Mowing The Astroturf

This is a story of how I was almost suckered in by an astroturf campaign put on by a multi-billion dollar corporation. I almost wrote my Senator and almost helped "spread the word". I'm going to spread a very different word, but my main point here is ALWAYS DO YOUR RESEARCH - I'm definitely glad I did, in this case.

It all started with this video (called Nutricide), that I found via StumbleUpon. In it, a certain Rima E. Laibow, M.D. discusses the "threat" of Codex. She takes her time getting around to what Codex actually is (a set of internation regulations sponsored by the World Health Organization and the UN), since that would probably bore most of her audience to death (instead of her goal, which is to scare them to death).

To save you the forty minutes of bulls--t, I will sum up for you:

  • Codex was started by a Nazi.

  • Codex is being pushed by Big Pharma and Big Chemical.

  • Codex will kill 3 billion people.

  • Codex will kill you and your family.

  • Codex is about to be ratified by the US Government.

Wow. Scary stuff. Time to call your Congressperson and stop this madness! Right?

Well... This is why you do research. Since I was definitely concerned, I headed over to the site behind this video: Health Freedom USA.

Strike One: Never trust a grassroots group with "Freedom" in the name. It almost always means "freedom from regulations", and it's almost always funded by an industry trade group that is lobbying against some law that will put restrictions on it.

Strike Two: The site has a store on the front page ("Buy the purest wellness products available and support health freedom!"). And they're selling the exact products that would be regulated by Codex! What a coincidence!

Foul Tip: The site is run by the "Natural Solutions Foundation", which really really sounds like a trade group name. Not quite enough, though, so I delved further and found:

Strike Three: After some Googling, I found an even crazier group ranting about how the "Natural Solutions Foundation" is a "controlled opposition group" run by Big Pharma. According to these new guys, the goal is to get the public to act in an inefficient manner, fighting the wrong fights and spending their energies in the wrong place. That way, Codex gets passed because the concerned public is not reaching the people who are actually making the decisions. Or something.

Maybe "strikes" are the wrong metaphor, because there's:

Strike Four: The obsession with DSHEA (Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994). You can read it here. Here's the key line in the bill: "[T]he Federal Government should not take any actions to impose unreasonable regulatory barriers limiting or slowing the flow of safe products and accurate information to consumers." It's an industry-friendly bill - much friendlier than Codex. Health Freedom USA says that "we must unite to protect DSHEA, our best legal defense against Codex". I'll bet.

DSHEA wasn't so great for consumers, however, when supplement manufacturers were allowed to sell Ephedra, a diet pill that turned out to cause heart attacks. Oops.

At this point I headed over to SourceWatch to see what was really behind all this, and lo and behold, they have a page on "Health Freedom". The pharmaceutical industry is in fact in favor of heavier regulation of the supplement business, since, after all, it's a competitor, and you can't patent Vitamin C or garlic. The supplement industry, is no slouch, of course. According to DSHEA, the supplement industry was $4 billion in 1994 - presumably MUCH bigger now. Definitely enough scratch to build some astroturf. In fact, Nature's Way brags about being the "[f]irst to spend more than a million dollars on legislative efforts to protect health freedoms". Gee, thanks.

So what this is really all about is one huge mega trade group duking it out with another huge mega trade group, and trying to sucker the public into getting involved politically. So you end up with fear-mongering tripe that tries to scare the public into action that's really about lining someone else's pockets.

I pretty much lost interest at this point (as I imagine you might have as well). But I found this extremely instructive in terms of making sure you always investigate claims such as these. There are a lot of naive people who probably don't realize that they're being played by a billion dollar trade association (especially ones that decry the dangers of other trade associations). In any case, below are some links that you may find informative. And with that, my tale of deceit and naivety comes to an end.

  • Natural Products Association (the official trade group that is actually trying to get Codex modified to be more DSHEA-like!)

  • Official Codex Page

  • FDA Codex Information center
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