Request to FDA: Live Stream Cosmetics Public Stakeholder Meeting

On November 30, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration will host a Cosmetic Microbiological Safety Public Meeting in Washington, DC. Here’s the FDA’s meeting announcement.  In case you didn’t know, the FDA regulates cosmetics in the United States.  The Office of Cosmetics & Colors is the arm within the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) that is charged with “ensuring that … cosmetic products are safe and properly labeled.”

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Over the years, I have had numerous in-person, telephone and email conversations with CFSAN representatives. These exchanges have always been cordial, and CFSAN representatives have gone out of their way to offer me and my members an opportunity to share our questions and concerns about how the FDA regulates cosmetics.

The upcoming Cosmetic Microbiological Safety Public Meeting meeting is of critical importance to all cosmetics companies. As you can see from the announcement,

“The purpose of the Meeting is to provide stakeholders an opportunity to present information regarding cosmetic microbiological safety and to suggest areas for the possible development of FDA guidance documents.”

As you might imagine, the nation’s largest cosmetics manufacturers, representing billions of dollars in annual sales, will be present at the meeting with their attorneys, lobbyists, research scientists, cosmetics chemists and other stakeholders.

I also expect representatives of special interest groups, including the Environmental Working Group and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, both of which support federal legislation to overhaul state and federal cosmetics legislation, to be present and possibly offer comments in support of their positions on the pending legislation.

This Will Be a Critical Meeting for Cosmetics Manufacturers

The people who make oral comments live at the meeting will share information of critical importance to all cosmetics manufacturers, yet unless my members attend in person, they will not be able to see and hear what others say, nor will they have an opportunity to request to be heard in person.

This meeting would be important under any circumstances, but is is critically important now because HR 2359: The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 is pending in Congress. That bill contains numerous provisions having to do with the safety of cosmetics, including microbiological testing, preservative systems, ingredients, microorganisms, adverse events associated with microbial contamination of cosmetics and more.

Yet the meeting is not currently scheduled to be live streamed so the public can see and hear firsthand what is discussed. More importantly from my perspective as the leader of a trade organization serving hundreds of companies whose interests will be directly affected by the information shared at the meeting, I am concerned that the meeting is not going to be streamed live.

The FDA Has Live Streamed Important Meetings Before

On November 12-13, 2009, the FDA live streamed Promotion of FDA-Regulated Medical Products Using the Internet and Social Media Tools (PDF). The live stream link is still accessible online. Along with several of my colleagues, I tweeted and blogged about the event. Even though I’m not in the medical products industry, it was incredibly informative and beneficial to hear the public comments live.

For small business owners, there is simply no substitute for seeing and hearing firsthand what influential industry participants are saying about your industry.

The meetings will take place at the L’Enfant Hotel, which boasts state of the art audio visual equipment and personnel. It appears from the FDA’s announcement that it has contracted with Planning Professionals Ltd. of Allen, Texas, to coordinate the meetings. I’m sure they can work with the hotel over the next few weeks to arrange an efficient and cost effective live stream.

Public Should Mean Public

It is my firm belief that a federal government public meeting is not truly “public” unless everyone with a stake in the outcome has a meaningful opportunity to attend and participate. Today’s technology makes this an easy task, yet so far, no such opportunity is provided here.

I have contacted FDA personnel to request that the proceedings be live streamed. My contact has assured me that I will be put in touch with someone to whom I can make a formal request.  However, there isn’t much time, since the meeting is in a few short weeks, and those weeks include a federal holiday.

Additionally, because the deadline to request oral presentation time is November 10, and the deadline to submit written materials is November 21, time is of the essence. Because of the time constraints, I have informed my contact of my intention to publish this blog post so readers from all industries may share their comments and ideas about how important it is for the federal government to live stream this event so small business owners and the public can see for themselves what is involved in addressing cosmetic safety.

Do you think FDA should live stream this event? Why or why not? If you have experience in this area, is there enough time to set it up?

34 Comments ▼

Donna Maria Coles Johnson


Donna Maria Coles Johnson Donna Maria is the founder and CEO of INDIE Business Media and INDIE Beauty Network, a trade organization representing independent health, beauty and lifestyle product manufacturers. An award-winning small business advocate, Donna Maria has hosted the weekly Indie Business Podcast since 2005. She leads the popular INDIE social networking site, and blogs at INDIE Business Blog.

34 Reactions

  1. Donna Maria Coles Johnson

    Since submitting this article for publication, I have learned from an FDA official that the meeting will absolutely not be live streamed, and that a transcript will be made available sometime after the meeting. This remains a very important issue nevertheless.

    Even if FDA does not live stream this particular meeting, it’s important that we let them know that we expect meetings of this nature to be truly “public” so that, if we cannot participate live, we can see what our competitors and colleagues are telling the regulator and the public about our industry, and we can plan our businesses accordingly. Do you agree?

  2. I would like to see meeting like this, which would have some serious consequences to my business, be made as public as possible. After all, it’s our government and our livelihood and we are in the 21st century with low cost technology in place to make our tasks easier. I can’t think of too many reasons not to use it. Sincerely, Fabienne Christenson, President of Possets Perfume

  3. Whenever “public” is kept from the public, I can’t help but automatically conclude that there is stuff being hidden. Maybe the FDA could see their way to releasing a list of “Those In Attendance” in advance of said meeting, so at least we can make an educated guess as to what kind of surreptitious stuff they may be wanting to keep from the general public.

    Full transcript please. And definition of the way the word “public” is being used wouldn’t go amiss, either!

  4. Yes. I agree. Meetings like this should be truly public. Stream it live, *and* release a transcript too.

  5. The cost to do this is very low relative to the benefit. There is no reason not to stream a meeting of this nature, unless of course there is not a desire for it to be transparent.

  6. Yes…I agree…this important a meeting should be available to the public….since we ARE the business’ they are talking about.

  7. I agree that there is always something fishy about “public” meetings not being open to the public! The very term “public meeting” suggests there is information to share with and glean from attendees. If the door is “closed” it looks like an exclusive and shady agenda is being shared. It is not at all helpful to small businesses and can’t possibly serve the public well.

  8. I totally agree! Pubblic meetings should be just that, PUBLIC. Not everyone who may be interested can travel “to” meetings but with today’s technology, they can still be “present” to see and hear for themselves. It seems as if all is in place for this meeting to be live streamed but like Susan said, I have to question is something is being hidden from the public. We should not have to rely on other resources (which can be questionable as to reliable) for information that could effect us or our business in some way. Right is right and wrong is wrong. THIS IS WRONG! Transcripts are great but seeing and hearing is better and essential to determine intent and overall content. JMHO!

  9. P.S. I tend to think that fear of outcry and overwhelming opposition has led to the decision not to live stream. This is a hot button and many are afraid to push it.

  10. I would be very interested in listening to this meeting. It sounds hugely informative and extremely helpful.

  11. Somehow receiving a transcript (how accurate will that be?) at some indefinite future point does not equate to being “virtually present” via a livestreamed hearing. Donna Maria, you represent thousands of “stakeholders” in this hearing, most of us unable to be there in person. Yes, with today’s techonology the FDA could easily make the hearings accessible to all of us. That they choose not to is unconscionable. Thank you for standing for us!

  12. As a cosmetics manufacturer, a live stream of this would be extremely beneficial to me & the public I serve.

  13. I’m very curious to hear what happens at this meeting. I do wish we could be there via LiveStream to hear the action.

  14. I think it is imperative that meetings such as this are made available to all citizens, especially small business owners who may be affected my information that is presented. I can’t imagine that live stream set up would be very difficult or costly. Thank you again Donna Maria for continuing to fight for the rights of small business, ensuring that we get a voice where it counts.

  15. Stephanie Reynolds

    Yes, I agree that this should be truly “public.” As a small cosmetics business owner, it is extremely important that I have access to what is being addressed at this meeting in regards to cosmetic safety. Thank you for taking a stand on this Donna Maria!

  16. This meeting needs to be made public. With modern technology available there is no reason that this and all public meetings should not be live streamed. As a small cosmetic business owner who cannot attend in person it is imperative that I hear first hand what is going on.

  17. I agree this meeting should truly be “public”. Public does not mean seeing a transcript of it later. This may affect my business drastically as well as several thousand other small business owners. When a government agency takes a public meeting away from the public it’s usually because something is not going to be above board. This is just plain wrong!
    Toni Bible
    Owner – Southern Cross Organics

  18. How timely! I just got your indiebusiness email and I had just posted my response to a reply on this topic I started at indie beauty where I had announced the notice of this meeting. http://preview.tinyurl.com/6qj8tkk

    You touched on so much more, and with your indie advocacy background and legal training, this only helps confirm my suspicions. I feel another hammer.

  19. This is a very important step in the protection of small business and to find a balance and common ground among all who have a vested interest in safe cosmetics. I would be very interested in listening to this streamed live and it seems like an easy thing to do!

  20. I agree, this meeting should be live streamed. I would love to hear it.

  21. I would be very interested in listening in on this meeting. The more information we have the better off we will be. I hope they will consider live streaming any other meetings in the future.

  22. Kristin Fraser cotte

    I would be very interested in listening to this meeting. The technology is there, easy and cheap… What exactly is the issue with live streaming a public meeting so the public can be involved?

  23. I am in total agreement about the inaccessible so called public meeting. This kind of limited access in a day where the technology makes it possible to be open and inviting to people outside of the special interest groups( who have the money to be there in force) is what my grandfather called “railroading”.
    I support an FDA that believes in communication and transparency. I do not support The FDA’s procedural decisions in this matter.

  24. What century are we in again? Come on, FDA, get with it! When the White House is on twitter and even the president webcasts on a regular basis, it is unacceptable for public meetings to be held behind closed doors. Those who are unable to travel should be able to join in public debates virtually. To not do so is clearly discrimination against companies and individuals without large travel budgets.

  25. I think it’s really important to have a truely public meeting on such an important topic. This is easy to do and broadens the possible attendees beyond those who can be there physically. There are thousands of people who are very interested in the outcome of this discussion, and they should be included in a “public” meeting on the issue!

  26. The FDA needs to have the public meetings public! 10 yr olds and 85 yr old grandparents know how to set up live streaming web cams, the FDA and it’s event planner don’t? FDA states the meeting’s purpose. Editing my much very longer opinion from my previous post site link, this is my belief: “Purpose” as defined by a gov. agency is just like “intent” as defined by a gov. agency (or anyone else for that manner). You just don’t really know what it means until they try to cram their purpose or intent down your throat. As a farmer, an indie manufactuer and micro business owner, I’ve had so much pupose and intent attempted to be crammed down my throat…

    The timing of this meeting is just off. 30 days notice of this meeting. 10 days to make a request to make an oral presentation. 21 days to actually confrm if you’ll be there (and since seating is limited, who knows if any small stakeholders will even get a seat) and give them a heads up on what you’d like to say. All this can be confirmed at the official FDA notice site http://tinyurl.com/6vnudfa

    Then there are the other logistics of this meeting: This event is happening right at the time most micro and small and even med. indie cosmetic companies can least afford to take off days and spend time, staff and money to go to this. I’m a tiny micro indie in the middle of rural nowhere and from Nov 15th until Dec 21st, I’m booked up.

    To be honest, like most things governmental, micro, small and indie business were not even a consideration when this meeting was planned. It was planned to get it on, done and over with, then cleared from the FDA 2011 calender for the benefit of larger stakeholders and special interest groups who can go at the drop of a hat as they have the finances, staff or both to do so or are in a close enough proximity that it won’t fubar their schedule too much to take a day or 2 off to attend. That pretty much means the majority -but not all- of attendees will be much larger companies than most of us, plus the PCPC member companies and various fear mongering special interest groups. None of these have your and my best interests at heart.

    So far, we’ve been told the seating is limited (read that as you will) and if the event isn’t being streamed live, that means those of us that need to know the purpose and the actual intent (there is a big difference) of this meeting and what actually went on there, probably won’t unless an indie advocate or 2 attends (hint, hint, DM). And as for getting a transcript…Someone else here mentioned accuracy. Getting a transcript, if one is made, is not always easy. And the “will be available sometime in the future” means whatever the FDA wants it to mean. It won’t mean what we mean or what we need. I for one do not trust that the interests of micro, small indie business like ours will be looked out for. I forsee this as a way for the FDA to feel out larger companies on how to draft new regs that will not hamper them too much, but will, by any new regs devised, throw us out of kilter. In other words, business as usual, BOHICA. So stock up on the headache meds because as my favorite business mentor told me the other day: “How many times do you have to be hit over the head with a hammer to realize someone is hitting you over the head, with a hammer?”

  27. Yes, public means public! So do what you say and say what you do!

  28. I would love to listen to this and read the transcript. I can’t help but think that this would help us on the outside to understand so many different issues that formulaters face. It’s hard for us to keep track (preservative types, what’s best, amounts, type of packaging, what can happen, what to watch out for)…I’m getting a little over excited here.

  29. Given the fact that this is a Federal agency – then the term ‘Public’, can only mean the general populace as a whole.
    Since we don’t all live in Washington D.C. – and technically the costs are minimal – why in the world WOULDN’T they airstream this meeting?
    Would the HSMG lobbyists get involved in this sort of issue?
    Or, is there a unified way in which we could alert our State Representatives?

  30. I insist that this meeting have to be available to everyone who is willing to attened and especially to the small cosmetic businesses. If there is a decision that affects my business I would like to know all the details about it.

    Sincerely,

  31. Donna Marie, will you be there? I hope someone with our interests will. I’m more familiar with lobbyist activity and the pharmaceutical industry. These type lobbyists are not very dissimilar from the cosmetic industry. When you keep information away from the public, people are unable to make educated decisions about the products they choose to use during their life. That is dangerous and lopsided thinking. If the groups representing the larger commercial cosmetic industry had nothing to hide, it would truly be public and not restricted by live streaming. I believe people need to be their own health advocates and they cannot do that without this type of information readily abailable.

  32. Having the opportunity to listen in on this meeting livestream would be extremely beneficial to me, my company and customers. Thank you for your consideration.

  33. Thanks to our ombudsman, Donna Maria Coles Johnson, we Indies get the inside scoop and are alerted when something important takes place. Live streaming of FDA proceedings should be standard practice. There’s no excuse for anything less than standard.

  34. Of course it is very important to live stream the meeting, otherwise how will we know if they take a decision that will affect us.

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