Washington should stay out of FDA decisions

By Jessica Schoenfeld COLUMNIST
On April 11, 2012

Congress and the White House are becoming increasingly more involved in the regulations passed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

An article in the New York Times last week stated that the Obama administration often disagrees with the FDA, and consumer advocates worry it has been overly cautious, sitting on important regulatory policies regarding foods and medical devices to avoid giving Republicans fodder for attacks.

While it is important that government officials outside of the FDA are made aware of changes and even play a part in debating rhetoric when it comes to passing new health care laws, the ability to overstep a federal bureau of scientists who know best could set a scary precedent.

On March 30, the FDA ruled that the chemical bisphenol-A BPA, used in food packaging, would not be banned because the FDA is still conducting testing on the chemical. Though certain food manufacturing companies have already eliminated their use of BPA and even advertise this, the FDA maintains that the sample sizes used in the study were too small and only used animals.

The FDA is now conducting a more comprehensive study to observe BPAs effects in humans. But despite their ongoing research, Congress is considering a bill in chemical reform that could override the FDAs efforts.

And history as recent as the George W. Bush administration shows what happens when the government fails to listen to the scientists behind the FDA. When the administration blocked several attempts to instate rules that would prevent the contamination of produce and eggs, the death rate related to these incidents rose, according to the Times.

Had the Bush administration acted in the interest of the people instead of big businesses, many lives would have been spared.

The problem is not that presidents and legislators are unconcerned or simply succumbing to lobbying pressures or personal beliefs. The issue is that these government officials are not scientists. While they may understand and feel responsible for the social implications of new regulations, they are in no way qualified to determine the health and medical implications of a potentially life-saving measure.

It is also important to note that the FDA does more than regulate food, prescriptions and sunscreen. They are also responsible for the way human subjects are treated in research. If Congress can control which drugs are acceptable for citizens or what food they eat, who is to say that they will not cross the boundaries and violate decades-old laws on scientific research?

And if our own politicians consistently disagree with the FDA, there is no reason for other countries to respect the FDA, a cause of concern when it comes to both research and food and drug production.

It is crucial to note who the experts are in making health-related regulation decisions and imperative that the White House and Congress respect the decisions of the FDA, the true authority on health issues.

Jessica Schoenfeld is a sophomore majoring in sociology.

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