TOPIC: Food & Drug Administration

Charles Peters: Regulators have egg on their faces

Even when there is an adequate number of inspectors at a government agency, they are conditioned not to make trouble for the inspected. When the Department of Agriculture inspected Wright County Egg in Iowa, later found to be a major source of salmonella, they discovered, according to the Wall Street Journal, “[d]rain clogged, full of shells,” “bugs everywhere,” “cooler floor was dirty, lots of trash,” and “the dry storage area had lots of trash, cartons on the floor everywhere.” These reports came from inspections that occurred from April 1 through August 17 of this year. But the DOA failed to tell the FDA, which is responsible for egg safety, about these problems. The salmonella outbreak occurred a few weeks later. Why didn’t the DOA say anything? “The conditions at the egg plant packing facility were routine.” In other words, the plant has always been a mess, so why speak up now?

Reprinted from The Washington Monthly by permission

FDA’s Peter Lurie on being out and being in

Peter Lurie

When Dr. Peter Lurie was working at Public Citizen, he was known as one of the FDA’s biggest public opponents.  He participated in congressional hearings, he fought Big Pharma, he spoke out on behalf of people who needed medicines or who had been hurt by the wrong medicine.  Now he’s working inside the FDA, and Rob Stein of the Washington Post decided to find out what it’s like for someone like Lurie on the inside.  The upshot?  Lurie has realized “the issues are more complex than people on the outside of government can fully appreciate.”  These may seem like wiggle words, but they’re certainly true.  Government officials have to look at more sides of an issue than issue advocates outside government, and they have to take into account more stakeholders — including, in the FDA’s case, the extremely influential pharmaceutical companies.  But in a way, working inside a large government agency and working with so many people, you end up being less exposed — certainly less exposed to some people’s anger than he was at Public Citizen.  (more…)

Pomegranate juice? It’s over there next to the snake oil

Cracking down on what it called “false and unsubstantiated” medical claims, the Federal Trade Commission has filed a complaint against pomegranate juice maker Pom Wonderful and the company’s billionaire owners, and California agribusiness power brokers Lynda and Stewart Resnick, according to P.J. Huffstutter and Andrew Zajac of the Los Angeles Times.

The agency is investigating claims made in advertisements and in media interviews given by Lynda Resnick that the tart, deep red juice can combat the loss of male virility, Alzheimer’s disease, poor circulation, heart disease and prostate cancer. (more…)

Charles Peters on FDA standards and why headlines matter

Charlie Peters has always said that to find the nugget of news inside the average news story, look to the last paragraph.  In this case, he recommends you at least make it to the fifth:

“Avandia Gets Equivocal Vote from FDA Panel. Fewer Than Half Want Diabetes Drug Pulled over Safety Concerns.” If this subhead from the Washington Post leads you to assume that more than half the panel approved of Avandia, it was significantly misleading. Here’s what you would have found if you had stuck it out through the story’s fifth paragraph: of the thirty-two members of the FDA panel who voted, only three favored allowing Avandia to continue its present sales practices unaltered. (more…)

“If the FDA can’t track chicken eggs, you think they’re going to be able to track fish eggs?”

Genetically modified salmon, designed to grow faster with the injection of growth hormone genes from another species, is likely to win approval for human consumption from the federal Food and Drug Administration this coming weekend, reports Susanne Rust of CaliforniaWatch.

The panel will also determine what, if any consumer labeling will be required for the creature. If the non-debate over adding radiation to ground beef is any indication, consumers will be left in the dark. (more…)

In real life, not so easy to ban BPA (but who said life was going to be easy?)

Denise Grady’s insightful report in the New York Times makes it clear why it’s so hard to remove the plastic bisphenol-A, or BPA, from various products — and from our own bodies.  The reason is America’s general approach to food and product safety.  This approach puts the onus not on industry, but on scientists (in and out of government), who must prove that it a product is unsafe after it has already been introduced.  Grady contrasts our approach to that of the European Union, which favors the “better safe than sorry”  method for approving the use of chemicals people are going to ingest.   Seems like in America, it’s better sorry than safe. (more…)

You too can get sick for just pennies a day

The trade off between safer eggs and the risk of a deadly salmonella outbreak is just pennies a dozen, according to a in-depth look at the industry by P.J. Huffstutter in the Los Angeles Times.

Slightly stricter guidelines in California have helped egg producers avoid bacterial contamination in recent years, but in an industry where the bottom line reigns supreme, tighter rules have caught on in only nine of the 50 states. (more…)

Preventive Journalism update: Gardiner Harris on FDA and medical tubes

A simple solution to a lethal problem could come with the stroke of a pen — and save lives.  It remains out of reach because the Food and Drug Administration’s unwieldy review process.  Gardiner Harris of the New York Times investigates something  basic and alarming — the misconnection of plastic tubes that are used to deliver medicine, anaesthetic, and other vital substances to patients in America’s hospitals.  The tubes are often very similar, and can easily be fitted into many different devices.  The result can be painful and sudden death when medical workers make errors and connect the wrong tubes — liquid food can be inserted into a vein, and air bubbles can end up in people’s blood streams. (more…)

No bad eggs in Illinois

Illinois so far has sidestepped major problems with the national outbreak of salmonella-tainted eggs that were made in Iowa.  The Washington Post’s David Brown reports that salmonella-tainted eggs produced by Wright County Egg in Galt, Iowa have sickened 1,200 people nationwide. The company has initiated a recall of 380 million eggs, but the worst could be still to come: (more…)

If you can’t trust the government . . .

When the people whose very livelihood depends on the government say they don’t trust the government, we’ve got a lot to worry about. David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin report in the Washington Post that Gulf Coast shrimp fishermen, told by the Obama administration that they can start shrimping today and that their catch is safe, are wary of fishing again in spite of government reassurances. (more…)