Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Why does just about everyone have a low opinion of the FDA?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), under the Department of Health and Human Services, must certainly constitute one of the most consistently criticized of federal agencies. Why do they face such criticism? What are the charges against them?  Why are they being discussed in a blog dedicated to promoting consumer awareness of the prevalence of HFCS and the reasons why some individuals seek to avoid the artificial sweetener.

First of all, what does the FDA do?  According to their website,
FDA is responsible for
  • protecting the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and products that give off radiation
  • regulating tobacco products
  • advancing the public health by helping to speed product innovations
  • helping the public get the accurate, science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health
So, initially i planned to catalog the scandals and criticisms that have emerged during the agency's history.  Then i quickly realized there were too many for me to list them all (even given my penchant for wordy posts.) Even limiting the survey to the past couple decades, the FDA has been regarded as both too restrictive, as well as not restrictive enough; grossly mismanaged; named as a major reason for the high costs of prescription medications; biased and corrupt; sloppy in their assessments; underfunded and yet guilty of awarding themselves enormous bonuses; and the list goes on.  Calls for reform and agency overhaul have even come from within the FDA

Given all the food recalls, mercury contamination issues, and even pet food recalls, it is perhaps unsurprising that Obama, too, has expressed major concerns about the FDA's efficacy and called for an overhaul of the agency.  (Obama warns of US food 'hazard':  President Barack Obama has said the US food safety system is a "public health hazard" and in need of an overhaul.) 

The Corn Refiners Association, other lobbyist groups, industry associations, as well as other groups who profit from products containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) --collectively let's just call them King Corn for convenience-- rely on statements made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to promote HFCS as both natural and healthy.  Here's an example from Rick Berman's own pro-CRA  group: 

"The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved HFCS as a safe ingredient for use in food and beverages. In fact, the FDA based its decision in part on the substantial similarity between HFCS and sucrose (table sugar)."

And it doesn't end there.  In fact, many of Audrae Erickson's copious comments on blogs and news stories cite the FDA as the key authority in their defense of HFCS.  Here's a recent example posted in response to:   Producers cheer return of sugar-sweetened drinks, enjoy profitable year:  Beverage companies move away from high fructose corn syrup,  by DAVE WILKINS, Capital Press:

Comments made about this article
Posted By: Audrae Erickson, Corn Refiners Association On: 1/15/2010

Title: Natural Sweeteners High fructose corn syrup is made from corn, a natural grain product. High fructose corn syrup contains no artificial or synthetic ingredients or color additives and meets the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s requirements for use of the term “natural.”
Consumers are being misled into thinking that there are nutritional differences between high fructose corn syrup and sugar, when in fact they are nutritionally the same. Whether from cane, beets, or corn, a sugar is a sugar. They all contain four calories per gram. Switching out a kind of corn sugar for table sugar is not for health and it is not for science. It is unfortunate that consumers are being duped by these marketing gimmicks, which may result in higher food prices at checkout.
High fructose corn syrup is more economical and functionally superior to sugar, it is equally sweet, has the same number of calories and is handled similarly by the body. High fructose corn syrup offers numerous benefits, too. It keeps foods fresh. It enhances fruit and spice flavors. It retains moisture in bran cereals and helps keep breakfast bars moist.
Consumers can read the latest research and learn more about high fructose corn syrup at www.SweetSurprise.com.
It is truly sad that the key authority King Corn cites to defend HFCS is the FDA.   But then again, they don't exactly have a large number of widely respected authorities from which to choose...

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