Alternative Figures: FDA’s food chemical reports to Congress don’t add up
Jul 19, 2023
In its annual justification of budget estimates to Congress, FDA describes its activities and tracks its performance. One of those performance measures is the percentage of food- and color-additive petitions (FAPs/CAPs) the agency has reviewed and completed within 360 days of receipt.
We analyzed FDA’s reports to Congress published from 2016 to 2023 and found that FDA told Congress it had completed 100% of its reviews within 360 days in every year but one. The exception was FY2020, when the rate dropped to 89%. During that 7-year period, the agency reported that it had filed a total of 51 petitions. (See Table 1.)
FDA’s impressive claims about the percentage of FAP/CAP reviews it completed run contrary to our experience and the available evidence:
Accurate and transparent reporting empowers Congress to:
Table 1 summarizes those findings. We excluded years where we did not have data for both petitions filed/reviewed in the fiscal year and the percent of petitions reviewed within 360 days.
Table 1: FDA’s Reporting of Office of Food Additive Safety Activity
(Year of Budget Justification Reports)
10 / 11(2016 report, p. 61)
(2017 report p. 57 &
2016 report p. 59)
(2017 report, p. 60)
(2018 report p. 54 &
2017 report p. 57)
(2018 report p. 57)
(2019 report p. 67 &
2018 report p. 54)
(2018 report p. 57)
(2021 report p. 80 &
2020 report p. 68 &
2019 report p. 67)
(2021 report p. 82 &
2020 report p. 70)
(2022 report p. 96 &
2021 report p. 80 &
2020 report p. 67)
(2021 report p. 82)
(2023 report p. 66)
(2022 report p. 98)
(2023 report p. 64 &
2022 report p. 96)
* Reviewed includes approved, withdrawn, or placed in abeyance due to deficiencies during the fiscal year.
Table 2 identifies all food and color additive petitions that FDA’s website reported as under review (and not in abeyance or decided) as of April 7, 2023. “Days Under Review” is calculated as of that date.
Table 2: Status of Food and Color Additive PetitionsUnder Review as of April 7, 2023
Table 3 reviews the timing of FAPs/CAPs submitted by food safety advocates since 2014. Where available, FDA’s decision on the petition is noted, as well as whether petitioners went to court asking a judge to issue a writ of mandamus to order the agency to act. For each of those lawsuits, FDA agreed relatively quickly to a schedule to make a final decision on the petition.
Table 3: Timing of Review for Advocates’ PetitionsSeeking Revocation of Food and Color Additive Approvals (as of April 7, 2023)
** Revised to 3/26/18 due to substantive amendments provided by petitioner.
The agency should explain to Congress and stakeholders how it came up with its numbers and ensure accurate and transparent reporting.
 The statutory deadline for a final decision on a food or color additive petition is 90 days, with an option to extend for an additional 90 days for a total of 180 days. See 21 U.S.C. §§ 348(c)(2) and 379e(d)(1). We do not know why FDA’s performance measure gives the agency twice as much time to complete a review than is allowed by the law.
 Long-chain PFAS food additive petition was processed in 356 days. See Table 3.
 FDA reported 100% for FY2014 in the 2016 report(p. 59) but did not include the number of FAPs/CAPs reviewed. In its 2023 report, the agency reported reviewing five FAPs/CAPs (p. 61) but did not provide the percentage of reviews that had been approved, withdrawn, or placed in abeyance in 360 days.
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Chemical policy and air pollution: EDF HealthSee Table 1Why It MattersSee Table 2Table 3Our TakeOur Research FindingsTable 1Table 1: FDA’s Reporting of Office of Food Additive Safety ActivityFiscal YearFAPs/CAPsFiled/ Reviewed*FAPs/CAPs Percent Reviewed within 360 days100%100%100%100%100%89%100%Table 2Table 2: Status of Food and Color Additive PetitionsUnder Review as of April 7, 2023Table 3Table 3: Timing of Review for Advocates’ PetitionsSeeking Revocation of Food and Color Additive Approvals Next Steps