US food authorities pander to drug companies

Published: Wednesday 15 August 2007

-- Never before in human history has food chemistry been so precarious for the health of billions. This stems from multinationalcorporate biochemical mayhem going unchecked by regulatory bodies in every nation, the worst being us and China'. This crisis is worsening, demonstrated by the us Food and Drug Administration's (fda's) failure to detect melamine in wheatand rice gluten imports from China meant for use as pet food additives. The failure has already claimed at least 4,000 pets. Moreover, the failure to prevent imports of diethylene glycol, the fake glycerine from China added to medications as a sweetener, has killedhundreds, especially children, from Panama to India to Bangladesh.

These cases, however, pale in epidemiological comparison with the harm done by neurotoxic and carcinogenic food additives.Myown theory is that melamine, not normally very toxic, became poisonous when mixed with cyanuric acid in the bottom of the vats in China, a theory also advanced by Richard Goldstein of the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine.

Food-flavouring workers in California were recently diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans, a rare and life-threatening lung disease also called popcorn workers' lung. Studiesincriminate a chemical used in artificial butter flavour, diacetyl. Flavouring manufacturers have paid more than us $100million as a result of lawsuits by people sick with the diseaseover the past five years. One death has been confirmedamong workers; how many have gone undetected in the general population?
Public relations Lawsuits against Pfizer and Zoloft have resulted in fda requiring antidepressant manufacturers to add suicide warnings to their products, a belated public relations gesture. The normally unflappable Andrew Von Eschenbach, commissioner of fda, recently appointed a new assistant commissioner forfood safety and security, David Acheson. A graduate ofthe University of London Medical School, Acheson has participated in fda discussions about the fact that heating french fries to220c transforms the starch into the carcinogenic acrylamide. (In 2003 and 2004, the then attorney general of California tried to label french fries as containing a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer over the objections of the fast food lobby and fda c ommissioner at that time).

Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat and senior member of the HouseAppropriations Committee, has, however, blasted Acheson's appointment as a"reshuffling of management" doing little to prevent futureoutbreaks. "What is needed is a strong enforcement authority thatwould require mandatory recalls of contaminated products and a commitment to follow through with safety investigations," DeLauro said.

Thepet food malaise has shown people, including those at the highest levels of the administration, that things need fixing. David Kessler, who served under both George H W Bush and Bill Clinton, noted that major improvements are needed from Congress, the industryand fda. He said fda needed more money for food safety efforts.

More money for more experts? Was Kessler joking? We wantonly add chemicals to almost all food, always for superficial appearance or taste. Sodium hexametaphosphate is added topotatoes.Down to Earth Sodium erythorbate, Sodium nitrates and nitrites bhq, bha, andbht, some of the chemical relatives of embalming fluid routinely added to meats and manufactured food products, result in cancers from heatedcarcinogenic nitrosamines.

Artificial sweeteners are made by adding chlorine to sugar (sucralose/ splenda)or aspartame, metabolised as methanol and formaldehyde. Mercurial fungicides are added during transport of coffee beans, and the coffee is mixed withchemicals like artificial sweeteners and nondairy creamers, or even justthe regular old recombinant bovine grown hormones, found in 99 per cent of milk in usa. All this is done at higher temperatures which release the proven brain tumor causing diketopiperazine from aspartame molecule.

Cases of diet sodas are shipped to West Asia, stored out in the sun at 48c degrees.Are you then surprised when the troops drinking these come home with neurological impairments conveniently dubbed the Gulf WarSyndrome? Are you surprised when children drinking sodas for breakfast andhaving, for lunch, junk food doled out by the federally-funded schoollunch programmes, develop attention deficit hyperactivity syndrome, or worse genetic afflictions like autism? Or whenthey fail academically or develop criminal pathologies at an early age, anddevelop adult diabetes at the age 10?

Even tiny incremental steps to correct even one of these problems are met with asolid wall of bureaucratic intransigence and corporate lobbying. For example, atthe New Mexico legislature between 2005 and 2007, it became quite absurd to talk to senators about the obvious need to prevent aspartame from harming our children, while six out of nine of them were obliviously guzzling Diet Coke.

The renegade
Once, I had hopes from fda commissioner Von Eschenbach, a cancer survivorwho proclaimed intentions of ending the disease by 2015. However, every time he was contacted by aspartame victims, physicians treatingaspartame poisoning, activists, or even state and nationalsenators, he either ignored them or came out with corporate pleasing lies. In a letter responding to 21 New Mexico legislators asking for annulling the approval to aspartame, VonEschenbach said fda was not presented with credible scientific evidence. But just Google Ramazzini Oncology Foundation, RussellBlaylock, Betty Martini there is much on the evidence that Von Eschenbach has ignored.

And Acheson? At best, he is another gutless apparatchik appointed to appease our increasingly angry public, but not rock the boat of granderadministration and corporate-driven schemes. Acheson has thus far obtained ringingendorsement from the Grocery Manufacturers of America, who count on him to do nothing to correct the harm done by thechemical feast called mainstream American cuisine.

Emulate China?
Despite China's draconianlack of civil liberties, once in a great while there is appropriate judicial action. Zheng Xiaoyu, the ex-head of China's fda, was sentenced to death foraccepting us $832,000 in drug company bribes. The us is in the middle of adrug and food safety crisis, which has global repercussions. How then does Von Eschenbach, gets his "get out ofjail" card"?

Henry Waxman, chairperson of House Oversight and Government Reform recentlyasked Von Eschenbach to testify on failure to warn Americans of the cardiovascular risk of death from Avandia--a diabetes drug made by GlaxoSmithKline.Statisticsfrom the company's own research predicted that 35,000 people would dietaking Avandia last year. fda chose to ignore these. The hearing was scheduled in the wake of a report in The NewEngland Journal of Medicine that linked Avandia to increased risk of heartattacks.

Avandia problems are the tips of the iceberg. Collusion with the very industries that fda is supposed to regulate has reached staggering proportions, during the Bush administration,resulting in deaths and injuries to millions of Americans. For example, in case of the antibiotic ketek , which fda approved with the knowledge that it wouldinjure children, Von Eschenbach threatened scientists of the institute who spoke out. Iowa's Republican Senator Charles Grassley stated "It looks like fda caught the drug company red handed and let them get away. It continues to cite a discredited safety study as a principal reason to feel okay about this drug."

However, don't conclude that fda is incompetent. Its scientists routinely warn the directors of problems, who then intentionally decline toprotect consumers. Gains of drug companies are placedahead of human health. fda fails to act, partially because its employees are jockeying for high-paying jobs in the industry that is being regulated.

The top priority of fda and Von Eschenbach is to bring newbiotech drugs to the market with minimal safety testing and then use them in clinical practice.Something like experiments in Nazi concentration camps, this iscalled the Critical Path Initiative. His lofty proclamations of ending cancer by 2015 notwitstanding, Von Eschenbach is seen by fda critics as an oncologist who wants to create a cancer industryin which nobody is ever cured; only subjected to more expensive medications, indefinitely. Von Eschenbach led this effort for many years in BushI's C Change, a group smoothing the development of big biotech drugs for profitable cancer "treatment." Tommy Thompson, then head of health and human services, approved a waiverallowing Von Eschenbach to remain at C Change while he headed the NationalCancer Institute, the worst conflict of interest imaginable. In October 2006, Von Eschenbach was appointed to head the fda, holding three positions.

Senate Bill S. 1082 and House bill HR. 1561 on the anvil of us' legislators could result in sweeping fda reform. Or would they? Buried within this legislation is an attack on dietary supplements. These have always been challenged by fda becausethey are safer and more effective than drugs. fda acts as a police-forcebully to keep Americans ignorant about provenhomeopathic cures.

What will it take to rouse the us public fromtheir state of catatonic indifference?

Stephen Fox is a US-based activist who takes on issues related to food safety and public health

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