No wonder consumers are confused. In "A Lipstick You Can Live With" (editorial, July 3), The Post strongly implied that cancer-causing color additives should be avoided, however small the risk. It also criticized the Food and Drug Administration and Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler for violating the law ("the Delaney clause") by leaving six dyes on the market despite the government's conclusion that they are animal carcinogens.
Less than four weeks later ("How Not to Regulate," July 18), The Post reiterated that the "FDA is making decisions in flagrant disregard of the law." As examples, it again cited the six color additives as well as a recent decision to grant an unlawful "emergency exemption" from safety standards applicable to a cattle drug that leaves cancer-causing residues in meats. This time, however, The Post asserts that Congress must share the "blame" because it refused to amend the Delaney clause.
We would like to set the record straight. First, The Post says that, although the FDA is acting lawlessly, it has been "doing so after receiving a lot of nudges and winks from Capitol Hill." There is no evidence to support this claim. Although it is true that every year a few members of Congress introduce bills to repeal the Delaney clause, not one of those bills has made it out of a congressional committee, much less been adopted by a majority of either house. Certainly, the fact that a few members believe that a statute should be changed is not a reason for federal agencies to violate the law. Indeed, as The Post pointed out in its first editorial, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce recently issued a unanimous report charging that Heckler is violating the Delaney clause by not banning the six carcinogenic dyes.
Second, The Post claims that the food safety laws should be weakened because "improvements in testing over the last 25 years have enabled scientists to identify as cancer-causing some substances that seemed entirely benign" under earlier standards. Does The Post mean to imply that we should be less concerned about carcinogens now that they are being identified by modern testing? If so, this makes no sense as a matter of public policy.
Third, The Post says the problem with the current law is that it gives the FDA "no precise standards." This is also incorrect, since in the Delaney clause Congress could hardly have been more precise: it directed the FDA to ban all dyes that cause cancer in animals.
The recent editorial concludes by saying that both Congress and the FDA must share the blame for the agency's poor performance in regulating carcinogens in the food supply. By adding to the public's confusion, The Post must also share that blame.