US: Senators propose legislation to enhance food safety and FDA oversight

A new bill, named Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act, has been recently announced by United States Senators Edward J. Markey and Cory Booker. The proposed bill seeks to reform the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule, which currently allows companies to market food with specific substances based on self-determined safety assessments without pre-market approval. This move aims to bolster the safety of food products and hold the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accountable for ensuring the well-being of consumers.    

Under the proposed legislation, manufacturers would be required to notify the FDA and provide supporting information for any substances they consider GRAS. This information would be made available on the FDA's website for public comment during a 90-day review period. Additionally, the bill would prohibit the GRAS designation of known carcinogenic substances and substances demonstrating evidence of reproductive or developmental toxicity. It also aims to prevent conflicts of interest by disallowing individuals with conflicts of interest from serving as experts in evaluating scientific data related to GRAS designations.    

Furthermore, the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act would establish an Office of Food Chemical Safety, Dietary Supplements, and Innovation within the FDA. This office would reassess the safety of existing GRAS substances, as well as food additives, food contact substances, and color additives. Additionally, a new committee would be created to advise on standards, processes, and methods required for the reassessment of these substances.    

Senator Markey highlighted the need to revise existing food safety measures and close the loophole that allows manufacturers to self-regulate the introduction of new substances into the food supply.    
Senator Booker expressed concern about the presence of toxic substances in food products, noting that some additives banned in other countries are still utilized in the United States. He emphasized that Americans should not have to consume foods with ingredients known to have health risks.    

The Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act has garnered support from various organizations, including the Environmental Working Group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and Earthjustice. These associations, via their spokespersons, praised the proposed bill for addressing FDA's shortcomings, such as the GRAS loophole, that allows new chemicals to be added to food without FDA review, and the lack of reassessment for additives that are currently recognize as unsafe. They highlighted the need to close the loophole, prevent secret use of toxic chemicals in food, and prioritize consumer safety through scientific review.    

Strangely, a virtually identical legislation under the same name was introduced last year, therefore, the likelihood of passage of the current proposed bill is uncertain.    
The bill is expected to face scrutiny and undergo potential modifications during the legislative process. However, its introduction signifies a significant step toward enhancing food safety regulations and increasing FDA oversight.      



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Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2023 - Summary

Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act of 2022 - Summary