FDA independence in an age of partisan politics

May 16, 2019

Unlike other federal agencies, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - the oldest federal consumer protection agency - has been increasingly subjected to creeping politicization and a progressive loss of independence under the glare of partisan politics. In a Policy Forum, Eli Adashi and colleagues argue for the need to enhance FDA independence, particularly when the nation's public health is on the line. "As the sole arbiter standing between a new drug application and a potential public health calamity, the FDA can hardly afford to be buffeted by undue political interference," write Adashi et al. Since its establishment, the FDA has served to protect the public's health through scientifically informed decision making. However, over the last 50 years, the agency's political and administrative autonomy has suffered due to increasing legislative and executive involvement. As such, there have been many instances of political efforts to sway the agency's decisions with almost no regard to the evidence-based science through which they are made, according to the authors. Examples include the noteworthy interference in the approval of politically contentious contraceptive drugs like Plan B and mifepristone. Similar interventions have impeded bans on carcinogenic food additives, efforts to regulate dietary supplements and labeling drug ingredients and related warnings in products, among others. Adashi et al. provide precedents set by other agencies, such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Social Security Administration, which have achieved various levels of independence that could help to restructure a more politically insulated FDA.

American Association for the Advancement of Science

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