FDA ambitions

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Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the new FDA commissioner, has eagerly joined the debate on how to correct food safety problems. Food safety legislation is something we ve been following closely, says ACSH s Jeff Stier, and there s no doubt that the country needs improvement in food safety. The question is: how do we do it? Some of the proposed provisions are problematic.

One troublesome provision is the country of origin labeling (COOL) program, which would require that the country of origin for all ingredients to be written on the package. The problem with COOL is that foods today have ingredients from lots of different sources that can shift quickly, says Stier, so this is a false way to address a real problem, and it disregards the fact that all food distributed in this country, whether local or foreign, needs to be safe. And of course, even ineffective ideas aren t free. Stier points out that at a time when we re especially concerned about cost, this will only add to the cost of food without improving safety, so these provisions must be stripped out. Stier made this point before on CNBC.

While on Capitol Hill, Dr. Hamburg also spoke out on bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical that has been publicly scrutinized for years and has yet to be proven harmful. The smear campaign against BPA is a pet project of Rep. Henry Waxman, who harbors the unfounded suspicion that FDA considerations of BPA were unduly influenced by BPA-invested chemical companies. The FDA is under pressure from Henry Waxman and others to reevaluate BPA so that he can cast himself in the role of champion of the people, says ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan.

At this point in the BPA debate, ACSH staffers are having a hard time believing that public health is the real concern. This argument is no longer about the science of BPA, it s about the role of industry, and I m afraid this fight is going to be a proxy for the issue of corporate regulation, says Stier.

Dr. Whelan agrees: BPA mania keeps going on because of conspiracy theories against chemical companies whose studies have been repeatedly confirmed.