Can Public Health Advocates in Europe and the United States Together Protect Public Health Regulation?

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Nicholas Freudenberg speaks on corporations and health at DeBalie, a public lecture hall in Amsterdam.

In both Europe and the United States, public health regulation is under attack.  Despite the Volkswagen Dieselgate emission cheating scandal, the European Union has not yet developed guidelines to prevent future cheating.  Monsanto continues to block stronger regulation of glycophates in Europe and North America. In the United States, President Trump and the Republican Congress are slashing funding and rescinding public health regulations at several federal agencies.  Can public health professionals and advocates in  two of the world’s largest markets join forces to resist these trends?

At a recent series of lectures in Brussels, Amsterdam and The Hague, Nicholas Freudenberg, Distinguished Professor of Public Health at the City University of New York School of Public Health and author of Lethal but Legal: Corporations, Consumption and Public Health examined some of the issues confronting those seeking to reduce corporate practices that harm health.  In his lectures, he suggested five broad goals for a transatlantic agenda to protect public health against corporate efforts to roll back regulations.  These included:

  1. Remove corporations from public health and trade policy decisions
  2. Protect science from corporate manipulation and conflicts of interest
  3. Revitalize public sector in food, medicines and transportation to provide an alternative to corporate control
  4. Protect democracy from corporate interference
  5. Challenge the view that no other world is possible

The lecture and trip was sponsored by Wemos Foundation, a Dutch global health foundation, the European Public Health Alliance and Corporate Europe Observatory, timed to coincide with the translation of Freudenberg’s book into Dutch, Legaal Maar Fataal. Each of these organizations provides useful resources for North American public health professionals who want to better understand recent developments in Europe.

The Wemos Foundation, for example,  sponsored a forum on the interactions between the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the pharmaceutical industry and explored strategies for reducing conflicts of interest.  A summary of the event is available here.

The European Public Health Alliance(EPHA), an organization of public health NGOs, patient groups, health professionals and disease groups, works to improve health and strengthen the voice of public health in Europe. Several recent reports focus on issues also of concern in the United States:

  • In another recent  report, EPHA and other groups call for the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), to end a newly formed partnership with the world’s largest beer producer, AB InBev.
  • The Unhealthy side effects of CETAexamines the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union and Canada, the first trade agreement  between  the  EU  and a  major  world economy and  the  most far-reaching  bilateral  trade and  investment  agreement negotiated  to  It concludes that the agreement “limits the  policy  space of  governments  in the  area  of public health, tariff elimination, market access commitments, negative listing of services, its  lack  of recognition  of  the health-relevant  aspects  of the  Sustainable  Development Goals (SDGs) and ignoring key health risk  factors  and threats  such  as alcohol-related  harm  or antimicrobial  resistance.  In short, CETA fails to ensure policy coherence between trade and public health.”

The Corporate Europe Observatoryis a research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making.

For public health advocates in the United States, these organizations and their reports can be useful resources for developing strategies to resist deregulation and reduced enforcement.  “As the U.S.  government dismantles the public health regulatory agencies developed over the last 50 years,” said Freudenberg, “researchers need to document the impact of these changes and develop new strategies to protect public health.  By partnering with European scientists and advocates, we can accelerate this process.”

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