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With all the news about China’s milk and recent litigation involving skin creams and eye washes that are having nasty side effects (and, of course, the BPA plastic scare) I began to wonder what responsibility the FDA has.

I did not know this, but the FDA’s primarily responsibility when it was created was to regulate labeling. The department was created because packaging was making claims that the product couldn’t fulfill. The public saw this mostly in snake oil type medicinal products. The FDA wanted to put a stop to the misleading labels.

Eventually the FDA started looking at safety and whether or not a product was good for the public. Items that were merely unhealthy (like candy) was not at issue, but new and innovative products like sugar substitutes became a problem when they had dangerous side effects. In 1958 the department created the first Substances Generally Recognized as Safe list. And the department turned it’s attention to preventing the sell of dangerous products instead of just labeling them.

When deciding what is safe and what is not safe in our food, the FDA looks at sanitation more than anything else. Bacteria were the main concern. However, with new technologies and new ways to process food, the FDA had to turn their attention to how products interacted with our bodies. In 1971, Saccharin was taken off the GRAS list and researched in depth. They found that it was having nasty side-effects and wanted it taken off the market, but in 1977 Congress stopped the FDA from banning Saccharin and said that the manufacturers were only required to properly label their products. In 1996, the requirement to label was no longer in effect. Congress has basically relegated the FDA back to just labeling what’s bad for us. Only two substances have been allowed to be banned under the FDA’s discretion, L-Tryptophan and ephedrine alkaloids.

It sometimes makes me wonder what the FDA actually does to protect the public. What can they really do it they have no power to enforce the research they conduct.

A frightening thing I learned was that the FDA does not do it’s own testing. The creators of new substances are required to test their products for safety and efficacy. Those reports are submitted to the FDA and that is how they make their decisions. This process means the FDA won’t know there’s a problem with a product until it is out on the market and people are getting sick.

I understand that we cannot expect a single government agency to test everything we eat, drink, or otherwise put into our bodies, but it seems like a conflict of interest to just take the manufacturer’s word for it that their product is safe. Of course, because of this process, the FDA will never be liable for damages caused by tainted food, bad drugs, or unsafe products because is not their responsibility to protect us from anything that can hurt us. After all, cigarettes, alcohol, candy, and many other products that are bad for our health are not only still legal, but they make the government a lot of money in taxes.

The only thing they are really responsible for is labeling, check it out, you’ve been warned.

On to Part 2

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Of Interest