The FDA Should Not Gain This Power Over Cosmetics - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The FDA Should Not Gain This Power Over Cosmetics
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The cosmetics at your local store need new rules and enhanced oversight, according to Congress. Tucked deep inside the 4,155-page omnibus spending bill is the Modernization of Cosmetics Regulation Act of 2022. Americans should be skeptical of the measures in the bill, as the regulations will expand FDA power, increase compliance costs, and welcome rent-seeking from “natural” cosmetics companies.

The Cosmetics Regulation Act will impose requirements for reporting “serious adverse events,” task regulators with establishing national standards for manufacturing, and require companies to register their production facilities. The act will also add tedious new label requirements, such as the listing of “a domestic address, phone number, or electronic contact information” to “receive adverse event reports.” This requirement is odd, given that companies’ contact information can typically be found with ease by looking up their names on any search engine. The bill also grants the FDA “mandatory recall authority” and tasks the Secretary of Health and Human Services with further investigating the safety of a few specified substances.

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As most regulations do, these new rules will exert upward pressure on prices by imposing larger compliance costs. The authors of the bill understand that, which is likely why they exempt small businesses from the “good manufacturing practice” and production facility registration requirements. But if some businesses are exempt, that raises the question: how necessary are such regulations for the protection of public health?

The FDA has a tendency to extend its tentacles further over time, so these regulations would mark a win for so-called “clean” cosmetic companies that hope to see more stringent standards enforced on their competitors. In fact, the Wall Street Journal editorial board argues that the efforts of these companies to lobby “for regulations that hamstring competition” are the driver behind this new “micro-management” of the cosmetics industry. Every expansion in FDA power opens the door for special interests to direct that power for their own gain.

While it is true that the potential harm of certain substances is not entirely known, many ingredients in cosmetics are considered safe. The FDA already prohibits a list of ingredients known to be harmful, and cosmetics companies are required by law to list the ingredients of their products sold to general consumers. Ingredients listed on these products can be easily searched online, and independent private groups are free to assess information regarding cosmetics to help consumers make more informed decisions.

In fact, there is abundant information available on how to shop for cosmetics in a healthier manner. For example, Medical News Today, a health information website for the general public and physicians, has a page discussing various substances it recommends avoiding when shopping for makeup. For consumers who wish to avoid specific substances in their products, they can search the website of the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit corporation that puts its stamp on products that meet its “strictest criteria for transparency and health.”

The late economist Ludwig von Mises writes in his book Bureaucracy, “ [Consumers], by their buying and by their abstention from buying, decide who should own the capital and run the plants. They determine what should be produced and in what quantity and quality. Their attitudes result in either in profit or in loss for the enterpriser.” If consumers wish to see a more “natural” cosmetics industry, they can bring it to fruition by directing their dollars toward natural products.

And if certain cosmetic products truly are harmful, consumers who are injured by them can find recourse through the tort system. If lawsuits against cosmetic companies are won based on a preponderance of the evidence, it would greatly diminish the trust in those companies. Other brands with similar products would then wisely and quickly, due to the profit incentive, shape up their products to avoid lawsuits and a worsening of consumer sentiment.

Efforts to expand FDA power encourage — and may be the result of — rent-seeking by companies hoping to use that power against their competitors. If rent-seeking actors succeed in their aims, the result will be fewer options and higher costs for consumers. And the cosmetic industry does not need micromanagement from government regulators nor the increased compliance costs that will come with it. Americans ought to be skeptical of this increased FDA power over cosmetics.

Benjamin Ayanian is a graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he studied philosophy, business law, and political science. He has also been published in the Star Tribune and the Wall Street Journal. Follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminAyanian.

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