Book review: The FDA Follies, an alarming look at our food and drugs in the 1980’s by Herbert Burkholz

I’ve heard people bash the Reagan administration many times, but I really never knew much about why. Now I do. Reagan’s and most of Bush’s terms were obviously about deregulation and allowing corporate America to not be hindered in the pursuit of the mighty dollar. Public be damned...

The FDA Follies made me ill. It is amazing how much we tolerate from our government. Oh, wait, it isn’t amazing... major corporations have monopolies on ALL forms of media, which means we are fed misinformation when we are fed any information at all. It made me ill to see how much sickness and death happened as a direct result of the FDA’s laziness, fear of reprisal, and just plain bad management. Yes, sickness and death, allowed to go on for months and even YEARS before action was taken. Much of that action was only taken because the public was starting to figure things out.

Herbert looks at how the FDA interacted with other agencies such as the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Federal Trade Commission (FTA), etc. He shows problems with the drug approval process, the way the AIDS epidemic was initially handled, and the way food labeling guidelines were handled.

While the majority of the book is disturbing, Herbert seemed to be trying to give credit to the FDA where it was due. He mentions that, after the lack of action on so many issues and after the botched efforts on so many issues, the FDA didn’t get public credit for what it was doing right. Towards the end of the book, the new commissioner of the FDA really did some exciting, positive things, especially on the food labeling front. All of this makes me feel like Herbert was really trying to tell a fair story.


Beyond the book...

My yelling above only addresses one aspect of the book, but it is the one we have the most visibility of. Next time you see a can of soup that reads, “Reduced sodium,” compare it to the regular can of soup. I can promise you will feel taken advantage of. Compare other products with healthy claims to their regular versions. Think critically. Take the time to look. BOYCOTT PRODUCTS WITH HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP!  You should be alarmed at how hard that is to do!

I had a discussion with someone about the government dictating what we can and can’t do. We must wear seat belts in cars and helmets on motorcycles, for example. My argument for wanting the government to do this for us had to do with the gullibility of the majority of the public combined with the deceiving practices of the corporations in their pursuit of profits. I understand that allowing the government to “get away” with passing some laws to protect us from ourselves is allowing a precedent to be set, and that a greedy, corrupt government is likely to carry it too far. By saying, “protect us from ourselves” I am admitting that we are to blame for not questioning the deceiving, misleading tactics corporations use to sell their products. But, how can anyone defend the right of corporations to deceive the public? It is possible that letting the corporations get away with some questionable labeling and advertising claims will help keep consumers from being too trusting, but, considering the trust shown by the majority of consumers when corporations were using snake-oil claims (read the book), I can’t imagine the public ever being smart shoppers as a whole.

Unfortunately, we also have to be smart about the government we are expecting to protect us. The United States government, taken as a whole, is paid for by big corporations. The United States government is NOT for the people, by the people. Without supervision and repercussions, the United States government WILL side with big business at the expense of the common man. We have to pay attention and we have to take action. I should practice what I preach, but I roll over just like the rest of us.

Remember... Kalle Lasn feels it would only take a few hundred, well-organized individuals to change the United States.

For more info on the FDA pre-eighties and post-eighties:



Mon, 06/30/2008 - 3:13am

You got me on this one, I am going to check this one out from the library. What did you think before you read the book. I have been in conversations recently that have brought these same issues to my attention and I was in shock. I believed in the government being here for the general public. They were there for us and to protect us, to enact what is right and enforce it. Bull, they are out to make money and the hell with the public. The recent conversations I have had really got me thinking, This book has really caught my attention. I will let you know when I am done with it.  

Mon, 06/30/2008 - 4:58am

I have yet to read the book, but I agree, I don't believe the government fully cares about the public safety or education. Majority nearly everything is based on money. The education for children is not the best, whether it be public or private schools. The food production is not the best either. People are influenced by media, such as commercials and television more than their own thoughts and beliefs on things. Laws are enforced in what is believed to be the best for the public, and yet the public is not always fully educated on the reasons for the laws; such as speeding limits. Those that enforce the laws are not always setting a good example either, and instead of fully educate the public they sometimes rather just give you a ticket or arrest you and go against you in court. The medical field is not the greatest, some of the ingredients in vaccines and medications are shocking and you would never think of or know what is really in them or the effects they cause until you do research of your own. And, yet American is considered to be such a great country, land of the free.


Mon, 06/30/2008 - 7:06am

I guess I am not the only insomniac in the group!

Mon, 06/30/2008 - 11:21am

Yep, you're not the only one.:)

Tue, 07/01/2008 - 11:47pm

I have not had one sip of a dark soda in nine years, so I already had taken a baby step to making a statement.  I do pretty well at almost completely avoiding drinks with high fructose corn syrup, and that has been almost as long.  I even go so far as to avoid sips of high fructose corn syrup drinks that others have already purchased.  The "Culture Jam" book I reviewed has helped strengthen my stance, and I feel I will be taking things to a higher level of will power.  The book points out that every time you make a purchase you are stating your opinion.  This will help me resist even the occasional convenience purchase and get me to go out of my way to find something better.

I have long been aware that salt and sugar have become way too heavily used in prepared foods... salt - I about cried one day when one of the most popular brands of hot dog actually parched my lips.  Granted, I was eating them cold out of the pack, but there is no need for that much salt!  Sugar - anybody remember when there was a difference between cupcakes and muffins?  Muffins used to be something semi-healthy, now you can't find anything that isn't more like a mini cake.  I make my own.

Perhaps the most eye opening thing for me was what I woke up to on my clock radio alarm one morning.  There was a commercial from a college seeking people suffering from depression and anxiety.  It said something like, "More and more people are suffering from depression and anxiety, and we have a drug that we want to try out."  Even half asleep, my first thought was, "If more and more people are suffering, something has changed.  Why throw a new medicine into the equation instead of figuring out the cause???"  This led me to contemplate what had changed.  My theory?  How long has man been around?  A long, long time.  How much has our diet changed in the last 30 years, which is a fraction of a percent of our existence?  A ton.  Even with our omnivorous adaptability, that ultra-abrupt change must be a shock to our bodies and our minds.  Think of how you feel mentally and physically if you don't have that cup of coffee or soda or energy drink.  Think of how you feel if you are sugar crashing.  Hell, think about the fact that "sugar crashing" is even a term!

I don't believe the tobacco companies are the only big corporation creating literal addictions and getting away with it.

I guess you can see that the book merely fueled an already-present flame.  What I didn't know before was the extent of the FDA's duties, and the extent to which the FDA had fallen short of those duties.

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 12:49am


I am whole heartedly in agreement with you here. The crap we put into our bodies is astounding. In this past year I gave up meat (for a number of different reasons), caffeine and diet soda (basically anything with nutra sweet) and I only now only buy organic dairy (to avoid all those nasty hormones and crap that are injected into the cows).

Let me tell you, I feel a gazillion times better for it. Caffeine was the hardest. I was literally sick for a week afterwards. I had two days of migraines and then a week of having ZERO energy and feeling like sludge. Then, one morning I woke up with an energy I had not felt in years - a very natural energy. I realized that when I was drinking so much caffeine all of my energy was phony. When I went off of it, it was like someone unplugged me. But, once I readjusted, it was like magic. I felt "real" again. My moods also improved.

I still have some slip ups - but they are few and far between.

Sugar is the other evil - and one I have to be very conscious of. I, too, try and steer clear of high fructose - dang it's in everything!

Here's something interesting as well.......aftetr Brad died I went back to some comfort stuff like diet (caffeine free) soda and cigarettes. After a couple weeks I started just craving sweets like crazy. I was making brownies all the time and was just itching so badly for any kind of dessert food. I kept trying to think of what was different. Why was I craving this so badly? Well, after thinking about it I realized that it was the introduction of nutra sweet back into my diet. I read some research once that said that nutra sweet makes your body think it's getting sugar, but it doesn't. So, then your body starts craving it. I bet most people you know who drink diet soda drink it religiously. I was a fiend for it for years. I am guessing the reason for this is because we crave the sugar and feed ourselves nutrasweet and the cycle is never satisfied - we just want more ane more.....and isn't THAT good for Coke and Pepsi? I quit drinking it again and switched over to iced herbal tea that I make myself - and sure enough, the sweet tooth cravings ceased. Nutrasweet is another one of those "drugs" that keeps us hooked.

Wed, 07/02/2008 - 1:02pm

on a local Chicago show on NPR they were talking about some of the same stuff mentioned here:

Here is a link to the segment I heard:

As of this writing, I don't think the audio is on the website as it is broadcasted live here in Chicago and just ended. I think it usually takes a day or so to make it to the website.

The man interviewed, Raj Patel, also has a book out that looks very interesting.

I thought you might find this interesting.