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Beware: These Best-Selling Products Can Make You Sick

Story at-a-glance

  • The chemical, biotech, pharmaceutical, and processed food industries have become wellsprings of fraud, deception, and all manner of criminal behavior in pursuit of profits
  • When it comes to making money many industries throw ethics and integrity out the window. A star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants was recently exposed for fabricating heart-wrenching cases of infants burned to death in fires in a passionate testimony before California legislators. The incidents he cited never occurred, and the infant victims did not exist. The doctor has defended his use of bold-faced lies to influence legislators, stating he was not under oath
  • Since lifting the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising three decades ago, the US healthcare system has metamorphosed from a public service network into one of the largest corporate profit machines on the planet. Nineteen drug companies made AllBusiness.com's Top 100 Corporate Criminals List for the 1990s
  • A bi-partisan probe of drug marketing practices was recently triggered by the huge jump in deadly overdoses from painkillers known as opioids, which now surpass overdose deaths caused by cocaine and heroin combined. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senator Chuck Grassley have sent letters to three major drug makers, demanding documents about their financial connections to seven medical groups that may have promoted misleading information about the risks and benefits of opioid use while receiving financial support from the manufacturers
  • In the largest bust to date, federal agents have charged 197 people in schemes that cheated the Medicare system out of $452 million. The government also suspended payments to 52 provider organizations as part of the bust

By Dr. Mercola

How far will companies go to ensure they continue making money on products that make you sick? Answer: No extreme is too extreme, including bold-faced lying, if it means keeping the bucks rolling in.

This article will cover an assortment of examples of how you're being deceived by four of the largest industries the chemical, biotech, pharmaceutical, and processed food industry.

Lies, Damn Lies!

One of the biggest lies that toxic chemical companies have told so far includes the heart-wrenching stories of babies dying agonizing deaths in fires. Throwing integrity out the window, the company hired professional experts to lie as they were not under oath. The babies didn't actually die?in fact, they never even existed.

The Chicago Tribune learned this recently when it wanted to know more about a 7-week-old baby who a burn doctor testified as having died in agony because she was on a pillow that lacked flame retardantsi. Lo and behold, the entire story was a fabrication, from beginning to end. It turns out other tiny patients the doctor had described in testimony supporting toxic flame retardant materials didn't exist either.

According to the Chicago Tribune:

"... [Dr. David] Heimbach's passionate testimony about the baby's death made the long-term health concerns about flame retardants voiced by doctors, environmentalists and even firefighters sound abstract and petty. But there was a problem with his testimony: It wasn't true.

Records show there was no dangerous pillow or candle fire. The baby he described didn't exist. Neither did the 9-week-old patient who Heimbach told California legislators died in a candle fire in 2009. Nor did the 6-week-old patient who he told Alaska lawmakers was fatally burned in her crib in 2010.

Heimbach is not just a prominent burn doctor. He is a star witness for the manufacturers of flame retardants. His testimony, the Tribune found, is part of a decades-long campaign of deception that has loaded the furniture and electronics in American homes with pounds of toxic chemicals linked to cancer, neurological deficits, developmental problems and impaired fertility.

The tactics started with Big Tobacco, which wanted to shift focus away from cigarettes as the cause of fire deaths, and continued as chemical companies worked to preserve a lucrative market for their products, according to a Tribune review of thousands of government, scientific and internal industry documents.

These powerful industries distorted science in ways that overstated the benefits of the chemicals, created a phony consumer watchdog group that stoked the public's fear of fire and helped organize and steer an association of top fire officials that spent more than a decade campaigning for their cause..."

Unfortunately, these lies do not just result in profits for the chemical industry it may not otherwise have enjoyed. These lies directly impact and harm your health, and the health of your children—children who, contrary to the infants in Dr. Heimbach's fantasy drama, are very much alive and dependent on adults to make appropriate decisions.

According to Patricia Callahan and Sam Roe, reporters with the Chicago Tribune, between 1970 and 2004, blood levels of certain flame retardant chemicals doubled in American adults every two to five years, and American infants are born with the highest levels of these chemicals in their systems of any other nation on the planet. Why? Because of lies that tug at heart strings rather than provide evidence of safety and effectiveness of the chemical in question.

Health Hazards of Flame Retardant Chemicals Abound...

Incredibly, certain common flame retardants, such as PBDEs, have been detected in the blood of up to 97 percent of U.S. residents, at levels that are 20 times higher than those of Europeans. Californians have some of the highest exposures due to the state's strict flammability laws.

Research has shown that pregnant women with higher blood levels of PBDEs, a common class of flame retardants, have altered thyroid hormone levels -- a fact that could have implications for fetal health.

PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, are organobromine compounds now found in household items such as carpets, electronics and plastics, and these chemicals are known to accumulate in human fat cells. Although the mechanics of how PBDEs affect your thyroid are still unclear, it is believed that PBDE chemicals mimic your thyroid hormones.

Another study published two years ago found an inverse link between exposure to fire retardant chemicals and the time it takes for exposed women to become pregnantii. Higher exposures were associated with decreased fertility.

PBDEs are also showing up in breast milk, and in various foods, including wild fish, and in the sewage sludge being applied as fertilizer on food crops across the U.S. This is yet another tragic case where lack of foresight and safety testing has turned out to have very significant, "unanticipated" human and environmental health risks.

Do Flame Retardants Even Work?

Making matters worse, it appears the science does not even support the industry's claims of effectiveness, so the health risks you're exposing yourself and your children to are not even for a valid cause! According to the Chicago Tribune:

"People might be willing to accept the health risks if the flame retardants packed into sofas and easy chairs worked as promised. But they don't. The chemical industry often points to a government study from the 1980s as proof that flame retardants save lives. But the study's lead author, Vytenis Babrauskas, said in an interview that the industry has grossly distorted his findings and that the amount of retardants used in household furniture doesn't work. "The fire just laughs at it," he said. Other government scientists subsequently found that the flame retardants in household furniture don't protect consumers from fire in any meaningful way."

Biotech—An Industry Built on "Adjustable Truths"

Another flaming example of a corporate giant that gets caught lying again and again is Monsanto which, in 2009, was found guilty by France's highest court of false advertising for claims that its toxic weed killer Roundup is biodegradable and leaves "the soil clean."

The French court noted that Roundup's main ingredient, glyphosate, is dangerous for the environment and toxic for aquatic organisms. But that's just one example of the lies Monsanto tells to keep on selling its products; this company has a long history of fraudulent statements about the safety of Roundup. They long used the slogans, "It's Safer than Mowing," "Biodegradable," and "Environmentally Friendly" to describe Roundup -- until the real effects of this toxic herbicide were revealed and they were forced to discontinue their deceptive advertising.

Monsanto—who is in the convicted liar's club—has unfortunately managed to work its way into a large number of high-level federal regulatory positions in the U.S. government; many of which are positions meant to protect your food safety!

Furthermore, the entire biotech industry is built on half-truths and claims that are largely unsupported by independent scientific reviews. The following video discusses and dispels some of these falsehoods.

 

Big Pharma Still Leads the Pack of Convicted Liars

But the chemical and biotech industries certainly do not have a monopoly on using dirty tactics to maintain and increase market share and boost profits. This honor probably goes to the pharmaceutical industry, which, in terms of dollars and cents, is more powerful than 168 individual nations on this planet. Just consider the ramifications of these statistics for a moment... As of 2009, the global market for pharmaceuticalsiii was worth more than $837 billion, and is expected to reach $1.1 TRILLION in 2014.

If Big Pharma's annual global market was compared to the GDP—the market value of all the output produced in a nation in one year—then Big Pharma would rank # 15 on a list of 183 nationsivThat's how BIG the pharmaceutical industry is!

Americans are disproportionally supporting this behemoth of an industry. Americans, including children, are the most drugged people in the entire world, with the average adult taking 11 prescription drugs—each of which comes with an average of 70 different potential side effects that are then typically addressed with yet more drugs...

Direct-to-consumer advertising has played a major role in turning the U.S. into a nation of over-medicated people with the most expensive health care in the world, while continuously dropping in life expectancy and other health indexes.

If you believe their advertisements, Big Pharma has a fix for just about any physiological condition you can think of. Most of these fixes come in the form of expensive prescriptions ordered by your doctor—that's why the ads usually suggest that you ask your doctor if the product they're promoting "would be right for you."

It's a subliminal message that makes you your own drug peddler, and it's a profoundly successful strategy. In a recent AlterNet article, Jim Hightower discusses how direct-to-consumer advertising—which about 30 years ago wasn't allowed in the U.S.—carries a major responsibility for having created a drugged-up Americav. He rightfully points out that since lifting the ban on direct-to-consumer advertising "America's healthcare system has radically metamorphosed from a public service network (largely run by independent physicians and nonprofit hospitals) into a corporate profit machine."

The situation has gotten so out of hand that a renowned former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Arnold Relman, is accusing drug makers of creating an epidemic that's endangering public health, jacking up healthcare costs, and weakening the curative connection between health professionals and patients.

Healthcare has Been Reduced to a "Buyer Beware" For-Profit Industry

It's a dishonorable way to generate sales of potentially deadly drugs, but it works: according to Hightower, for every $1,000 that a drug company spends on direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising in the U.S. produces 24 new patients. It's a bonanza that generates seven times more customers than if the companies didn't advertise, and the results on public health are often devastating, further driving up the nation's health care costs.

Take Vioxx, for example?Merck's failed drug that caused 140,000 cardiac events, including more than 60,000 deaths, before it was pulled from the market. Merck admits that Vioxx was never intended for the general public. Yet Merck advertised it, and people saw the ads and started demanding it from their doctors, and Merck sold 20 million prescriptions. Many people died before Merck pulled both the ads and the drug. Vioxx became a blockbuster drug, primarily through the use of aggressive DTC advertising. And as a result,thousands of unsuspecting people died or suffered heart attacks that would never have used the drug had they not been lured in by the glossy adverts.

But Merck isn't alone in this; direct-to-consumer marketing is a general practice by almost every drug company in America. The problem is that, like Vioxx, some of the drugs being advertised are not what they appear; meaning if you see it advertised, the old axiom, caveat emptor?let the buyer beware?is something to remember. This is to be expected when you consider the source, because pharmaceutical companies lead the pack when it comes to corporate crime.

The Real Thugs of the Drug World

The "war on drugs" has focused nearly exclusively on the illegal trafficking of drugs like cocaine, heroin and marijuana, while the most powerful drug dealers of all -- the pharmaceutical companies -- are allowed to grow their businesses with the U.S. government's golden seal of approval. But make no mistake – the leading pharmaceutical companies are also among the largest corporate criminals in the world, and they are little more than white-collar drug dealers.

Although many fail to realize this, prescription drugs can be just as addictive as illegal drugs. In fact, in many cases there's no difference between a street drug and a prescription drug. For example, hydrocodone, a prescription opiate, is synthetic heroin. It's indistinguishable from any other heroin as far as your brain and body are concerned. So, if you're hooked on hydrocodone, you are in fact a good-old-fashioned heroin addict.

But aside from the nature of their business, fraud, kickbacks, price-setting, bribery and illegal sales activities are all par for the course for big-name drug companies.

Two years ago, I set out to investigate some of the criminal activities that some of the largest pharmaceutical companies had been convicted of lately, and the amount of gross misconduct, fraud and deceit I found was so insidious, so massive, and so overwhelming that it shocked even me. In all, no less than 19 drug companies made AllBusiness.com's Top 100 Corporate Criminals List for the 1990s! You can read the grim details in full here, but here's a sampling of what the top drug companies are up to:

  • Merck: With a long list of deaths to its credit and more than $5.5 billion in judgments and fines levied against it, it was five yearsbefore Merck made its $30-billion recall of the painkiller Vioxx that I warned my readers that it might be a real killer for some people.
  • After the drug was withdrawn, and 60,000 had already died, Merck picked up the pieces by getting a new drug fast-tracked and on the market. That drug is Gardasil, a vaccine that so far has been linked to thousands of adverse events, and at least 26 unexplained deaths in just ONE YEAR. It's a situation that the FDA and CDC have repeatedly denied, keeping their heads buried in the sand as adverse reports mount.

    Meanwhile, over 90 percent of women infected with HPV clear the infection naturally within two years, at which point cervical cells go back to normal. Even more importantly, PAP smears can identify cervical changes, thereby preventing cervical cancer deaths far more effectively than the HPV vaccine ever will, because there's a sufficient amount of time to find and treat any cervical abnormalities if you're getting regular PAP smears. Alas, as the HPV vaccine is gaining favor, health officials are beginning to argue against the routine use of PAP smears, despite the fact that no one has ever died from this test, while the HPV vaccine is now harming thousands each year.

  • Baxter: Dozens of recalls of products that caused deaths and injuries, at least 11 different guilty pleas to fraud and illegal sales activity, more than 200 lawsuits – many of them stemming from selling AIDS-tainted blood to hemophiliacs – and more than $1.3 billion in criminal fines and civil penalties.
  • Pfizer: In the largest health care fraud settlement in history, Pfizer was ordered to pay $2.3 billion to resolve criminal and civil allegations that the company illegally promoted uses of four of its drugs, including the painkiller Bextra, the antipsychotic Geodon, the antibiotic Zyvox, and the anti-epileptic Lyrica.

FDA Approves HIV Prevention Drug

If I were to pick out the next blockbuster drug destined to wreak havoc on public health, the brand new drug for HIV prevention would probably be it, and this is primarily related to the fact that there is a strong likelihood that through lobbying and pressure, it will likely be recommended to everyone, just like vaccines, and enforced with similar rules so that the vast majority of the population will be on it.

A drug that's already being used as a treatment for AIDS has now been approved by the FDA as a preventive pill for use with people who have no infection at all?a move that even AIDS activists say is the wrong thing to do. According to CNN, more than 40 health professionals, AIDS advocates and patients implored the FDA committee not to recommend the drug for the new indicationvi. But the committee ignored their pleas and did it anyway. (The FDA doesn't have to follow the recommendations of its advisory committees, but it often does.)

The drug, Truvada, is manufactured by Gilead Sciences Inc. It's not cheap?a month's supply costs about $1,200. The committee's approval gives Gilead a whole new, wide-open market for selling the drug.

While currently approved only as pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV-infected homosexual men and the uninfected partners to HIV-infected individuals, it's fairly easy to see how this will in short order be relaxed to include literally everyone, regardless of age, sex or sexual preference (barring only those who have committed to complete abstinence, I would presume), just like Gardasil suddenly—against all reasonable logic—became a recommended prophylactic necessity for young boys...

In case you think you have heard of Gilead Sciences before, you have if you have been reading this newsletter for some time. Gilead Sciences is the company that Donald Rumsfeld was the former chairman of, and received $7.1 billion dollars for the sale of government-recommended Tamiflu for the non-existent Bird Flu that was projected to kill millions.

More Medical Corruption and Conflicts of Interest

Like a broken record, news of corruption and conflicts of interest between drug makers and medical groups that promote the drugs has erupted again, this time in an investigation led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Senator Chuck Grassley.

The bi-partisan probe of drug marketing practices was triggered by the huge jump in deadly overdoses from painkillers known as opioids. According to 2008 statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioids were involved in 14,800 overdose deaths that year, surpassing overdose deaths caused by cocaine and heroin combined!

The Senate probe follows an investigation by ProPublica and The Washington Post, which found that the American Pain Foundation received 90 percent of its funding from the drug and medical device industry in 2010, while simultaneously producing written guidance that downplayed side effects and risks and highlighted the benefits of the drugs.

According to a recent Reuter's report, the senators have sent letters to three major drug makers (Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, Endo Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma), demanding documents about their financial connections to seven medical groups that may have been promoting misleading information about the risks and benefits of opioid use while receiving financial support from the manufacturersvii.

According to Baucus:

"These painkillers have an important role in health care when prescribed and used properly, but pushing misinformation on consumers to boost profits is not only wrong, it's dangerous." .

Crime Pays Off Big When You're a Corporation

In the medical world, there seems to be few crimes that don't pay off—as long as you don't get caught (and even then, all you're bound to receive is a slap on the wrist as long as you're large and important enough).

The U.S. government is constantly bilked of much needed funds through fraudulent means. In the past few years, the Department of Justice busted doctors, nurses, clinics, hospitals, nursing homes, and drug companies for charging the Medicare and Medicaid system billions of dollars for treatments, drugs, and medical devices that government investigators say either weren't needed or were never provided at all.

MSNBC News recently reported that, in the largest bust to date, federal agents have charged 197 people in schemes that cheated the Medicare system out of a record $452 millionviii.

The sweep included major cities such as Miami, Tampa, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and Baton Rouge. The government also suspended payments to 52 provider organizations as part of the bust. The types of medical care involved ran the gamut of health services. For example, in Baton Rouge seven people who ran two community health centers are accused of defrauding the government of $225 million in false claims. The health centers allegedly rounded up drug addicts, homeless people and the elderly, and used them to submit false claims for treatment.

Unless caught, cheaters can make vast sums of money, sometimes upwards of a billion dollars a year just through filing false or "upgraded" payment claims! These types of health care fraud cost US taxpayers an estimated $80-160 billion per year. The latest drug company to get caught is Abbott Laboratories, which pled guilty to promoting its drug Depakote to nursing homes and other healthcare providers for treatment of patients with dementia. Abbott agreed to pay the government $1.5 billion to resolve the criminal investigation.

Why is U.S. Congress More Concerned with Protecting Profits than Kids' Health?

Another industry given free rein to wreak havoc on public health is the food industry. Processed foods, which contain few nutrients and plenty of disease-promoting sugar and poorly tested chemicals, are at the heart of the obesity epidemic. But if you thought the federal government was really going to do something about childhood obesity in America, all it takes to change your mind is to follow the corporate money trail to Congress...

In a new report by the Sunlight Foundation Reporting Groupix, researchers found that federal guidelines for marketing aimed at children were stopped in their tracks by money thrown at politicians charged with making the change happen. In a recent AlterNet article, Steven Rosenfeld reviewsx the lengths to which corporate America will go to protect their profits. Common tactics include:

  • Campaign donations
  • Attacking science
  • Asserting constitutional rights, and
  • Threatening federal agencies with smear campaigns

As a result of industry pressure, nearly 200 lawmakers buckled on the marketing guidelines and ignored the nationwide health epidemic affecting millions of children and teenagers, proving yet again that ingrained in Washington is the impetus to protect corporate profits, as opposed to standing up for the public interest.

Is There a Solution to these Travesties?

As discussed by former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who served three-and-a-half years in federal prison after pleading guilty to corrupting public officials, tax evasion and fraud, our current political system basically runs on bribes. So one necessary step to have any chance of quelling this out-of-control corruption, fraud, and criminal activity is to prohibit all members of Congress and their staff from ever becoming a lobbyist after their service on the Hill is over.

The good news is that increasing numbers of people are now waking up to these harsh realities, and you, being among those who are informed, can help share this knowledge with others. Remember that the definition of fascism is a government system that has complete power in regimenting all industry and forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism. What we have here is a hybrid—a sort of corporate fascism, where industry has powerful control over government, and forcefully suppresses anything that threatens their monopoly on profits.

But, this doesn't mean that you have to buy into their agenda.

The goal is to ultimately have a critical mass of people refuse the unnecessarily dangerous and counterproductive solutions currently offered by all of these industries, and demand that our public servants serve the public rather than corporate interests. That will serve as the powerful stimulus to generate authentic change. More than 1.6 million people receive this newsletter, and together we can make a huge difference.

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