Under President Obama, Will the FDA Finally Do Its Job?

Under Bush’s leadership, the FDA has failed us. The Food and Drug Administration is supposed to be protecting us from harm, ensuring that the drugs that we take and the ingredients that go into products we use are safe. That rarely happens, however, as the FDA has put the interests of the pharmaceutical industry and corporations above the needs of the people.

In fact, we – the people – have been forced to police ingredients in the cleaning products, cosmetics, personal care products and other items that we use ourselves, since we’ve found that we can’t trust the FDA to do it for us. The FDA has failed to set adequate limits or remove entirely toxic substances like parabens, phtalates and other chemical compounds that can cause birth defects and cancer from cosmetics. They’ve failed to keep high levels of Bisphenol A from being used in plastic items like baby bottles. They’ve failed to keep dangerous levels of lead from being ingested by children who play with toys imported from China.

In 2006, the Union of Concerned Scientists determined that even FDA scientists themselves felt ineffective at doing their true job – protecting us – because of pressure from the Bush administration. Among the findings:

  • Three in five scientists said they knew of cases where commercial interests inappropriately attempted to change an FDA action.
  • One fifth said they were asked by FDA decision makers to provide “incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information to the public.”
  • Nearly two in three said that the laws and regulations that govern the FDA need “change for the agency to better serve the public.”
  • Only half felt the FDA is acting effectively to protect the public health.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent much of the last eight years being very angry at the FDA. Why should we be fearful of every product we purchase, thinking, “what’s in this that could harm my family?” President Bush made it clear to all of us that he values business interests above our own, especially as he spends his final months in office on an environmental rampage, doing as much damage as possible so that corporations can make even more money.

But now, we have hope. We have President-elect Obama, who has spent his entire career helping the common man, not increasing corporate profits.  Under President Obama, the FDA will undoubtedly undergo some major changes, not the least of which is the fact that the agency will no longer be pressured to alter their results to please lobbyists.

We can expect President-elect Obama to appoint someone responsible as the FDA chief, in stark contrast to Bush-era FDA officials like former lead counsel Daniel E. Troy. Troy helped the government aggressively fight lawsuits from citizens that claimed that FDA-approved medications had devastating and unexpected side effects. Unsurprisingly, he had previously represented major U.S. pharmaceutical firms before he was named lead counsel.

Analysts say that Obama will likely take as long as 6-18 months to choose a new FDA commissioner.  Many believe that Obama will choose someone who will offer a renewed sense of political independence and focus on science, something that has been sorely lacking under Bush’s rule.

Regardless of who Obama ultimately chooses, I believe that we can feel pretty confident that the FDA will once again resume its job of protecting us. That doesn’t mean we can totally let our guard down – after all, government agencies are still fraught with inefficiency and things won’t change overnight.  We must remain our own advocates, but at least now we can breathe a little easier knowing we’re not engaged in a constant battle against a government that would cast us aside in favor of Big Business.

Photo via Flickr user Kanko*

Stephanie Rogers is a fashion- and beauty-obsessed freelance writer with an abiding love for kale and organic wine, living in Asheville, North Carolina.