The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

FDA Lab Closure Plan Endangers Public, Watchdogs Say

by Michelle Chen

Dec. 22, 2006 – The Food and Drug Administration is aiming to cut back its research infrastructure at a time when critics say monitoring and regulation are more crucial than ever.

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According to materials released Thursday by the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in an effort to streamline its operations, is now looking to downsize its laboratories.

The FDA runs a nationwide system of laboratories, with locations in San Francisco, Detroit, New York City and other areas. These labs help investigate and monitor public-health issues like food contamination and drug safety.

On December 6, Margaret Glavin, associate commissioner at the Office of Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the FDA laboratories, sent an e-mail to staff describing a major restructuring effort due to fiscal constraints. According to the message, published on PEER’s website, the agency plans to "consolidate laboratory and other facilities to allow us to provide state-of-the-art regulatory support to our public health mission… and to maximize efficiencies."

But the National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU), which represents about 5,200 FDA workers, 600 of them lab employees, argues the closure and consolidation of laboratories could lead to the loss of crucial personnel. NTEU President Colleen Kelley said in a statement that those positions are especially needed "in light of several recent and serious public health issues dealing with food."

PEER and NTEU recalled a similar plan by the FDA in the 1990s to consolidate eighteen labs in the United States and Puerto Rico into five "multi-purpose mega-labs" and four specialized research labs. In a 1996 study, the Government Accountability Office, a research arm of Congress, concluded that the FDA had miscalculated the potential budgetary savings. The investigators found no conclusive evidence that large labs were more efficient than smaller ones.

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, told The NewStandard the FDA’s memorandum reveals "a top-down, closed-box approach" to an issue with major implications for public health. But decisions on laboratory closures, he said, should be subject to full public and Congressional oversight.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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