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Abstract

 Scientists participating in 2 multistakeholder meetings in 2011 and in other events have identified a number of ways in which the methods the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses to assess the safety of chemicals in human food should be improved and updated. We evaluated whether FDA's current methods, including its decision-making process, are outdated, as alleged by its critics. We examined a 1982 report by the Select Committee on GRAS Substances (SCOGS) that included suggestions to enhance food additive safety. FDA established SCOGS to review the safety of “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) substances in response to a directive by President Nixon. When evaluating FDA's response to SCOGS’ suggestions, we found that many remain unresolved and relevant today. Our analysis demonstrates that in many cases FDA has not kept pace with scientific developments. Although difficult to pinpoint, we concluded that this situation became more significant after 1997, when FDA launched the voluntary GRAS notification program aimed at enticing manufacturers to inform the agency of their own safety decisions. Looking forward, we recommend that the agency convene an unbiased and independent expert workgroup to conduct a comprehensive review of FDA's science and decision making and develop a path to modernize food additives safety assessment. Areas of concern include toxicology test guidelines, tools used to predict health outcomes, conflict of interest in manufacturers’ decisions, lack of a reassessment strategy, and lack of a definition of harm.