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Call For Stronger FDA

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, September 28, 2006

The Food Products Association and the Grocery Manufacturers Association joined together to announce with other founders the formation of a new organization, the Coalition for a Stronger FDA. The organization explains its purpose as follows:

The Coalition for a Stronger FDA is a broad and diverse coalition calling for a renewed public commitment to the Food and Drug Administration and its unique role in protecting American consumers and patients.

The Coalition brings together patient groups, consumer advocates, public health organizations and innovative companies to work together to increase support for the FDA.

The Coalition is designed to be a multi-year effort with the following goals: (1) making sure the FDA has sufficient resources to protect patients and consumers and (2) maintaining and building public confidence and trust in the FDA.

Over a multi-year period, the Coalition plans to build public support and work productively with the executive branch and Congress. The Coalition welcomes and seeks to work in concert with the important ongoing efforts of individuals, companies, patient and consumer advocates and other groups to convince our policymakers of the importance of increasing the FDA’s entire budget, including oversight of therapeutics, foods, cosmetics and medical products.

The FDA needs increased support to continue its mission as it faces a revolutionary new era of scientific innovation and advancement. Renewed public support will enable the FDA continue to build upon its historic global position as the leading regulatory science and consumer protection agency in the world.

The new organization is backed by an eclectic group:

Patient Groups

Alliance for Aging Research — www.agingresearch.org

Alzheimer’s Association — www.alz.org

American Heart Association — www.americanheart.org

American Liver Foundation — www.liverfoundation.org

Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation — www.preventcancer.org

Friends of Cancer Research — www.focr.org

Institute for African American Health — www.kakarigi.net/iaah

Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation — www.jdf.org

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society — www.leukemia-lymphoma.org

Lupus Foundation of America — www.lupus.org

National Alliance on Mental Illness — www.nami.org

National Kidney Foundation — www.kidney.org

National Minority Health Month Foundation — www.nmhmf.org

National Osteoporosis Foundation — www.nof.org

Parkinson’s Action Network — www.parkinsonsaction.org

RetireSafe — www.retiresafe.org

Society for Women’s Health Research — www.womenshealthresearch.org

Consumer Groups

Center for Science in the Public Interest — www.cspinet.org

Consumer Federation of America — www.consumerfed.org

Industry Groups

Animal Health Institute — www.ahi.org

Biotechnology Industry Organization — www.bio.org

Food Products Association — www.fpa-food.org

Grocery Manufacturers Association — www.gmabrands.com

Advanced Medical Technology Association — www.advamed.org

Consumer Health Care Products Association — www.chpa-info.org

Former Government Officials

Tommy G. Thompson, HHS Secretary 2001-2005

Donna E. Shalala, HHS Secretary 1993-2001

Louis Sullivan, HHS Secretary 1989-1993

And it draws its strength from a perception that a weakening of the FDA may be contributing to food safety outbreaks and a concurrent loss of confidence in the food system. On its web site, the coalition points out that:

FDA funding has lagged behind appropriations for other public health agencies over the last two decades. For example:

  • In 1986, FDA’s budget was $416.7 million — or 97 percent of the CDC’s $429.4 million budget and 8 percent of NIH’s $5.1 billion budget.
  • In 1996, FDA’s budget was $865 million — or 39 percent of CDC’s $2.2 billion budget and 8 percent of NIH’s $10.2 billion budget.
  • In 2006, FDA’s budget was $1.5 billion — or 28 percent of CDC’s $5.2 billion budget and 5 percent of NIH’s $27.7 billion budget.

In a sense, the coalition members are on the right track. If you accept the notion that it is the FDA’s responsibility to make sure that all our food is safe, then the budget they have is ridiculously and disproportionately small for the task at hand.

The problem with this line of thinking is that even if you doubled, tripled or quadrupled FDA funding, it would still be ridiculously and disproportionately small compared to the task at hand.

After all, the FDA regulates roughly 25% of all consumer spending in the US.

If anything the spinach outbreak indicates that the FDA creates a false “comfort zone” that allows operators to compete with each other on price because the FDA has already established the legal requirements to create safe food.

If every meeting with a potential co-packer began with a discussion of how do we make this safe, big buyers would quickly insist on tougher standards than the FDA has required. As it is, big buyers are happy to let the FDA determine the standards and then look for the low-cost producer.

Big branded producers would invest in higher food safety standards but hold off because the FDA standards are the legal requirement and thus make investment in stricter standards seem superfluous. In a sense, the existence of FDA standards devalues branding.

So far there is no finding in the spinach crisis that someone has been violating FDA regulations, so no number of additional inspectors would have made a difference.

The core of the problem is not low FDA funding. The core of the problem is this: If, prior to this outbreak, Natural Selection Foods had sent a memo to all the people it co-packed for and said that to increase food safety, it was going to take a variety of steps such as testing water, testing product, etc., and that the cost of these measures meant that every bag would cost an extra quarter, do you think that its business would have increased (because clients would seek it out in pursuit of better safety) or decreased (because other vendors who met all FDA requirements could sell for a quarter less)? No question in my mind that the answer is the latter. That is the real problem.

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