Wednesday, February 16, 2005

There's More To The FDA Than Drugs

The newly appointed veterinarian who heads the Food and Drug Adminstration, Dr. Lester Crawford, will have a lot to swallow. While the press is full of side-effects caused by prescription drugs, the food supply is a bigger problem. Not everyone takes pills but everyone eats. We want fresh strawberries in winter and tomatoes all year round yet we have replaced many of our farms with housing and roadways and our edibles are increasingly being grown in other countries. Only a tiny fraction of the food that enters our ports is checked by our guardian agencies. Not only do we have to worry about foreign foods with undersirable additives and residues, we now have to be protected against terrorists tampering. The FDA's ability to protect the 400,000 domestic and foreign facilities that deal with food within our country is almost impossible because it is understaffed, overworked and short of funds. As far as ingredients added to our food domestically, manufacturers do not have to petition for affirmation that an additive is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), they simply have to have to notify the FDA of their additive's GRAS status and provide some evidence to support it. The FDA says that letting the manufacturers determine what is GRAS and making it simpler to obtain FDA approval allows the FDA to "gain increased awareness of ingredients in the nation's food supply and the cumulative dietary exposure to GRAS substances," and, of course, save money. Most of the additives are safe if unnecessary. They are added to intrigue us to buy and to preserve shelf-life.
They are chemicals, however, and how do they interact with the chemicals everyone is worrying about in our medicine chests? Have a question about a particular ingredient? Send it along.

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