Ron Paul: Quackery enabler, part II

While I’ve let myself get sucked into commenting on health care politics (well, not exactly “sucked in”; I was pissed off enough at the “Obama = Hitler” analogies that I enjoyed skewering some of the idiots making them), there’s another issue that’s popped up that I can’t resist commenting on in my usual inimitable fashion. It comes from, of all places, this blog’s favorite den of quackery propaganda, NaturalNews.com and from, of all places, one of our favorite wingnut politicians, a man who’s been a tireless promoter of quackery in Congress for many years now.

That’s right, Ron Paul’s back, baby, and Mike Adams’ minions love him to death.

I’ve written about Ron Paul before, of course, back before the primary season for the 2008 election really got going. This was before a single vote was cast or single delegate awarded, and, back at that time, thanks to his Internet fundraising juggernaught, Ron Paul actually looked like a bona fide contender for the Republican nomination for President. I noted at the time that, while numerous other bloggers had expressed concern about Ron Paul’s–shall we say?–unusual beliefs, none of them realized just how much of a promoter of pseudoscience he was, how vigorously he promotes quackery. Indeed, you could look at Ron Paul as being the Republican counterpart of Senator Tom Harkin, only without the same level of clout and without the same level of cleverness that allows Harkin to cloak his promotion of pseudoscience as “health promotion.” Instead, Ron Paul is once again enthusiastically trying to gut consumer health protections in the name of “health freedom.” If you think the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) was an atrocity you ain’t seen nothin’ yet; that is, if Ron Paul ever gets his way:

In recent years, numerous companies have been targeted, raided, and even shut down by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for making health claims about the products they sell. These federal agencies operate outside the realm of constitutional legitimacy and thus have pejoratively muzzled free speech concerning natural health products and their health benefits for decades. In an effort to restore constitutional freedom of speech, Congressman Ron Paul of Texas has introduced three bills which would help dismantle the web of corruption that censors legitimate health claims and truthful information about foods, herbs, and supplements that prevent, combat, or otherwise remediate disease.

Some readers may remember back in mid-2008 when the FTC performed a witch hunt against 130 companies and one non-profit religious group who made claims about their products’ effectiveness in treating cancer. The FTC ordered that these entities remove all claims and testimonials and issue a statement to all their customers that drugs and radiation are the only useful and proven treatments for battling cancer and that none of the products or ingredients sold by these companies were helpful in preventing or treating illness.

No, that’s not what happened. What happened was that the FDA finally grew a pair and did what it was designed to do and brought the hammer down on a bunch of cancer quacks. It was a long overdue action taken against the manufacturers of bogus cancer cures, 125 products made by the 23 companies, including the pure quackery that it the black salve. All of that is just a warmup for Mike Adams’ minion to get to the point:

As lunatic as all of this sounds, this type of behavior has become normal operating procedure at the FDA and FTC whose unrestrained power continues to escalate into increasingly tyrannical control over free speech. As such, Rep. Paul’s three bills aim to end the illegitimate censorship of free speech and restore constitutional freedom of speech in natural health. Below are their summaries and information about how to support them.

Ah, yes. Conflating false advertising claims with “free speech.” Where have we seen this before? Oh, yes! In the “health freedom” movement. So what are the two bills? Here’s bill #1:

HR 3394, The Health Information Protection Act, inhibits the FTC from acting against any entity for communicating the health benefits of its products unless the FTC presents “clear and convincing” evidence that those statements are false. In concordance with the Fifth Amendment, the burden of proof concerning an accusation of a false claim is to fall upon the accuser (FTC) to determine, with legitimate evidence, that a claim is false before demanding its removal. As it stands, the FTC has reversed the Fifth Amendment by preemptively and arbitrarily restraining communication without any evidence or reason while demanding that the accused party prove its claim to be true. HR 3394 will reinforce the already lawful Fifth Amendment that establishes the burden of proof upon the FTC to present a legitimate case before impeding any lawful communication. It will restore the freedom to communicate nutrient-disease health claims freely.

A better name for this bill would be the Quack Lie Protection Act, because that’s exactly what it’s designed to do. Its real purpose is to defang the FDA and FTC to the point where they can do virtually nothing about misleading advertisements and false claims. Of course, the problem with this line of attack is that fraud and false advertising are not considered protected speech. Commercial speech is protected speech only when it is not false and therefore a vehicle for committing commercial fraud; regulation of commercial speech is well-established, if evolving, law. Of course, free speech has very little to do with the motivation behind this bill. In reality, supplement manufacturers and various other alt-med mavens want the freedom to make any claims they want, regardless of evidence. It would be like the DSHEA on steroids (which can be found in some supplements, by the way).

Next up is this bill:

Similarly to HR 3394, HR 3395, The Health Freedom Act, will remove the unconstitutional FDA power of “prior restraint” over all nutrient-disease relationship claims. In other words, free speech health claims will no longer be universally banned but will be permitted. The burden of proof will properly and lawfully fall upon the FDA to establish “clear and convincing” evidence against a claim, after it has been made, if it believes a claim is false. The First Amendment of the Constitution was designed to protect the free speech of the people from the federal government imposing “prior restraint” on speech, the very thing the FDA has instated as the foundation for its operating procedure. This bill will preserve the proper and lawful prosecution of those who make false claims, but it will require the government and its agencies, particularly the FDA, to establish legitimate evidence against a claim that it believes to be false prior to taking any action against any person or entity rather, effectively restoring the First Amendment supremacy over the FDA.

This sounds a lot like a previous bill that Ron Paul introduced about two years ago, namely the Health Freedom Protection Act, which tried to do more or less the same thing. What you need to understand is that what someone like Ron Paul means by “health freedom” is in reality “freedom for quacks to sell their wares with as little interference as possible by the government.” As for HR 3395, here are the key provisions:

The Federal Government may not take any action to prevent use of a claim describing any nutrient in a food or dietary supplement (as such terms are defined in section 201 of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 321)) as mitigating, treating, or preventing any disease, disease symptom, or health-related condition, unless in a final order of a Federal court following a trial on the merits finds clear and convincing evidence based on qualified expert opinion and published peer-reviewed scientific research that–

(1) the claim is false and misleading in any material respect; and
(2) there is no less speech restrictive alternative to claim suppression, such as use of disclaimers or qualifications, that can render the claim non-misleading.

Here’s the other main provision:

SEC. 3. DEFINITION OF DRUG.

(a) In General- Subparagraph (1) of section 201(g) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 U.S.C. 321(g)) is amended by striking the second and third sentences and inserting the following: ‘A food or dietary supplement for which a claim is made in accordance with section 403(r)(1)(B) is not a drug solely because of such claim.’.

(b) Rules- All rules of the Food and Drug Administration in existence on the date of the enactment of this Act prohibiting nutrient-disease relationship claims are revoked.

Remember the Quack Miranda Warning? It’s the “warning” found on many quack sites that says something along the lines that the product being hawked is “not designed to diagnose or treat and disease or illness.” Basically, Quack Miranda Warnings are designed to keep claims about supplements in line with the DSHEA, which in essence allows manufacturers to make virtually any claim about a supplement, as long as it’s not too specific, you know, stuff like “boosts the immune system.” Ron Paul’s amendment to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act would in essence take away the need even for the Quack Miranda Warning. It would, in essence, give sellers of supplements and dubious remedies the “freedom” to make any health claims they want for as long as they want until actually found guilty of false advertising in a court of law. It would also allow supplement manufacturers to avoid having their products reclassified as drugs if they made health claims for them, while wiping away all prior law prohibiting treatment claims for supplements. Goodbye Quack Miranda, hello massive profits! Even better for supplement manufacturers, this law would so hobble the FDA and FTC that they would only rarely be able to prosecute supplement sellers, and only then those who make the most egregiously false claims.

There’s only one thing that puzzles me here. Senator Harkin understood that President Obama so badly wants to pass a health care reform bill this year that he can get virtually anything he wants inserted into the bill. Of course, Harkin has the advantage of being a Democrat and therefore someone President Obama needs. Ron Paul is implacably opposed to Obama’s agenda. He couldn’t possibly be seen as in any way allying himself with the President, and any amendment he offered to the health care reform bill winding its way through the House would likely be voted down by the Democratic majority.

Still, currently powerless or not, Ron Paul is a powerful reminder that woo is bipartisan. Pseudoscience and quackery know no political boundaries. On the left, we have Tom Harkin, among others, promoting the acceptance of “alternative” medicine and campaigning for the government to fund it. On the right, we have people like Ron Paul and Dan Burton, raging against “forced vaccination” and promoting “health freedom” bills that eviscerate any agency that might protect consumers from the depredations of the supplement manufacturers. Who will stand up for science-based medicine in Congress?

I fear that the answer is, “No one.”