[W]e would be better off without the pretense [of government regulatory agencies like the FDA]. Monsanto would have to rely on its good name to sell its products and right now I’m going to hazard a guess they couldn’t do that, nor many other companies.
-Jonathan R. Latham, PhD
Most of us conservative libertarians love to mock the barefoot liberal hippies when they complain about our health and the environment. After all, these are the guys demanding laws to save us from corporate-induced global warming. They are likewise demanding laws to prevent new technologies from entering the marketplace for fear of health concerns. These “natural” Luddites are opposed to the free market, modern science, and all the great conveniences they have brought simply because they refuse to worship the Creator and bow down before the creation instead.
But what if that entire line of thought is the result of carefully crafted propaganda? Have you been duped?
In his book on genetically modified food, Jeffrey M. Smith notes
The story here is that the Monsanto scientist sitting in front of me believes his industry’s PR stance entirely—and with a quarter of a billion dollars being spent on getting this message across, so do countless others.
I learned more about how the industry drives their points home as I listened to their representatives address an agricultural biotechnology conference later that year. Each described another glorious break-through about genetic engineering and how it would solve the problems of agriculture. But whenever anyone brushed lightly on the topic of public resistance to GM foods, they all said the same sentence:
“It’s not a food safety issue.” Each speaker would characterize the arguments against GM foods as cultural, or religious, or philosophical, or anti-science, or complicated, or a trade barrier, or anti-American. But, “of course, it’s not a food safety issue.”
Audience members were from agriculture, the food industry, academia, and the media. I wondered how they were reacting to what was being said. During a break, I started up a conversation with a graduate student doing research on the sociological issues surrounding GM foods. As she shared some details of her work, she referred to the resistance to GM foods expressed in Europe and elsewhere. She quickly added, “Of course it’s not a food safety issue.”
Bingo. It had worked. The words she used, even the way she said them, mirrored precisely that of the previous speakers. They had another convert.
The graduate student believed that there is no food safety issue with GM foods and the Monsanto scientist at lunch believed GM foods could feed the starving. Monsanto’s CEO, Robert Shapiro said, “Those of us in industry can take comfort. . . . After all, we’re the technical experts. We know we’re right. The ‘antis’ obviously don’t understand the science, and are just as obviously pushing a hidden agenda—probably to destroy capitalism.”
If you challenge the industry, as Agriculture Secretary Glickman reported, “You’re Luddites, you’re stupid.” Or worse, you are a scoundrel for turning a cold shoulder to the millions of starving in the world. Jack Kemp, former Republican nominee for vice president had some choice words for those who called for safety testing and labeling of GM foods. He said they are, “ill-considered, anti-progress, left-wing, self-appointed . . . anti-technology activists.” It’s not easy speaking against the pro-biotech current.
Smith, Jeffrey (2003-09-03). Seeds of Deception (Kindle Locations 3812-3831). Yes! Books. Kindle Edition.
Casting all health concerns about new technology (including new “food” inventions) as anti-capitalist hippy hogwash is a very deliberate strategy. And it’s very effective.
Someone on Facebook recently posted a link to a Forbes article titled Chipotle: The Long Defeat Of Doing Nothing Well. It’s a pretty ridiculous hit piece, resorting to calling Chipotle “sleazy” for meeting the market demand of people who believe food quality matters. The author, Henry I. Miller, is a long-time industry shill. He’s clearly writing for someone who feels threatened by Chipotle’s success (Big Ag and Monsanto, etc face serious competition – nationally as well as internationally – from rising consumer interest in organic and non-GMO foods, which equals non-patented foods). Miller tows the line, referring to Chipotle’s approach to ingredients as “New Age-y.” He brings in the anti-capitalist line by chiding Chipotle for sourcing local ingredients “locavorism misses some of the important lessons of Economics 101—namely, the benefits of specialization and comparative advantage.” In other words, Big Ag are the experts and anything else is anti-capitalist, which is ironic since he also blasts Chipotle’s response to market demand as “a marketing-driven propensity to exploit current food fads.”
After commenting on the posted article on Facebook, the person responded just like he was supposed to: “All right now Brandon, back to your organic granola.” That’s good PR.
Miller’s Forbes by-line reads “I debunk junk science and flawed public policy.” “Junk science” is another PR ploy. Just what separates junk science from good science? Well, good science is funded by industry, junk science isn’t.
Countless scientific studies over the years have demonstrated countless health hazards from all kinds of inventions, products, and practices of Big Business. That’s just part of life. Not everything’s good for us. But the response has been twofold: 1) control the regulatory agencies, and 2) fund scientific studies that demonstrate no adverse health effects. The regulatory agencies then collect all the studies. The real studies showing adverse health effects are canceled out by industry funded studies showing no adverse health effects. The consensus is that there is no conclusive evidence of adverse health effects, and therefore no reason to regulate.
The science will continue to be “inconclusive” so long as industry funds studies showing no harm in order to balance the scales. The entire goal is simply to cast doubt on the legitimate studies.
I read a report recently that does a good job of specifically explaining how industry studies have suppressed science showing the harmful effects of a variety of commonly used chemicals. Why the United States Leaves Deadly Chemicals on the Market explains how industry science developed a method of study using computer-generated “models” to predict/demonstrate the effect of chemicals on the human body. Surprise, surprise, these models all show the chemicals are safe. However, when actual animals and humans are studied, it’s clear the chemicals are not safe. Yet the PBPK studies cast doubt on the real studies and the result is that there is no conclusive evidence.
To promote the idea that BPA is safe, the chemical industry routinely lobbies policymakers and “educates” consumers. What has not been widely discussed, however, is how industry has backed PBPK studies that marginalized research showing risks from environmentally typical levels of BPA. Many of these doubt-inducing studies have been conducted by researchers whose careers can be linked to the PBPK work done at Wright-Patterson. In published critiques, health effects researchers—among them Gail Prins and Wade Welshons—have detailed the many ways in which these PBPK models fail to accurately reflect BPA exposure.
The conclusion of the article is rather interesting:
Scientists typically shy away from activism, but many now believe it’s what’s needed to punch through the machinations and inertia regarding chemical regulation. Shanna Swan, Mount Sinai professor of preventive medicine, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine, notes that some of the biggest reductions in chemical exposures have happened in response to consumer pressure on both industry and policymakers. Or, as the University of California’s Bruce Blumberg says, “I think we need to take the fight to the people.”
So let me get this straight: scientists have found something dangerous and they feel the best way to help people is to educate consumers so that the consumers will pressure the industry owned regulatory agencies to protect them from what they know is harmful. Why do we need the regulatory agencies again?
My point isn’t to advocate regulation. My point is to alert you to the fact that you implicitly trust government regulation when it comes to these issues. Someone promoting a study challenging an official regulatory agency’s position on a health issue (be it FCC, FDA, USDA, CDC, EPA, etc) is looked upon with suspicion. If these claims really were true, these products wouldn’t be on the market. Or perhaps your capitalist logic creates trust for Big Business – if so, that trust is misplaced because capitalism operates upon the principle that trust has to be earned, and it has to be earned in a free market where others are free to compete by voicing criticism, something the supposedly pro-market Miller can’t stand (“Chipotle has also become a leading corporate voice in the mendacious “trash the competition” anti-genetic engineering movement. If sleaze were infectious, Chipotle would be causing a pandemic.”)
There’s the flip side to regulation. In response to health critics, these companies have passed numerous laws that actually release them from any liability. You can’t sue them. And once it’s approved, there’s no turning back – otherwise the public would begin to doubt the regulatory agency.
Re-read the opening line in this post. Most of these big businesses simply would not exist in a free market. Would you really trust a company who grew up developing chemical warfare agents to sell you a new post-war food they invented?
Maybe the hippies were on to something after all. Or maybe all the people raising concerns over the health consequences of modern living aren’t hippies at all.
Don’t be duped. Do your research. Follow the money. (Denise Menger’s Death By Food Pyramid is a helpful place to start, as it discusses the politics and teaches you how to analyze the studies)
As a P.S., here’s a relevant section from a video I watched recently. Klinghardt is a world-renowned physician in Seattle.
The Europeans, when they hear that, they get the idea and run with it. In America, unfortunately, especially the husbands become a huge obstacle to this. Most American men never had more than 1 year of physics in school and simply do not have the understanding, but they have strong opinions without having understood physics. They have strong opinions about it, that this cannot possibly be true, because if it would be true and dangerous the government would have done something. @15:05
@17:40 I wasn’t able to publish it because of the special interests that are now have found their way into the medical journals and the peer reviewed. I think it’s important to say that now the communications industry has become the largest lobbying industry in politics. Larger than Big Pharma by a factor of 3x more powerful than the pharmaceutical industry [see here also], which used to be the most powerful arm bending the decisions in Washington and in all Western governments for that purpose.
For a detailed account of how the communications industry has sought to control science, see Joel Maskowitz’ talk
Note Dr. Martin Pall’s (Professor Emeritus School of Molecular Biosciences, Washington State University) comment in the Q&A and Dr. Moskowitz’ follow-up (@18:35):
Pall: I think it’s absolutely clear that EMFs are activating voltage gated calcium channels. Every single one of those 26 studies shows it. So I think we shouldn’t be following the propaganda claim that this thing hasn’t been shown. It has been shown.
Moskowitz: The counter-point though is that there isn’t scientific consensus…. So there’s controversy around all this stuff…
Pall: But if your criterion is you don’t accept anything until there’s no controversy, then the industry has you over the barrel forever, because they will always raise controversy.
A related question has to do with the difference between European government responses and American. Europe has much stricter standards across the board. Industry PR would cast this in the hippy/capitalist mold. But consider that European countries often have stricter health standards because they have more fully socialized healthcare. They have to incur the cost for health problems, so they regulate activities that are detrimental to health.
American healthcare is not quite as socialized as European countries, so the state does not incur the cost for health problems in the same way. Instead, state regulatory agencies incur loss of profit (because the regulatory agencies are the industry) when activities that are detrimental to health are regulated. That’s why you see the difference in regulatory standards for health issues. It’s not because Europe is full of earth worshipping hippies. And it’s definitely not because the science is “doubtful.” It’s because they don’t want to pay for consequences.
See also: “Evidence-based“