As we have discussed in recent postings (here and here), issues regarding the certification of food ingredients as generally recognized as safe (“GRAS”) by the Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) have been a hot topic in industry circles. Now, the Government Accountability Office (the “GAO”) has released a report encouraging the FDA to improve its oversight of GRAS food ingredients. Our colleagues from Hyman, Phelps & McNamara’s FDA Law Blog released an excellent post on this subject, so we will discuss the general findings and recommendations of the report here.

The GAO report includes findings that (1) the FDA’s oversight process does not help ensure the safety of all new GRAS determinations, (2) the FDA is not systematically ensuring the continued safety of current GRAS substances, and (3) the FDA’s regulatory approach allows engineered nanomaterials to enter the food supply without its knowledge. The report contains six specific recommendations for FDA action, encouraging the FDA to develop a strategy to:

  • require any company that conducts a GRAS determination to provide the FDA with basic information about that determination;
  • minimize the potential for conflicts of interest in companies’ GRAS determinations;
  • monitor the appropriateness of companies’ GRAS determinations through random audits or some other means;
  • finalize the rule that governs the voluntary notification program;
  • conduct reconsiderations of the safety of GRAS substances in a more systematic manner; and
  • help ensure the safety of engineered nanomaterials that companies market as GRAS substances without its knowledge.

Further, the report contains a general directive that if the FDA determines it does not have the authority to implement one or more of these recommendations, the agency should seek the authority from Congress. In its response to the report, the FDA, while not indicating any definitive posture on the GAO’s recommendations, was generally receptive to the findings and recommendations of the GAO. Given the prominence of the issue of GRAS certification as it pertains to a number of food and beverage products in the marketplace, we will continue to closely monitor this subject.