A new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found the number and rate of traffic fatalities in 2010 fell to the lowest levels since 1949, despite a significant increase in the number of miles Americans drove during the year. As Brian Wolfman noted on the Consumer Law and Policy Blog, “a combination of safety factors – safer vehicles (prompted by government rules), more seat belt use (prompted by government rules, increased enforcement, and public education), and less drunk driving (prompted by government rules, increased enforcement, and an all-out public awareness campaign) – have come together to bring the number of highway traffic deaths, in absolute numbers, to their lowest level since 1949. That’s astounding given the immense increases over the period in the number of drivers and miles driven and the increased speeds at which people drive. A triumph of government regulation that is hard to overstate.”
A Michigan state appeals court ruled 2 to 1 recently that the state cannot sue the drug maker Merck and Co. to recover Medicaid costs spent on the drug Vioxx. Merck withdrew Vioxx from the market in 2004 after its own research showed the once-blockbuster drug doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke. The company paid $4.85 billion to settle most of the 50,000 lawsuits claiming that Vioxx harmed or killed users. According to InjuryBoard blogger and attorney Mark Bello, the 1995 law grants immunity to drug makers for any drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is the only law of its kind in the U.S. Michigan State Representative Lisa Brown has introduced a bill to change this anti-consumer law and stop the drug industry profiting from putting citizens at risk.
A new US Government Accountability Office report on federal food safety oversight found that, “Fragmentation in the nation’s food safety system results in inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources.” The GAO recommended a single food safety agency, a food inspection agency, and a data collection and risk analysis center but warned that any reorganization would be a complex process and could lead to short-term disruptions and higher costs.
This month Ann Venemen, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), from 2005-2010, joins the Board of Directors of the Nestle Corporation, the worlds largest global food and beverage corporation and the leading global manufacturer of infant formula. Public health advocates have accused Nestle of subverting international agreements on advertising of infant formula. UNICEF had played a leading role in opposing corporate promotion of infant formula at the expense of breast feeding. Prior to joining UNICEF, Veneman served as Secretary of Agriculture for President George W. Bush. Last month Nestle reported double-digit growth in shares of infant formula in Asia, Oceana, and Afric, and that market share was up on a global basis.
Chicago Tribune reporter Emily Bryson York analyzes how big food companies like Pepsi, Wal-Mart and Starbucks are seeking to design products and marketing campaigns that speak to their customers’ concerns about health. Said Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, “Over time, people are going to be quite surprised, almost stunned, by what we’re about to do.”
A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended last week that “the removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit the public health.” However, the FDA itself now needs to decide whether or not to accept the recommendation. Reaction to the report was mixed:
Said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “This is the most conclusive scientific finding that menthol cigarettes dramatically increase youth tobacco use and make it more difficult for African-Americans to quit. It creates a scientific record which compels F.D.A. to act.”
Dr. Michael Siegel, a tobacco expert and professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, wrote: “This is a huge victory for Lorillard.” The committee’s failure to recommend policy change “swept the issue under the rug by giving the F.D.A. an out.”
Investors reacted favorably. Stock in Lorillard Tobacco, a tobacco company that generates 90 percent of its revenues from menthol cigarettes closed more than 10 percent higher on the day the advisory panel released its report.
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has sued the United States Department of Agriculture, alleging that the new Dietary Guidelines mislead Americans about what to eat and not eat. PCRM President Dr. Neal Barnard said, “The dietary guidelines are the best they have ever been, but we’re pushing to make them even better.” The suit charges that USDA’s ties to agribusiness led it to obscure information on what foods to avoid. USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members include individuals with ties to Dannon, Kraft Foods and McDonalds Corporation.