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F.ood & H.ealth : & P.olitics Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

FDA Commissioner Resigned After Being Contacted About Benzene In Soda
By Ross E. Getman
Apr 9, 2006, 15:56

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Shortly after getting whistleblower documents from 1990 showing stunning test results relating to the formation of benzene in some soft drinks, I asked my friend at the Department of Justice who had prosecuted a case involving adulterated orange juice who I should email the information at the FDA. He gave me the name of a key person who would then forward it as necessary. I emailed to the Office of the Commissioner at mid-afternoon at 2:10 p.m. on Wednesday, September 21, 2005. Getting no response, on Thursday, I posted the same information at a website picked up on "google news." FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford sent an email on Friday to FDA staff announcing his resignation effective immediately without explanation.

According to the New York Times on Saturday, September 24, 2005: "A government official said the resignation was related to the fact that Dr. Crawford had not fully disclosed information about his finances to the Senate before his confirmation. *** Ira Loss, senior health analyst at Washington Analysis, .... said he had been told by someone in the White House that Dr. Crawford had been asked to resign for a reason not yet known to the public."

That Saturday morning, I spoke to a deputy FDA counsel who was at a Boston obesity litigation conference addressing soda nutrition labeling and the role of the FDA. I asked why I hadn't got a response to my email. He didn't know. At the time, Commissioner Crawford denied that his departure had anything to do with his stock holdings. It was not reported what those holdings were. On October 26, 2005, the Wall Street Journal reported that the former FDA head held shares in regulated firms as late as 2004. Mr. Crawford at one point had up to $100,000 in Pepsi Co stock. The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post have reported that the HHS Inspector General is investigating the circumstances of his departure. Someone should ask him about benzene formation in soda.

Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Crawford is an expert on chemical contamination of drinks and water supplies, as he explained in his March 2005 confirmation statement. Dr. Crawford explained that he has played major roles in the development of mandatory nutrition labeling and the control of chemical and microbiological contaminants of food. In 1990, Dr. Crawford was Administrator of the Food Safety and Inspection Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which handles meat safety). That was the year that the benzene issue became known.

Until 2002, while in the private sector, Dr. Crawford was Director of Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, which had entered a strategic alliance with the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) to foster understanding of issues facing food companies. Dr. Crawford served as Academic Advisor to the GMA on scientific and regulatory issues dealing with food and nutrition policy. GMA, along with the American Beverage Association ("ABA"), is the group active in opposing school soda bans. At the FDA, he had been Chair of the FDA's Obesity Working Group (OWG) since it was created in August 2003. In January 2004, groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the restaurant and industry group Center for Consumer Freedom presented opposing comments before the group.

In a May 2004 NPR show, Dr. Crawford explained that labelling changes on soft drinks would be voluntary, not mandatory -- making the calories reflect the size of the 21.5 oz. bottle, for example, and not merely refer to an 8 oz. standard. In mid-July 2005, he spoke very eloquently on the subject of sending healthy messages to children.

A recent study funded by the ABA by Dr. Crawford's successor as Director of Center for Food and Nutrition Policy found no association between obesity and school soda vending. The recent study was funded by an unrestricted gift by the ABA (previously known as the National Soft Drink Association).

As Director of the Center for Food and Nutrition Policy, Dr. Crawford had persuasively argued in testimony on regulatory reform that there needed to be transparency and science-based decision-making in risk assessment relating to contamination of foods. He urged that decision-makers and scientists "have a legal and moral duty to recuse themselves from issues that stand to directly and/or financially benefit them." The HHS Inspector General issued subpoenas for financial records relating to share holdings in PepsiCo, food service Sysco, and Wendy's.

Relying on government to safeguard the public interest and our children's health may be problematic when it comes to the benzene found in some soft drinks.

Ross E. Getman
204 Edna Road
Syracuse, New York 13205
(315) 492-8306

History and Origin of Benzene in Soft Drinks

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