By law, the federal government has long accepted food ingredients that are "Generally Recognized as Safe" (GRAS), without the need for elaborate testing. For example, GRAS rightly allows long-accepted ingredients such as vinegar to be used without unnecessary testing procedures.
The new reports note many examples where ingredients that are classified as GRAS have been allergenic, have been suspected of being carcinogens, or never were submitted for FDA review (becuase such review is sometimes optional). In some cases, ingredients were submitted for FDA review for consideration as GRAS, and then withdrawn because FDA had questions, but these ingredients ended up in the food supply anyway.
The Center for Public Integrity writes:
Critics of the system say the biggest concern, however, is that companies regularly introduce new additives without ever informing the FDA. That means people are consuming foods with added flavors, preservatives and other ingredients that are not at all reviewed by regulators for immediate dangers or long-term health effects.Overall, most food safety officials with the companies involved quite probably are mostly confident the food ingredients are safe for most people (especially those without allergies), and felt it would be overkill to subject the ingredients to a large volume of testing. In most cases, the companies probably are correct.
In such cases, though, let's stop calling such food ingredients "GRAS." From now on, more truthfully, let's call new ingredients that lack FDA review: Sometimes Considered as Mostly Safe " (SCAMS).