Dysfunction at the FDA

April 11, 2022

Ever wonder why it takes the FDA so long to do anything related to food?

Ever wonder why it takes the FDA so long to do anything related to food?

We’ve been waiting for 11 years, since the passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act, for an FDA standard on clean irrigation water. Updated guidance on sodium levels took nearly the entirety of Barack Obama’s two terms. Decisions on safe levels of heavy metals in baby food have foundered for years. Action on matters food-related measures, large and small, is so comically slow that we are regularly treated to news items like the agency taking 22 years to decide that French dressing doesn’t need its own standard of identity.

Well, here comes Politico with a terrific investigative piece about food-related dysfunction at the FDA. They did dozens of interviews with current and former FDA officials and others, and found out why, when it comes to food, it has the nickname “foot-dragging artists” (bestowed by Michael Jacobsen, founder of Center for Science in the Public Interest).

“Current and former officials and industry professionals used terms like ‘ridiculous,’ ‘impossible,’ ‘broken,’ ‘byzantine’ and ‘a joke’ to describe the state of food regulation at FDA,” the article says.

For one thing, medicine and medical devices soak up a lot of the agency’s attention and effort – a situation that of course intensified during the pandemic. For another, the FDA’s structure with regard to food is almost set up to fail, with no clear structure.

Frank Yiannas, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for food policy and response, and Susan Mayne, director of the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, both report to the agency’s commissioner. This leaves the FDA with no clear line of command on food safety issues. Worse, according to the Politico article, Yiannas and Mayne dislike each other and have different approaches, with Yiannas having a bias for action and Mayne more fond of building consensus.

Please, read the whole thing. And to anyone whose reaction to the FDA’s paralysis is “Good – it keeps the government out of our hair”: Ask the baby-food manufacturers how well that’s working out.