In the wake of that report, a congressional hearing was held in Washington, D.C. on Valentine's Day. The hearing featured potential hall-of-fame pitcher Roger Clemens (the most visible of the baseball players accused of illegal steroid use), his former trainer Brian McNamee, former Senator and author of the Mitchell Report George Mitchell (D-ME), and Donald Fehr, head of MLB's Players Union.
While Mr. Fehr said the Players Union and MLB accept partial blame for letting steroid use in baseball spiral out of control, he also suggested that some of the blame be directed toward the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DSHEA). In his testimony, Mr. Fehr recommended specifically that Congress consider whether or not the law is adequately enforced as well as if it should be amended. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) agreed with Mr. Fehr, admitting that he too has been troubled by the 13-year-old law for quite some time. He said further that DSHEA is definitely up for review and suggested that the Energy and Commerce Committee reopen the DSHEA bill and "take a look at its problems."
The day before the steroid hearing on Capitol Hill, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered his thoughts on the steroids-in-baseball scandal in an editorial that ran in the Washington Post. Well known for his strong efforts to help push DSHEA through Congress in the early 1990s, the Utah Senator vigorously defended dietary supplements and criticized MLB officials for using them as a means to avoid the real problem of cheating in baseball.
"If the supplements were to blame, you'd think ultra-rich ball players would hire the best lawyers and sue the daylights out of the manufacturers that made them innocent victims, unfairly suspended from the game they love. How many of them have sued to prove that a lawfully marketed dietary supplement was indeed the cause? As far as I know, zero," Senator Hatch said.
"Dietary supplements and the laws that regulate them are not and have never been the problem. The problem is that a few athletes will do anything and take anything to get a competitive edge - including taking substances they know are illegal."
But I think former Yankees manager, Joe Torre, said it best when he was questioned by reporters about steroids just prior to entering Spring Training for the LA Dodgers. "It's just sad," he said. "I'd just like to see baseball move on right now." Don't we all.
Unfortunately, what's most entertaining isn't always what's most important. And although it's not receiving quite the exposure of the steroid hearing, the budget debacle at the FDA should have everyone, from lawmakers to businesses to consumers, shaking in their shoes - particularly since a partially functioning FDA has the potential to impact millions, and that's putting it mildly.
A recent New York Times editorial suggested that FDA's scientific core is eroding, and that "the two units that regulate food are in a 'state of crisis,' with dietary supplements and cosmetics getting short shrift."
Congress approved a 5.7% increase in FDA's budget this year - far below what was requested by the agency. While many companies, organizations,analysts and politicians came to FDA's defense and voiced their concerns about the dangers of not raising FDA's budget significantly, their efforts proved futile. With its responsibilities far outweighing its resources, FDA is the one you want to keep a close eye on - forget baseball.