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FDA Oversight of PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Food Packaging Essential, Report Finds

A study by the Government Accountability Office finds that better oversight of so-called forever chemicals in good packaging and production is needed but says manufacturers are not currently required to provide the Food and Drug Administration with information about such additives.

U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), requested the report.

“Let me be clear – these are forever chemicals that do not break down and may have a detrimental impact on the health of Americans,” said DeLauro. “And over time, according to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Total Diet Study (TDS), these chemicals can be found in a variety of food products. We need action to address this issue because the health of the American people should always come first.”

“Food safety is a second-class citizen at the FDA, and that can have deadly consequences,” DeLauro said. “We have seen how not taking food safety seriously can lead to contaminated product, recalls, and subsequent shortages that strain the supply chain and contribute to rising costs. It’s time to put the ‘F’ back into ‘FDA’. We need to prioritize food safety at the agency.”

Pingree said the chemicals pose a wider threat than just food.

“From drinking water and soil to pre-packaged food at the grocery store, ‘forever chemical’ contamination is a growing public health concern for Mainers and people across the country,” Pingree said.

The report entitled “FDA Oversight of Substances Used in Manufacturing, Packaging, and Transporting Food Could Be Strengthened” reviews FDA oversight of indirect food additives. It identifies how food processing and packaging can lead to contamination of food and may pose health risks.

Food processing and packaging can introduce non-food substances that may pose a health risk into food. FDA reviews information on the safety of the substances used for packaging before their first use, and as new information becomes available, FDA will reevaluate its use based on the new information. However, FDA does not have the specific authority to require companies to provide information that the agency may need for such reviews – so re-evaluation can take time or in many cases, may not be possible.

The GAO makes two recommendations to the FDA in the report: 1) request specific legal authority from Congress to compel companies to provide the information needed to reassess the safety of substances and 2) track the dates of the last reviews for all food contact substances to allow FDA to readily identify substances that warrant post-market review.

Help sought for farmers afffected by PFAS

Pingree and New England lawmakers are also proposing legislation that would help farmers affected by PFAS and other forever chemicals.

The Relief for Farmers Hit with PFAS Act would authorize grants for states to provide financial assistance to affected farmers, expand monitoring and testing, remediate PFAS, or even help farmers relocate.

PFAS are man-made “forever” chemicals that are used in industry and consumer products and can lead to serious health effects.  PFAS contamination has prevented some Maine farms from selling their products, creating financial hardship for many family farmers, a news release from Pingree’s office said.

Pingree cited several other cases:

  • In 2016, a dairy farmer in Arundel, Maine, discovered that the milk produced on his farm contained some of the highest levels ever reported for a PFAS contaminant.
  • In 2020, a dairy farm in Fairfield found PFAS levels in its milk were 153 times higher than the Maine standard. 
  • An organic vegetable farm in Unity uncovered PFAS contamination last year, and the couple who farmed the land have higher PFAS levels in their blood than chemical plant workers who manufactured PFAS for decades. 

Numerous other Maine farmers have had their livelihoods disrupted due to PFAS contamination, which originated in wastewater sludge that was spread as fertilizer by farmers who were told by the government that it was safe to use.

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