Consumers Union suggests major FDA overhaul. Cites mercury, BPA, more.

by James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H.

Consumers Union is upset with the FDA, calling for an overhaul of the agency.

Consumers Union, which publishes the popular Consumer Reports magazine, describes itself as “an expert, independent, nonprofit organization whose mission is to work for a fair, just, and safe marketplace for all consumers and to empower consumers to protect themselves.” I have always found them to be just that.

“Consumers Union is deeply disturbed,” says their December 14 press release, “that the Food and Drug Administration is contemplating relaxing its fish-consumption advice for vulnerable populations such as women of child-bearing age, pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants.”

Mercury damages developing neurological systems.  The most dramatic example was in Minamata, Japan, in the late 1950s.  A manufacturer was dumping huge amounts of mercury into the bay.  At least 3,000 children in this small town, born of mothers who were eating the contaminated fish, had horrible birth defects, including severe mental retardation and cerebral palsy.

In the statement, Urvashi Rangan, PhD., Consumer Union’s senior scientist and policy analyst, says:

This news, in addition to the recent news about FDA’s questionable process of evaluating the risks associated with bisphenol-A, and the agency’s handling of the melamine crisis, show the desperate need for a comprehensive overhaul of the agency.  The agency continues to falter in its responsibility to protect American consumers.

In fact, on December 15, Consumers Union further called on the FDA to quit wasting time and ban the chemical bisphenol A from infant and children’s products.  They say there is enough proof that BPA may affect brain, behavioral and prostate development.

I think, no matter what is decided, keep your children and potential children away from BPA and mercury-containing fish.

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7 Responses to “Consumers Union suggests major FDA overhaul. Cites mercury, BPA, more.”

  1. Jolene Says:

    Ah, BPA and Mercury…two environmental toxins that I think more family docs should be aware of! Glad to see you talking about here! Have you heard about the Environmental Working Group? Great website, they post things like this chart The best and worst seafoods regarding mercury contamindation and the maximum number of servings that can be safely eaten each month

  2. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Thanks for the link Jolene.

  3. Steve Parker, M.D. Says:

    Highly technical, complicated issues. I have not reviewed them comprehensively.

    I think there are some recent studies suggesting that the omega-3 fatty acids and other components of fish are so beneficial to young, developing brains that the benefits outweigh the risks. At least that’s how the reasoning goes.


  4. cathy Says:

    The FDA certainly hasn’t done much of late to really help its reputation. It seems that good research can come out of the agency (in my very limited experience), but often industrial and other politics get in the way of that research affecting public policy in the way that it should. Should be interesting to see how this all shakes out! Thanks for keeping us informed.

    cathys last blog post..Homemade pizza rolls

  5. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    I agree Cathy, politics pollutes all government agencies.

  6. James Hubbard, M.D., M.P.H. Says:

    Dr. Parker, the current FDA recommedations agree that fish is healthy, but suggests moms and kids to stay away from the high mercury containing fish and eat only 2 servings per week of the lower containing types.
    As I can gather, the CU differs in advising putting all tuna in the high mercury group and not loosening these recommendations.

  7. Dan Says:

    The Conversion of Our Protector

    The Food and Drug Administration originated in its primitive form several decades ago to ensure the health and safety of the citizens of the United States in regards to what they consume that is provided to them by manufacturers for their intake. The one person who became the catalyst for the formation of the Food and Drug Administration was a socialist named Upton Sinclair, who was a writer. One particular book, while fictional, addressed the working conditions in a meat packaging company that were quite shockingly described by Upton in this book. While the author intended with composing this book, “The Jungle”, to address and focus for the benefit of the readers his paradigm regarding capitalism, the issue in his book regarding food safety is what caught the attention of the public, including the president, who was involved with the development of the Food and Drug Administration soon afterwards.
    However, the purpose and function of the FDA seems to have changed the past few decades, as the FDA appears to have decided to ensure the health of the pharmaceutical industry instead of the public health. A new FDA commissioner who is willing to resurrect the apex of the FDA and its purpose may have a positive effect on the public’s health. As presently, there are disturbing flaws within the FDA.
    One example is the large amounts of money the industry gives the FDA for various reasons created recently- amounts so large that this accounts, according to some, for about half of the FDA’s total income, although it is by definition a governmental administration. An example of stated reason for receiving such funds is due to the prescription drug user fee act, which began in 1992. Basically, the drug industry has been authorized and is now required to pay the FDA for faster approval of their pending medications after pharmaceutical companies submit a new drug application to the FDA. This act now accounts for nearly 50 percent of the FDA’s drug oversight budget through this operational funding given to them by those who the FDA is suppose to regulate for the safety of the public health. The FDA also accepts over a million dollars from the pharmaceutical industry to give their pending new drug a priority review of 6 months instead of a year, along with a created etiology for this urgency often, it has been reported.
    Results of this relationship, which some have called collusive and pathologically intimate, this collaboration between the drug industry and the FDA, could be a contributing factor the progressive and recent approval of unsafe drugs, so it seems. This has been demonstrated by their removal of, or a labeling change, requiring what is known as a black box warning of such drugs, which means that the drug is basically on probation. The lack of regulation and monitoring required by the FDA of the pharmaceutical industry has resulted in such dangerous safety concerns. In addition, the FDA continues to validate what has been surmised by many regarding their financial support from the drug industry that appears to be reciprocal. The result of this relationship has resulted in less than optimal protection regarding the health of the public with pharmaceuticals made available to them.
    The presumed intimacy between these two organizations, the pharmaceutical industry and the FDA, does in fact seem to continue to worsen. For example, and recently, the FDA considered supporting overtly this massive and necessary client of theirs, the pharmaceutical industry, to allow their promoters to discuss their products that may or may not have been approved by the FDA for particular disease states. Yet the FDA claims that this proposal would enhance the education and knowledge of the prescriber by the pharmaceutical representative of the marketer of a particular medication, which remarkably mirrors the premise and objective of this industry already. So this strategy, void of any protection of the public health and potential dangers associated with this practice, illustrates once again the present state of the FDA and its need for reform.
    A prescriber, upon their own discretion, can in fact prescribe a drug off-label, but historically and legally, however, representatives from the pharmaceutical industry have been prohibited from suggesting indications assigned to their promoted drugs by the FDA. In fact, it is a federal offense for such representatives to speak off-label about the drugs they promote, and more pharmaceutical companies are and have been penalized for this activity in the form of large settlements paid by such pharmaceutical corporations in the past as determined by the department of justice.
    This off-label FDA protocol for drug representatives that has been described and proposed by our FDA with presumed encouragement by the pharmaceutical industry is called, “Good Reprint Practices.” This absurd benefit for the pharmaceutical industry would have pharmaceutical sales representatives use what may not truly exist, which is truthful and authentic clinical trials illustrating any off label claim regarding their promoted medication to health care providers. It is believed that many clinical trials are biased if not manipulated, so this strategy that apparently adds comfort to this protocol is invalid. Additional trial deception may include such factors as ghostwriting and fabricated authors of such trials, and this is one of many concerns of this FDA protocol that has been, or is now being considered. These facts can be validated and have been discovered by others, so it appears the FDA did not take this into consideration when they did suggest this ridiculous and frightening authorization offered to their client, the pharmaceutical industry.
    Furthermore, this proposal is flawed in that most pharmaceutical representatives lack necessary medical and clinical training to discuss aspects of clinical trials. Most drug representatives have little medical or clinical training in any objective way, and they are not hired with having such a background, usually. So this seems to further complicate the idea of this off-label concept proposed by the FDA due to the ignorance of the representatives to discuss such clinical matters. In addition, the relaxation of previous restrictions regarding off-label promotion could prove to be a catalyst for representatives of the pharmaceutical industry to further embellish statements to prescribers for their own benefit in regards to their promoted medications they present to them. In fact recently, a study by Sermo concluded that 90 percent of doctors want clinical evidence based medicine from educated and trained professionals instead of the typical pharmaceutical sales representatives that now exist. This study also concluded that around 80 percent of health care providers prefer not to interact with pharmaceutical representatives, yet still accept drug samples from them for their patients.
    So, our previous safety association, the FDA, appears to be evolving into a possibly harmful association with the pharmaceutical industry by suggesting such practices that aggravate the existing situation with the lack of protection that was once offered and required from the FDA.
    It is unbelievable this good reprint practices proposal ever came into existence, with the delusional fallacy that it would be of any benefit to patient health. Furthermore, this may complicate existing patient medication errors, such as in the elderly or dosing for children, complicated by the fact that many are unable to understand label instructions on their med. So there are enough problems with prescribing, and adding this FDA proposal would just make the situation worse. We as citizens are no longer the concern of the FDA, one could conclude, and this is clearly dangerous to the public’s health.
    Perhaps another alternative would be to have clinically trained people discuss such issues regarding the benefits of medications with prescribers, instead of existing drug reps, who, unlike those academically enriched, have the objective of increasing the market share of their promoted meds with no regard to the science behind these meds, in large part. Because historically, medications have in fact proven to be beneficial for other disease states other than what a certain drug was initially indicated for upon approval. Yet this should not be determined by those who promote such drugs.
    Regardless, awareness needs to happen by the citizens involving such tactics allowed by the FDA that are dangerous and deceptive. As citizens, we have the right to insist that the FDA, our FDA, maintains focus on the safety of the public and their health. Reform of the FDA appears to be necessary for this to occur to re-establish the FDA as an administration that was created for our protection.
    About half of all drugs approved presently by the FDA have had serious post-approval side effects that should have already been known or suspected of these drugs. Well over 100 thousand people die every year from drug reactions or mistakes. Over 75 percent of drugs that are newly approved are very similar in efficacy, for example, as drugs that already exist and are available. This does not include the drugs that are approved that are simply direct to DVD sequels of existing medications in the same class. To complicate these issues, many of the ‘medical ailments’ in which others take drugs are often exaggerated and dubious, thanks to embellished promotion of these drugs, in large part, and this is largely un-regulated by the FDA, of course.
    This seems to be a rather significant obstacle for those who are need to restore their health.
    “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” — William Pitt
    Dan Abshear (author’s note: what has been written was based on information and belief)

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