The FDA’s Presumption to Regulate Keeps Valuable Products off the Market

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article on the recent FDA hearings about genetically engineered (GE) salmon:

“U.S. government food regulators pondered Monday whether to say, for the first time, that it’s OK to market a genetically engineered animal as safe for Americans people to eat.”

While the article does highlight some of the potential benefits of genetic engineering food sources for humans, the majority of the content is a discussion of the impending decision by the FDA about whether or not to allow modified fish on the market. The real question here is not about the technical aspects or safety of genetically engineered food, which have been known for years. After decades of testing, FDA scientists have finally said, “there are very few differences between the modified and conventional fish.” Opponents of the new salmon have castigated the finding saying, “Consumers have a right to know what the FDA is trying to allow into our food supply.” Implicit in both the endorsement and criticism of the FDA finding is that the FDA has the right to dictate our food supply. Never does either side ask (or answer) the question, “why does the FDA have the right to force us to follow its judgment?”The use of any product from cell phones to bacon fat entails a risk. Why should the FDA be able to tell any individual what is an “acceptable” risk for his particular circumstances? An individual must always identify and evaluate risks using his own judgment. In an article entitled, Risk and Regulation, Amit Ghate writes,

“In a free, unregulated market, anyone who is highly risk averse can—and always could—refrain from using new products or adopting new ideas. Indeed, on a smaller scale, this is what differentiates technology late-adopters from first-adopters.”

The FDA certainly had no business holding back GE salmon for so many years: there was no reason to suspect any specific danger to consumers. More importantly, the FDA (and its regulatory siblings) should not be limiting our choices based on arbitrary declarations of “acceptable risk.”Related Articles:Risk and RegulationQuestioning the Value of RegulationDrug Safety vs. The FDAFDA Snuffs Out Safer Smoking Alternative

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