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In the Vegetarian & Vegan News...
   Jeff Nelson | Dr. Koop sells out again

The man willing to take on Big Tobacco "cow"tows to Big Meat & Dairy

by Jeff Nelson

[Update 11/8/99 -- Dr. Koop sells out again. Read the story from the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune editorial demanding that Dr. Koop be barred from giving Congressional testimony again for failing to disclose to Congress that he was being paid 1 million dollars to help a company whose allegedly dangerous product he was defending -- using arguments later shown to have no basis in scientific fact. Click here to read those recent articles. DrKoop.com's stock has suffered as a result of these and other revelations. Today it is trading at $13/share, down from its high a month ago of $45/share.)

[Update 8/19/99-- This article went online a couple of weeks ago. Today I learned that drkoop.com has redesigned its site and moved or deleted many articles, including those referred to in this article. I have updated the links here, and where I've been unable to locate the original article on the revised DrKoop.com, I have uploaded a copy of the original article onto VegSource and linked it here so you can see exactly what I was writing about.]

C. Everett Koop, M.D., former Surgeon General and the most powerful MD in the land to take on the tobacco industry...has signed a deal with the devil.

It may not have been enough that the recent IPO (initial public stock offering) for his website DrKoop.com brought in $84.4 million in one day. Now, he’s signed a deal with the American Counsel on Science and Health (ACSH), a nonprofit organization touting itself as the debunker of unreasonable public fears by presenting an "unbiased" view of health, nutrition and public safety issues.


 



According to a recent article in the New York Times, ACSH  receives its funding from food and chemical companies.  So it may come as no surprise that ACSH always ends up championing "science" which promotes the products sold by their corporate sponsors, while casting doubt on research identifying health risks associated with those products.

An example of how DrKoop.com is now helping ACSH in its mission to carry water for big business is the lead story on the list of ACSH-supplied "health" articles on DrKoop.com, entitled "Red Meat Can Come Off the Forbidden List."

The article is written by an ACSH staff writer who proclaims excitedly that "new research" suggests Americans do not have to avoid red meat for fear of raising blood cholesterol and increasing heart disease risk. The article scorns advice from what it disdainfully terms "self-styled dietary ‘experts’" to avoid red meat for a healthy heart. Such recommendations, the article asserts, are "outdated" and "unnecessary."

The article stops short of touting red meat as the cure for coronary heart disease, but judging from the article's unabashed pro-meat spin, you might conclude it was written by a meat industry publicist. 

Given that it came from ACHS, in essence it was.

For Sale: One Former Surgeon General

Comparing the ACSH/DrKoop.com article with mainstream news media articles on the same study, Dr. Koop’s sellout becomes unmistakable.

First, unlike other news stories, the ACSH/DrKoop article fails to disclose one important fact: the study in question was funded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA). Further, the article's writer failed to disclose that her own salary is also paid by the same food producers who desperately want the public to buy into the study.

Would Dr. Koop publish an article about a study that "proved" cigarettes were not in fact addictive, and then fail to mention the study was devised and paid for by the tobacco industry? Would he allow the article to be written by someone affiliated with tobacco, and let that fact to be concealed? And would he permit the article to be 100% cigarette industry spin? Obviously he wouldn't; he's not for sale to the tobacco industry.

So why then has he allied himself with ACHS, an organization which assumes the role of beef, dairy, and pharmaceutical industry flack?

Why is DrKoop.com -- whose slogan is "Your Trusted Health Network" -- now offering readers unbalanced, biased "health" articles which are little more than thinly disguised attempts to help the food industry sell products known to cause health problems?

Journalism or sales hype?

"Journalism" may be too kind a word for the red meat article on DrKoop.com. After all, it simply transmits the conclusions purchased by the Cattlemen’s Association, devoid of comments from any independent sources. The article does quote another food industry-paid ACSH staff member who, not surprisingly, interprets the study results as advice for consumers to eat red meat.

In contrast, news organizations covering the same study sought out and published comments from experts with no ties or financial interests with the beef industry.

A CNN article on the study, for example, stated, "Although researchers found cholesterol levels went down a small bit, some say for those at high risk of coronary heart disease, the amount of saturated fat in lean red meat is still too high."

Contrary to ACSH/meat industry spin on DrKoop.com, CNN reported that the Beef Association findings "in reality are nothing new."

CNN quoted Dr. Ronald Krauss of the American Heart Association, who said, "These are very, very small effects and should not be used to say that we are changing our assessment to dietary approaches to reducing cholesterol. These very small changes match very closely the results that would have been predicted from the formulas that have been developed over many years of research."

CNN put the study in correct perspective by noting that the "chief culprit in raising blood cholesterol is saturated fat, which is found mostly in foods that come from animals, such as meats, poultry, fish and dairy products."

Suspiciously absent from the ACSH/DrKoop.com article, but included by CNN, was the fact that participants in the Beef Association study -- put on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet and eating small portions of lean red meat or fish and poultry -- experienced an average of only 2% decrease in total cholesterol over 9 months. By comparison, patients in studies such as those by Dean Ornish, MD, where all meat was eliminated, realized an average decrease of 15% of cholesterol in just two weeks.

Cash Omelet?

Long considered the staunchest defender of the people’s heath and welfare, Dr. Koop once wrote that "sixty-eight percent of all diseases in the US are diet related." (Surgeon General’s Report on Nutrition and Health, Pub. #88-50210, Washington, DC: US Dept. of Health and Human Services, 1988.)

Perhaps Dr. Koop’s new quote should be that 100% of fortunes in the US are made by getting lots of money.  And what better place to find that money than the food and chemical industry, whose only requirement seems to be that you assist their sales force by using spin and factual omissions when reporting on their products?

DrKoop.com's partnership with a business advocacy/lobbying organization like ACHS means he'll have to back down from positions taken by DrKoop.com prior to selling out.

For example, previously, DrKoop.com maintained that due to cholesterol concerns, a healthy individual should curtail his intake of eggs to "no more than 2 per week."

Now that ACHS is handling the good doctor’s "health" news, the health standards give way to advice clearly favored by the egg industry: "The impact of dietary cholesterol on blood cholesterol is relatively small compared with the effects of saturated fat and total calories. Most healthy people don't need to rigorously restrict their intake of eggs."

Gee, Dr. Koop. That’s quite a switch!

Previously, DrKoop.com has advised consumers to reduce their intake of trans fatty acids, noting a USDA study showed they raise cholesterol as much as saturated fats do, and may also reduce HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) and raise Lp (a form of bad cholesterol).

Now that ACHS is handling "health" news for DrKoop.com, here are excerpts from the new corporate line Dr. Koop will be regularly touting:

  • that in fact there is "no evidence" consumption of trans fatty acids has any significant impact on heart disease, and that organizations advising consumers of such risks are attempting to "scare consumers" and drum up "publicity" for themselves (presumably including Dr. Koop);
  • that organic farming should be opposed for a variety of reasons;
  • that irradiation is the ideal solution to food contamination;
  • that injecting dairy cows with growth hormones is desirable to increase cows milk production;
  • that genetically engineered foods are the ideal solution to the planet’s food needs which come with no risks which would warrant safety studies.

"Food Police Are Wrong"

Another ACSH article featured on DrKoop.com spotlights a study no doubt paid for by another funder of ACHS -- the junk food industry. The study was a truly moronic experiment, a dispicable, sick mind game played by "researchers" on very young, impressionable 3 to 5 year-olds.

The researchers in this study forbade children from eating a particular junk food that the kids liked, while taunting the children by letting them see the food they couldn't eat. No educational information was provided to the children that eating the food in question might compromise their health or was otherwise undesirable. Shockingly, the study found that after five days having the food put before them but not being permitted to eat it, the children really wanted it.

Wow!

ACHS and DrKoop.com use this study to conclude that the "food police" are wrong to deny junk food to their kids. Parents must in essence cede control of their children's desires to their children, otherwise they risk creating more desire on the part of the children for the unhealthful foods, and the kids will only end up eating more junk, not less.

DrKoop.com's advice, in other words? Let them eat twinkies!

Obviously, these people have never lived with a three year old. It doesn't take a study to know that small kids will take a chair and climb up onto a cabinet and do anything in their power to get at something Mommy and Daddy told them they couldn't have.

It also seems obvious researchers would get the same results if they had used a toy, a drug or a weapon. Had the researchers found that children's interest in toys, drugs or weapons increased when taunted in this same way, would their advice be "not to restrict" chidren's access to these items either?

It's downright embarassing that DrKoop.com would be promoting such schlock "research."

The more appropriate way to help adults get their kids to eat a healthy diet would be to research parents who have succeeded in doing so. The researchers would find, to begin with, that such parents don't play mind games on their children, but rather they don't give the junk food to their children to start with; they don't create an addiction to bad food at an early age.

Instead, they begin early to educate their children about healthy and unhealthy foods. Children naturally want to be healthy, strong and successful. If you teach a child very early that smoking is a disgusting addiction that causes death and disease, most will never smoke. The same is true with dietary habits, notwithstanding food industry attempts to hire "scientists" to help sell junk food.

Conflicts of Interest

A clear problem emerging for the meat, dairy and processed food industry is a staggering body of scientific evidence pointing to qualities in whole plant foods which can protect against a wide array of common illnesses, such as heart disease and certain cancers. At the same time, consumption of animal products is repeatedly implicated in a host of the same diseases.

Common sense and reputable science (science not paid for by the food industry) tell us to eat more fruits and vegetables, and fewer animal products and refined foods.  So where does that leave a "health organization" which must, for it's own survival or enrichment, promote the consumption of the animal products and refined foods sold by their funders and advertisers?  In a tight spot.

A professor and chairwoman of the department of nutrition and food studies at New York University, Marion Nestle served on the USDA panel when the last revisions to the USDA food pyramid were made in 1995. Ms. Nestle recently said the food industry traditionally has driven government nutritional guidelines by successfully pressuring the USDA to dilute health experts’ recommendations and weaken or omit nutritional guidelines advising consumers to eat less meat and dairy products.

Like the USDA, which is charged with helping the meat, dairy and processed food industries flourish -- but also commissioned with protecting the health of consumers -- DrKoop.com finds itself trying to strike a balance between the interest of website profits and public health interests. And just as with the USDA, the wealthy corporate food interests are winning out at DrKoop.com.

It seems rather clear from the ACHS record that if one of their donors decided to make chocolate ice cream from cow dung, ACHS and DrKoop.com would begin touting the health benefits of manure.  It is no mere coincidence that the ACHS "scientific" stand on any given issue just happens to coincide with the best financial interest of the meat, dairy, processed food, chemical and pharmaceutical industries who pay them.

ACHS, which could not sanction smoking and expect to be in business with Dr. Koop, took a hit when they came out against tobacco: tobacco industry subsidiaries pulled funding, underscoring just how tenuous ACHS' position is. ACHS lost the funding even though they provided some limited tobacco industry cover by asserting that second hand smoke poses no health threat.  In any case, one thing is obvious to ACHS: it can't afford to bite many of the other hands that feed it or it will cease to exist.

If the majority of positions ACHS regularly asserts were true, then Americans would have few health problems today.  After all ACHS is largely advocating the status quo of the standard American diet, heavy in meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods, and saturated with hormones, antibiotics, chemicals and pesticides.

Koop For Sale?

The real question is whether Dr. Koop’s alliance with ACHS spells the end of the former Surgeon General’s sterling reputation. Obviously, ACHS needs Koop a lot more than he needs them. Koop’s site is rated by Netscape as 963 in popularity of all sites on the Internet, while ACHS is barely making a blip at 67,433.

Prior to his association with ACHS, nutritionists at DrKoop.com took a reasonably unbiased and moderate hand at evaluating the relationship between diet and disease, going so far as to recommend Dr. Dean Ornish’s vegetarian lifestyle program to reverse heart disease, noting that it has a "proven track record" of doing so.

The ACHS website, on the other hand, contains numerous pieces of what can only be described as anti-vegetarian propaganda. In one of several examples, ACHS acknowledges that several large epidemiologic studies suggest that the death and chronic-disease rates of vegetarians are lower than those of meat eaters. ACHS then immediately asserts that health can still be maintained while consuming its funder's product -- meat.

There is a defensive aspect to the ACHS reaction to vegetarianism, evident when they conjecture that the admitted superior health of vegetarians over nonvegetarians may be in part because many vegetarians are simply more "health-conscious" and have a healthier lifestyle in general. Although ACHS acknowledges most studies of vegetarians have taken such factors into account in their analyses, ACHS speculates that maybe, just maybe the studies were not adequately controlled for nondietary effects.

For an organization which claims to pride itself in being rooted in science and existing to combat "health scares" and "distortions," it seems particularly odd that ACHS would raise fears around research on vegetarianism based on no evidence of any kind. Odd -- but of course not unexpected.

ACHS also sponsors purely emotional pieces exhorting readers to believe that vegetarianism "is riddled with delusional thinking," and asserting that vegetarians are in fact "extremists" and "anticarnivorists" with "hidden agendas."

What You Won't Hear About on DrKoop.com

Perhaps when ACHS begins receiving money from the natural foods industry rather than the meat and dairy industry, their anti-organic, anti-vegetable scare-mongering will change.

In the meantime, don’t head for DrKoop.com to read pieces like the recent New York Times article, reporting that "dietary choices are linked to 70 percent of all diseases affecting Americans, yet only 30 of 125 U.S. medical schools require doctors to take a nutrition course. In four years of school, the average physician gets only 2.5 hours of nutritional training."

There is little funding motive for ACHS and DrKoop.com to present other information in the New York Times article, like:

If the food and health connection were better known, more people might be aware that maitake and shiitake mushrooms stimulate immune function; selenium, a mineral found in grains, seeds and garlic, induces cancer cell death; antioxidants in turmeric, an herb in curry powder, prevent DNA damage and block tumor growth, or that there is actually twice as much calcium, which protects against osteoporosis and colon cancer, in a cup of spinach as a cup of milk.

Academia is digging deep into the powerful efficacy of everyday foods like broccoli, mint, even honey. The American Institute of Cancer Research recently reviewed over 4,500 such studies and filtered them into a single comprehensive report, "Food, Nutrition and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective." The bottom line? "Cancer is a preventable disease."

"Unfortunately, we live in a society where one in three people will hear the words 'You have cancer,"' says Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, director of medical oncology at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center. "But the good news is that cancer is usually the result of a decades-long process and nutrition is a way of thwarting each step."

For ACHS and now DrKoop.com, giving advice to make dietary and lifestyle changes -- that really can protect against cancer and heart disease -- takes a back seat to receiving payoffs from the food and chemical industry.

ACSH even attacks physicians who advise patients to adopt a diet emphasizing plant foods and reducing meats and dairy consumption, warning that such advice "could result in substantial disruption of eating patterns."

While this is true, it is also true that following such advice would result in a substantial decline in a variety of cancers and heart disease, while resulting in a substantial decline in dollars received by ACHS and DrKoop.com.

--------------------------------------------

Hate to see Dr. Koop selling out? Write a letter protesting his involvement with ACHS. Send comments to

feedback@drkoop.com

--
Jeff Nelson is President of VegSource and Chairman-elect of the Board of EarthSave International, and a direct descendent of H.O. Armour, founder of the Armour Meat Company (see http://www.vegsource.org/armour.htm). Jeff is a writer whose new book is "Sue the Bastards: Everything You Need to Know to Go to -- or Stay Out of -- Court."

Read about another "scientific organization" on the take.

Also see an interesting expose on ACHS's funding from food, chemical and drug companies called The Junkyard Dogs of Science

 

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