Opinion: Poison in My Groceries: Food companies and big pharma want you sick

There’s money to be made in suffering. In the world of food and big pharma, addiction guarantees repeat business, while the balance behind the adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure is heavily weighted in favor of suffering. After all, that’s where the money is.

Profit margins can run as high as 42% in the pockets of pharmaceutical companies, and that’s because it is a for-profit industry. In 2012 alone, big pharma spent nearly $3.5 billion to market their products, while a report published by the Rady School of Management found that doctors in the US who received payments from pharmaceutical companies were twice as likely to prescribe their drugs. Sinister? Absolutely. But then again, that’s business.

The food industry isn’t much better. In one corner are conglomerates cutting corners to keep down costs, while in the other sits the FDA, seemingly ignoring the lead of the rest of the planet by permitting additives to be used in food that are regulated or prohibited elsewhere. It begins with children. You know all those brightly colored treats you’re giving little Jimmy? They are full of coloring agents that must carry a warning label in Europe as they have been linked to hyperactivity in children. Worse, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also reported that dyes may cause organ damage, cancer, birth defects and allergic reactions. These dyes even can be found in foods you wouldn’t expect, like ketchup or mustard.

And speaking of allergic reactions, new research from the Mayo Clinic suggests that celiac disease – the allergic reaction to gluten – is four times more common today than it was in the 1950s, and not just because doctors are more likely to test for it. Worse, the medical profession does not know why condition is on the rise, but it may be due to changes in the way wheat is grown and processed. Oxidizing agent potassium bromate is found in almost all bread flours, and it has been suggested that the symptoms of gluten intolerance and even celiac can be triggered by unnatural additives.

And who benefits from the never-ending interchange between food and sickness? Big pharma. And who facilitates it? The Federal Drug Administration.

It might seem perverse that the FDA allows such gross misconduct by food manufacturers if the agency’s main purpose is the health of the nation, but the FDA is corrupt, can be bought, and is currently deep in the pocket of the drug industry. Big pharma provides around 75% of the FDA’s drug review budget, which means that the agency’s review and regulation of pharmaceutical drugs is largely funded by the very drug companies under review.

And then there are user fees. Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act (PDUFA), the FDA is authorized to collect fees from pharmaceutical companies under the auspices of funding and expediting the drug approval process, but in reality, the funds pay for the agency’s bills. In 2013 alone, the FDA received $712.8 million in user fees from drug companies, which is quite the kickback for a government agency that regulates about 10% of the nation’s economy. Predictably, user fees have gone up over the years, from $208,000 per NDA in 1995 to a staggering $2,421,495 for fiscal year 2018. It isn’t any surprise that the FDA’s budget comes in at just under $5 billion.

And the relationship between the FDA and big pharma is locked tight. Federal law makes it illegal for Medicare and Medicaid to do business with “an excluded or debarred entity resulting from serious criminal charges.” Consequently, the FDA frequently refuses to prosecute major drug companies for wrongdoing so they can keep doing business. In a famous incident in 2000, Merck’s Vioxx drug was pulled from the shelves due to evidence showing it greatly increased the risk of heart attack. Despite the fact that Vioxx killed about 60,000 people, Merck got away with paying a middling criminal fine and pleading guilty to a single misdemeanor — no serious charges were ever filed.

Moreover, it is commonplace for former FDA employees to find work with major drug companies — and vice versa. It’s a lucrative situation where C-level decision-makers who drive policies that enable big pharma are rewarded with top-level industry jobs.

Sickness and solutions, solutions and sickness; food and medicine are locked in a Machiavellian dance where one feeds the other through the shady goings-on at the FDA. But in this dance, it is when someone falls ill, becomes addicted or loses their job that those involved really get their feet moving. A cycle of sadness and corruption; tell me there’s not something darker going on here.

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