© Whole Foods Magazine
FDA Injustices Against
The Health Food Industry
An interview with Frank Murray: Part 1
By Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
Today, the news is full of stories on how the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is failing at its assigned mission to protect the health of Americans. These charges that the FDA has actually harmed the health of Americans are coming from FDA employees. The main questions today concern the inability of the agency to monitor the safety of the drugs they have approved. Charges of “unhealthy” ties to the drug industry are being made by FDA employees. Unfortunately, this is not news to those of us who have been trying to improve public health by reforming this regulatory body.
In this installment of The Vitamin Connection, we chat with Frank Murray, nutrition author and long-time health movement participant, about some of the Alleged injustices of the mighty FDA in its attempts to destroy and eliminate the fledgling health food industry. The goal, it would seem, has not been to regulate but to destroy the industry while disregarding the Constitution of the United States. We will discuss several such instances here, and how David fought back against Goliath.
As I have said many times, we do indeed need a fair and just science-based regulator to protect both the general public and the health food industry from unscrupulous people. The FDA could be that regulator if it relied on science and not unwarranted prejudice or “future financial considerations.” Far too many FDA employees have earned their promotions by pleasing their leaders via harassment of the health food industry. On many occasions, former FDA staffers have gone on to lucrative positions with pharmaceutical companies. This well-known “revolving door” arrangement suggests a conflict of interest between the regulator and the wealthy and powerful drug companies it is supposed to regulate rather than protect.
There are those in today’s vibrant health food industry who are too young to remember many of the injustices of the FDA against our industry. As you enter into the upcoming battles against the Dietary Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) and the challenge of Codex, it may be useful for you to know your history. As George Santayana pointed out, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Some of our readers may not remember seeing FDA conducting a SWAT team-like raid with guns drawn on national TV such as it did on May 6, 1992 at Dr. Wright’s office where he prescribed and sold supplements in his Tahoma Clinic in Washington. The FDA had brought along deputy sheriffs and TV news crews so that this would be an example that all in the industry could see. Agents seized supplements, medical records and equipment. Of course, they found nothing unlawful, and no charges were ever filed, but no one will ever forget this fear tactic used by the FDA to intimidate holistic physicians and the health food movement. The FDA zealots were running amuck, but the agency was also shooting itself in the foot. Members of Congress also saw the TV news revealing a government agency out of control, and they were embarrassed. The general public was astounded. This helped set the stage for the passage of DSHEA.
Also, there are many who are too young to remember Mel Gibson’s parody of the FDA raiding homes with their assault rifles drawn to take away people’s vitamin C. Mel comes busting into a citizen’s bathroom in combat gear and assault weapon poised as he stops the citizen from taking his vitamin C. Thank you Mel, that was a great job that you were kind enough to do. We are grateful. He filmed this in response to one of the FDA’s assaults on our Freedom of Choice to use food supplements. Perhaps few readers remember the many unconstitutional injustices performed by the FDA against the “health food movement” over the years.
THIS “movement,” now expanded to become the “natural products movement,” might more aptly be called the “health food struggle.” The initial struggle was led by a group of Mom and Pop retailers who wanted to bring hard-to-find healthy foods and food supplements to people who needed them. Such foods and supplements were not available at groceries (there were few supermarkets then), or pharmacies, or anywhere. These pioneers had a special need for these foods for their own families, and then, when they found how difficult it was to obtain organic foods, bulk grains and simple food concentrates such as brewer’s yeast, blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, low-fat skim milk powder and yogurt, they felt compelled to open up small shops themselves so that others could benefit. These pioneers were not professional business people, but they were extremely aware of how wholesome natural foods could improve people’s health. Their interest led to further education of the relationships between nutrients and health and pollution and poor health.
At first these pioneers were considered “odd” because they stressed whole foods and advised people to cut back on high-sugar, highly salted, low-nutrient, over-processed foods with their “empty calories.” These pioneers stressed organic foods rich in natural nutrients over poorer quality foods grown in nutrient-depleted soils that were highly fertilized with only the few nutrients needed for plant growth and not the additional nutrients needed for optimal human health. However, their claims that these good foods improved health—a fact that they had witnessed in their own families and in their sparse customers—attracted the wrath of the establishment food industry.
When vitamin supplements were added to their stock of food concentrates such as wheat germ and brewer’s yeast, this additionally attracted the wrath of the drug industry and its close ally, the medical industry. No longer were the natural foods proponents just considered “odd,” now they were considered a threat. The implication that people did not get all the nutrients they needed for optimal health from the typical American diet of highly-processed, over-sweetened, over-salted foods was seen as dangerous by the establishment. The irony is that there would never have been a need for health food stores if the food industry had continued to supply healthy fresh whole foods.
Thus, a small group of “Mom and Pop” shop owners who wanted to share access to good health were correctly seen as a threat to the monopoly of the food, drug and medical establishment. This establishment sought to stamp out the upstarts for exposing the shortcomings of mainstream, low-nutrient, fat inducing foods, drugs that often caused more harm than good and doctors who did not understand the role of optimal nutrient in health. The establishment turned to the FDA to get rid of these “pests.” They considered the mission of the FDA was to protect the drug industry. It seems somehow the FDA mandate to protect the citizens of our country was lost through the “relationships” forged between the establishment food and drug industries and their regulator.
What the FDA did in trying to stamp out this small number of health food retailers and their suppliers is just unbelievable. Even recently, FDA officials have been quoted as saying that the United States of America Constitution does not apply to the FDA. Some FDA officials claim that the FDA does not have to abide by decisions of the U.S. courts, nor to respect the freedoms and basic rights granted by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. I have observed the tyranny of the FDA throughout the 30 or so years that I have been writing about nutrients and health.
Actually, I saw some of this unconstitutional bias when I was a biochemist in the pharmaceutical industry. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as vice president of research for American Gerontological Research Laboratories, Inc., I was trying to conduct clinical trials with a formulation (US 6,090,414) based on my discovery of antioxidant synergism that included nutrients plus selenium (selenium was not believed to be a nutrient in those days). At first, the FDA approved the clinical trials, but then issued an unexplained “cease and desist” referring to unspecified safety concerns.
At this time, I decided that I could help more people simply by writing about my research than awaiting the drawn-out process of a new drug approval. I wrote Supernutrition: Megavitamin Revolution, my first book for general reading (I had previously written technical books). Although I had been using health food products since the 1940s, I had not been aware of any “health food movement.” My mother or I merely shopped at our local health food store beginning with Jud Ryon’s Juice-a-Mat in Wilmington, DE (see WholeFoods, October 1992) After Supernutrition: Megavitamin Revolution appeared in 1975, I was invited to speak at local NNFA section meetings and, eventually, at the national NNFA meeting in 1977 at the Las Vegas Hilton.
So began my exposure to this band of pioneers bringing products for healthy living to the people. And, I discovered there were more health and nutrition books other than Victor Hugo Lindlahr’s You Are What You Eat (National Nutrition Society, 1942) that I was raised on after a poor nutritional start. I was pleased to discover the writings of pioneers such as Adelle Davis, Catharine Elwood, Lee Fryer, Lelord Kordel, Paul Bragg, Gayelord Hauser, Carlton Fredericks and others. However, my favorite books on nutrition at this time became those by Frank Murray and Ruth Adams. I liked their writing style and documentation of facts. This was close to my style, coming from the scientific establishment. The other writers seemed to prefer writing at a folksier, more basic readership level, and they relied a little too much on personal experiences, testimonials and anecdotal reports for my scientifically trained comfort zone. My style may be more boring, but I try to be clear, explain the studies so that non-scientists can understand their significance and provide the documentation for readers to check the studies themselves.
The Murray and Adams style was perfected through many years of nutrition reporting. Along the way, these authors have helped improve the health of many thousands of people. I respect Frank Murray for having been a soldier in the battle to preserve the health food industry and make people healthier. His many books have educated millions. Frank is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, was editor of Better Nutrition and Today’s Living, and is the author or co-author of 43 books on health and nutrition. He is currently senior editorial adviser for Let’s Live, GreatLife and Physical magazines.
Today, I can’t think of anyone who has seen more of the struggles and accomplishments of the health food industry.
Passwater: Frank, in the 1960s and later, your books with the late Ruth Adams were among the first to extol the value of supplements, natural foods, exercise, saving the environment, etc., to laymen. You did it with a scientific bent showing thorough research. It was difficult to do find nutritional articles in the scientific literature in those days. There was no Internet, no computer databases and no word processors. There were few articles and we had to go to university libraries, dig out the journals from the archives and actually read the articles. One had to know what to look for. You were not a scientist, so how did you train yourself to find the research?
Murray: In the 1960s we had to beat the bushes to find a sympathetic ear to interview. Of course, many of the giants were around, but few had the courage to speak up at first. We were always grateful for Drs. Evan and Wilfrid Shute, the brothers who unearthed and popularized the value of vitamin E. Evan was especially helpful, issuing periodic “newsletters” that would recap some of the vitamin E research they were doing on heart disease, burns, gangrene, etc. As you know, they tried to get their before-and-after slides shown at an AMA meeting, but were always rebuffed.
Passwater: I have their original 35mm glass slides. Wilfrid gave them to me. I have wanted to get them back into Shute family hands, but now they are so very faded. Sorry to interrupt. Please go on.
Murray: We were aided in our research by knowing such key players as Dr. Linus Pauling, Dr. Abram Hoffer, Dr. Emanuel Cheraskin, Dr. Robert C. Atkins, the Shutes, Dr. Roger Williams, Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, yourself, Dr. Frederick Klenner, Dr. Harvey Ross, Dr. David Hawkins, Dr. Irwin Stone, Beatrice Trum Hunter, Gayelord Hauser, Adelle Davis and the English contingent: Dr. John Yudkin, Dr. Neil Stamford Painter, and Dr. Denis Burkitt. Burkitt knew everything about fiber, but saw no need for vitamin and mineral supplements.
Passwater: What a group! Thanks for including me in with those great people. I never met Adelle Davis or the English contingent, but I have been privileged to have been friends with the others. There were few researchers in the field in the early days because grant money was hard to obtain for human vitamin research. In addition, there was a stigma against doing this research that would jeopardize the researcher’s career. Amazingly, few scientists in the field also took vitamin supplements. I have a 1969 letter from my friend Dr. Denham Harman in which he states that he does not take vitamin E supplements. Fortunately, he did start taking them later. Dr. Al Tappel denied taking vitamin E supplements when he was asked if he did by a scientist in the audience at a 1970s meeting in Atlantic City, NJ. I overheard one scientist tell another on the way out after the lecture on vitamin E by Dr. Tappel, “Maybe this Carlton Fredericks guy is on to something after all.”
Frank, my favorite book of yours is More Than One Slingshot: How the Health Food Industry is Changing America (Marlborough House, 1984). In the book, you give an abbreviated history of the health food industry and NNFA, and detail the many battles the industry had with the FDA and other bureaucrats, including the 14-year battle with the FDA that ended in the passage of the Proxmire Bill.
The book tells the story of the NNFA “David” battling the giant FDA. As Senator William Proxmire said of the book, “FDA tried its best to (unjustly) regulate vitamins in the marketplace. But a combination of public outrage, health food industry and Congressional opposition stopped FDA dead in its tracks. This book tells the story well. All Americans should be aware of how close the battle was.”
Frank, what drew you to the nutrition field? When and why did you start writing about nutrition?
Murray: Growing up on a ranch in western Texas, I had always been interested in natural foods, since we had our own home-grown meats, dairy products, eggs, fruits, vegetables, etc. Following Army service during World War II, I received a journalism degree from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, which honed my writing and reporting skills. While in school, I also wrote for national magazines.
In 1963, Jack Schwartz hired me as editor of Health Foods Retailing and associate editor of Better Nutrition and Today’s Living magazines. I was fortunate in having as a mentor Ruth Adams, whom I consider one of the great nutrition writers and editors of her era.
Passwater: Any and all eras! Health Foods Retailing was the “official” magazine for NNFA in those days and reading through them is a history of the NNFA for that period.
Murray: As explained earlier, we had at our disposal the ear of some of the great scientists and researchers, and we were avid readers of scientific journals and books. For example, we were among the first to champion Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Passwater: What exactly did you have in mind by the title More Than One Slingshot?
Murray: In our David versus Goliath battle, we were aided by three weapons: 1) the people backed us as they knew the importance of having the freedom to choose their supplements; 2) most of the legislatures backed us as they knew the importance of listening to their constituents, and 3) we were on the side of the law and had excellent attorneys to defend our rights.
Passwater: Today, even the Institute of Medicine recommends that all adults take a multivitamin/multimineral supplement. There are a great variety to choose from to suit one’s own needs and lifestyle. Yet, few people realize that the FDA tried to take away our right to buy vitamins without a prescription. We had to fight hard to retain that right with the passage of the Vitamin Act of 1976, which we fondly called “The Proxmire Bill.” I would wager that many of our readers are not aware of the role Senator Proxmire played in preserving our freedom. Please tell our readers about the importance of the Vitamin Act of 1976. What was the FDA trying to do?
Murray: It is no secret that the FDA has attempted many times to destroy the health food industry, through such actions as limiting the potency of supplements available over-the-counter. The Proxmire Bill (named after Sen. William Proxmire, D-WI.), essentially thwarted the FDA’s ploy by classifying supplements as foods and not drugs.
While NNFA attorneys Milton Bass and Bob Ullman were fighting on the legal front, it should be mentioned that the industry also owes a debt of gratitude to Clinton Miller, who was working tirelessly behind-the-scenes. He persuaded Rep. Craig Hosmer (R-CA) to introduce the Hosmer Bill in the House of Representatives in 1967. This was the genesis of the Proxmire Bill, although it went through various names in the House and Senate over the years. A Congress lasts for two years, and at the end of each session, all bills die and have to be reintroduced in the next Congress, with different numbers and often different sponsors. These bills, in the House and Senate, would draw a few co-sponsors each year, and it took time for momentum to build with passage of the Proxmire Bill.
Passwater: Few people realize that it took an act of Congress in 1976 to allow us the freedom of choice to take safe and effective levels of vitamins, as well as accessory nutrients and herbal formulations. Congress sent a message to the FDA, but the FDA ignored it for decades.
Frank, this might be a good time to take a break in this long conversation. We can pick up where we left off in the next issue of WholeFoods. WF
© 2005 Whole Foods Magazine and Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
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