In last month’s newsletter I mentioned a last ditch effort by agriculture lobbyists to influence the U.S. Senate to pass a watered down law regarding GMO’s, and to render Vermont’s law for labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients obsolete. This federal law, also known as the DARK Act (Deny Americans the Right to Know) was designed to keep consumers in the dark about what is in our food.
Well, the Senate voted and the winner was Monsanto and big agriculture! The Senate voted 63-30 to enact the DARK act. Congratulations to the lobbyists of big agriculture, and to the senators who financially benefit from their contributions. Condolences to the losers: the state of Vermont whose state law was superseded by this new federal law. Condolences to the nine out of ten Americans who want what 64 other countries already have, which is to know what is in our food. Most of all condolences to our children who will for the most part continually consume GMO foods without any idea of the resulting toxicity from the overuse of glyphosate (Roundup). Oh wait, there was sort of a consolation victory. The Senators did require food companies to put on its packaging a QR code, an indication that it contains GMO ingredients. However, you will have to use a smart phone, and be connected to Wi-Fi in the supermarket to find out for sure.
Cheating at the F.D.A.
Here is an item that escaped my attention until recently in what appears as one of the more egregious abuse of power in recent memory.
You may or may not have heard of Margaret Hamburg but she was appointed tohead the F.D.A. in 2009, by President Obama when he was elected to his first term. In 2015 she resigned and in January of this year, she, her hedge fund executive husband Peter F. Brown, and Johnson & Johnson were all named in a federal racketeering lawsuit that claims they colluded to enrich themselves by using her authority as commissioner of the F.D.A.
The lawsuit centers around the F.D.A.’s continued approval of Levaquin an antibiotic made by Johnson & Johnson despite the adverse reporting system estimates of 500 associated deaths from its use and hundreds of other complaints about the drug. The FDA did add some additional warning labels for Levaquin in 2013, but it wasn’t until Hamburg left in 2015 that the FDA advisory committee recommended clearer, more comprehensive warnings. The complaint also alleges that Hamburg verbally supported in 2013, approval of the painkiller Zohydro produced by a pharmaceutical company Alkermes. The FDA advisory board voted 11-2 against approving Zohydro in December 2012 for fears that the drug didn’t have enough anti-abuse protections and 28 state attorney generals urged the FDA to undo its approval of the opioid drug in 2013. Hamburg however defended it, even before a congressional hearing.
Why did Margaret Hamburg ignore the dangers of Levaquin and Zohydro? The suit alleges that her husband Peter F. Brown, co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies hedge fund had a significant stake in Johnson & Johnson and also Alkermes. In fact, Renaissance Technologies increased its holdings in Alkermes by 10x to almost 23 million dollars in the second quarter of 2013, just before Zohydro’s October 2013 approval. Both Alkermes and Johnson & Johnson stock value increased significantly during Hamburg’s tenure at the FDA and even though she and her husband had divested all personal holdings with the exception of one fund, he continued to reap dividends from the overall performance of the hedge fund. In 2012, Forbes estimated Peter Brown’s total compensation for the year at about 90 million dollars.
The plaintiffs in this suit are seeking 870 million dollars in punitive and other damages. The trial will determine if Hamburg, her husband Peter Brown and others colluded to personally benefit financially from her position of authority at the FDA. It will also determine whether Hamburg knowingly risked the health of the citizens she was supposed to be protecting for personal gain.
In March 2016 a vote was made on the DARK act and the vote tally was 49 yes to 48 no and with 60 votes needed for it to be passed it looked like the bill would be blocked and that Americans would get clear labeling about GMO ingredients. What happened in the past four months to change the minds of Senators who were previously clearly on the side of consumers? It sure looks like lobbyist money is what ruled the day. According to Patty Lovera of foodandwaterwatch.org it is estimated that food manufacturers and biotechnology companies have spent over 100 million dollars fighting mandatory labeling in the U.S., when they have already had labels indicating GMO ingredients when selling products in other countries.
This bill will now get passed to the House of Representatives and if passed there, it will eventually land on the desk of President Obama. If you want to send your representative a message call 888-754-9091 and ask them to vote against Dark Act (S.764). Ultimately it is expected to land on President Obama’s desk socalling the White House at 202-456-1111 or sending an email firstname.lastname@example.org and asking him to do the same seems to be the last chance to see if common sense prevails with regard to GMO’s.