Brane Fude

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New at Reason: A new book demonstrates that the pharmaceutical industry was not in fact a self-regulating model of efficiency before the creation of the FDA. So is there a way to keep snake oil to a minimum without regulating ourselves into paralysis? Todd Seavey takes the cure.

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  1. It seems fairly obvious to me that we should at least TRY to let the market handle saftey to see how well it can work. Just thinking things through a bit leads me to believe that private entities would spring up that essential do what the FDA does: provide a statement of approval for items which it deems to be safe.

    So why bother scrapping the FDA if ultimatly its work will be reproduced? Because a private firm that gains consumer trust and starts giving its “seal of approval” would ultimatly react much more quickly. Also it seems redundant to me that taxpayers are paying for the FDA, and then consumers have to pay more for drugs because the companies want to make up for “losses” incurred by putting their product through FDA tests. A private organization handling things would only see consumers paying a bit more for the drugs, but taxpayers wouldn’t be paying for the actual organization that gives approval.

    Saving money and saving time, those are the reasons we’d want to try out a drug safety/approval process that isn’t run by the government.

  2. “”To flour was added chalk, clay, or plaster of paris”

    Also barite, a heavy white mineral. I know this because my neighborhood in Connecticut was a big barite mine in the 1800s. (Presently the yard next door has a hole that leads to one of the mine passages.)

    It was used for white paint, but some unscrupulous persons added it to flour to cheat customers.

  3. “…1994 law that enabled makers of vitamins and herbal supplements to do an end run around the FDA by claiming their products are mere food, not medicine…”

    Then there’s stevia, a natural herb used as an insignificant-calorie sweetener in South America for hundreds of years, that is forced to market itself as a dietary supplement (medicine) rather than a sweetener (food) because to do otherwise would piss off the mega$$$ artificial sweetener industry (can we say Nutra-Sweet??).

  4. I remember having an debate with a liberal about the issue of privatizing testing for food and drugs–in this case we talked mainly about the meat industry. He was horrified at the notion of world without an FDA and said that left to their own devices companies would be more than willing to sell products they knew were tainted, ala Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”

    I pointed out to him that companies that deliberately poisoned their customers would stay in business for long as soon as word got out. He then said that word would never get out because “the corporations run the media and would never allow a story about how tainted meat is killing people.”

    So forget about debates about whether or not liberals or conservatives control the news media, the press is really just a puppet of Oscar Meyer.

  5. Not to defend his paranoia, but have you heard of the food libel laws? 13 states make it illegal to defame food products, and tend to place the burden of proof on the defendants. Remember when Oprah was sued for saying beef isn’t safe to eat because the industry won’t take the proper safety precautions?

  6. I’d be happy if the FDA were just remade along more libertarian lines. For instance, instead of three simplistic categories (legal/prescription/illegal), I’d like them to have a category of ”legal but take at your own risk.” That way, when a few people manage to off themselves with ephedra or whatever, the substance can be moved into that category instead of banned altogether.

  7. Well, the idea is that people will be far more suspicious and take a lot more responsibility for their safety when they know that no big government agency is supposedly doing it for them.

  8. Mark S. said:

    I pointed out to him that companies that deliberately poisoned their customers would stay in business for long as soon as word got out. He then said that word would never get out because “the corporations run the media and would never allow a story about how tainted meat is killing people.”

    Had I been in this conversation, I’d’ve responded to Mark with a rhetorical question: How many people would have to die before folks connected the dots and word got out?

    I remember back when Firestone got all the bad publicity, someone pointed out that the market was working, in that Firestone sales were down. But first, something like 150 people had to die, which is why I’d support certain tire regulations rather than wait for the media to get the story. I could make similar arguments for foods and drugs, but it is late and I must go to bed.

  9. Geotech-
    How do you suggest we take responsibility for our own safety in this case? Should we have at-home kits to test our food and medicine to ensure it contains no poisonous substances? Do we recommend that car buyers first get degrees in engineering so they can determine the chance that a car will rollover in a given situation? Do we hire Third World people with the same allergies as we have, to check and see if we can take a particular antibiotic without having it kill us? Now THAT would be the free market at work.

  10. What would be wrong with letting drugs be put out on the market only if the insurance industry will underwrite it? It seems to me that works pretty well for things like, say, power tools, why couldn’t it work with drugs?

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