Are YOU (Really) Confident In What You Consume Every Day?


Is Your Confidence in Your Beliefs Too High? You Decide.

According to the recent study discussed in American Journal of Food Science and Nutrition Research in 2015, it is noted that today’s consumers have become increasingly cautious about food safety. One of the leading reasons for this is because of food additives. Along with technology advancements and new ways of producing chemical additives, consumers today don’t know what kind of additives are being added to their food.  Moreover, according to the recent Food and Health Survey done by the International Food Information Council Foundation, American’s confidence in the U.S. food supply continue to decrease. 


2017 Food and Health Survey
International Food Information Council Foundation; 16 May 2017,


Confidence in Food Saftey Continue to Decrease

Majority of the factors that concern Americans in regard to the U.S. food safety are cancer-causing chemicals in food, overall chemicals in food, and food additives and ingredients. Confidence (Very confident and Somewhat confident) in the safety of the U.S. food supply has gone down from 78% in 2012, 66% in 2016, and 56% in 2017. Foodborne illness from bacteria has been the number one concern of the Americans throughout the time, but recently, it seems to be that chemicals and food additives are the emerging factors that bring down the confidence. Chemicals and food additives include preservatives, colors, and both natural and artificial flavorings. 

It was interesting to me that, despite the fact that there are government organizations like the FDA and food regulations that control and inspect food supplies, Americans still are skeptical of today’s food safety. Why are Americans uncertain about the food that they consume?

Lacking Transparency of FDA/FEMA’s GRAS 

One of the most significant reasons why there are growing concerns regarding the U.S. food supply is because many Americans don’t trust the government organization and their regulations. Looking back at the history of food bills, the major food regulation reformation involving food chemicals and artificial additives were made way back in 1958. The Food Additives Amendment of 1958 imposed a new set of rules specifically for the food additives like artificial flavorings. Along with the World War II and technological advancement during this time period, the ways of producing chemicals and additives have changed drastically, and Americans initiated a conversation that there needed to be a reformation in controlling chemical additive that was being added to their food.

However, according to Nadia Berenstein, an expert and a Ph.D. candidate of the University of Pennsylvania “regulating flavor chemicals directly proved to be too big a task” for FDA, and they “reached an unprecedented agreement with the flavor industry, exempting most flavor chemicals then in use from the law’s testing requirements.” This is when the Flavor Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA) came in control of deciding which chemicals were GRAS, meaning “Generally Recognized As Safe.” As long as the chemical is GRAS, then the food manufacturers don’t have to list or label all the added substances on their packaging. GRAS itself was a very controversial topic discussed among the experts at this time, as FDA was allowing FEMA, which was comprised of food and flavor manufacturers and flavor suppliers, to be in control of deciding what chemicals were “generally safe.” This was giving the food and flavoring manufacturers themselves a power to decide whether their own chemicals should be regarded as safe or not. 

According to Erin Quinn and Chris Young from the Center for Public Integrity, experts expressed concerns about this issue because FEMA is an opaque and “secretive food industry trade group” that has the FDA’s “blessings” which allow themselves to do their own research and inspection on their food chemicals and flavors. According to Rick Paulas on KCET, this “made sense back then, seeing as there weren’t a whole lot of chemicals being added to foods. But in the past 56 years, the food processing world has changed.”

History of Food Regulation and
Today’s Outdated Food Law

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 10.34.40 PMToday, there is an ongoing debate on this topic, because, ironically, FDA has not renewed the amendment considering food additives for the past six decades despite the fact that American consumers’ general feelings towards processed food and food chemicals are not favorable. According to Nadia Berenstein, “consumer avoidance of artificial flavors was not as intense as it is right now,” indicating that the temperature of popular sentiment on this matter of today is hotter than ever. Nonetheless, FEMA is still in charge of evaluating food chemicals, which means the food industry is in control of deciding which chemicals they choose to put on their food without a label. FDA continues to add and update the list of GRAS substances which contains 3,000 chemicals now, but they have not changed the way inspect them. It seems like the number of GRAS chemicals are increasing, but are they safe?

There have been substantial advances in technology and science, such as in bioengineering, in the past six decades, which means that there are new ways and methods of producing chemicals. Furthermore, food purchasing patterns have changed the past fifty years as Americans tend to buy more packaged and processed food today. Despite this fact, FDA has not updated its regulations, and these remain outdated.

Unlike the U.S., “when food additives are used in foods in Europe, product labels must identify both the function of the additive in the finished food and the specific substance”. Consumers tend to amplify the risk when a food or a technology is unknown, and therefore, American’s confidence in food safety continue to decrease.

What Now?

Today, Americans believe there needs to be a reform of the food additive amendment according to their response in the food surveys regarding confidence in food safety. Their food anxiety has only increased over time, and the government’s way of allowing food industries not to put on food labels of “GRAS” artificial chemicals needs to be changed. There is an increasing number of articles, journals, and novels concerning this matter in America’s food industry recently, trying to bring the notion to the consumers that today’s outdated law needs to be overhauled. Experts like Quinn and Young are still raising their voices on this matter and believe that the current law that “allows food companies to bypass a lengthy government-led safety review” needs to be reformed.

According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, they are reviewing about 25 petitions that ask for changes to be made in America’s food regulations regarding food additives. There was also a 38-page petition that asks FDA to ban eight synthetic flavorings that are considered as GRAS.

People continue to strive to make changes today. With a little bit of time and interest in the matter, we can once again overhaul the laws that are not transparent. We can make a new way of inspecting ingredients and chemical food additives that are ambiguous and are somehow considered as GRAS. If you are interested in making a change, look for petitions online that advocate this kind of issue. Here is one of the ongoing petitions that I’ve found. Check it out and if you feel like you want to be a part of this, sign up!

“Tell the FDA that we have a right to know what’s in our food” by Eric Schlosser
If you are interested in GMO food, Say no to GMO frankenfries
 , Label GMO