Business As Usual at the FDA

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This story in the Wall Street Journal barely made a splash last week – “FDA Panelists Had Ties to Bayer.” Three advisors who had financial ties to Bayer AG were invited to serve on a “safety committee” for the FDA to assess the safety of four Bayer AG birth control drugs. All three individuals were either paid consultants, researchers, or speakers. Here’s a paragraph from the article:

Jill Hartzler Warner, an FDA official who oversees advisory committees, said the agency is “prohibited from giving the public any information contained in a financial disclosure” from committee members. When picking committees, the FDA weighs “whether a meeting would affect the financial interest” of a panelist. The agency also does “look at whether past relationships would give the appearance of being a conflict,” she said.

Apparently, having worked for Bayer and getting paid by the company does not qualify as a past relationship that would give the appearance of being a conflict. Business as usual at one of the government’s largest and most invincible criminal organizations.

Another article in The Atlantic (be forewarned, the writer is a dedicated leftie) believes the FDA has failed because American industrial food interests still use antibiotics on animals in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

Roughly 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals to foster rapid growth and make up for unhygienic living conditions. Many bacteria that live on animals adapt and transfer to humans, spreading superbugs that are often resistant to treatment.

In the end, the article praises the EU for its central food and price planning, and the author is rigid in her belief that the U.S. should mimic the EU with its own central planning, with the FDA leading the way. Nowhere does the author mention the corporatocracy and the culture of corruption that enables and maintains the industrialized CAFO model. Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma (one of the most important books written in the last 50 years, in my opinion), was all over this topic long ago. One of the best articles ever on this topic was written by him in the New York Times in 2007: “Our Decrepit Food Factories.” Here, Pollan writes:

The first story is about MRSA, the very scary antibiotic-resistant strain of Staphylococcus bacteria that is now killing more Americans each year than AIDS — 100,000 infections leading to 19,000 deaths in 2005, according to estimates in The Journal of the American Medical Association. For years now, drug-resistant staph infections have been a problem in hospitals, where the heavy use of antibiotics can create resistant strains of bacteria. It’s Evolution 101: the drugs kill off all but the tiny handful of microbes that, by dint of a chance mutation, possess genes allowing them to withstand the onslaught; these hardy survivors then get to work building a drug-resistant superrace. The methicillin-resistant staph that first emerged in hospitals as early as the 1960s posed a threat mostly to elderly patients. But a new and even more virulent strain — called “community-acquired MRSA” — is now killing young and otherwise healthy people who have not set foot in a hospital. No one is yet sure how or where this strain evolved, but it is sufficiently different from the hospital-bred strains to have some researchers looking elsewhere for its origin, to another environment where the heavy use of antibiotics is selecting for the evolution of a lethal new microbe: the concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO.

Pollan goes on to explain that roughly 70% of all antibiotics that are used in America are fed to animals in order to sustain their lives so they can live in unnatural and filthy conditions. Pollan also writes:

That seems to be a hallmark of industrial agriculture: to maximize production and keep food as cheap as possible, it pushes natural systems and organisms to their limit, asking them to function as efficiently as machines. When the inevitable problems crop up — when bees or pigs remind us they are not machines — the system can be ingenious in finding “solutions,” whether in the form of antibiotics to keep pigs healthy or foreign bees to help pollinate the almonds. But this year’s solutions have a way of becoming next year’s problems. That is to say, they aren’t “sustainable.”

…Whenever we try to rearrange natural systems along the lines of a machine or a factory, whether by raising too many pigs in one place or too many almond trees, whatever we may gain in industrial efficiency, we sacrifice in biological resilience. The question is not whether systems this brittle will break down, but when and how, and whether when they do, we’ll be prepared to treat the whole idea of sustainability as something more than a nice word.

In addition to the hormones and antibiotics that are used to keep confined animals alive long enough to produce an excess of cheap meat, the U.S. government, through the CDC, actively promotes the irradiation of food for … our “safety.” The FDA, on its website, promotes the belief that the radiation of food is safe.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved irradiation of meat and poultry and allows its use for a variety of other foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables, and spices. The agency determined that the process is safe and effective in decreasing or eliminating harmful bacteria.

In fact, the FDA went so far as to promote the idea that irradiated foods could be labeled as “pasteurized” as a way to “soften” the language so that consumers do not know what they are buying. (See this article in USA Today in 2007.) As Pollan writes in Omnivore’s Dilemma, “The short, unhappy life of a corn-fed feedlot steer represents the ultimate triumph of industrial thinking over the logic of evolution.”

1:20 pm on January 22, 2012