We used to think regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were looking out for us, the people. Was it all an illusion? Each time the curtain is pulled back and society catches a glimpse of the bureaucrats throwing levers of misdirection and distraction and corporate interests putting the needs of the few above the needs of the many, we have a deeper sense of being scammed.
Nowhere is the shame greater than in the war against children, specifically babies. Our problems in health care can no longer be framed as Democrats versus Republicans. It’s now the Health Care Swamp versus the rest of us. That Swamp – filled with captured regulators and the jumbo corporations that profit when our children are vulnerable or sick.
Babies reliant on formula for their survival, either because breastfeeding has not been possible or effective, or because they’re adopted, are some of the most heartbreaking victims of regulatory incompetence. You may not realize that the critical shortage of baby formula that made headlines two years ago is still in effect. Initially the news covered reasonable complaints of parents, and Facebook support groups like “Baby Formula Search and Swap: Parents Helping Parents” cropped up, but these grassroots work-arounds are no substitute for a regulatory enterprise doing its job.
The shortage was created when the FDA closed the Abbott Nutrition food processing plant in Michigan after two babies died from allegedly consuming baby formula from the plant. Reports said the bacteria responsible for their deaths did not match bacteria found “in the product-contact areas in the Sturgis plant. This came after two routine FDA reviews concluded that the site was operationally safe.” Abbott is responsible for 40% of the U.S. baby food market, so why was the FDA unconscionably slow in helping the plant reopen?
Despite the agony of families scavenging shelves for baby formula in the past two years, no one at the FDA will even be fired for this regulatory failure. If the FDA-induced starvation of America’s babies isn’t enough reason to reevaluate the entire agency’s future, I don’t know what would be.
FDA ineptitude is one thing. Outright corruption and corporate capture at the expense of our children is quite another. No doubt parents were relieved when their babies reached the age to start weaning off the scarce formula. Little did they know, however, that the baby cereals commonly used during this developmental stage, are poisoned with toxic heavy metals and FDA has known about it for decades – and done nothing. Lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic are known neurotoxins that slow and stunt the development of a children to the point of lowering intelligence and diminishing later career achievement. Bloomberg Law lab-tested baby cereals a few months ago and found they contained unacceptable levels of these poisons. According to Bloomberg’s tests, rice cereals account for “55% of infants’ and toddlers’ exposure” to arsenic.
Another report from two years ago done at the behest of Congress revealed FDA permits these baby food products to contain 91 times the amount of arsenic allowed in bottled water, along with 177 times the lead, 69 times the cadmium, and five times the mercury.
Bloomberg reports that one family with a son who developed autism is suing “Gerber, Earth’s Best Organic, Sprout, Plum, Beech-Nut, Happy Baby, and Walmart.” A California judge looked at the evidence regarding neurodevelopmental impacts in small children from such toxins and ruled the scientific evidence of damage was sufficient for a jury trial starting this May.
Regulations protecting babies from such exposures need to be commensurate with the risk, and then they must be rigorously enforced, no matter how inconvenient that might be for the regulated food manufacturers. American regulators have been looking the other way for too long. The FDA claims the foot-dragging is because of fears that manufacturers might find it difficult or expensive to get the lethal contaminants out of their products.
We’re talking about neurotoxins in baby food, the kind that can damage a baby for life. Imagine regulators telling Ford and GM their cars don’t need to have working brakes, because it might be hard or expensive and could be a burden on those jumbo corporations. Most would agree that not having a car is preferable to driving one that is unable to stop. Likewise, any parent would much rather have no baby cereal available in the stores than one that is poisoning their precious infant.
The FDA is supposed to protect us, the people, from rapacious corporations cutting corners and taking advantage of the most vulnerable. Instead, the FDA is protecting giant food and drug companies from us.
The FDA needs to call off the war on America’s babies and do its job. In the meantime, parents would be wise to prioritize breastfeeding whenever possible, explore making their own baby formula and weaning their babies onto foods that they blend up in their own kitchens. Government doesn’t have our backs.