Rushing the FDA to the ER

John Taylor: August 08, 20070 Comments

This is about perfume, antifreeze and the Food and Drug Administration. It's about the perception of safety, who establishes that perception and, of course, reality.

I always thought that melamine was something used to make heat-resistant plates and nice countertops. But it's also a protein-additive/contaminant used by China to enhance pet food, resulting in untold numbers of animal deaths this year.

I always thought that buying toothpaste at a dollar-store made for easier airline travel. But it's also another way to get poisoned because some Chinese toothpaste marketed in the U.S. contains an ingredient found in antifreeze, an ingredient that killed more than 100 Americans in 1937 when it was used in a medication.

I always thought the Food and Drug Administration, bolstered in the 1930s after all manner of snake-oil poisonings of the public, was supposed to be  the National Guard on medicinal safety.  But, after successes in keeping thalidomide off the market and recalling perilous dietary supplement L-tryptophan, the FDA seems to have fallen off a cliff.

The FDA's evolution is deftly told by health policy analyst Emily Friedman in an online story --- "Happy Tails, Jake Leg, and the Food and Drug Administration" -- at the Hospitals & Health Networks website (thanks to Dawan Haubursin for passing it along).

With recent recalls of lead-tainted Elmos and Thomas the Tank Engine Trains, it might be a good idea to add these to your favorite websites: and (the latter being the Consumer Product Safety Commission).

A few thoughts back, I connected perfume and the FDA. Actually, I should said "fragrance." Frances J. Storrs, of the Oregon Health & Science University, writes that based on patch-testing, fragrance is the "allergen of the year" 

Any of us who can't buy Christmas trees or who discard ads jammed with open-and-sniff inserts already know this to be true. The FDA link?  The author points out that the fragrance industry is self-regulated, and that there is a close relationship between the International Fragrance Association and the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials Inc., which has close ties to the FDA.

"The FDA bans about 10 chemicals used in fragrances," the author writes, "and does not actively regulate this industry."

Could it really be that room air fresheners or fragranced laundry detergent are in the same league as tobacco smoke?