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Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

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What do you guys think about the FDA? I have read from some Objectivist writers that they dont think the FDA should exist at all, and that each individual should make the decision oneself if the product is right for them.

But what about certain products that people may not even know they are using? For instance, aspartame(a sugar substitute), which looks like just another ingredient on a food label, but numerous studies have showed there can be serious side effects if aspartame is part of ones diet. The only reason why I know about this product is by chance when I was bored and typing in all the ingredients of a diet soda on the Internet.

Maybe instead of the FDA banning products, they just put an easily seen label on each product that they disapprove of(the same thing they do for products they approve of). That way every consumer can be well informed of the side effects associated with that product and still able to legally purchase it if they choose to.

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Who is the FDA? Why should they get to approve or disapprove of products? Why not have a government agency that evaluates all products?

People should take the responsibility themselves to know about what the effects of products they use are. If a company releases a dangerous product and fails to warn customers about it (within reason) the company could be prosecuted for fraud.

For a good discussion on how the FDA hinders innovation, the article "The Assault on Integrity" in Capitalism, the Unknown Ideal is excellent.

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Maybe instead of the FDA banning products, they just put an easily seen label on each product that they disapprove of(the same thing they do for products they approve of). That way every consumer can be well informed of the side effects associated with that product and still able to legally purchase it if they choose to.

In fact this is unnecesary as well. Where govt is not involved there have always arisen all sorts of private mechanism by which to communicate information and assure safety. These are in fact so ubiquitous that we don't even realize they are there many times. Think of Underwriters Laboratories, Consumer Reports, Good Housekeeping seal of approval. Each of these institutions is independant and has a vested interest in keeping their reputation for impartial assessment. If the FDA would have gotten out of the way, you might even know about aspartame.

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But what about certain products that people may not even know they are using?

....

Maybe instead of the FDA banning products, they just put an easily seen label on each product that they disapprove of(the same thing they do for products they approve of). That way every consumer can be well informed of the side effects associated with that product and still able to legally purchase it if they choose to.

But what about deodorant, window putty or stereos, where they don't list the ingredients or every known fact about the product? Who's going to protect the curious people who buy non-food?

If you're interested in getting someone's disapproval of a product, you can go to Consumer Reports. You're mixing up the function of government with the function of private business: the government's business is protecting rights. If Coke were to start putting rat poison in their beverages, you would have the right to sue them -- in a government court. If Coke were to start putting sugar in their beverages and you gained a pound -- take responsibbility for your life. If you are really afraid of aspartame, do not buy any product that doesn't swear that it is aspartame-free. If they make such a promise and break it by sneaking in aspartame, you can sue them.

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Vioxx is a wonderful example of the effect the FDA has on the drug market. A great drug that helped thousands of people enjoy their lives pain-free was pulled off the market because those taking it were 'four times as likely' to have heart attacks. Never mind that the actual numbers were 0.4% vs. 0.1%. Pressure from the FDA made Merck pull the drug instead of allowing patients and doctors to assess the values and risks of the drug for themselves.

-Q

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Why does the government feel its their duty to protect people this way? How come they try to do more than just protect individuals rights?

Unfortunately the government, and a substantial portion of the population (which is in essence to say 'the government'), feel that people have to be protected from themselves.

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The FDA is pretty crappy currently, and I think it should be minimized in a lot of ways (particularly the legal penalty side: the war on drugs is an insanely terrible policy)- but it still should exist. A centralized advisory body on the (relative) safety of food/drugs is a basic element of social stability in everyone's interest, akin to firefighters and natural disaster prevention/recovery. The subject is too massive and complex even for people of above average intelligence to be adept at accurately researching in many cases, let alone the average and below average.

Especially considering that drugs are a frequent issue of legal damage cases, it does make sense that there should be a centralized governmental body to determine the legal classifications of various drugs. Otherwise, to put Prozac, Tylenol, Crack Cocain, and Multivitamin tablets into the same lump of legal classification would lead to all sorts of troubles when the issue of lawsuits comes up.

I have no problems with sanitation inspections for restaraunts and food production facilities. Lack of sanitation is a serious health risk - and damage to health is something that can't be replaced or repayed in the same way that property/financial damages can be. The FDA is fine in this aspect, in my opinion.

As for drugs, I think people should be able to buy any drug they wish. If they choose to buy something that is not FDA approved - or buy something without a prescription - however, they should be required to sign forms stating they will not sue or press any charges against the manufacturers in any way: they must do so at their own risk.

If people want to mix and match a bunch of random pills, get hopped up on painkillers and MDMA all day, or if a terminally ill person wants to buy a new drug with unknown side effects, it's their business and right to do so - but drug companies/pharmacies shouldn't be responsible for such.

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Tsuru,

On legal usefulness: Courts already allow "expert witnesses" to testify. Why would a government-appointed expert body be any better? The only practical advantage I can see is that the guidelines will be laid down before something goes to trial. Is that what you're getting at, or are is it something else?

On consumer usefulness: There are a few private agencies that do work similar to the government. For instance, there's the "Consumer Reports" magazine; there's J.D.Powers; there are companies that insure bonds issued by municipalities so that buyers have more protection. If the SEC did not exist to lay down so many standards, the (private) Stock Exchanges would step up to the task of laying down standards. Yes, quality inspection agencies and advisory agencies do provide value; however, they can be privately owned. Right now the government monopolies squeeze out the private guys.

The example of restaurants is one where private firms will probably not replace the city inspectors. One could imagine a "Consumer Reports" type company that visited restaurants and gave them a grade and even published the grade. My guess is that this is one area where the quality control won't be replaced. The most important reason is that it is in the interest of restaurant owners that their customers do not get food poisoning. As for scoundrels, unhygenic restaurants are usually obviously so; and if they cross a threshold, they'll be driven out of business by lack of business or by law-suits.

On implementation: Do not remove the government-owned agencies overnight. Consumers and potential new-entrants need to understand the new scheme and adapt. It's difficult to predict just how the system will evolve; under free-enterprise smart people will figure out a way to do it all better than before and with less work required of the consumer. For instance, it is quite possible that the structure of such agencies remains monolithic in a private scheme, with providers of liability insurance being their main direct customers [e.g. companies providing liability-cover to restaurants may send out inspectors]. On the other hand a completely different industry-structure may emerge.

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