Curbing the Feelgood Drug Administration

by Iain Murray

Here’s an excellent example of deregulatory action that the right should pay more attention to: the Rehberg Amendment to the appropriations bill for, among other agencies, the Food and Drug Administration. It reads:

None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Food and Drug Administration to write, prepare, develop or publish a proposed, interim, or final rule, regulation or guidance that is intended to restrict the use of a substance or a compound unless the Secretary bases such rule, regulation or guidance on hard science (and not on such factors as cost and consumer behavior), and determines that the weight of toxicological evidence, epidemiological evidence, and risk assessments clearly justifies such action, including a demonstration that a product containing such substance or compound is more harmful to users than a product that does not contain such substance or compound, or in the case of pharmaceuticals, has been demonstrated by scientific study to have none of the purported benefits.

The impact of this amendment will be to stop the FDA messing about with food and drugs on the basis of anecdotal evidence, a desire for social engineering, or other feelgood motives.

Consider the case of the routine feeding of antibiotics to farm animals, which the New York Times waxed lyrical about recently in an editorial asking the FDA to ban the practice, claiming that “we pay for cheap meat by sacrificing some of the most important drugs ever developed.” This is nonsense. As my colleague Greg Conko found when he investigated this, the hard science shows quite clearly that the claimed human health effects of animal antibiotics are overblown, and that banning their use comes with significant risks of its own.

Leftists and environmentalists are furious about this attempt to rein in one of their favorite tools of social engineering, and have (of course!) made it all about tobacco. Basically, by their logic, anyone who supports the Rehberg Amendment wants to give kids cancer. Rep. Rosa De Lauro, for example, called it a “back-door effort to undercut the FDA’s authority to issue tough food and drug rules, particularly when it comes to tobacco products.”

Over the years, the FDA has become one of the biggest perpetrators of nanny-statism in the U.S., stopping all sorts of useful innovations because of slight worries or pressure-group lobbying. It’s time that the FDA was brought to heel, and the Rehberg Amendment is a great way to do that.