Export of Pharmaceuticals and Medical Devices Under the Federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act: FDA's Striking Change in Interpretation post-Shelhigh

Food Drug Law J. 2009;64(1):149-69.


With no communication to industry except court filings in United States v. Undetermined Quantities of Boxes of Articles of Device (Shelhigh) and a draft guidance document, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has articulated new policies regarding export of pharmaceutical products and medical devices. FDA's departure from its historic interpretation of the export provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) significantly limits the ability of manufacturers to export misbranded drugs and medical devices that FDA deems "adulterated," contrary to the plain language and legislative intent of the FDCA. To further exacerbate the issue, FDA has begun to implement these policies without the notice-and-comment rulemaking required by the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), but rather through an enforcement proceeding brought in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. In a letter opinion, the District Court prevented the export of Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMP) --adulterated medical devices that complied with FDCA Section 801(e)(1), at least as historically interpreted by FDA. The purpose of this article is to review the history of FDA's export policies for pharmaceuticals and medical devices, particularly those aspects of the export policies that are affected by FDA's recent change in position. Three changes in FDA's interpretation of the export provisions of the FDCA will be addressed: 1) unapproved devices that a manufacturer reasonably believes are eligible for Section 510(k) clearance may no longer be exported under Section 801(e) and now must be exported under Section 802, in substantial compliance with Current CGMP; 2) adulterated devices and misbranded drugs can only be exported if the foreign purchaser's specifications cause the product to be adulterated; and 3) an article may not be exported if a like article has ever been sold or offered for sale in domestic commerce. FDA's new interpretations of FDCA Sections 801 and 802 are not valid interpretations of these statutory provisions. Although FDA always exercised its enforcement discretion under the FDCA with respect to export of an unapproved device that a manufacturer reasonably believed to be eligible for Section 510(k) clearance, FDA's recent shift in interpretation contravenes its longstanding approach without sufficient public notice.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Commerce / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Device Approval / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Drug Approval / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Equipment and Supplies
  • Government Regulation
  • Guidelines as Topic
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Legislation, Drug / history
  • Legislation, Drug / organization & administration*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations