Thursday, February 17, 2005

Bush names food-industry flack as FDA chief

That's hardly a news flash. The only surprise is that Bush didn't place a pharmaceutical-industry PR man at the top of the Food and Drug Administration.

That would have been a bold move, even for Bush, given the FDA's recent record of approving dangerous drugs from the likes of pharma giants Pfizer and Merck. Of course, Bush's move was typically bold in one sense: just as he promoted his national-security adviser after she badly misinterpreted (or misrepresented) the national-security threat posed by Iraq, and he bumped up a Justice department official who disastrously promoted torture as a policy, he's chosen as FDA head a man who has been, according to the Wall Street Journal, "a high-level official at the FDA while its handling of antidepressants and other drugs has come into question."

The great paper is a bit more polite in describing the food-industry ties of the new FDA head, Lester Crawford. "Dr. Crawford, 66 years old, has worked for a food-industry group, but spent most of his career at the FDA and the Agriculture Department, as well as in academe," the paper reports. And that's the last mention of his food-industry ties.

Here's a brief bio, which reports that Crawford has been director of the Virginia Tech Center for Food and Nutrition Policy and executive vice-president of the National Food Processors Association.

A cursory web search exposes the Virginia Tech Center for Food and Nutrition Policy as an industry poodle. Here it is denying that high-fructose corn syrup is a cause of obesity; here it's commiserating with food processors about how mean Europe is for demanding labelling of genetically altered food; and here it's downplaying the well-established health-ruining qualities of partially hydrogenated oil.

The corn-syrup defense is a particularly dear topic to the barons of the industrial food system. All that cheap, subsidized corn has to go somewhere; the food industry, led by Archer Daniels Midland, has successfully kept pressure on Congress to keep sugar tariffs high, thus making high-fructose corn syrup the sweetener of choice for the food-processing industry. Richard Manning, in his book Against the Grain, lays this sordid story out. I'll be returning to this theme in BGJ.

No need to fixate much on the National Food Processors Association. Suffice to say that its board is chaired by a Kraft exec and includes representatives from the likes of Tyson, Archer Daniels Midland, Unilever, and many more.

In fairness to Bush, there's no reason to believe that Kerry would have picked an industry critic to head up the FDA.

The UN is evidently sending a banned genetically altered corn strain to Guatemala in the form of food aid. Let's hope cross-pollination doesn't let this rogue corn ruin ancient strains in the homeland of the Maya.

This WSJ article describes a polemic between the US and Mexican governments over the collapse in the monarch-butterfly population. The Mexican government blames industrial ag, including crops engineered to contain pesticides, in the US midwest; the US blames bad forest management in Mexico.

"Some widely publicized laboratory experiments, Monarch butterfly caterpillars did die after eating milkweed coated with genetically modified corn pollen. In its own studies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said there probably is little risk to butterflies," the Journal says. But why wouldn't corn designed to kill bugs, kill bugs?


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