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Food for Thought: The F#ck up that is the FDA



The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. The FDA is also responsible for advancing the public health by helping to speed innovations that make medicines and foods more effective, safer, and more affordable; and helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health. -Food and Drug Administration


With the latest food recall still underway, one could make the argument that members of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) don’t actually eat food, at least not the the same things they are allowing to make it to our plates. Or perhaps the FDA only employs individuals with private gardens and free roaming chickens in their own spacial backyards. If so, the rampant oversight and lack of quality assurance makes more sense. Not saying it is right, but it would be easier to digest it all. Instead, there are few guidelines and regulations, and as a result even fewer plans in place to deal with public panic and illness once bad apples actually make their way into the bunch. Occasionally, regulatory laws are put forth, but companies often find the cost to implement them too high and the penalty for ignoring them too low. It is often more economical to do the wrong thing. British Petroleum (BP), anyone?

According to NPR, in December of 1999 the Clinton administration passed The Egg Rule, a law meant to enforce stricter oversight and inspection of egg producers and eliminate salmonella contamination from eggs by 2010. It went unenforced. Finally, after three Presidents and only four months shy of its 11th anniversary, the Egg Rule went into effect just moments before 500 million eggs were recalled and over 2,000 people have been sickened.

While some may argue the availability of less than healthy food is questionable, it also seems problematic to provide consumers with the illusion of healthier choices. Those few who can actually afford the more ethically-raised options are often met with misleading language and even less regulation. Take for instance the New York Times piece that demystifies the difference between caged and free-roaming chickens and ultimately reveals (as Michael Pollan did a while back) that there is little difference between the two types of eggs. These small variations are due to poorly defined guidelines. At least in fast food you have some knowledge of the health cost of your meal and have an opportunity to choose something seemingly healthier. In the egg world, there is really little information to back up the labels. It seems, the FDA’s desire to create “safer” foods has taken a back seat to its desire to increase food revenue.

Oddly enough, the poor food and work conditions that give rise to outbreaks and subsequent recalls often prove counterproductive to the government’s attempt to expand health care, enact immigration policy, and create jobs. It would seem that proper oversight would save millions of dollars in health care costs, provide greater working conditions for blue collar and undocumented workers, and create a greater range of jobs from engineering to food gathering. The uptick in medical problems, underpaid labor, and unemployment is directly related to our thirst for upfront profit as opposed to slower, more deliberate and sustainable projects. More importantly, our desire for the quick fix stifles creativity and leaves us wondering what went wrong when major systems in our nation fail.

This segment from Food Inc. documentary links larger societal issues to the food industry. This clip specifically talks about illegal immigration, jobs, and food regulation.


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