Survey finds FDA scientists pressured to exclude and alter findings

Wednesday, 02 August, 2006


The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) in the US has released survey results that demonstrate pervasive and dangerous political influence of science at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Of the 997 FDA scientists who responded to the survey, nearly one-fifth (18.4%) said they "have been asked, for non-scientific reasons, to inappropriately exclude or alter technical information or their conclusions in an FDA scientific document".

This is the third survey UCS has conducted to examine inappropriate interference with science at federal agencies.

"Science must be the driving force for decisions made at the FDA. These disturbing survey results make it clear that inappropriate interference is putting people in harm's way," Dr Francesca Grifo, Senior Scientist and Director of UCS's Scientific Integrity Program, said.

"FDA leaders should act now to improve transparency and accountability and renew respect for independent science at the agency."

The UCS survey, which was co-sponsored by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, was sent to 5918 FDA scientists. 40% of respondents fear retaliation for voicing safety concerns in public.

This fear, scientists say, combines with other pressures to compromise the agency's ability to protect public health and safety. More than a third of the respondents did not feel they could express safety concerns even inside the agency.

The survey also revealed other areas of concern:

  • 61% of the respondents knew of cases where "Department of Health and Human Services or FDA political appointees have inappropriately injected themselves into FDA determinations or actions".
  • Only 47% think the "FDA routinely provides complete and accurate information to the public".
  • 81% agreed that the "public would be better served if the independence and authority of FDA post-market safety systems were strengthened".
  • 70% disagree with the statement that FDA has sufficient resourcees to perform effectively its mission of "protecting public health"¦and helping to get accurate science-based information they need to use medicines and foods to improve their health".

"The FDA regulates products vital to the wellbeing of all Americans, including food, drugs, vaccines and medical devices," Grifo said.

"To fully protect public health and safety, the FDA must have the best available independent scientific data."

To address the concerns raised by FDA scientists, UCS recommends:

  • Accountability: FDA leadership must face consequences if they side with commercial or political interests and not with the American people.
  • Transparency: Scientific research and reviews should be open so any undue manipulation is immediately apparent.
  • Protection: Safeguards must be put in place for all government scientists who speak out.

"What we see at the FDA, while dramatic and frightening, is all too common at many federal agencies," Grifo said.

"All federal scientists need protections so they can speak out when their science is manipulated, and all federal agencies need fully functioning independent advisory committees. FDA leadership must understand and support independent science and it is up to Congress to hold them accountable."

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