Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidance allows food manufacturers to determine whether additives to food are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). Manufacturers are not required to notify the FDA of a GRAS determination, although in some instances they notify the agency. The individuals that companies select to make these determinations may have financial conflicts of interest.
To determine the extent to which individuals selected by manufacturers to make GRAS determinations have conflicts of interest between their obligations to ensure that the use of the additive is safe and their financial relationships to the company.
Using conflict of interest criteria developed by a committee of the Institute of Medicine, we analyzed 451 GRAS notifications that were voluntarily submitted to the FDA between 1997 and 2012.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Number of GRAS notices submitted to the FDA; frequency of various types of relationships between decision maker and additive manufacturer; frequency of participation on GRAS panels by individuals; and number of GRAS safety determinations identified by the FDA that were not submitted to the agency.
For the 451 GRAS notifications, 22.4% of the safety assessments were made by an employee of an additive manufacturer, 13.3% by an employee of a consulting firm selected by the manufacturer, and 64.3% by an expert panel selected by either a consulting firm or the manufacturer. A standing expert panel selected by a third party made none of these safety assessments. The 290 panels that made GRAS determinations had an average of 3.5 members, with a maximum of 7. Ten individuals served on 27 or more panels; 1 individual served on 128 panels (44.1%). At least 1 of the 10 individuals with the most frequent service was a member of 225 panels (77.6%).
Conclusions and Relevance
Between 1997 and 2012, financial conflicts of interest were ubiquitous in determinations that an additive to food was GRAS. The lack of independent review in GRAS determinations raises concerns about the integrity of the process and whether it ensures the safety of the food supply, particularly in instances where the manufacturer does not notify the FDA of the determination. The FDA should address these concerns.