The Government Accountability Office says the FDA should have the power to ask for and receive information from food companies about food packaging and food production surfaces in relation to chemical contamination.

In a report on so-called forever chemicals that do not break down that was requested by two U.S. Representives, the office says FDA oversight of indirect food additives is a must. It identifies how food processing and packaging can lead to contamination of food and may pose health risks. 

“FDA reviews information on the safety of such substances before their first use. As new information becomes available that suggests a substance may pose a health risk, FDA will occasionally reevaluate it based on the new information. But, FDA doesn’t have specific authority to require companies to provide the information that the agency may need for such reviews—so re-evaluation may not be possible,” according to the gal report.

“We recommended that FDA request this authority from Congress.

“FDA conducts premarket reviews of the safety of substances largely by reviewing companies’ submissions of supporting evidence before substances enter the market.”

U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Requested the GAO report.

“Let me be clear — these are forever chemicals that do not break down and may have a detrimental impact on the health of Americans,” said DeLauro. “And over time, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s Total Diet Study (TDS), these chemicals can be found in a variety of food products. We need action to address this issue because the health of the American people should always come first.”

Pingree agreed with DeLauro and added that the chemicals pose a wider threat than just food.

“From drinking water and soil to pre-packaged food at the grocery store, ‘forever chemical’ contamination is a growing public health concern for Mainers and people across the country,” Pingree said.

The representatives reiterated a key aspect of the report: FDA does not have the specific authority to require companies to provide information that the agency may need for such reviews — so re-evaluation can take time or in many cases, may not be possible. 

The GAO report is clear on the dangers of certain chemicals in food packaging and on food preparation surfaces.

“Thousands of food contact substances are available for use in manufacturing, packaging, and transporting food. These substances are used, for example, in food wrappers and in the lining of metal food cans. Academic, consumer, and other stakeholders have raised concerns that some of the substances may, by themselves or in combination with other substances, contribute to adverse health effects, such as thyroid disease and hormone disruption,” says the GAO report.

The GAO report makes two recommendations to the FDA:

  1. Request from Congress specific legal authority to compel companies to provide the information needed to reassess the safety of substances; and 
  2. Track the dates of the last reviews for all food contact substances to allow FDA to readily identify substances that may warrant postmarket review. FDA neither agreed nor disagreed with the first recommendation and agreed with the second recommendation.

There are also two specific recommendations for the FDA commissioner in the GAO report:

  1. Request specific legal authority to compel companies to provide specific information that they have about food contact substances already on the market. FDA could do so when it submits its report to the House Appropriations Committee on options to systematically reassess the safety of food additives and obtain information on their use; and
  2. Direct the agency to track the dates of the last pre- and postmarket reviews for all food contact substances in a way that allows FDA to readily identify substances that may warrant postmarket review.

For the full 42-page report, click here.

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