The appointment of Scott Gottleib as commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gives the agency the opportunity to undo some of the burdensome regulations implemented under the Obama administration.
The former president’s nanny-state administration placed restrictions on everything from antiseptic soaps to e-cigarettes. These policies are stunting drug manufacturing. They also hurt businesses, thereby also American jobs. In 2016, the Heritage Foundation found in its report “Red Tape Rising” that 43 new major rules introduced by federal regulators in 2015 boosted annual regulatory costs by more than $22 billion. Gottleib can staunch this bleeding of cash and jobs. As he and his senior advisers spend the next several months looking at which Obama-era regulations to roll back, he’d be wise to start with these:
Antibacterial Soap Crackdown
On September 2, 2016, the FDA said it would ban 19 active ingredients in hand soaps, claiming products with those ingredients were no more effective than soap and water. But many studies disagree, and eliminating such antibacterial soap options for consumers will likely increase infections and the spread of bacteria.
For example, a study published in the Journal of Food Protection in April 2014 found that antibacterial soaps with ingredients such as triclosan, a target of the FDA crackdown, were effective in reducing the risk of the bacteria shigella. Researchers said the number of food-borne illnesses could be reduced by a factor of 10 with the use of antibacterial hand soaps.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 1998 and 2015 food-borne illnesses, which include E.coli and Salmonella, caused nearly 400,000 illnesses and 337 deaths.
Let Them Vape
E-cigarettes provide many benefits, perhaps the two biggest being that they help smokers receive nicotine in vapor form rather than from unhealthy, cancer-causing cigarettes, and that they prevent exposure to second-hand smoke. In fact, Public Health England estimates that e-cigarettes are about 95 percent less harmful than old-fashioned cigarettes. But Obama’s strong arm FDA developed costly applications for businesses to get federal approval to sell e-cigarettes.
Manufacturers of e-cigarettes are given 12 months after the rules took effect in August 2016 to request an exemption from product approval requirements; 18 months to submit an application proving that the product already has a substantial equivalent on the market; and 24 months to submit another application for pre-market approval. They must also conduct health-based, behavioral and psychological research on the impact of their products.
“What we’ve got to do is rein it back in,” Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association president Ray Story told The Washington Post. “I certainly think that they are going to curb regulation, just to curb regulation, because it’s bad for business,” he said of the Trump administration.
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) is among those pushing Gottlieb to repeal those rules. As previously reported in The Hill, the chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee penned a letter to Gottlieb arguing the rules could cost manufacturers — many of them small businesses — more than $1 million to enter the business and “threaten an emerging industry as well as former smokers who have switched to vaping.”
The FDA is being challenged in court over the e-cigarette regulations, and the Trump administration has pushed back enforcement of the rules to allow Gottleib’s staff time to review them. A better move would be to just cancel them.
Nutrition Facts Taken Too Far
The FDA under Obama developed a new rule requiring a variety of establishments where food is sold to list the amount of calories in each offering. This applies not just to restaurants — you’ve probably already noticed the caloric listings at many fast-food places — but also to such venues as convenience stores, grocery stores, movie theaters, and sports stadiums.
Due to its complexity, this rule will inevitably prove overly burdensome. Marketplace.org noted that for businesses to calculate caloric content it must send a sample to an independent testing lab and pay about $700 a pop. It’s estimated that businesses will have to pay $85 million over the next 20 years to be in compliance.
Associations representing the affected businesses argue the FDA isn’t even clear on the requirements. The stakes here are high; the regulations include possible criminal penalties for serving different sizes of food all labeled with the same caloric contents, for everything from fried chicken to potato salad.
More specifically, the regulation carries a prison sentence of up to one year in jail for “misbranding” food. Domino’s Pizza executive vice president Tim McIntyre told The Washington Free Beacon that this aspect is “onerous, and frankly ridiculous.” As written, the rule, he said, could nab someone for adding too much pepperoni to a pizza.
The implementation of these rules has been delayed three times since their initial issuance in December 2014, most recently by the Trump administration. Restaurants now have until May 7, 2018, to comply with the menu-labeling requirements. Why not just scrap these invasive calorie-counting regulations altogether?
Gottleib has the opportunity to reverse course at the FDA and roll back rules that threaten to harm not only the regulated industries but also public health. Hopefully, he’ll do so in short order.
Johnny Kampis is a freelance writer and former editor at Watchdog.org who writes about issues that threaten free-market principles.