Food and Drug Administration

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The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the government agency responsible for regulating food (human and animal), dietary supplements, drugs (human and animal), cosmetics, medical devices (human and animal), biologics and blood products in the United States. The FDA is headed by acting commissioner Dr. Lester Crawford.Template:Ref

One aspect of its jurisdiction over food is regulation of the content of health claims on food labels. However, because regulating the content of labels implicates the First Amendment, FDA must balance concerns about the public health with the right to free speech. Dan Troy, a lawyer who was Chief Counsel of the Food and Drug Division from August 2001 to November 2004, raised the agency's focus on First Amendment issues.


FDA and the public

According to the Small Business Guide to FDA, "Anyone may request or petition FDA to change or create an Agency policy or regulation under 21 CFR Part 10.30." This is called a Citizen's Petition and it is one method used to challenge specific approvals by the FDA.Template:Ref

Recent controversies over drug approval

One of the key issues of drug safety dealt with by the FDA, and responsible for much recent controversy, is related to the concept of patents. When a patent is awarded, the drug's creator is given exclusive manufacturing rights. If the drug is extremely popular, this motivates other companies to invent their own (different) drugs which accomplish the same effect. (Because a drug is patented, they cannot produce the exact same drug). For example, Cialis was created because of the popularity of Viagra. However, the question is, when new, competing substances come out should they be approved, not because of their absolute safety, but because of their relative safety compared to an approved drug. For example, say "drug b" was created to compete with "drug a". Now if "drug b" was the first one out, and it had a 5 percent chance of heart attack, the FDA might find this acceptable. However if "drug a" was already out, and it had a 2.5 percent chance of heart attack, then the FDA would be reluctant to approve "b". Only people who were ignorant of that higher risk would take drug b - or people who bought it because it was cheaper, which would create an unhealthy conflict between profit and health.

This phenomenon is at the center of a present controversy over the recall of Vioxx, which is causing more attention to be brought to the FDA. David J. Graham, a scientist with the FDA, says he was pressured by his supervisors not to warn the public about dangers of drugs like Vioxx, and so recommended to congress that a separate agency be created which is dedicated to continuously monitoring drug safety.

The FDA charges fees to pharmaceutical companies that wish to "expedite" the drug approval process. The is considered by many to be a conflict of interest, as the companies who are supposed to be regulated by the FDA are those who are paying them to speed up approvals. They reason that this "pay-off" to expedite the process may sacrifice the quality of studies.

Incentive to delay new drugs?

Economists Milton Friedman, Daniel B. Klein and Alexander Tabarrok are three economists who argue that the FDA causes harm. Virtually all economists who study the FDA are critical.Template:Ref

Friedman (1979) notes that the FDA can make two types of errors.Template:Ref Type 1 is to approve a drug that has deadly or harmful side effects in a large number of people. If you make this error, like approving a thalidomide, you will be blasted by the news media, and your reputation will be ruined.

Type 2 is refusing approval of a drug that is capable of saving many lives or relieving great distress and that has no untoward side effects. If you make a type 2 error, few will know it, as the people whose lives might have been saved will not be around to protest, and their families will have no way of knowing that their loved ones lost their lives because of the caution of an unknown FDA official.

The following table from illustrates the two types of error and the reason for systematic bias toward type 2 errors.

Drug is beneficial Drug is harmful
FDA allows the drug Correct decision

Type 1 error:

Allowing a harmful drug.

Victims are identifiable and traceable.

Error is self-correcting

FDA does not allow the drug

Type 2 error:

Disallowing a beneficial drug. Victims are not identifiable and scarcely even acknowledged in the abstract.

Error is not self-correcting

Correct decision

Friedman notes that the harm the FDA causes results from the nature of the bureaucracy and would happen even with the best intentioned and benevolent individuals in charge: "With the best will in the world, you or I, if we were in that position, would be led to reject or postpone approval of many a good drug in order to avoid even a remote possibility of approving a drug that will have newsworthy side effects?"

The FDA has also been criticized for coercively intervening in the nutritional supplement business. It has been known to conduct armed raids of establishments that sell and manufacture such products. One example is the armed raid of "Life Extension Foundation" who is a significant player in the industry. A "battering ram" was said to be used to break down into warehouses and the glass doors of their retail store were "smashed." [1] (


  • 1927 — The "Bureau of Chemistry" is reorganized into two separate entities. Regulatory functions are located in the "Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration", and nonregulatory research is located in the "Bureau of Chemistry and Soils".
  • 1930 — The name of the "Food, Drug, and Insecticide Administration" is shortened to "Food and Drug Administration" (FDA) under an agricultural appropriations act.
  • The Naval Ordnance Laboratory White Oak site was taken over by the FDA to become its new headquarters. However, budget reductions have delayed the move to White Oak for many FDA offices.

FDA heads and G.D. Searle & Company

Many heads of the FDA left the FDA and joined G.D. Searle & Company (the company that owns Nutrasweet (aspartame)) for higher paying jobs. In some cases, the opposite occured. These transferrs have been criticized as a union of government and big business, and a legal form of bribery of government (FDA) officials.

  • Donald Rumsfeld was president & CEO of G.D. Searle & Company. Now he is the Secretary of Defense.
  • Arthur Hull Hayes was a defense contractor, then head of the FDA (FDA Commissioner)(1981-1983), and then G.D. Searle's public-relations firm as senior medical advisor.
  • Several of members of the FDA board left their jobs after Stevia (aspartame's main competitor) was banned by the FDA in 1991. They were all hired at the Nutrasweet Co. in higher pay jobs, according to national (government) records.
  • In 1999, Dr. Michael Friedman quit the FDA when Jane Henney was selected to become the permanent FDA commissioner. Friedman signed on with G. D. Searle as a senior vice president at a purported $500,000 a year.

Related legislation

External links



  1. Template:Note CHI World Pharmaceutical Congress 2005 Website ( and final agenda in print form. Verified 03-07-2005.
  2. Template:Note How to Petition the FDA ( Retrieved 2005-03-20.
  3. Template:Note (
  4. Template:Note Friedman, Milton & Rose (1979). Free to Choose. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN and Drug Administration

fr:Food and Drug Administration nl:Food and Drug Administration sv:FDA


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