Food Industry & Politics

Do Government Agencies Protect the Food Supply?


I was reading a book the other day that touched upon the history of our food industry.  It discussed how the acceptance of processed foods gained tremendous success largely because of America’s desire for convenience.

I found it strange as I read the information to think that the food industry insisted this is what we wanted – convenience – when no one ever really asked for it.  It started with instant cake mixes, instant pudding, then went to prepared foods from a box, and then frozen dinners with the invention of the microwave.  There was relentless advertising targeting thousands of housewives who now were entering the fulltime workforce.  Look!  You need this!  It’s … convenient.

By this time we had the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) overseeing food safety, so no one ever questioned how anything could possibly affect our health.  Yet, I wonder.  If the food industry had also told us back then that eating these products on a daily basis could potentially harm your children’s health, who really would have bought into all this convenient food?

Even today millions of Americans are unclear about the FDA’s role in the food supply.  Many people still believe if it is on the shelf in the market it must be okay to eat.  Others falsely believe that the FDA still actually tests any new ingredients that food manufacturers choose to put into our food.  Unfortunately, this practice went out the window years ago.

The truth is that the food industry has evolved into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that conducts their own limited testing before deciding what ingredients qualify for the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list.  True, they have some guidelines to follow for their “testing” to be approved, but the FDA doesn’t test anything.  The results of their “in-house” testing are submitted to the FDA and the substance is then listed on the GRAS list.  These substances can then be used as ingredients in processed foods even though the FDA or other third party performs no testing on their safety.  It is the food industry that essentially decides what is “safe” based on the lenient testing guidelines provided by the FDA.

For years the FDA simply has not had the resources to test the hundreds of different additives and ingredients that are created by the food industry each year, so the effectiveness of the original system to keep harmful substances out of our food essentially has been compromised.  While there would not be approval of any substance that shows overt danger to humans, it is possible that ingredients may be approved that, over time and consumed daily, can potentially affect our health.

Trans fat is a great example of how a harmful ingredient can end up in the food supply for literally decades before the FDA actually removes it from the GRAS list, and therefore, our food.  In 2015 the FDA ruled that trans fat (made by partially hydrogenating oils) must be removed from human food by June 18, 2018.  The decision was based on a multitude of studies indicating that trans fat was detrimental to cardiovascular health and removal from the food supply, according to the FDA, “could prevent thousands of heart attacks and deaths each year.”

My question is this.  Does that mean trans fat has been causing thousands of heart attacks since 1911?

About Laura Cadoret, MS

Helping people see the big picture in food industry and nutrition
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