In his book, Racketeering in Medicine, the Suppression of Alternatives, James P. Carter, MD, professor at Tulane University, writes, “The FDA serves as the pharmaceutical industry’s watchdog, which can be called upon to attack and destroy a potential competitor under the guise of protecting the public.” To this end, the FDA will even burn books and intended to do just that until I told them of my plans to file suit in a federal court to stop them. This is a bitter story about a sweet herb.
David (Stevia) Versus Goliath (Aspartame)
Stevia is a safe, natural herb that is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar, contains no calories, and is used extensively throughout the world as a sweetener. In some places it’s almost as popular as sugar. In Japan, for example, stevia consumption is equal to the sweetening power of 100 million pounds of sugar per year.
Aspartame (as in Nutrasweet and Equal) is a noncaloric, artificial sweetener that is anything but safe. It breaks down in your body into a host of metabolic toxins and has been linked to thousands of adverse reactions, from vision problems to headaches to seizures. Aspartame was developed by the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle Co., now a wholly owned subsidiary of Monsanto.
First the FDA Banned Stevia…
The FDA has been after stevia since 1986, coincidental with the growing popularity of aspartame. Without warning, the FDA seized several pallets of stevia from Celestial Seasonings, a nationally known tea company that had been using this herb as a sweetener and flavoring agent in their teas for over two decades. The company was simply told they could not use it in their teas anymore.
The FDA then banned stevia completely in 1991, claiming it was an unsafe food additive and thus eliminating one of aspartame’s potential competitors. I initiated a letter-writing campaign to put stevia back on the market in 1994, and six months later the ban on its importation was lifted. Now, however, it can only be sold as a food supplement; manufacturers cannot add stevia to drinks or foods. And the persecution of those who market and sell it has not abated.
…Then They Ordered the Burning of Books
Oscar and Patricia Rodes of Arlington, Texas, sell stevia and books about stevia by mail order. In early May of this year, Compliance Officer James Lahar and other FDA agents confiscated their stevia, proclaiming that selling stevia and books about stevia, including cookbooks, at the same time constitutes “mislabeling” and “adulterating” stevia. Following what I consider to be extremely poor legal advice, the Rodeses said they would be willing to stop selling the books if the FDA would simply release the stevia they had confiscated.
At this point, James Lahar decided that refraining from selling the books wasn’t enough. Harking back to humanity’s dark (and not so distant) past, Lahar mandated a book burning. He and another FDA agent showed up at the Rodes’ business to take inventory of and witness the destruction of the books. Oscar Rodes called the local television station, which sent in a news camera, and the FDA chose not to proceed with the book destruction at that time. However, the FDA agents defiled six of the cookbooks by putting their initials and the date on the front page so that they couldn’t be sold.
Lahar subsequently wrote to Oscar on May 19, stating that “a current inventory must be taken by an investigator of this office, who will also be available to witness destruction of the cookbooks, literature, and other publications for the purpose of verifying compliance.”
The FDA Backed Down
What’s a small businessman to do? When I heard about the FDA’s actions, I had my attorney in Washington, DC, Jonathan Emord, prepare a lawsuit to prevent the destruction of the books. When we informed FDA lead prosecutor Eric Blumberg of our intent to file suit, he immediately asked us not to. He stated by phone and by letter that the destruction of the books would not be necessary and that I could buy any number of them I wished. I have bought several, including four of the cookbooks defiled and dated by FDA agents. These have definite historical value.
Ironically, I am writing this on July 4, Independence Day, the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified and signed. Once you get beyond the flowery rhetoric and famous opening lines, this document is essentially a list of complaints to King George of Great Britain regarding “repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
It stated that King George had “erected a Multitude of new Offices, and sent hither Swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their Substance.” What’s the difference between the behavior of agents sent forth by King George and the activities of FDA agent James Lahar? Both are functioning with the full weight of the government, interpreting or misinterpreting laws as they see fit.
Our constitutional government is anchored by the Bill of Rights, which guarantees specific protections for the people from government. The framers of our Constitution were not primarily concerned about the regulation of commerce. They were deeply concerned about the tendency of government, in particular, zealous and mean-spirited government agents, harassing and enslaving the people.
The FDA Is an Agency Out of Control
I filed a citizen’s petition to the FDA Commissioner, demanding that orders be issued immediately to prohibit FDA agents from this sort of activity. I pointed out that James Lahar and his agents had no authority whatsoever to threaten Mr. Rodes with “an inventory” of books and other publications. They certainly had no authority “to witness destruction of the cookbooks, literature, and other publications…” Lahar is so off base that he’s not even in the stadium.
These actions serve to confirm the description of the FDA used by physician and attorney Nancy Lord in a successful defense of her client who faced similar FDA persecution. In her closing arguments, she stated, “This is a case about a federal agency, the Food and Drug Administration, that has spun so completely out of control – out of control of the people, out of control of Congress – that they are now no more than a band of armed terrorists.” The jury concurred, and she won the case for her client.
We Asserted Our Constitutional Rights
I rallied a letter-writing campaign to the FDA’s acting commissioner, demanding quick action on the citizen’s petition to stop this unconscionable behavior and changes in the code of conduct and procedures by FDA agents to specifically state that agents are not allowed to “take inventory” of publications or “witness destruction of [cook]books, literature and other publications.” Nowhere in FDA law or the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (cited by Lahar) does it state that the FDA has the authority to behave in such a manner.
In the end, the complaint was withdrawn and an agreement was reached with FDA. FDA issued a new policy guide stating that FDA’s policy would be to inform the manufacturer/ distributor/retailer that the book or other labeling caused the product to be misbranded. FDA’s policy would then be to seek to bring the product into compliance, not to burn or otherwise destroy the books as the FDA agents had threatened to do to.
It’s about time we re-asserted our rights as a free people by simply exercising them. Let’s all do just that.
Modified from Health & Healing, August 1998, with permission from Phillips Health, LLC. © copyright 1998, Phillips Publishing, Inc. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, call (800) 539-8219.