Like other families, the Bush family eats, uses medicines, and relies on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to assure the safety of vast amounts of both products.
Like other families, more and more of the food and medicine you consume is coming from other countries where the FDA has very little inspection authority. Nearly 80 percent of active pharmaceutical ingredients are imported from foreign countries.
Hardly a day goes by without a news story recounting or disclosing casualties or serious perils from contaminated food and medicines. Many of these and other medicines have seriously harmful side-effects or lack of efficacy.
President Bush is the leading authority in the country when it comes to making FDA an adequately funded, staffed, and empowered agency to urgently fulfill what he says repeatedly is his top priority-to protect the safety of the American people.
So how is the FDA doing under his watch? A troubled agency for decades, politically undermined and deficient in budgets, the FDA is now more burdened and besieged than ever. Its budget last year was $ 2 billion–the price ten years ago of one B-2 bomber. Here are the FDA’s own words:
“More than 250 different foodborne illnesses are food safety threats. Based on Centers for Disease Control estimates, 76 million Americans become sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die each year from foodborne illnesses. Recent outbreaks highlight the need for increased resources to strengthen food safety.”
The FDA’s other major responsibility is to “approve safe and effective drugs and medical products in a timely way and ensure that medical products remain safe.”
In recent months, there have been many drugs implicated in preventable heart attacks (Vioxx); one thousand lives lost each month (Trasylol); increased risk of heart attacks (Avandia); hundreds of adverse effects, 4 fatalities so far (heparin from a Chinese factory that the FDA did not inspect. It confused its name with another factory.)
The flood of essentially unregulated, uninspected products from China keeps making headlines. Polluted seafood from fish farms, defective tires, lead-painted toys, poisoned pet food, ingredients in products that appear to be, but are not, made or raised in the USA. Country of origin labels are often not required.
What is called “free trade” with China is really corporate managed trade that ships factories and jobs to China, or contracts with Chinese firms that operated in a Wild West atmosphere. The products are then exported to the United States along with all the hazards and defects allowed by this communist dictatorship.
President Bush is not only doing nothing about a huge trade imbalance with China resulting in huge borrowings from China; he is also allowing the products of corrupt corporatism in China to send products that flow into the bodies of American consumers, American patients and American children.
As the New York Times wrote:
“Instead of strengthening the government’s regulatory systems, the Bush administration has spent years cutting budgets and filling top jobs with industry favorites. The evidence of their failures keep mounting”
Similarly over at the Department of Agriculture, meat and poultry inspectors, authorized by laws we helped pass starting in the late Sixties, are, by and large, not backed up by their superiors. Instead, they are reprimanded or reassigned when they stand firm to protect the food supply against politically-connected companies.
The FDA still, decades after its founding, does not have subpoena power. Its food inspection system, especially for imports, is pathetic. Both the FDA and the Department of Agriculture need stronger law enforcement and mandatory recall power with full White House backing.
In his eighth year of office, President Bush has not been a leader of the country toward comprehensive legislation that would no longer leave Americans defenseless in the markets of food and drugs. When just one drug takes 1000 American lives a month (see CBS 60 Minutes, February 17, 2008), you better believe this is a national security matter that President Bush should pay focused attention to, even if no suspected terrorists are involved.
However, his ideology is one of no-law-and-order, no regulation, that is, of these corporate outlaws and their profiteering, reckless practices. President Bush and his Party’s campaign chests are filled by these very corporate interests.
As a result, the FDA shakes from one crisis after another, from one blunder after another, from one missed opportunity for prevention after another.
Yet, he still says that his top priority is “maintaining a culture of life,” and that “my number one priority is to protect you.”
President Bush owes the American people, in a major national address, an explanation and very soon.
RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions