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HELP THE FDA PROTECT THE PUBLIC

Either the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn't being given enough money and manpower to do its job or the agency is falling down on its job of protecting Americans from impure food and dangerous medications.

That much should be clear from a report by a House Government Operations subcommittee, which outlined some of the needless risks to which the public's health is being subjected in violation of the law. Among the main findings:- Farmers are using thousands of drugs and feed supplements to help keep animals healthy and make them grow faster even though the FDA has never approved them, as required by law.

- Though FDA scientists have identified nearly a dozen animal drugs as cancer-causing, the agency has not restricted or banned them.

- The FDA has not developed chemistry techniques to carry out its assignment to monitor beef, milk, pork and poultry for high levels of drug residues.

These findings echo another report from the same committee in late 1984, warning that about 5,000 new drugs were on the market without required FDA approval.

The upshot is that the public is being needlessly exposed to unknown dangers. That goes particularly for the drugs used on animals. When consumers take medication or prescription drugs, they usually know what they are getting. But when they eat meat or drink milk, they have no way of knowing what medications were given to the farm animals or how much of those medications we end up consuming.

To a large extent, this is not the FDA's fault. It has long been understaffed, underfinanced and overworked. Why? At least partly because of the excessive red tape imposed on it by Congress. Though the FDA has been streamlining its operations, it still takes more time and paperwork to get a drug approved in the United States than it does in England. Important new drugs are also screened and approved or rejected much more expeditiously in Canada, Norway, and Switzerland - all of which do a good job of protecting the public - than in the United States.

Washington can't keep scrimping on the FDA without subjecting Americans to some needless health risks.