This article was prepared by Bridget Stack and Lindsey Pasieka with ConsumerSafety.org.
If you watched President Donald Trump’s first hundred days speed by, you’re no doubt familiar with the enormous scope of changes he is bringing forward. Before the end of March, he signed 26 executive actions, in addition to pushing substantial policy changes through Congress. But the question on everyone’s mind is “how will this affect me?” As a consumer, the answer is clear: badly. Let’s take a look at just why that is.
The FDA, or as Trump calls them “The Food Police”
In an effort to streamline the approval process for new drugs and technologies, the Trump administration is seeking to eliminate approximately 75-80% of ALL FDA regulations. The President called it “unfair” that companies had to undergo significant scrutiny and wait a long time for approval. In the words of his pick to run the agency, Jim O’Neill, “Let people start using them, at their own risk. Let’s prove efficacy after they’ve been legalized.”
First off, the FDA has already put several measures in place to streamline the drug approval process. Ten month and six month thresholds now exist for trials meeting specific criteria. A recent study showed that our FDA approves drugs more quickly than its European counterpart. Additionally, patients in dire need can access trial drugs via a “compassionate release” process.
Nevertheless, clinical trials are a necessity. Without the proof of efficacy that fuels our medical innovations, true breakthroughs would have to be marketed against “snake oil” pills, shrouding true solutions from the eye of the consumer. Furthermore, if trials need only prove immediate efficacy, we lose the bigger picture of long-term health risks and benefits. This would be a dangerous breeding ground for drugs like Vioxx, which was introduced in 1999 and pulled from the market in 2004. Why? Because a clinical trial had proved that the drug doubled the risk for heart attacks and strokes.
The FDA also regulates the quality of your food, with what President Trump calls “inspection overkill.” Those inspections mean food made without harmful pesticides. They protect the public from the spread of foodborne illnesses (like the spinach-carried E. Coli breakout of 2006). And for those of you “organic,” “all natural” food lovers– the FDA ensures that those labels meet a high set of standards, too. The FDA makes it easy to be confident in the safety of the food you consume, a confidence that still doesn’t exist in many areas of the world.
The EPA, “Fake News” and Climate Change
If you think global warming is a hoax created by China, like our President, I’ll give you a few other reasons why this agency is so important. The Environmental Protection Agency guarantees that you have access to clean, drinkable water. It researches harmful chemicals in everyday products like shampoos and plastics, which can have serious health risks. And in the event that a corporation has a spill (Think BP), guess who helps clean up the mess? You got it.
The Trump administration is proposing a 31% cut to EPA spending, which would affect all three of these areas. It would also eliminate practically all geographic cleanup initiatives– the projects which help to keep water areas like the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay stay swimmable, clear and healthy. Phrases like “toxic runoff” make you cringe for a reason, yet Trump wants to cut down the very programs that prevent runoff from getting into our water.
The EPA also regulates materials found to be harmful in building renovation and demolition. The foremost example of this is in the regulation of asbestos, which has been deemed a “hazardous air pollutant.” Asbestos is the leading cause of mesothelioma, a rare cancer with an average life expectancy of 6-12 months after diagnosis. Similar regulations exist for lead paint and dust, which can result in cardiac issues for adults, learning disabilities in children, and more. According to the EPA, “In rare cases, ingestion of lead can cause seizures, coma and even death.”
One more thing: climate change is real, and is directly impacted by the actions of corporations, large and small. The Clean Power Plan, imposed by President Obama, aimed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which have been linked to global warming. Toxic runoff kills essential flora and fauna in water systems, and causes dangerous chemical imbalances. Irresponsible fracking brings harmful gases to the surface, and if handled improperly, can lead to cancer. To President Trump, these aren’t devastating facts, but merely obstacles in the way of his coal and steel parade.
The Consumer Protection Agency– Your Legal Rights
Johnson & Johnson has been a household name for more than a century. Its credo states what we hope every company believes in. “We believe our first responsibility is to the doctors, nurses and patients, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services. In meeting their needs everything we do must be of high quality.” But did you know that J&J has been the defendant in multiple cases, convicted of using dangerous materials in their products?
J&J’s baby powder products, used both on infants and by many women on the most sensitive area of their bodies, have been proven to contain talc, a seemingly harmless chemical until four doctors took a closer look. They realized that 75% of the ovarian tumors they removed from cancer patients had talc particles in the tissue. Further research confirmed a link between talc and ovarian cancer, but J&J continued to use talc and market their products as safe for infants and their mothers. The result was a series of high profile single person and class action lawsuits by mothers who felt betrayed and unsafe.
President Trump’s tirade against another entity, the Consumer Protection Agency, would greatly inhibit the consumer’s’ ability to create lawsuits like those against J&J. This year, the Trump administration presented a bill called the Fairness in Class Action Litigation Act, an oxymoron by my standards. The bill has two devastating points. First, it requires that any class seeking a lawsuit must prove to have the same “scope and type” of injury. So, if one woman was affected by talc via self-application, and another had been using it on her infant daughter, who later developed ovarian cancer, neither would be able to seek justice by banding together.
The bill also creates shaky ground for lawyers, issuing criteria for their fees which could endanger them receiving remuneration at all. The risk for taking on these lawsuits would greatly increase, thereby dissuading many law professionals from approaching them. So the bill attacks the consumer from both directions. Crippling criteria make it difficult, or in some cases impossible, to create a class for appropriate litigation. And if you are able to join ranks, finding a professional to bring your case forward will be more challenging than ever.
Trump’s ideology strips the American people of their safety, confidence in businesses, and their legal rights. By tearing apart the FDA and EPA, he leaves gaping wounds that allow pollution to enter our ecosystem and our bodies. His deregulation makes it easy for brand marketing to obscure the truth about products, and hide effective treatments amid placebo pills and unknown health risks. In this environment of shady business, his placement of corporate needs above those of the people makes it incredibly difficult to seek the justice that many so desperately need. This is the reality. These are the facts. And there’s nothing “alternative” about it.
Featured image via Gage Skidmore