Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Where quack medicine meets political corruption meets pyramid schemes

This piece from the LA Times' indispensable Michael Hiltzik this excellent New Yorker article by Rachel Monroe

Orrin Hatch is leaving the Senate, but his deadliest law will live on – LA Times

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) last made a public splash during the debate over the GOP's tax cut bill in December, when he threw a conniption over the suggestion that the bill would favor the wealthy (who will reap about 80% of its benefits by 2027).

Hatch subsequently announced his retirement from the Senate as of the end of this term, writing finis to his 40 years of service. In that time, he has shown himself to be a master of the down-is-up, wrong-is-right method of obfuscating his favors to rich patrons. That was especially the case with his sedulous defense for 20 years of his deadliest legislative achievement.

We're talking about the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, or DSHEA (pronounced "D-shay"). Hatch introduced DSHEA in collaboration with then-Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), but there was no doubt that it was chiefly his baby. The act all but eliminated government regulation of the dietary and herbal supplements industry. Henceforth, the Food and Drug Administration could not block a supplement from reaching market; the agency could only take action if it learned of health and safety problems with the product after the fact.

DSHEA, as it was written and as it was intended, facilitates the legal marketing of quackery.

The Government Accountability Office found the marketing of herbal supplements, especially to the elderly, to be rife with deceptive and dangerous advice; marketers were heard assuring customers that their products could cure disease and recommending combinations that were medically hazardous. The FDA told the GAO that, yes, those marketers shouldn't be saying these things, and they'd get right on it.

But one didn't have to drill down too deeply in the speech to discern what really drove the law's enactment. It wasn't the desire for "rational regulation," but that most common political drug of all, money. The dietary supplement industry had set up shop in Hatch's home state and plied him with pantsfuls of campaign cash; in 2010, for instance, Utah-based Xango LLC, which markets dietary supplements among other products, was Hatch's second-biggest contributor. (Herbalife ranked third.) Hatch's son, Scott, has worked as a lobbyist for the industry.

Thanks to DSHEA, the supplements industry grew from $9 billion in 1994 to more than $50 billion today. In Utah alone, it's worth more than $7 billion.

And the consumers often aren't the only victims.

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