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Industry Lobbying: Profits Before Health?

lobbying for special interestsStory Highlights
  • Lobbying the U.S. government on behalf of special interests is a common practice.
  • Lobbying is the process whereby industries attempt to influence policy decisions made by the government.
  • Since the interests of industry and that of public health are misaligned, lobbying is of particular concern when it influences public health policy and law.

Most of the money that flows through the political system in America originates from special interest groups. Corporations, industry groups, labor unions and single-issue organizations spend billions of dollars each year on campaign contributions and lobbying to gain access to the government policy and law-making process with the ultimate goal of increasing their bottom line. This notion of “buying” influence has resulted in policies that may not be in the best interest of the public. This is particularly true with respect to health and vaccine policy.

The Sugar Industry’s Influence in Skewing U.S. Public Health Policy

If you have been to any grocery store lately, you have noticed that the aisles are stocked with processed foods. If you go a step further and inspect the nutrition facts label on packaged foods, you will see that almost all products contain sugar. This is by no means an accident.

The sugar industry has a strong history of shaping nutrition policy in the U.S.1 Historically sugar producers have enjoyed federal support and protection in return for their significant lobbying and campaign contributions in Congress.2 For example, in the Farm Bill of 2008 that was ferociously lobbied by the sugar industry, Congress increased price supports for sugar producers while decreasing support for producers for all other crops.2 In fact, Congress guaranteed a price per pound for raw and refined sugar that they would pay to the sugar producers if they were unable to make a profit at market prices.2

Favorable conditions for the sugar industry have lasted this long largely because of its political influence in Congress.2  Despite the fact that sugar production accounts for only 1.9% of the value of the total crop production in the U.S, lobbying by this industry amounts to one-third of the total funds spent on lobbying by all crop producers.2 The sugar industry’s lobby is extremely powerful.

Using a similar strategy that was employed by the tobacco industry in the 1960s, the sugar industry has also compensated researchers to publish favorable “scientific” data that dismisses concerns about the adverse health effects of sugar consumption.3 A report published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that five decades of research examining the role of nutrition and heart disease, including national dietary recommendations, may have been carved out by the sugar industry.4 

In 1967, the Sugar Research Foundation, the trade group currently known as the Sugar Association, compensated three Harvard scientists an equivalent of approximately $50,000 in today’s dollars, to downplay the role that sugar plays in contributing to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.4 In fact, the study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, went as far as demonizing the role of fat and blaming it as the cause of disease.4

National Dietary Guidelines for Americans: The Influence of Lobbying

Every five years, the American government releases national dietary guidelines.5 These guidelines inform numerous health programs and policies that affect everything from school lunches and food labels to medical research grants.6 Government agencies spearheading the guidelines attest that the guidelines are based on latest scientific evidence.6 However, leading nutrition experts, some of who have been appointed by government to provide expert advice, say that food manufacturers and special interest groups heavily influence the guidelines.1

In 2002, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to require food manufacturers to clearly label the amount of added sugar in food products.7 The petition failed. Dr. Michael Jacobson, co-founder and president of CSPI, attributes this failure to the powerful sugar lobby.7

The sugar industry lobby has the power to influence wording in the dietary guidelines to fit their profit making agenda.7 In 2005, the Sugar Association lobbied the USDA to rephrase the wording on sugar intake in the 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) dietary guidelines. The guidelines were rephrased from “limit your intake of added sugars” to “moderate your intake of sugars”7

According to Natural News:

While this change appears harmless at first, a closer look at the definitions of the words ‘limit’ and “moderate” explains why Big Sugar invested so much money into the USDA amendment. ‘Moderate’ denotatively means ‘not excessive or extreme’ or ‘of medium quality.’ The revised wording suggests that we should eat some sugar—that a medium amount of sugar is good for you—but beware of over-indulgence. ‘Limit,’ on the other hand, is a much more decisive word. To limit sugar intake implies that we’re already eating too much and we need to cut it out of our diet. These slight rhetorical nuances aren’t a mistake. Big Sugar poured big money into masking the dangers of American sugar intake.7

It is quite evident that sugar industry’s lobby, via participating in the formulation of national dietary policy, has ensured that we continue to consume high amounts of sugar, which in turn has led to disastrous effects on the public’s health.

BigPharma’s Lobby: Conflicts of Interest and Vaccine Policy

Of all industries, the pharmaceutical industry contributes the most money towards lobbying Congress and also state legislatures to achieve their  goals.8 The purpose of lobbying for the pharmaceutical industry is to maximize profits for drug companies.  While this is the primary goal of all business enterprises, when it comes to products that we eat or put into our bodies, lobbying can endanger our health, as in the case of the sugar industry.

If there is a misalignment between the financial interests of the pharmaceutical industry and the public health, for example, should industry be allowed to buy influence from politicians? Isn’t this a form of corruption?

Vaccine production is the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, there is a huge incentive for industry to ensure that both state and federal laws help fuel development, marketing and widespread purchase and use of vaccines.  The industry expects political favors in return for the millions of dollars they spend on lobbying.

Lobbying is legal but is it ethical? The financial relationship between drug companies and the government interferes with wise policy and law making. It is a major reason why more people are questioning the legitimacy of vaccine policy and law in America.


References:

1 Belluz J. How the Sugar Industry Has Distorted Health Science for More Than 50 Years Vox Media Sept. 12, 2016
2 Salter M. Crony Capitalism, American Style: What Are We Talking About Here? Edmond J. Safra Research Lab–Harvard University Oct. 22, 2014.
3 Burke S. How the Powerful Sugar Industry Manipulated U.S. Public Health Policy. Cuenca High Life Sept. 16, 2016.
4 O’Connor. How the Sugar Industry Shifted to Blame Fat. The New York Times Sept. 12, 2016.
5 Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Dietary Guidelines. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Oct. 11, 2016.
6 Heid M. Experts Say Lobbying Skewed the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. TIME Jan. 8, 2016.
7 Veracity D. The Politics of Sugar: Why Your Government Lies to You About This Disease Promoting Ingredient. Natural News Jul. 21, 2005.
8 Center for Responsive Politics. Lobbying: Top Industries. OpenSecrets.org.

5 Responses to Industry Lobbying: Profits Before Health?

  1. Lois Hertog Reply

    October 22, 2016 at 8:37 am

    Here’s your real and only chance to stop this BS, get out and vote Trump 2016! Wake up!

  2. Sara Reply

    October 20, 2016 at 7:18 pm

    I like the idea that our representatives in congress should stay in their districts and communicate with each other electronically. Maybe then they would remain “of the people” as they all claim to be when seeking office. It would be harder for corporations to lobby them. They would also be safer from attacks. The people who elected them would be able to lobby them as is their right. This would help mitigate the strangle hold of corporations on government power.

  3. David Weiner Reply

    October 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Lobbying is generally unethical, whether on matters related to health or otherwise.

    I say generally because some businesses lobby to prevent governments from making unwarranted attacks on them … it is essentially defensive in nature and one cannot fault them for defending themselves against a rapacious government.

    Other lobbying, like that practiced by pharma, is predatory in nature.

    The whole idea that we should have politicians sitting around making arbitrary edicts (laws) is a fatally flawed one.

  4. Len Reply

    October 20, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Why do they call it lobbying, it should be called by it’s real name Bribery!

  5. stephen hernon Reply

    October 20, 2016 at 6:59 am

    I agree with your analysis but I am annoyed at your use of the word NOTION. It is a word that you and so many others use constantly to make a point.
    This is a word Obama used from the beginning of his presidency since it represent a way to slip of of what he says. It DOES NOT FIT when your report is outlining facts.
    Please look up the definition of NOTION and you will note that it is ” a concept or belief in something” or a” whimsical impulse” that might well change .
    The use of this word “notion” undermines your entire evaluation of what is happening with vaccinations since you put your analysis as fact and back it with information.I suggest you NEVER use that word in a future analysis if you wish to be believed
    It is easy to see why Obama use it all the time and that is because he doesn’t really believe in anything other than making America just another country and furthering his wish for “one world government”

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