Environmental and Health Groups Ask FDA to Eliminate PFAS in Food

A formal citizens petition was sent to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday by various groups asking it to “take more aggressive action to protect consumers from per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) by banning those which “biopersist in the human body.” 

According to the petition sent by the Environmental Defense Fund, Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Food Safety, and other environmental and health groups, addressing contamination from PFAS was a priority in the plan presented during President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign. 

“The United States is awash with (PFAS). Their widespread use and their ability to remain intact in the environment means that over time PFAS levels from past and current uses can result in increasing levels of environmental contamination, and accumulation of certain PFAS has also been shown in humans and animals,” the petition said. 

PFAS has been used in various food packaging, in household products, and in firefighting foam, and the groups claimed that humans are exposed to them through food, air, and water especially in communities where items using PFAS are produced. The groups alleged that scientific studies have shown “widespread harm to health” from forms of PFAS, including increasing risk of cancer, harming immune systems, and impairing development in children. 

More directly, the petition claimed that the FDA has contributed significantly to exposure to PFAS because it does not test for them in food and was slow to begin removing “long-chain PFAS from food packaging.” Also, the groups claimed that the FDA authorized substances coming into contact with food that were made from short-chain PFAS, despite knowledge of potential harm to health. 

According to a press release from the Center for Food Safety, a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the FDA knew that short-chain PFAS could be a health concern and asked for companies to provide evidence that they were safe before use. The release claimed that FDA-approved PFAS “are a major contributor” to the issue. 

“FDA is not doing its job. It phased out some varieties of PFAS, but approved new ones for food,” said Jaydee Hanson, policy director at Center for Food Safety in the press release. “The agency ignored evidence showing these chemicals build up in our bodies and are linked to cancer, immunological, reproductive, and developmental harm. Instead of just agreeing with the chemical companies, FDA needs to protect the public and act on these dangerous chemicals immediately.”

The FDA, according to the petition, has a duty under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act to ensure that PFAS, and other substances which come into contact with food, should only be permitted when there is “a reasonable certainty in the minds of competent scientists” that the substance will not be harmful under their intended uses. 

The groups petitioned the FDA to ban both long and short-chain PFAS, and presume until proven otherwise that every PFAS will persist inside a human body, and take broad action to ban PFAS under the presumption. 

PFAS, sometimes known as “forever chemicals,” have been the subject against multiple lawsuits, for example, one filed after the chemicals contaminated drinking water and multiple other lawsuits against chemical companies