We know flavors and flavor ingredients can seem a bit confusing, and consumers are curious how these materials’ safety is evaluated. We’ve compiled a short list of common misconceptions and facts about FEMA and flavor safety. Check them out below.
Myth: Americans must rely solely on the food industry for the safety of flavors in food and beverages
FACT: Flavor safety is determined by an independent Expert Panel that is respected around the world. The safety of a new flavor ingredient is typically determined by an independent Expert Panel as part of the FEMA Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) program. Members of the Expert Panel are scientific and medical experts from prominent universities from around the world. These experts do not work in the food industry and independently select their members and agenda. More than 100 countries accept FEMA GRAS determinations, making it the most trusted authority for flavor safety in the world. As reported by the Center for Public Integrity, in the experience of the Food and Drug Administration, “FEMA makes scientifically rigorous, credible determinations that have stood up to the scrutiny of the scientific community of qualified experts.”
Myth: Neither the FDA nor independent researchers can gain access to the FEMA GRAS review process
FACT: FEMA GRAS determinations are submitted to the FDA and are publicly available. When the FEMA Expert Panel makes a determination that a flavor ingredient is safe, it sends all of the scientific information to the FDA, exceeding the documentation that the government requires. In fact, the US Government Accountability Office has said FEMA GRAS processes “help FDA better ensure the independence of scientific assessment.” The Expert Panel also makes publicly available the information that it relied upon to make its safety decisions. The information is available in a variety of ways including the scientific literature (such as Food and Chemical Toxicology), via downloading it from the National Technical Information Service, or by simply contacting FEMA.
Myth: All flavor ingredients submitted to the FEMA Expert Panel are approved
FACT: Many flavor ingredients never receive final approval in the FEMA GRAS review process. The mission of the FEMA Expert Panel is to protect public health. Flavor manufacturers regularly begin the GRAS review process, but never receive final approval. This often occurs because the Expert Panel will ask for further studies or information to support a safety determination, and the application process ceases because there is insufficient evidence to meet the request. Over the years, FEMA GRAS has reversed the safety determinations of 13 separate ingredients after new information became available.
Myth: FEMA’s focus is on lobbying Congress
FACT: Advocacy about public policy is a very small part of FEMA’s mission. FEMA is transparent about the public policy issues important to our members, and publishes these priorities on our website. Occasionally, FEMA meets with a Member of Congress, or their staff, to discuss specific legislation. This work is not the primary focus of our organization and such activities are so limited that they do not meet the thresholds established in the Lobbying Disclosure Act.
Myth: FEMA is a secret organization
FACT: FEMA has detailed information on flavors available to the public. FEMA appreciates that now more than ever, consumers are concerned about food and food ingredients. FEMA welcomes consumer interest in flavors, and our website contains detailed information on flavors and flavor safety, in addition to many other resources, to help explain what flavors are and how flavors add to the day-to-day enjoyment of food.