This is the first blog in a series evaluating the challenges associated with single-use food packaging waste.
This week Walmart joined a growing number of companies that are trying to advance the circular economy for packaging. Like previous commitments from Nestle, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, Walmart is stepping up its efforts to use more recyclable packaging, incorporate more recycled content, and accelerate development of collection and recycling infrastructures. EDF has a long history fighting for greater and smarter plastics recycling, so we are pleased to see more companies working to eliminate plastic packaging waste from our environment. However, something is often missing from their statements: commitments for safer packaging free of toxic chemicals.
In our work with retailers and food manufacturers, EDF strongly recommends submitting all ingredients for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) safety review, especially those additives deemed ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS). This includes things such as flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and the like. If an unreviewed ingredient is identified in a recipe, we also recommend that the grocer or manufacturer require the supplier to send the ingredient through an FDA GRAS review.
One question we often get is, “Doesn’t that take a long time?” Quite simply, the answer is no. But some players in the food industry try to perpetuate that myth so they can continue to self-certify safety and bypass FDA’s scrutiny.
In the 2014 report, “Generally Recognized as Secret: Chemicals Added to Food in the United States,” more than fifty companies were shown to be deliberately avoiding FDA reviews of 275 chemical additives marketed for food uses. On their own, the companies determined that the substances’ uses were GRAS, without making the safety assessment of the chemical publicly available or submitting it for review by FDA. It’s tough to imagine how it could be “generally recognized” if the safety studies are kept secret.
One reason these companies gave for avoiding the agency’s review: FDA is too slow, resulting in delays in product marketing and sales.
So, are FDA reviews so long as to justify bypassing the agency? Read more