Presidents come and go, but the Food and Drug Administration just keeps botching basic safety issues no matter who's in the White House. That should have Americans up in arms.
Scientists warned President Ronald Reagan nearly 40 years about the danger of pumping large amounts of antibiotics into farm animals. At about the same time, they begged the president and the FDA to remove the chemical triclosan from hand soaps designed to prevent the spread of germs.
But here we are in 2013, and the FDA still can't deal with either issue. This time at least it's taking steps in the right direction, but the recommendations don't go nearly far enough, fast enough.
The FDA last week proposed new rules designed to curtail the widespread use of antibiotics in animals raised for food: 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to cows, pigs and other livestock, not because they're sick but to speed growth.
This dramatically reduces the effectiveness of antibiotics in people.
The new rules are still mostly voluntary, which means they're still all but useless. The FDA seems to be hinting that if ranchers don't act on their own, then it will get tough. That's a hoot.
In 2011, scientists practically begged the FDA to take significant action. Instead, the agency asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily reduce sales of antibiotics in food animals. Ranchers responded by increasing the use of drugs by almost 3 million pounds within the next year. Expect more of the same.
The only solution is an outright ban on pumping livestock full of antibiotics. It is not a revolutionary idea. The European Union did it in 1999.
The FDA is being equally soft on antibacterial soaps. It recommends that makers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes demonstrate that their products are safe for daily use and are more effective than just plain soap and water.
But at this point it has zero evidence that these soaps do what they say they do. Furthermore, research indicates that one ingredient, triclosan, alters the way hormones work in the bodies of animals. It is also suspected of making bacteria resistant to antibiotics, which has caused some European countries to ban its use in certain products. Are we sensing a theme here?
Other countries act while the FDA seems more concerned with truth in advertising. Its mission is supposed to be protecting Americans from products that are dangerous to their health.
Decades of hints have done nothing, and Americans are increasingly vulnerable to infections that antibiotics no longer cure. The FDA should be writing regulations to prevent the use of antibiotics in farm animals and of dangerous chemicals such as triclosan in soaps and body washes. And it should be enforcing them, not whining pretty-please when nobody listens.