photo credit: samuel_y

Nothing wraps death in a shroud of legitimacy like the government. Official pronouncements, fiat mandates, and governmental stamps of approval all convince a trusting (gullible?) citizenry that the subject of the government’s gaze is indeed what they say it is—nothing more, nothing less. Never is this seen in a more striking light than with the Food and Drug Administration.

The previous mention of death is not simply a casual word thrown out to elicit a reaction. Rather, it is the epitome of the industry in which the FDA exists. Whether refusing to allow the sale and distribution of life-saving products by imposing stringent regulatory burdens, or approving a product that ends up causing harm or death, there is no substantial difference.

The establishment of a regulatory agency over the nation’s food and drug supply does just one thing, and it does it extremely well: a false sense of security grows like a rotten fungus in a petri dish of authoritarian agar. Whether its actions are those of omission (denying helpful products) or commission (authorizing hurtful products), the very existence of the FDA lulls people into a state of stupified complacency. Instead of doing their own due diligence and research, the overwhelming majority of people simply concern themselves with whether or not the FDA says a certain product is okay to use.

The FDA’s own track record hardly lends support to the claim that they are adequate arbiters of the nation’s food and drug use. Already this year there have been 707 products recalled from the market. In a marketplace of millions of items, this number is surely a small and perhaps insignificant statistic. However, the fact that already-approved products are later being recalled clearly illustrates that the aura of credibility created by the FDA’s approval secures an easier and wider demand on supply that there otherwise may have been. Simply put, the false trust created by FDA approval quells any concerns that might prevent somebody from trying whatever the doctor prescribes.

And it’s not just the masses that are being duped. The President of the American Medical Association, Ron Davis, has said that “I think most doctors, maybe all doctors, assume that if a medication is on the market, it has been approved by the FDA, it must be safe and effective.” This quote appeared in response to a story regarding a gaping loophole in the FDA’s approval process which has allowed an untold number of products from being prescribed and purchased by people who assumed that the product had met the FDA’s onerous requirements. Much like questionable diet programs that exaggerate promised results and use celebrity likenesses to instill credibility, these products were able to masquerade in the open market as FDA-approved items, when the opposite was true. Here the FDA’s mere existence was used to indirectly sanction a product.

This government-created distortion of reality is not unique to food and drugs, though in few other places does it cause so much unnecessary suffering. Just over one century ago, Americans could (and did!) decided for themselves which drugs to take and what food to ingest. Free from the vacuum of governmental authorizations regarding the safety of a product, individuals were required to shoulder the investigative burden and determine for themselves what products they would consume and what medicine they would ingest. After all, it’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to make a healthy and helpful product; killing the customer is generally understood to be bad for business.

Further, a closer inspection of the actual approval process yields numerous additional examples of incompetence. The submitted applications, usually averaging around 100,000 pages, contain (among other things) studies that allegedly ensure the efficacy and safety of the product in question. The FDA does not do any of their own testing, and therefore they rely upon the accuracy, integrity, and thoroughness of the manufacturer’s submitted studies. Relying upon the manufacturer’s assurances of safety is, of course, the furthest thing from oversight and trustworthy approval that possibly exists. Little wonder, then, that such an agency has found it necessary to retain a PR firm to help improve its image.

None of these arguments suggest that manufacturers should not be held accountable for the quality of their products. The opposite is true—fraud, harmful products, false advertising, and all other related business practices should be dealt with accordingly. But the presence of the FDA distorts the decision making process by supposedly adding legitimacy to a product that would otherwise have to stand on its own merit. Lending its government-backed approval, the FDA creates an assumption in the mind of the patient or consumer, and thus perpetually promotes a false sense of security regarding the safety of the products it endorses.

This blanket of security is perhaps no more visible than when the subject of herbal remedies and dietary supplements is introduced. Not being classified as drugs, these products fall outside of the FDA’s jurisdiction, and thus are left to compete on the open market for the consumer’s attention and money. But having already been sidelined by the FDA’s reality distortion field, many manufacturers of supplements and herbs make wild claims and exaggerated promises about what their product can do, ostensibly in an effort to attract the attention of a consumer market that gravitates towards governmental legitimacy. Left to compete freely on the open market with other drugs and products (in absence of the FDA), the product would have to demonstrate its ability to do what is claimed. Pushed to the fringe by the FDA and the millions of people who look with skepticism towards any product not rubber-stamped by the government, these products must start their campaign at a significant disadvantage. This is, of course, not an excuse for deceptive advertising and outlandish claims. But much like an unpopular kid at school might further amplify his weirdness in a bid to get some attention from the popular crowd, supplements and similar products find themselves using whatever method possible to catch the consumer’s eye.

Government is masterful at misdirection, misallocation, and misinformation. While these actions may be the result of well-intentioned individuals, when taken in the aggregate these interferences into the marketplace alter the consumer-producer relationship and bestow advantages to big business interests. Setting a high (and depending on the manufacturer, impossible) bar with long clinical trials, costly research, and regulatory hula hoops, the Food and Drug Administration favors those who can meet its demands and pushes to the fringe (both literally and in the minds of trusting Americans) any product that cannot.

The onus of investigation regarding a product’s history and efficacy belongs not on the shoulders of federal bureaucrats, but on those of each would-be consumer.


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