The Obama Watch

Obama Sells Out Science for Campaign Cash

This time, on the NRDC's behalf, he wants to ban chemicals in food wrapping that time and again have been proved safe.

By 3.21.12

Send to Kindle

In March 2009 President Obama proclaimed: "We base our public policies on the soundest science; that we appoint scientific advisers based on their credentials and experience, not their politics or ideology… we are open and honest with the American people about the science behind our decisions."

Since then, the Obama administration has used scientific policy decisions as patronage. It has denied young women access to Plan B, blocked the KeystoneXL pipeline, and limited greenhouse gases (they cause autism, according to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson) at the expense of science, not because of it.

Now the White House is at it again. The FDA "agreed" to rule by March 31 on the safety of bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical the agency and several other scientific bodies worldwide have previously determined time and again is harmless to humans.

This turnabout is not the result of new science about the health risks of BPA, which is widely used in plastic material found in food packaging, military equipment, and medical devices. Rather it is part of a settlement the White House reached last December with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a liberal environmental activist group.

NRDC officials don't just visit the White House; they wind up working there. John Bryson, NRDC's founder, is Commerce Secretary. NRDC President Frances Beinecke was on the Deepwater Horizon Commission. Van Jones, the 9/11 denier and socialist who ran the White House Green Jobs program, is on the NRDC board. David McIntosh, EPA's point person on cap and trade legislation, was a NRDC lawyer.

NRDC, which rakes in nearly $120 million each year and has a $6 million election war chest, unleashes lawsuits as part of fear-mongering campaign for contributions. It's a tactic the NRDC has used to great effect. In 1989 the organization falsely claimed that Alar (a chemical that stopped apples from rotting while being shipped)) caused cancer. A subsequent memo from NRDC's public relations consultant published in the Wall Street Journal revealed that "We designed [the Alar campaign] so revenue would flow back to the NRDC from the public… to date there has been $700K in net revenue from it." A gullible media spread the scare. By the time the truth emerged, NRDC was a lot richer.

NRDC's crusade to ban BPA has been repeatedly discredited by renowned scientific authorities, including the FDA. On multiple occasions, the FDA has comprehensively evaluated all the scientific research on BPA, including studies by NRDC claiming BPA is deadly. In 2010 the FDA once again concluded that BPA is safe for current consumer uses and found no need to impose regulatory restrictions on the chemical. At the time of the review, then-deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein stated, "If we thought [BPA] was unsafe, we would be taking strong regulatory action."

Last year, an EPA-funded study conducted by scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, FDA, and Centers for Disease Control confirmed that BPA is efficiently metabolized by the human body and rapidly excreted in urine. The study found the amount of BPA in our blood is 1 to 3 times lower than levels injected in rats used to claim potentially adverse effects. We can't consume or retain enough BPA to matter.

The FDA, EPA, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences have invested hundreds of millions of research dollars on BPA. This year the Advisory Committee to the German Society of Toxicology concluded that BPA is not a threat to human health, noting that "There is an unusual wealth of safety-related studies carried out on BPA.… To date, more than 5,000 studies on BPA have been published. It is obvious that this should be enough information to resolve the controversy."

But not enough to stop White House politicization of the issue. The President who pledged to use sound science instead of politics or ideology in policymaking has strong-armed the FDA into revisiting BPA's safety profile. The court decision did not this require this action by the FDA. Only political pressure, with utter disregard for the science, made that happen.

Chemical manufacturers that make BPA and downstream food packaging employ thousands of workers in the U.S. Should NRDC get its BPA ban from President Obama, it would boost the group's fund-raising operation which would in turn contribute more money and support for Obama's re-election. But manufacturers, who would have to switch to higher cost, less effective alternatives, would be forced to raise prices and cut jobs. It's not the first time the administration has undercut economic growth for campaign cash and probably won't be the last.

The BPA ban is political BS. The FDA is being asked to suborn science for the sake of political expediency. BPA is not a threat to human health. But the NRDC and the White House re-election machine certainly are.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article
About the Author
Robert M. Goldberg is vice president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and founder of Hands Off My H ealth, a grass roots health care empowerment network. His is new book, Tabloid Medicine: How the Internet is Being Used To Hijack Medical Science For Fear and Profit, was published last month by Kaplan.