February 5, 2009

CDC, FDA Are F'ed Up

Don't even get me started on the FDA . . . . I'm going to have to control myself or this post will get completely out of control. I turned on CSPAN this morning and discovered the Peanut Butter Recall hearing before the Senate Agriculture Committee. The testimony about FDA and CDC failures in this case was so shocking that I wasn't sure I could stand to listen.

According to William Hubbard, Former Associate Commissioner of the FDA, "The FDA has a food safety system that is a relic of the 19th century." One hundred and fifty thousand food companies are registered with the FDA; 6,000 of them are considered high risk companies. The FDA inspects only 7,000 of the 150,000 firms annually. Furthermore, there is an abysmal lack of communication and cooperation between the FDA, the CDC, the respective state agencies, and the medical community.

By far, the best, most moving testimony was that of Gabrielle Meunier, the mother of a formerly healthy seven-year-old boy who contracted two forms of salmonella from peanut butter crackers. Her son was violently ill, hospitalized for a week, and has lingering problems--including arthritis flares--resulting from the devastation to his body. In her testimony, Ms. Meunier recounts the horrible ordeal of trying to find out what was wrong with her son and, then, trying to get information from the CDC and FDA. Initially, someone (CDC? doctors?) told her she "didn't need to know" about the strains of salmonella her son contracted, even though this is important information in locating the source of the tainted food in her own home.

Diagnosis of the Meunier boy's illness took days, despite the fact that the CDC already had ample data about this peanut-butter-borne salmonella outbreak. Ms. Meunier's passion and anger were obvious as she recounted the insanity of stonewalling and demeaning behavior on the part of the CDC. Most compelling, however, is her determination to advocate on behalf of patients and consumers. As she so rightly pointed out, informed patients and consumers who are able to share information are powerful forces for consumer protection and patient self-help. She suggested--almost demanded--accessible government databases and online communities that would empower people to help themselves.

Empowered consumers and patients, hmmm . . . . How would the FDA, the CDC, and the medical community receive that? Listen: we have to empower ourselves, by whatever means we can. We are far, far too passive about these things. We must apply pressure and demand change and accountability, but we cannot wait for the government and the medical community to empower us. That's not likely happen.

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