CHICAGO — Concerned citizens can submit petitions asking the U.S Food and Drug Administration to take a closer look at certain food ingredients.
The Government Accountability Office calls these petitions "the most formal path for an individual or organization to bring a problem to the FDA's attention."
But some petitioners have been waiting for an answer for a decade or more.
Although the agency is required to offer some response within 180 days (usually a notification that it has reached no decision), there is no deadline by which the FDA must make a decision.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest has filed several petitions over the years, including those to modify the safety status of salt (2004) and revoke the safety status of trans fats (2005). They remain pending, to chagrin of the center's executive director, Michael Jacobson.
"FDA could snap its fingers and get trans fat out of the U.S. food supply by saying that it is no longer generally recognized as safe," he said. "There is enough science out there by independent researchers, the Institute of Medicine and American Heart Association to show that it is generally recognized as dangerous."
The GAO found in a 2010 report that "the FDA has largely not responded to the concerns that individuals and consumer groups have raised through 11 citizen petitions submitted to the agency between 2004 and 2008."
To date the agency has answered only three of the 11 petitions — all denials.