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Gary Liberson, PhD

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Eggs & fDA - Just Another Example of Weak Oversight

Posted: 08/25/10 04:23 PM ET

So an inmate arrives in prison. He's eating and suddenly someone jumps up and says: "21." Everyone laughs. Someone jumps up and says: "43." Everyone laughs. He asks the guy across from him: "What's this about?" The guy says: "We know all the jokes. So we just say the number of the joke. It's easier." The new inmate asks where he can get the joke list. The guy says: "Take mine. I know them all." The new inmate studies for a month. One day at lunch he gets up and says: "21." No one laughs. He asks the guy next to him: "What's the matter? Why did no one laugh?" The guy says: "Some people just can't tell a joke."

Some agencies can't write a regulation.

As anyone who has been craving a soft-boiled egg knows, eggs are being pulled from the marketplace at a record pace because of the risk of salmonella. I think it's only human nature to blame Industry. (Well, after all, you have to blame someone.) That initial blame would be, in part, misplaced. The FDA has been working on egg safety rules for over 10 years. The earliest document I found was March, 2000 where "The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are announcing two joint public meetings to solicit and discuss information for reducing or eliminating the risk of Salmonella Enteritidis (SE) in shell eggs and egg products using a farm-to-table approach."

Ultimately, the new rules were published July 9, 2010. So 10 years, 79,000 cases of egg Salmonella and 300 deaths later, the FDA arrives at a rule that is the equivalent of wash your hands for large egg producers while the UK vaccinates hens. The New York Times recently published a good article discussing hen vaccinations and the benefits realized in the UK.

Of course, FDA will say they are short on money or some sort of resource constraint. All of which may be true, but I don't think it's the ultimate culprit. I believe the ultimate culprit is the little-f in fDA. Food does not get you into the limelight at FDA. Drugs do. Anyone who has ever been in a merger knows that culture is the number one impediment to success. We have seen the same with the recent off shore drilling revelations. Why care about mundane compliance and oversight of off shore drilling when the real glory is in signing big government royalty agreements?

Compare EPA to either of these agencies. If you are from Industry you may hate EPA, but is there anyone who doesn't believe that EPA is erring on the side of the general population, NOT business. It's sadly laughable the amount of money we have spent on hypothetical deaths at EPA compared with the real deaths at FDA.

So you can increase budgets, authorize all sorts of new powers, but if Congress doesn't find a way to transform the Agency from fDA to FDA these changes will not matter.

 

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