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Sarah Janssen’s Blog

Let's restore the integrity of the FDA

Sarah Janssen

Posted November 25, 2008

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has come under fire for a lot of missteps over the past 8 years.  From recalls of "blockbuster medications" like Vioxx and Baycol, to bacterial contamination of spinach and tomatoes, to pet food contamination, to the recent controversy over the continued use of BPA in food packaging - many people wonder whether this Agency has lost its capability of protecting the public's health and assuring the safety of pharmaceuticals and consumer products.  

With a new administration set to take over, FDA has an opportunity to get back on the right path and prove to the American public that they aren't beholden to the industry's they regulate and they are able to make decisions based on science and not politics.

Today President-Elect Obama's Transition Team received the Green Group's Transition Report which includes a list of top priorities for the FDA to tackle. There are certain to be a lot of competing priorities within the FDA and we recognize that these are not the only things that the new head of FDA will have to address. However, many of the priorities identified here are things that could be implemented quickly and would immediately reassure the public that the FDA is on the right track.

Our top 3 priorities are:

1.  Reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our food and personal care products.

Pesticides, phthalates, BPA and heavy metals all are found as contaminants in food. Phthalates, heavy metals and anti-microbials are also found in cosmetics. Many of these chemicals have been shown to interfere with body organ systems that are under the control of hormones. When hormonal control is hijacked by exposure to chemicals that interfere with normal signaling, there is potential for long term damage. Some chemicals, like BPA and phthalates were approved as food additives before their toxicity was understood. Others like pesticides and mercury are not supposed to be in our food but are known to contaminate it. We are asking FDA to reduce exposures to these toxic chemicals by banning endocrine disruptors from food packaging; regulating the use of antimicrobials in personal care products; and improving the testing for mercury in fish and pesticides in food so the public can know which are the most highly contaminated foods.

2.  Ensure the safety and quality of bottled water.

Most consumers assume when they buy bottled water that it is safer, cleaner, and better regulated than tap water.  However, this assumption is not necessarily correct - especially in light of studies showing contaminants in some bottled water exceeds state or federal standards and guidelines.  Consumers of bottled water remain in the dark about the actual quality of their purchases.  We are asking the FDA to establish right to know regulations so that the consumer can know the source and quality of their bottled water and make informed purchasing decisions.

3. Ban the use of the pharmaceutical lindane.

Lindane, is a dangerous pesticide that has been banned by EPA for use on cattle and food but, in every state except California, it is still legal to use this neurotoxic pesticide as a pharmaceutical to treat head lice and scabies.  Lindane is not safe for use on children and other vulnerable populations (it already carries a "black box" warming), and furthermore, it is ineffective. Safer substitutes exist and are readily available. FDA should ban the use of Lindane as a pharmaceutical by revoking all approvals for use.

None of us should have to second guess whether the medication we are taking or the food we are eating is really safe.  Yet, like many other consumers, I do worry whether the food I am buying is going to make me or my family sick or whether the new sippy cup my daughter drinks her organic milk from is really free from toxic chemicals.

We call on the new FDA to assure us that our food supply and our pharmaceuticals are safe and we think these are some good first steps.

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