FDA Stands for ... What?

By
Mitch Morrison, Vice President & Group Editor

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You know what the F means in FDA?” the man asked me.

“Food,” I responded innocently.

“Well, maybe for you,” he said. “For me, the F rhymes with ‘duck.’ ”

Welcome to our February cover story, and an attitude.

I write this column as an Arizona congresswoman fights for her life, the Tucson Timothy McVeigh waives bail, and the burial of a federal jurist, a precocious 9-year-old and four oth­ers is planned. And Republican and Democratic lawmakers use inflamed rhetoric to accuse the other of using inflamed rhetoric.

It’s true, our rhetoric—buoyed by ubiquitous electronic media, shorter attention spans, limitless cable stations and countless blogs and tweets—has hit new chords of discordance. Reasoned conversation is out; boorish castigation is in.

And thus this month’s cover story. We know what most retailers think about the FDA, especially as it relates to our ability to sell tobacco. We want an unfiltered marketplace, to sell with­out restriction, to market whatever to whomever, wherever and whenever.

Yes, we will tolerate certain intru­sions. We can endure the concept of age restrictions because we have kids and agree that 10-year-olds shouldn’t be drinking or smoking. At the same time, we fume over the notion of empowering the federal government to regulate the only narcotic not under some kind of federal jurisdiction.

This cover story looks at both sides of the issue. Yes, you will hear from important local voices, from NACS and NATO, from industry advisers and a retailer or two. But the weight is clearly and consciously shifted to the men and women of the Food and Drug Administration who are trusted to prevent tobacco from landing in the hands of minors and empowered to make sure our food is safe.

In exclusive interviews, we talk to Dr. Lawrence Deyton, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products; and to Donald Kraemer, acting deputy director for operations of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Neither is a zealot. When we asked how he envisions the role of his office, Deyton told us, “As a good partner, and supporting what [retailers’] needs are, supporting their ability to imple­ment and enforce the laws that they are now required to do.” Kraemer was no different. He talked about removing the regulatory ambiguities, to establish a food-safety code that is clear, com­prehensive and embraced by local and state governments.

Neither talked about federal vigilantism, nor pursuing a “gotcha” enforcement strategy.

That does not mean we’re embrac­ing a kumbaya moment. We disagree with FDA’s push to impose graphic portrayals on packs of cigarettes. Indeed, we believe the vulgar depic­tions, at best, will maintain smoking percentages and potentially propel a backlash that will increase sales. We reject onerous restrictions on age-restricted tobacco outlets. And we passionately oppose any effort to adopt Canada’s hidden-from-view strategy, which we believe violates the U.S. Constitution.

At the same time, we are hopeful the FDA will create a multitiered risk program recognizing via warning and packaging that some tobacco prod­ucts are simply less harmful than oth­ers. We also expect the FDA to permit the sale of menthol cigarettes.

In foodservice, we support rules centered on temperature control, food-handling procedures and steps to prevent foodborne illnesses. But we also caution the FDA to be sensitive to retailer expenses and costly imposi­tions that yield minimal public benefit.

Regardless of our positions, there is something you will not find in CSP or our CSP Daily News: sensational­ism. We will disagree respectfully with the FDA. We will challenge them and, when we agree, we will support them. We will not adopt incendiary language or militaristic metaphors, nor will we support others who do so.

It has been said that words can kill. True. But even worse are words that lead to bullets.

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