Science and Government for Our Own Good?

We Have Been Manipulated and We are Paying for It

From condo boards to Capital Hill we are generally managed by a group of people that consider themselves our benefactors. More often than not these people consider themselves highly intelligent and posses the conviction that everyone would be happier, healthier and generally much better off if they would follow their rules and recommendations. Another characteristic of these leaders is that they seem to gravitate towards academics or politics. Over decades the relationship between like-minded academics and politicians has reinforced the notion that they are capable to find fundamental solutions to most of our problems.

One example of this marriage is seen in government official concern about the American diet and its effect on the “nations health”. While we ask what business does the mayor, or the statehouse or Washington have in trying to tell any of us what we should eat, we need to understand what actions they have taken in controlling our choices over the years and the consequences of those actions.

The truth is that our political class have often decided that they and their educated advisors are much smarter than average citizens and have acted hundreds of times over the past number of decades to control our lives in regard to our eating requirements.

In addition to instituting policies designed to improve our eating habits they have also managed (manipulated) the system that produces our food for any number of other “worthy” purposes.

At the end of World War I, the destructive effects of the war bankrupted much of Europe, closing major export markets for the United States and beginning a series of events that would lead to the development of agricultural price and income support policies. United States price and income support, known otherwise as agricultural subsidy, grew out of a serious farm income and financial crises, which was understood to jeopardize the future ability of American agriculture to meet the food needs of the American people. This led to widespread political belief that the free market system was not adequately rewarding farm people for their agricultural commodities.

Beginning with the 1921 Packers and Stockyards Act and 1922 Capper-Volstead Act, which regulated livestock and protected farmer cooperatives against anti-trust suits, United States agricultural policy began to become more and more sweeping in its scope. In reaction to falling grain prices and the widespread economic turmoil of the Dust Bowl and Great Depression, three bills established to price subsidies for farmers in the United States: the 1922 Grain Futures Act, the 1929 Agricultural Marketing Act, and finally the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act.

Out of these bills grew a system of government-controlled agricultural commodity prices and government supply control (farmers being paid to leave land unused). Supply control would continue to be used to decrease overproduction, leading to over 50,000,000 acres to be set aside during times of low commodity prices (1955–1973, 1984–1995). The practice wasn’t curtailed until the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996. While the reform act of 1996 was supposed to be a first step towards returning the agricultural economy to free enterprise it left in place hundreds of specific supports and direct programs for farmers so that the result was at best only a series of half measures. Even this reform act was a victim of the power of special interest lobbies over the general welfare of the public. Sugar is a classic example of how this system corrupts the political process.

SUGAR

In 1981 the U.S. government passed laws and implemented policies that were designed to support the price of domestically produced sugar (beet and cane) by using tariffs and purchase programs.

In 2001 sugar imported into the U.S. outside of the Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQ) paid a duty of over 15¢ per pound. At that time world sugar prices were averaging 7¢ per pound while U.S. sugar was selling at 22¢ per pound.

The cost in tax dollars flowing to support the sugar industry has been as high as $1.4 million per month in 2000 just for storage of surplus sugar alone with an overall estimated $200,000,000 per year currently in direct purchase costs.

One private U.S. company, US Sugar of Clewiston, Florida produces over 18% of all U.S. sugar and this government policy has made Clewiston one of the wealthiest per capita towns in the country.

In 1996, an agriculture reform bill year, sugar companies paid directly and indirectly $13 million to the 49 members of the House Agriculture Committee and remarkably, seemed to have managed to leave sugar price supports exactly as they were.

In a claimed effort to protect an economic segment that probably employs under 17,000 total (with estimated job losses more like 3 – 4,000 should price supports be removed) the U.S. government has spent hundreds of millions and caused the American people to suffer multiple negative unintended consequences.

As a result of this sugar policy food companies have switched from refined sugar to fructose in the manufacture of most processed foods. In addition to processed foods virtually all U.S. soft drinks and a majority of juices are now formulated with high fructose corn syrup. This has been done for one very simple reason… cost.

While there is an ongoing debate about many health problems associated with fructose versus sugar there are troubling indications in some areas. Results published… by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior in 2010, by researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and obesity. Using lab animal experiments the results found a high correlation between HFCS and obesity that was not found in a diet using equal amounts of table sugar.

In 2002 The Department of Commerce, International Trade Administration issued an official report on the sugar laws impact on the confection industry in the U.S. which characterized the results as follows:

  1. Employment in sugar containing products (SCPs) industries decreased by more than 10,000 jobs between 1997 and 2002 according to the Bureau of Labor

Statistics.

  1. For each one sugar growing and harvesting job saved through high U.S. sugar prices, nearly three confectionery manufacturing jobs are lost.
  2. For the confectionery industry in particular, evidence suggests that sugar costs are a major factor in relocation decisions because high U.S. sugar prices represent a larger share of total production costs than labor.   In 2004, the price of U.S refined sugar was 23.5 cents per pound compared to the world price at 10.9 cents.
  3. Many U.S. SCP manufacturers have closed or relocated to Canada where sugar prices are less than half of U.S. prices and to Mexico where sugar prices are about two-thirds of U.S. prices.
  4. Imports of SCPs have grown rapidly from $6.7 billion in 1990, to $10.2 billion in 1997, up to an estimated $18.7 billion in 2004 based on 2002 trends.

 

The fundamental problem with price supports is that no matter how justified at some point, as with most laws and government programs, they live on way past their usefulness.

 

Want to understand why Americans are getting fat? Look at the unintended consequence of trying to protect sugar growing jobs.

 

Another area where the anointed have taken action to protect us from ourselves is government direct intervention in controlling the American diet. While the changes worked on the American diet are significant there is also the quantity of our money (taxes) expended in the task to consider.

 

FAT, SALT AND OTHER BAD THINGS

 

It seems to be almost impossible to keep up with dietary research into what things in our diet are good for us and those that are bad. Salt is bad (recent research has now reversed that), eggs are bad (it seems eggs switch back and forth regularly), trans-fatty acids are bad (they were originally introduced as a healthy substitute for animal fat in our diet). For almost sixty years the recommendations regarding a healthy diet have emphasized that animal fat is a major contributor to coronary disease.

 

As a recent article in the New York Times notes “The new findings are part of a growing body of research that has challenged the accepted wisdom that saturated fat is inherently bad for you and will continue the debate about what foods are best to eat.

 

For decades, health officials have urged the public to avoid saturated fat as much as possible, saying it should be replaced with the unsaturated fats in foods like nuts, fish, seeds and vegetable oils.

 

But the new research, published on Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, did not find that people who ate higher levels of saturated fat had more heart disease than those who ate less”.

 

Since the 1960’s we have been pressured by our government and academics to avoid consuming fat in our diet. And while some will argue that the American people have not taken this government advice seriously the facts actually tell a very different story. So why did they urge this and what have been the results?

 

Historically, in the late 1930’s medical professionals began to notice an alarming increase in coronary disease. It was first made public in 1938 with an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. By the 1950’s it was declared an epidemic.

 

Along comes Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota with the explanation. His research pointed to high dietary fat as the culprit. He published a seven-country study “proving” that the level of coronary disease was a result of the fat content of various national diets. Other researchers and government officials embraced the findings and it didn’t hurt that he was a charismatic person with solid academic credentials. From that point on funding and emphasis in additional research, dietary recommendations and government policy changed.

 

The government so embraced his findings that within a decade whole new departments were created to inform and help the public make healthy eating choices. There were departments to educate, others to provide packaging requirements so the public could better identify what they were eating, and others to do research on better nutrition.

 

In 2013 there was an $8.7 million budget just for the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion within the Department of Agriculture. While the politicians are always quick to point out the need for the USDA to protect our food supply, inspection is actually one of the smallest parts of their budget. Consider 2010’s expenditures:

 

USDA 2010 budget (partial)

Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services $25 billion (not subsidies)

Food Safety $1 billion

Research, Education, and Economics $2.89 billion

Marketing and Regulatory Programs $2.75 billion

Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services $97.95 billion*

  • (includes Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children [$7 billion] and food stamps [$41.2 billion]). What is the remaining $47.5 billion used for?

That is $78.64 billion in non-food expenses at the USDA which represents the total average annual tax collected from over 17 million Americans

 

At the governments urging, butter was replaced by margarine, lard by vegetable shortening (Crisco which was a major funder of the American Heart Association) and other vegetable oils, and most importantly of all, eggs, cheese, and meat were replaced to a great extent by pasta and grain. The result of this is the actual American diet switched from animal fat to vegetable oil, from beef and pork to poultry along with a twenty-five percent increase in carbohydrates in the average American’s diet since the early 1970s.

 

Dr. Keys sealed the saturated fat argument in 1961 by taking a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the definitive statement on the issue.

 

What were some of the results in this government led diet change in America? Increased consumption of carbohydrates could be one of the most significant negative changes. One of the problems is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin, which is a hormone that is extremely efficient at helping the body at storing fat. If carbohydrates weren’t enough, early on, clinical studies showed diets high in vegetable oil resulted in higher rates of cancer and gallstones.

 

In probability and statistics there is an adage that correlation is not causation. What that means is that without controls and consideration of multiple variable factors there cannot be high trust, let alone certainty, in the statistical results. Also it has become common for nontechnical people (media, government) to misunderstand study results as significant when the statistics actually conclude that the data is not outside of normal variation and probability. Oddly, in recent years an alarming number of researchers do not seem to attempt to correct the reporting when the media seriously misstates the nature of the research results, while in the past it was common. Perhaps they do not think that it is their job to educate anyone in probability and statistical hypothesis testing but the result is usually the uneducated media and politicians overstating the significance of the results.

 

During all this nobody thought to question the type of diet Americans had at the turn of the nineteenth century and before and what negative health results it should have produced. While there doesn’t seem to be much research to document the character of that historical diet it is highly unlikely that the American diet at that time was lower in fat or salt than the diet in the first third of the twentieth century. Butter, bacon, beef, biscuits, fatback, lard were all staples of most nineteenth century American’s diet. The Southern diet as recently as the mid twentieth century was characterized as a heart attack waiting to happen. With that history why did fat suddenly become the primary suspect in the cause of coronary disease?

 

What is now emerging is the very real possibility that Americans have born the high cost of a misguided information campaign sponsored by our elected officials and their bureaucrats. This cost was not just in tax dollars wasted but in the negative impact on Americans health. And now our government is very concerned with our diet and the obesity problem that they are partly responsible for creating.

 

In attempting to defend the government position an argument has been put forward that the crises was real and existed long before it was recognized and became apparent only after medical procedures improved for identifying heart attacks in the twentieth century. While death certificates may have missed actual causes of death in those early years, examinations of specific and large institutions detailed autopsy records have put that argument to rest. It seems that there was a very real and dramatic increase in coronary disease from the 1930s to the 50s and beyond. The question seems to remain what the cause could be? If the American diet had not changed significantly in the early twentieth century what was causing the major increase in coronary disease?

 

Actually there have been a few papers that have offered a credible explanation with one being published as early as 1962. It seems that the smoking of tobacco while common was actually lightly used until the late nineteenth century. Around 1885 American companies began to manufacture and market machine made cigarettes. Public consumption went up dramatically from a pre-machine annual consumption of 40 per year to 40 per month by 1900 and 80 per week by 1925. Allowing a 20 to 30 year lag time for symptoms to occur and you have a credible model to explain the 1930s spike in heart problems and the continuing increases thru the 1950s.

 

What should be taken away from all this? One thing would be to question the wisdom of our political leaders in areas beyond the basic needs our government was originally intended to provide. There are a lot of research results and opinions of scientists that are proven to be wrong over time.

 

Another is to question the ever-growing influence of government funds in scientific research. It seems that our political leaders have developed a preference for funding scientists whose research leans in the direction of confirming popular and already held beliefs. And the possibility that our lives might be better and healthier and more productive if government stopped being so concerned about protecting us from ourselves.

 

 

 

 

 

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