How safe is the food we eat? How safe and effective are the drugs we take and the medical devices we use? What about the cars we drive and the consumer products we buy? These are questions one might expect various agencies of the federal government -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food & Drug Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission -- to answer with quick and reassuring replies. Unfortunately, examples of unsafe products in recent years have been far too common, and in some cases, all too deadly.
The endocrine disruptor BPA can be found in baby bottles, water bottles, and in the resin lining of food and beverage cans. Federal action to protect Americans from its potential harm has been achingly slow. CPR Member Scholars propose solutions in the form of a federal action plan.
Many of the approaches used by industry opponents of vigorous health, safety and environmental regulations rest on efforts to distort the tools of regulation. So, for example, cost-benefit analysis -- as reasonable as it may sound -- has been given a built-in anti-protective disposition.
The mega-companies that control U.S. chicken production have washed their hands of the major waste disposal problem their methods create for farmers. A CPR Issue Alert discusses ways to hold Big Chicken liable.
For years, General Motors collected evidence that an ignition switch the company used in its Cobalts, Opels, Pontiacs, and Saturns had such a hair trigger that a light brush by the driver’s hand or knee would shut down the engine, disabling air bags and power steering. The resulting loss of control caused at least 13 fatal accidents. Rather than immediately recall the cars and fix the problem, GM hid the evidence of its engineering failure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). GM's ability to avoid detection for so many years says as much about NHTSA’s weak enforcement record as anything.
Similar problems have plagued the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), including the infamous Vioxx case, in which pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck & Co., Inc., concealed evidence from FDA that the pain reliever doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke. Similarly, the hollow FDA has proven unable to ensure that the foods we eat are safe from contamination. The CDC estimates that each year 48 million Americans (one in six) suffer from foodborne illness, resulting in 128,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths. A substantial portion of these illnesses are caused by produce, processed foods, and seafood under the FDA’s jurisdiction, much of it imported from developing countries with ineffective regulatory systems. And yet in 2011, the FDA was able to inspect only 0.4 percent of foreign food facilities and check just 2 percent of food imports at the border. In the final days of 2010, Congress passed the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in an effort to overhaul the nation’s food safety system and shift the FDA’s focus from reaction to prevention. But the FDA’s attempts to implement the law were soon met with long delays at the White House, vigorous opposition from sectors of the food industry, and resistance from House Republicans. The legislation remains a prime target of the Trump Administration and its allies in Congress.
Other examples abound. Tainted peanut butter, toxic drywall, lead-laden imported toys, and more. Such instances of unsafe food, drugs, automobiles and products are all too dangerous evidence of a failed system of regulation and enforcement. Often the failure is the result of neglect – a lack of political will to spend the money required to conduct meaningful research and enforcement. Sometimes the cause is ideological: a conviction that government should “get off industry’s back,” because such regulation is unnecessary, that the “rare” instances of unsafe products are self-correcting for the manufacturer, because they would suffer economic consequences. That argument likely holds little appeal to the families of the estimated 88,000 or more Americans who suffered heart attacks because they took Vioxx, or whose loved ones were harmed or killed by unsafe food, cars or consumer products.
Learn about CPR Member Scholars’ work to ensure the safety and efficacy of the nation’s drugs and medical devices, and the safety of the nation’s food supply:
VW and GM. Read an op-ed in The Hill by Robert Verchick and Rena Steinzor on theGM and VW scandals. Or read Sidney Shapiro's op-ed in Huffington Post. Or read Steinzor and Public Citizen's Robert Weissman in the Detroit News.
Compounding Pharmacies. Read Rena Steinzor's February 28, 2015 op-ed in USA Today on the real-world impact of 2013 legislation passed in the wake of a meningitis outbreak caused by contaminated medicine from the New England Compounding Center.
Poultry Processing. On April 9, 2013, CPR Member Scholar Rena Steinzor and CPR Policy Analyst Michael Patoka sent a letter to the Acting Head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs about the unexamined environmental implications of a USDA proposal to replace government inspectors on poultry processing lines with company employees, while speeding up the processing line to 175 birds per minute.
BPA. Read about CPR Member Scholars work on bisphenol A, the dangerous substance found in baby bottles, food cans, and more.
Toyota Recalls. On February 9, 2010, CPR Member Scholars Rena Steinzor and Sidney Shapiro sent a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee outlining important questions it should put to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in the wake of its failure to force speedy action on safety problems with several Toyota models. Read the letter. Or read Steinzor and Shapiro's February 22, 2010 editorial memo on the same subject.
Senate Testimony: Medical Devices. CPR's Thomas McGarity testified before the Senate HELP Committee on August 4, 2009, declaring that current FDA regulation of medical devices was inadequate in the absence of a the right to sue for damages in state civil courts. Read the news release. Read the testimony.