What Does the Food and Drug Administration Do?

Do you know what the Food and Drug Administration does?

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #226

Last week the president of the United States met with a group of CEOs from pharmaceutical companies and promised to drastically cut regulations instated by the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA) by 75-80%.  The president has also issued an executive order, applicable across all federal agencies, stating that for every new regulation issued, at least two existing regulations must be eliminated. and in particular effectiveness.

It is reasonable to expect a government agency that has been in place since 1904 could benefit from some rescaling, but what would an 80% cut to the FDA’s regulations and policies look like? Part of that answer will depend, of course, on who is appointed to head the FDA. But to get a better idea of what could be cut, let’s look at what the FDA actually does.

What does the FDA do for you?

1. The FDA ensures that the food you eat is “safe, wholesome, sanitary, and properly labeled”. (Exceptions include meat, poultry, and some egg products which are instead regulated by the US Department of Agriculture.) This includes, for example, routine, random testing of produce and cheeses that have protected consumers by detecting contamination from ecoli bacteria and listeria.

The Food Safety Modernization Act, signed into law by President Obama in 2011, further extends regulations to prevent contamination from happening in the first place, including rules on sanitary transportation, verification programs for foreign suppliers, and mitigation strategies to protect our food against intentional adulteration that could cause harm to public health.

2. The FDA ensures that cosmetics and dietary supplements are safe and properly labeled. Cosmetics do not have to be approved by the FDA before they are marketed, but the FDA does regulate their safety and labeling. Thus, a cosmetic company doesn’t have to prove that its face cream will actually make you look younger, but it does have to be safe to apply to your skin and come in a packaging that accurately describes its ingredients.

For example, did you know that lead is found in most cosmetics, from eye shadow to lipstick? While the FDA cannot regulate a maximum amount of lead in the products some of us apply daily, FDA researchers do track how much lead is contained in different products, making this information available to the public and offering suggested limits.

The FDA has further called out certain dietary supplements for including controversial stimulants that act similarly to amphetamine but labeling them as dietary ingredients instead. 

Keep reading to find out what else the FDA does for you ...


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About the Author

Sabrina Stierwalt, PhD

Dr Sabrina Stierwalt earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy & Astrophysics from Cornell University and is now a Professor of Physics at Occidental College.