Unsafe and untested chemicals are in our food

Your family’s health may be at risk, no matter where you shop

How did a substance used in rocket fuel – perchlorate* — end up approved for use in our food? The fact is, our food contains chemicals that may result in serious health risks, especially for young children. Because of a flawed law and weak enforcement, many chemicals are inadequately tested or not tested at all, and others are never even independently reviewed for safety.

These substances are used to flavor, color, preserve, package, process and store our food, but many never appear among the list of ingredients. And companies have been allowed to add hundreds of chemicals without even notifying the agency in charge of protecting our health. That's true no matter where you shop.

EDF is working to make safer food available for all. We're urging corporate leaders to improve the safety of food additives, and together with allied organizations, we are committed to strengthening the law and modernizing the current regulatory system to remove hazardous chemicals from the food supply. 

The good news is that, after a tough fight, Congress recently reformed the chemical safety system for products like clothes, couches, and cleaning products. It's time to do the same for the food we serve our families.

A broken system

The Food Additives Amendment of 1958 gives the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight of chemicals added to our food directly as ingredients and those that end up in food as contaminants from production, processing and packaging.

FDA is in charge of keeping our food safe, but it doesn't have the tools or the authority to do its job.

To make safer food available to all we must: 

End secrecy: The Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) loophole allows companies to secretly decide on the safety of chemicals in our food — without FDA's review or the public's knowledge. Congress needs to create a more streamlined, public process for FDA to make safety decisions and encourage innovation.

Use modern science: When FDA reviews chemicals in our food before they are used, it makes our food supply safer. But the agency needs to use the most modern science to do the best job.

Ensure existing chemicals are safe: Thousands of chemicals were approved by FDA decades ago, when we had far less understanding about their impacts on human health. FDA needs to reassess their safety. Congress needs to provide FDA with the tools so the agency can get the information it needs to set priorities and make decisions about the 10,000 chemicals in our food.  

The need is urgent.  Consumer concerns about chemicals in food are mounting. In FDA's absence, food manufacturers and grocers are beginning to respond

* Perchlorate—the rocket fuel chemical—is an approved food additive, despite the fact that it impairs infant brain development.

Related blog posts

See more food safety posts »