Why is government advice so often wrong?
If I were forced to give a one-word answer, I would say “money”, but as you will see below, it is a little more complicated.
In the last year and a half, the government has told us to do a whole lot of things—lock down; keep your distance; wear /don’t wear a mask; wash your hands; forget nutrients and inexpensive therapies; and of course, get vaccinated. Given the money and power that the US government has at its disposal, it should give us top notch reliable health advice…right? Unfortunately, too often it does NOT. Many of us are still debating the advisability of the covid vaccine which at this point only has emergency approval. This might be a good time to do a reality check on the source of that crucial instruction. Those who dare to question government authority are accused of believing in conspiracy theories, but below is a small but representative sample of the government’s dismal track record. In a separate post, I explain some reasons for that bad advice.
- Science has shown since the 1940’s and 1950’s that smoking tobacco causes lung cancer. (It seems quite amazing that the FDA still allows cigarettes to be sold, especially since they are so aggressive in trying to “protect” us from what they claim are the “dangers” of dietary supplements.) It was not until 1966, that the FDA at least required warnings on cigarette packs. (How many died needlessly from lung cancer in the decades before that?) To their credit, the FDA is finally planning to restrict menthol flavoring in cigarettes which encourages smoking. It is simply astonishing that in 2021, the government spends $60 million of our tax dollars per year to subsidize tobacco agriculture.
- Government agencies encourage cities to add fluoride to their water supply. It turns out that fluoride (a toxic waste from fertilizer production) besides interfering with thyroid function, increasing blood pressure and causing other health problems, also reduces children’s IQ. Read more.
- Respected scientists and nutrition experts agree that the USDA dietary guidelines published in 1977 and reinforced in 1992 with the original “food pyramid”, caused the current epidemic of type 2 diabetes. (2 million Americans now suffer with Type 2 diabetes and 88 million American adults are in the “prediabetes” zone. Together roughly 60% of adults!) The feds created unjustified panic about fats as a general category and they demonized eggs, and meat (foods that satisfy appetite). That unreasonable position led to an unhealthy addictive-like intake of carbohydrates such as pasta, bread, cereal, fat-free cookies and the like (foods that destabilize blood sugar). Diabetes is a primary cause of heart disease and as the government is quick to tell us, also a major risk factor for a deadly outcome from covid-19. This New York Times editorial points out that the feds also overreacted about salt.
- Despite the massive amount of convincing science proving that sugar consumption increases the risk of diabetes, cancer, heart disease and more, the US government still spends $4 billion of our tax dollars to subsidize sugar agriculture. Likewise, billions are spent to subsidize corn agriculture making corn snacks and high fructose corn syrup cheaper.
- The government told us that margarine was better than butter. In the 1990’s research showed that the Trans fats in margarine and shortening significantly increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. Soon (in the early 2000’s) some countries banned the partially hydrogenated oils that contain trans fats. A few years later, NY and California banned Trans fats in restaurant food. Not until 2006 did the FDA require Trans fats to be listed on food labels. There is no acceptable level but the agency allowed manufacturers to list “zero” if there was ½ gram or less per serving. With some exceptions, the FDA banned trans fats in 2018, almost 20 years late.
- Starting in 1938, the FDA allowed treatment with diethylstilbestrol (DES). This synthetic estrogen was proven to increase risk of female cancers, fertility issues and miscarriage as well as hormone problems in sons. The drug continued to affect the next two generations. The FDA did not ban it until 1971!
- Although the Environmental Protection Agency sounds the alarm that the heavy metal mercury is a potent neurotoxin, the FDA still allows mercury in dental fillings and in many consumables including high fructose corn
- The government is allowing something like 80 thousand chemicals to end up in our food, our water and air. These chemicals cause infertility and cancer which our taxes often pay to treat.
- In 1965, scientists began researching the use of Folic acid during pregnancy to prevent neural tube type of birth defect. By the 1980’s the research had become convincing, and the nutrition trade association lobbied the FDA to allow that information to be put on supplement labels. (They still do not allow it.) At least in 1998 the agency required grain products to be fortified with folic acid. The FDA’s delay likely resulted in 20,000 babies being born with the defect which was fatal for many.
- We could discuss many others such as the many unfortunate drug approvals; armed raids on the offices of doctors dispensing an amino acid supplement (l-tryptophan); and FDA seizing co-Q10 off the shelves of health food stores.
In 1976 the government generated panic about an expected epidemic of swine flu. They sold people on the idea of getting vaccinate, and according to this LA Times report, almost 25% of the population — received the swine flu vaccine before the program was halted [because of concerns about vaccine side effects]…More than 500 people are thought to have developed Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving the vaccine; 25 died…As it turned out, only about 200 cases of swine flu and one death were ultimately reported in the U.S., the CDC said.”
- National Institutes of Health grants helped fund dangerous virus research in the Chinese laboratory that many believe will eventually be shown to be where covid-19 was accidentally unleashed…if the Chinese government will allow access to all the data.
- Despite public claims of safety, there are problems with vaccines of all types and, because the manufacturers have been granted immunity from liability, the government created a fund to compensate those who are hurt by vaccines or the families of those who died because of them. As of October 2019, $4.2 Billion in compensation (not including attorney’s fees and costs) has been awarded since 1988.
Why such a bumpy track record? For one thing, the general term government I use includes many agencies and departments such as:
- FDA (Food and Drug Administration)
- USDA (US Department of Agriculture)
- CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- NIH (National Institutes of Health)
- HHS (the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
- PHSCC (U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the Surgeon General is the head)
- EPA (Environmental Protection Agency)
- US CONGRESS (Senate and House of Representatives)
- WHO (World Health Organization – influence but no control.)
There are more…a book would be better than an article. There are also temporary sources of advice such as a white house advisor on the pandemic who can choose “facts” from any of the other sources! This complex of sources is part of the problem…sometimes the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. (The EPA and FDA confusion regarding mercury is a good example.) Sometimes government entities have conflicting missions. (For example, the FDA might wish to ban a food because it is not good for our health, but the USDA is charged with promoting the sale of that commodity.) Congress can make health-related laws based on whatever information attracts their attention…sometimes that is pressure from big money special interests such as the pharmaceutical, tobacco, big Ag and other industries. (E.g. the 1992 Food Pyramid was devised and promoted by lobbyists for the processed food industry, not scientists.)
Solving a problem without adequate study can create unintended consequences. (For instance, adding fluoride to municipal water supplies took care of a waste disposal problem and possibly reduced tooth decay, but at what cost?) Not only are there competing studies that experts can choose from to create policy, many times, there is a fundamental issue with the science chosen. (For example, the FDA dietary guidelines were based upon population studies. Those can mislead because there are too many variables that are not measured.) Then there is human nature (e.g. tenured scientists can get very attached to their theories and not want to give them up even in the face of new facts.) Most of us have biases which influence which studies we want to use and how we interpret data. (E.g. Pharmaceutical-trained researchers have no interest in natural remedies or medications with expired patents.)
Conflicts of interest can also be a problem. (For instance, most of the advisors to the FDA now work in, came from, or will end up going on to the pharmaceutical industry…this is called the “revolving door” between the FDA and drug companies.) Even more blatant conflicts have been caught involving financial payments from big pharma to FDA advisors. This Science article discusses that problem. It does make one curious that Dr. Moncef Sloui, who was the head of Operation Warp Speed vaccine development project, owns substantial stock in drug companies which were given that federal help.
“Follow the science” sounds like logical advice, but who decides which science to follow?