The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) is taking steps to make food additives more transparent. The trade organization, representing more than 300 food, beverage and consumer product companies, says their five-part initiative, announced Wednesday, will modernize the process for making “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) determinations. The category has been controversial because it allows companies to determine whether a substance is GRAS without having to seek FDA approval. Consumer groups claim that some additives with GRAS status don’t meet the same safety standard as food additives. The first step in GMA’s plan is to develop a science-based framework that specifies a rigorous and transparent ingredient safety assessment process, which will be documented in a Publicly Available Standard (PAS), expected to be available in 2016. The PAS will be developed by an independent body of technical experts in an open public process that includes interested stakeholders. At the association’s board of directors meeting on Aug. 22, GMA members committed to conducting assessments as defined by the PAS. Nonmembers have not been accounted for. GMA will also create a database that lists information on all GRAS assessments conducted by the food industry. Information in the database will be made available to FDA and other stakeholders in 2015. It is not yet clear what information will be made publicly available. Lastly, GMA plans to reach out more to stakeholders and consumers on the steps used to assess ingredient safety and will expand its GRAS education curriculum. Earlier this year, the association worked with Michigan State University to create the Center for Research and Ingredient Safety (CRIS). “Our industry is committed to providing consumers with safe, quality, affordable and innovative products,” said Dr. Leon Bruner, chief science officer for GMA. “We are confident that this initiative, along with the industry’s efforts to implement the Food Safety Modernization Act, will strengthen the food safety programs used by the entire food industry and thereby provide consumers more assurance that food products produced by U.S. manufacturers are, and will remain, the safest available in the world.” “We are supportive of any initiative that promotes scientific rigor and transparency to independent GRAS determinations, and look forward to further dialogue with GMA and others in an open exchange of information on independent GRAS determinations to ensure the safety of ingredients added to food,” FDA said in a statement. “We encourage industry to voluntarily participate in FDA’s GRAS Notification Program, which FDA makes public through its inventory of GRAS notifications.” The Center for Food Safety, which filed a lawsuit against FDA in February about its proposed GRAS rule, applauded the GMA’s move toward transparency but is concerned the proposal falls short in addressing some food additive safety concerns. In particular, it applies only to future food additives and does not address the estimated 1,000 self-affirmed GRAS additives already in the food system. “While industry initiative and cooperation is integral to ensuring the safety of food ingredients, it is not an acceptable substitute for government regulation,” said Donna Solen, CFS senior attorney. “The stakes are simply too high in the area of food safety to allow industry to fill a void left by FDA. For nearly 20 years, FDA has failed to even finalize the regulations that govern GRAS substances, and this is another example of its inaction in this key realm of public health.” “It is outrageous that FDA doesn’t already have the identity, much less the safety data, of all substances added to the nation’s food supply,” said Laura MacCleery, chief regulatory affairs attorney with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The database that GMA is developing should be completely available to the public, she said. The effectiveness of GMA’s proposed standard depends on what’s included and how the public is involved in its development, MacCleery told Food Safety News, adding that federal regulation should verify it and require companies to stick to it.