Washington (November 21, 2023) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) today announced the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act, legislation that would direct the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to strengthen the Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) Rule, which exempts companies from seeking pre-market approval for food chemicals. The legislation would also direct the Secretary of HHS to create an Office of Food Chemical Safety, Dietary Supplements, and Innovation within the FDA to reassess whether existing GRAS substances are safe for families to consume. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) are cosponsors of the legislation.  

“The only mystery families should encounter at mealtime is what’s for dinner, not what’s in dinner. Americans deserve to know that the food at their Thanksgiving dinners and on their kitchen tables is safe for them, their families, and loved ones to eat,” said Senator Markey.“Our legislation ensures that the FDA doesn’t fall short on their responsibility to ensure that the food we eat is safe. It is long past time that we revise existing food safety measures and close the loophole by allowing manufacturers to self-regulate what new substances can enter our food supply.” 

“Food companies have been taking advantage of a major gap in US food safety laws to add new chemicals to foods without an independent, scientific review of those additives’ safety,” said Senator Booker. “As a result, thousands of food products in the United States contain additives that have been banned in other countries for being carcinogenic, endocrine-disrupting, or developmentally harmful. Americans should not have to eat foods with ingredients that have known health harms. This legislation will close the loophole that allows companies to use toxic substances in foods and food packaging.” 

A one-page summary of the legislation can be found HERE

Specifically, the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act would direct the FDA to revise the GRAS Rule to include provisions that: 
  • Prohibit manufacturers from designating substances as safe without supplying proper notice and supporting information to the Secretary of HHS. 
  • Require safety information be publicly available on the FDA website and subject to a 90-day public review period. 
  • Prohibit carcinogenic substances from receiving GRAS designation. 
  • Prohibit substances that show evidence of reproductive or developmental toxicity from receiving GRAS designation. 
  • Prohibit people with conflicts of interest from serving as experts in reviewing and evaluating scientific data regarding GRAS designations. 
  • Create a procedure of reassessment for substances receiving previous GRAS designations. 

The Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act is endorsed by the Environmental Working Group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, and Earthjustice. 

“Toxic chemicals have no place in our food, especially chemicals linked to cancer. EWG applauds Senator Markey for once again putting the health of our families ahead of the profits of chemical companies,” said Scott Faber, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the Environmental Working Group. 

“The Ensuring Safe and Toxic Free Foods Act addresses two critical shortcomings of the FDA’s program to protect consumers from additives to food: the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) loophole that allows new chemicals to be added to food without FDA review and the lack of a system to reassess past agency actions for additives we now recognize as unsafe. We applaud Senator Markey for his ongoing leadership on this important public health issue,” said Tom Neltner, Senior Director of Safer Chemicals at Environmental Defense Fund. 

“Chemicals linked to cancer and other serious health problems are in our daily food – leaching from the packaging and processing materials. This is unacceptable, and why we support the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act. This important legislation will close a federal loophole that allows companies to secretly use toxic chemicals for food packaging and processing without FDA oversight or approval,” said Lisette Van Vliet, Senior Policy Coordinator at Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. 

“Consumers rightfully expect the Food and Drug Administration – not industry – to ensure that the food we feed our families is safe. Earthjustice is grateful for the continued leadership of Senator Markey in his reintroduction of the Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act to help turn that expectation into reality. This vital legislation will finally fix a system that has allowed thousands of chemicals into our food that have never been scrutinized by the FDA. For decades, the agency has allowed companies to make safety determinations on their own and in secret. This must stop. Critically, this bill will also require the FDA to use the best available science to review the safety of harmful food chemicals already in commerce. It is long past time for the United States to join the rest of the modern world in protecting its consumers from harmful chemicals in food. Let’s get this done,” said Daniel Savery, Senior Legislative Representative at Earthjustice. 

“For far too long, companies have utilized the GRAS loophole to secretly introduced new chemicals into our foods without ever notifying the FDA. The Ensuring Safe and Toxic-Free Foods Act helps close the GRAS loophole and keep dangerous chemicals out of our foods,” said Peter Lurie, President of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. 

Senator Markey has long been an advocate for food safety and FDA accountability. In 2016, he sent the FDA a letter calling on the agency take steps to strengthen the GRAS rule and update guidance to mitigate conflicts of interest for outside experts evaluating GRAS substances.