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close this bookFood Nutrition and Agriculture - 8/9 Consumer Participation in food control (1993)
close this folderInvolving consumers in food control in the united states
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentHistory of FDA's process to integrate consumer interests
View the documentImpact and effectiveness of consumer organizations
View the documentResponding to consumers' demand for good nutrition
View the documentInitiatives to provide access
View the documentChallenges ahead

Initiatives to provide access

Access to FDA is provided through a wide range of programmes and activities such as public participation, information and outreach programmes, community-based programmes and public health initiatives. All the programmes and activities are designed to inform consumers about the safety and effectiveness of products the agency regulates. They are targeted to reach all consumers, including Hispanics, African Americans, youth, women, older individuals and the handicapped. The information presented is designed to emphasize messages relevant to the unique health aspects of products regulated by FDA.

Under public participation programmes, national and local meetings are held to enable a broad spectrum of key consumer leaders, individuals and interested organizations to discuss their views with agency officials. At the local level these meetings are referred to as "consumer exchange meetings". Information is provided on public health problems in which FDA is involved or on proposed Federal Register announcements that ask for comment within a specified time frame. Consumers are encouraged to submit written views, to testify at public meetings or to present the consumer perspective at agency advisory committee meetings. Since public participation is a two-way process, information of high interest to consumers is provided to them and they in turn communicate their views, attitudes and reactions to FDA. In this process, consumer opinions are considered in the policy-making decisions at FDA.

Meetings are also convened with consumer leaders, individual consumers and FDA key personnel at the local and national levels for in-depth discussion of health and policy issues important to FDA or consumer representatives. From these meetings FDA is able to determine areas of consumer support for or conflict with agency policy. Local grassroots issues and concerns are also identified. The results are improved understanding and communication, if not agreement, between FDA and consumers and a greater balance in FDA's decision-making process. These meetings require careful preparation and identification of suitable topics and appropriate agency and consumer participants.

Since the enactment of the Federal Advisory Committee Act in 1972, FDA has provided consumers with the opportunity to serve as members on its advisory committees and panels. Currently, consumers serve on 36 of these advisory bodies. The consumer representatives on advisory committees provide the agency with the consumer perspective on many policy and health issues that affect the public.

The consumer constituency interacting with FDA is a diverse group. It includes organizations that represent a broad spectrum of national and local interests, such as the Consumer Federation of America, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the National Consumers League. These organizations often participate in joint projects with FDA, industry and health professional groups to further consumer protection goals.

Printed material such as brochures, pamphlets and press releases as well as "talk papers" and "backgrounders" which provide more detailed information are used to convey FDA's message to the public. These publications are developed by the Office of Public Affairs. Reprinted articles from the magazine FDA Consumer are also used.

All field public affairs specialists work with the electronic and print media. Several of them have weekly or monthly programmes highlighting FDA activities or appear as regular guests on radio and television programmes. As a result, more and more consumers are getting the word on important health and safety issues. The format for media interaction varies depending on the demographic characteristics of the area. The benefit of working with the media cannot be overemphasized: public affairs specialists reach millions of consumers who may not get FDA's message any other way. It is the greatest way to reach the most people in the shortest time.