Next week, many of us will be sitting down to a Thanksgiving dinner and talking about the parts of our lives for which we are grateful. Consider adding thanks to FDA and its devoted staff. The agency has 16,000 hard-working and dedicated employees, each playing an important role in assuring safe foods and safe and effective medical products. Yet, we are insufficiently thankful for the public benefits derived from an effective FDA.
Around the Thanksgiving table we can see the positive role of the agency in our everyday lives. The biggest item on the table — the turkey — is regulated by USDA (you knew that), but consider who has oversight over the feed to make it grow (FDA), any medicines to keep it healthy (FDA), the stuffing to go in it (FDA), and the gravy to go on it (FDA). Plus safe food handling processes and directions are found on the FDA website. Other items likely to be on the table are regulated at some point by FDA: the sweet potatoes, the string beans, the cranberries, and the pumpkin pie.
Sharing the Thanksgiving table are our family and friends, many of whom can lead productive and caring lives because FDA-approved medical products play a role in extending their health. I think about my grandfather, who died at 60 from a stroke before I could enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with him. The FDA-approved medicines we have today would almost certainly have prevented the stroke. If a stroke occurred, he would have been diagnosed and treated more rapidly at the emergency room with FDA-approved tests, imaging equipment and therapies, that were unavailable several decades ago.
His daughter — my mother — celebrated her 95th birthday this year and will be at the head of our table at Thanksgiving. It has taken a lot of FDA-approved medicines (innovator, generic, OTC, and supplements) and a number of FDA-approved devices and equipment for her to have lived more than 50% longer than her father.
There are yet other parts of FDA’s activities for which we should be thankful. For example, in every household, there are cosmetics and personal care products, which need to be safe for everyday use. Also, 68 percent of American households have pets, whose food and medicines are primarily FDA’s responsibility. Less well-known, FDA sets standards for radiation emissions from electronic products. In addition to diagnostic imaging machines and therapeutic lasers, this also covers cell phones, microwave ovens, computer monitors, televisions, and the screening machines used by Homeland Security at airports.
Altogether, FDA regulates products that represent about 20% of consumer spending in the United States. It is largely because of FDA that we can rely on those products to perform satisfactorily for their intended use. That gives us much to be thankful for.
Editorial note: The Analysis and Commentary Section is written by Steven Grossman, Deputy Executive Director of the Alliance for a Stronger FDA.