp of approval on the company’s new ingredients, regulators said no. But go inside many American supermarkets and you’ll find products containing them on the shelves.
So how do new ingredients get from the lab to your dinner table?
When companies create new food additives – to improve their product’s texture, taste, appearance, or to extend their shelf life – they have two choices:
The “Food Additive Highway” is a gridlocked route marked by government potholes. Traffic here is policed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration - the federal agency that regulates 80 percent of the nation’s food supply.
Companies traveling this path must submit their food additives to extensive review. Then the FDA may issue its formal approval. This journey can take years — even decades — to complete.
So it’s no surprise that companies often take an alternative route.
This road is paved by a legal loophole that hinges on what counts as a “food additive.”
Changes to the law in the fifties created this two-lane system where anything “Generally Recognized As Safe”, or GRAS, travels down a much smoother road to market.
These “GRAS” ingredients are not considered food additives and effectively get a pass to the fast lane.
This “GRAS” clause means companies can determine on their own that what they’re adding to our food is safe.
Then it’s up to the company to inform the FDA if they want to. That’s right. Companies have no legal obligation to tell the FDA what they’re putting in our food.
But if they do decide to pull in for inspection they could get the FDA ‘OK’, which makes them more attractive to potential distributors.
But what if the FDA doesn’t like what it sees?