Fleecing The Public
Your account of Sen. William Proxmire’s “Golden Fleece” awards (The Scientist, December 12, 1988, page 17) may be supplemented with the history of his success in obstructing regulation of vitamin products in 1974. The Food and Drug Administration proposed to set an upper limit of 150% of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) per tablet for the over-the-counter vitamin products. There was no restriction on taking several tablets per day, which actu ally is a more efficient way of assimilating vitamins than is a single dose. The best way to inhibit interference by the executive branch is in the halls of Congress, where many health-minded statesmen were deeply impressed by the volume of pro-vitamin mail from their voting constituents. The leader of megavitamin therapy in the upper house was Proxmire, who wrote to me on November 18, 1974: “Let’s face it. The orthodox nutritional community is off base in supporting the FDA’s attempt to regulate vitamins as drugs. It’s foolish, wrong, and bad policy. It’s so typical of the FDA—go after the little guy, the harmless vitamins, and the Cornell bread, but overlook aspartame, DES, and thalidomide.”
The fact that the FDA quickly and summarily banned thalidomide, thereby protecting the United States from a major tragedy such as occurred in Germany, escaped the senator’s attention. His bill (S2801) was supported by many of his colleagues, including Senators Eastland, Goldwater, Humphrey, and McGovern, but was opposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy. S2801 prevented the FDA from setting an upper limit on over-the-counter vitamins. A main objection by the “health food” industry to the regulation was that it would increase the cost to the consumer. However, since tableting cost is less than $1 per 1,000 tablets, this objection was probably a cover-up.
Bill S2801 passed the Senate on September 24, 1974, by a vote of 81 to 10 It was opposed by the American Medical Association; the FPA; the National Nutrition Consortiuni (which represents jointly the American Institute of Nutrition, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition, the American Dietetic Association, and the Society of Food Technologists); one of Ralph Nader’s groups, the Consumers Union; the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association; the American Association of Retired Persons; and the president of the National Academy of Sciences. It was supported by Prevention magazine, the National Health Federation, and Professors Linus Pauling and Roger Williams. Allegedly, more than one million letters favoring the “Proxmire Bill” were received by Congress.
In other correspondence with me in 1974, Proxmire objected to the vitamin RDAs per se because he said they had been set too low so as to benefit the pharmaceutical industry. I couldn’t understand his logic; surely higher RDAs would enable industry to sell more vitamins. Philip Handler, as president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote to him on his point. I asked the senator what he thought of Dr.Handler’s letter, and he said it was a typical reaction by a..bureaucrat involved in a conflict of interest.
The “nutrition establishment” has never recovered from its defeat on the “Proxmire Bill.” The bill served to entrench megavitamin folklore, based on the principle that if a little is good, more is better.
THOMAS H. JUKES
Department of Biophysics and
Oakland, Calif. 94608