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Reblogged:CVS Exposes FDA

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As an opponent of government regulation, I always have an antenna up for examples of how things ought to be done. After all, many functions performed by government regulators are legitimate activities, many or most of which can and should be done by the private sector.

A recent announcement by the CVS drug store chain that it will require third-party testing of any dietary supplement before it will offer it for sale helps illustrate why we do not need the FDA to regulate drugs.

The testing is performed by independent inspectors -- not by CVS or the supplement makers themselves. It checks for contaminants and verifies that the contents listed on the labels are correct.

CVS says 7% of the products flunked, and were either pulled from the shelves or had to change their labels.
It is interesting to think for a moment about why a company would do something like this on its own initiative -- contrary to popular stereotypes of businessmen being little better than hucksters. Do you take such supplements yourself or buy them for loved ones? Do you give vitamins to your kids? Would you rather have some assurance that you are getting what you pay for? Knowing about this, might you consider a trip to CVS a safer bet than some other drug store? Are you, indeed more conscientious than armies of paternalists among the news media and in and around government might imagine? Do you now wonder, having seen this line of questioning, why it isn't more common than it seems today for people to look for the answers?

A researcher who praises the move raises a question that is probably a better one than he realizes:
Image by Angel Sinigersky, via Unsplash, license.
A leading researcher on supplements, Dr. Pieter Cohen of Cambridge Health Alliance and Harvard Medical School, praises the program, but adds, "We should have had this for the last 25 years."

It should long have been the norm, he says, "that if we go into CVS, and we purchase Vitamin D, what's listed on the label should be exactly what's in the pills."

But the lax regulation of supplements in the United States means there's no guarantee, he says. [bold added]
Indeed, this should have been the norm long ago, but I disagree with Cohen's implication that supplements should have been regulated long ago. Indeed, I would argue that the long time it took before a major chain realized that self-initiated testing could be an advantage is an argument to the effect that drugs should have been de-regulated long ago.

Why? One of the side-effects of the existence of a comprehensive regulation scheme is that people are lulled into imagining that they don't have to give much thought to the safety, efficacy, or even the identity of what they are taking. Everyone just assumes that the regulatory bureaucracy -- which we should note is staffed by human beings who don't have the profit motive to keep them sharp -- will think of everything for them. Much of the public, including even businessmen, drop their guard to the point that it probably never occurs to most people to even ask how they know what they are taking is what it is supposed to be or -- as Cohen later rightly cautions -- actually works as advertised. In such a torpid atmosphere, why would anyone care much to ask their drug store to do such testing?

I think this is both why this testing hasn't been around for a long time already and a reason to be very glad CVS has started this program. We can and should take a far more mentally active role in looking after our own health. CVS has helped all of us -- not just potential customers who want supplements -- see this. On top of violating our rights to association and property, our current government regulatory scheme: has blind spots, is slow to self-correct, and actively dumbs down consumers of drugs and supplements.

Let's abolish it.

-- CAV

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