As I See It: Activism and the FDA

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James G. Dickinson
James G. Dickinson

Disclosure: The industries I write for detested him, but I have liked David A. Kessler ever since (and probably before) the Washington Post caricatured him in a Superman-like costume flying over Washington as “Eliot Nessler.”

It was a play on the name of Eliot Ness in the 1960s TV series The Untouchables, only FDA's last activist commissioner was fighting fraudulent “fresh” orange juice claims on the labels of frozen concentrate. Since then, in private life he has battled DTC drug advertising, tobacco and, in a New York Times Op-Ed, subtherapeutic antibiotic use in farm animals.

FDA commissioners can't do that sort of thing now. As appendages of the HHS secretary's apron strings, they must toe the “party line.” It's a loss to the nation. FDA's founder, Harvey Wiley of the Republican Administration of Theodore Roosevelt, wouldn't have understood the need to stifle the non-PC talk he and Kessler talked as FDA commissioner. Industry hated them. Nobody that industry hates could be FDA commissioner today.

Which makes me like Kessler more—especially for his fight against subtherapeutic “growth promotant” sales of human-use antibiotics to US factory farms, which now account for over 80% of antibiotic sales.

In his March New York Times Op-Ed, Kessler presented the case that lacing animal feeds with human-use antibiotics exposes all of us to superbugs in the meat, milk and eggs we eat—and consequently leads to lifesaving drugs that no longer work.

Seduced by industry money, FDA and Congress simply don't want to know, but Kessler is on the side of the angels when he insists that feeding low-dose antibiotics to food animals is “a recipe for disaster.”

James G. Dickinson is editor of Dickinson's FDA Webview (
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