Impact and effectiveness of consumer organizations
Today, consumer advocacy organizations, as well as individual consumers who interact with FDA, are highly sophisticated and influential as a result of FDA's public participation initiatives. This increase in sophistication is evident in a trend towards more specialization among consumer groups as exemplified by those representing multicultural populations, patient concerns and special interest groups. Through these organizations, consumers are empowered as never before. They have the money and scientific background to affect policy decisions. They serve on FDA advisory boards and committees. Many consumer organizations join together to form coalitions that present a united position on regulatory policy issues. These coalitions have powerful lobbying capabilities and they are very effective in dealing with Congress on consumer issues.
Consumer advocacy groups have expanded their constituency to include European, South American and Asian consumer organizations. To accommodate the cultural and linguistic diversity in the consumer world, FDA is altering its staff and preparing to meet the increased need for materials that reflect different cultures. Publications are being prepared in several different languages. FDA is also providing continuous training programmes on cultural diversity and sensitivity to move forward on international issues with greater understanding.
The agency is creating stronger partnerships with consumer affairs professionals in industry and other government agencies, health care professionals and consumer organizations. These partnerships help FDA to serve consumers better. For example, two years ago, in anticipation of the passage of new food labelling regulations, FDA formed a relationship with the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), an association for retail grocery stores, and the National Urban League, an African-American community organization. This partnership among FDA, FMI and the Urban League supported a consumer education programme that links diet and health and educates the African-American community on how to use the information on food labels effectively. The reaction to this programme from the community as well as the participating organizations was extremely positive, FMI's Vice President for Consumer and Community Relations remarked in a meeting that although FMI already felt in touch with the community, working together with FDA and the Urban League provided valuable insight on how to convert understanding and sensitivity to cultural diversity into a positive educational tool.
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