The title of this post is the 1st line of The Cancer Lobby, Sunday's New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.
He uses the example of formaldehyde, describing our various encounters with it, and reminding us that it causes cancer. He then writes:
The chemical industry is working frantically to suppress that scientific consensus — because it fears “public confusion.” Big Chem apparently worries that you might be confused if you learned that formaldehyde caused cancer of the nose and throat, and perhaps leukemia as well.And that is the key - restricting the flow of information that might potentially affect their profits. We have seen it in many areas, notably in the refusal of drilling companies to disclose the chemicals they inject during the fracking process, claiming that it is proprietary information.
The industry’s strategy is to lobby Congress to cut off money for the Report on Carcinogens, a 500-page consensus document published every two years by the National Institutes of Health, containing the best information about what agents cause cancer. If that sounds like shooting the messenger, well, it is.
And to put it bluntly, as Kristof does:
The larger issue is whether the federal government should be a watchdog for public health, or a lap dog for industry. When Mitt Romney denounces President Obama for excessive regulation, these are the kinds of issues at stake.Please keep reading.
I am now 66. I grew up in a period where we were not necessarily told the contents of products that we consumed. Some of the benefits we got from the 1960s came about because of the insistence of the American people that we were entitled to know more about the products we were purchasing - those we consumed in food and drink, put on our bodies in terms of cosmetics. We have over time been able to pressure corporations into disclosing fat and sodium content, both critical to some for their health.
All of this is the result of appropriate government regulation. So are laws against dumping things into our water supply, or pollution the air we all breathe.
When someone argues against regulation claiming it costs too much, ask if the cost of human lives that will be lost or damaged absent that regulation are not in fact a far greater cost.
When I was a child, Saturday morning television was flooded with ads for candy and toys of dubious quality, attempting to influence children to be demanding consumers. Similarly, we regularly saw advertisements, including from well-known athletes, for tobacco products.
Tobacco consumption is way down since such advertisements were banned. The American people are healthier as a result, and our economy benefits from the cancers avoided by lower consumption of an addictive and destructive product.
The chemical industry is lobbying hard to prevent further release of the Report on Carcinogens. Kristof notes that Montana Republican Rep. Rehberg, now running against Sen. Tester in a highly competitive race, is the person carrying water on this for the chemical industry.
THis is not being anti-science out of ignorance. It is a deliberate attempt to suppress scientific information that might interfere with corporate profits, even at a time when corporate profits are at near all-time highs.
Kristof writes directly:
Let’s be clear. There is uncertainty about toxic chemicals, and it is perfectly legitimate to criticize the Report on Carcinogens. But this effort to defund the report is an insult to science and democracy alike.an insult to science and democracy alike - keep that in mind.
Kristof points out the attempts of the chemical industry to push back on formaldehyde mirror the previous efforts on asbestos. As he writes in his penultimate paragraph
The basic strategy is an old one. As David Michaels notes in his book “Doubt Is Their Product,” the first evidence that asbestos causes cancer emerged in the 1930s. But three decades later, industry executives were still railing about “ill-informed and exaggerated” press reports, still covering up staggering cancer rates, and still denouncing regulation of asbestos as “premature.” Huge numbers of Americans today are dying as a result.How many lives are corporate profits worth?
Or as Kristof asks with his final words:
Do we really want to go through that again?I surely don't.
Which is why I support aggressive regulation.
It is also why I support full disclosure of risks to the public, regardless of what the relevant industries might think.
It is why I want scientists, not corporate lobbyists, making the decisions about the release of information.
It is yet another a reason why I am voting Democratic this fall.
What about you?