The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Food is making us sick. The FDA can do something about it.


The Jan. 11 editorial “For the nation’s health, it’s time to break up the FDA,” which called for creating a new agency dedicated to protecting the nation’s food system, was right to note that the current arrangement is simply not working. Breaking up the Food and Drug Administration would be a sensible first step to strengthen the FDA’s underused food regulatory powers. However, an effective food regulatory agency, whether in the FDA or elsewhere, must put public health first by taking the lead in combating both acute and chronic food illnesses, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Today, food companies are having their greatest health impact by using highly processed ingredients that promote metabolic changes, leading to chronic disease. For example, replacing intact whole grains with energy-dense highly refined grains.

The health and economic impact of nutrition-related chronic disease is irrefutable. More people die every day from food-related chronic illnesses than die in a year from foodborne acute illness caused by contaminants the FDA and the Agriculture Department regulate. Most Americans suffer nutrition insecurity, and poor diet causes nearly half of all U.S. deaths from heart disease, stroke and diabetes, costing the economy an estimated $16 trillion from 2011 to 2020.

Emphasizing the role of “food” in the FDA makes sense. The agency needs sufficient resources and a clear connection to the federal feeding programs. But in the process, the FDA should use its unique power to address the real food crisis in this country: processed food that makes us sick.

Jerold Mande, Bethesda

The writer, chief executive of Nourish Science, held senior food safety and nutrition policy positions in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations at the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department.