Sunday, December 4

The FDA Can't Help You

As much as I consider the FDA a useless figurehead, puppeteer-ed by Big Food and Big Pharma, I occasionally feel bad for them when I read the news.

The FDA legitimately does a lot of things wrong, but sometimes they find themselves in no-win situations. Consider two recent cases in which the FDA has been petitioned or lambasted: outrage over serious allergic reactions to the meat substitute Quorn attributed to questionable labeling and the revelation of high levels of arsenic and lead in most major apple juice brands.

In the first case, people are petitioning the FDA to force Quorn to change it's labeling practices, since it does not clearly warn of potentially serious reactions in people allergic to eggs or fungus. (After all, who knew imitation chicken nuggets were made of "a vat-grown fungus", right?)

In the second, they face general outrage over the fact that a favorite children's beverage has been poisoning the population and there's little to be done because while there are arsenic and lead limits for bottled water, none exist for fruit juice.

While there's plenty of angles to be debated, I think that these issues take us back to the two fundamental truths of our modern food supply:

1. The FDA Can't Help You. It is simply impossible for them to regulate every little thing, or to physically oversee everything people argue they should be responsible for. With allergies, special medical conditions and new diets developing all the time it's only getting more inconceivable that warning labels could possibly cover everything in any one item.

2. People need (and have a right) to know exactly what they're eating. Obscure, euphemistic labeling practices need to be outlawed. You don't need sixteen warning labels if every ingredient and process (hydrogenation, etc) is clearly labeled on a package. The only reason we need such extensive labeling now is because you can't tell what's in something just by reading the insanely long, obtusely phrased ingredient lists.

Obviously the best way to do this is to buy close to the source, whenever possible. The relationships between buyer and seller keep people honest, and typically create the types of practices that ensure and validate trust. (Like the food companies that voluntarily test their products for safety above and beyond the FDA's regulations and make the results available to customers or the restaurants that post their health inspection results in the front window.)

Buying food in it's whole form, or as close to that as is practical, helps tremendously as well. There are other ways, as well, but they all lead back to the same point: Instead of constantly bashing or petitioning the FDA, we need to retire it. 

It can't help us, and as long as we continue to go around in circles in a broken cycle we only hurt ourselves and our children. So let's make the change. Fire the FDA, burn the books of food law, and start again - this time with an eye to common sense, personal responsibility and essential truth. We can do better. 

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