I am taking a divergence to my roots in libertarianism in this post by examining possible alternate causes of the rise in drug-resistant bacteria rather than supposed over-use of anti-bacterial agents. One thing that bothers me about the framing of the debate is that it is entirely one-sided. We get to hear what the government has to say, and by extension, anyone who opposes that view, particularly the industries involved, seems to bear the burden of proof.
The trigger for my rant today are reports that the FDA has filed notice of a rule change regarding anti-bacterial soaps and cleansers that contain triclosan pending submission of proof of safety and effectiveness compared to plain soap and water. In the submission the makers of these products have to prove that they are not harmful, proof that extends to the wider subject of contribution to so-called drug resistant “super-bugs.”
There are many things about this pending rule that are completely absurd. The first is that the FDA holds the keys to the kingdom on nearly everything that is brought to market that comes in contact with humans, from drugs to soaps and tooth paste. And putting just a little bit of logic to the problem of the rise of drug resistant bacteria, specifically, there is nothing particularly evolutionary about problem. Ever since the advent of Penicillin, it has been known that antibiotics kill most of the bacteria, enough to help the body fight off mass infection, but not all of them. The bacteria that survive are left behind to reproduce, and over time, there are more of them that are genetically resistant than those that are not. In that way, nearly every type of antibiotic agent, whether a drug or a cleanser, is time limited against an archaic regulatory system that has an overwhelming incentive to say no rather than yes to new products.
This is how well government supervision of the markets for infection fighting drugs and agents serves the interests of the public- go back to using regular soap and water and old fluoridated toothpaste so one can be vulnerable to both bacteria that is not genetically resistant and those that are. They’ll sort it out when you happen to get sick while doing nothing about the need for new products that prevent illness which, in turn, does nothing about the fact that there are already populations of bacteria that no widely available agent can kill. This makes about as much sense as Obama saying ATM machines cause unemployment.
And the framing of the rule change smacks of the negative context of asking a question like “When did you stop beating your wife.” It is a veiled accusation that these products cause harm with no proof; and consumers won’t be given a choice to vote with their purchases.
This is one reason I support the Tenth Amendment Center specifically and the nullification movement in general. The commerce clause has its limits, the boundary of state lines where accountability is much closer to the people than some appointed beltway bureaucrat or group of bureaucrats who leverage their positions for purposes of self-interest and cause more harm to the national public than benefit.