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Thoughts While Weeding

by Jean Hay Bright
September 2000

Can you believe the drug companies? They claim that they need money for research. OK, I can buy that. Then they say they have to charge uninsured Americans outrageous sums for those drugs to pay for that research, because that's the only place they can get it. Why? 'Cause they're discounting the drugs to everyone else -- foreign countries, HMOs, insurance companies, you name it.

And when the state of Maine tells them they can't do that, that they have to play fair, the drug companies threaten to pull out of the state -- to take their ball and go home.

They are under the mistaken belief that they own the ball.

Well, I have news for the drug companies. They do not own the ball. They only own the monopoly patent rights to the ball. Those patent rights were granted by the U.S. Government. The drug companies are not in charge in this little game of high finance. The American public is.

If drug companies pulling out of Maine present a public health threat to Maine citizens, then I think we should look into revoking the monopoly provisions in those patent rights.

Speaking of health issues, the news the other day had the number of people with diabetes increasing dramatically and alarmingly over the last decade. Conjectures as to why ranged from the rise in couch potatoes to more people being overweight.

The next day, we had a news story about the dramatic drop in heart disease over the same period. Conjectures as to why ranged from more people eating healthier to people getting more exercise.

Does not compute.

I think the diabetes people are missing the elephant on the table. Diabetes results from an imbalance in insulin, which is produced by the pancreas and is necessary for the proper digestion of food, particularly sugar. In recent years we have seen the rapid rise in the use of sugar substitutes, in everything from soda to coffee sweeteners to "lite" meals.

I think the American Diabetes Association should at least check out whether there is a possible correlation between the increase in the use of fake sugar and the rise in the cases of diabetes.

I, for one, wouldn't be at all surprised if it turned out that the fake sugars confuse the pancreas, causing it to burn out as it tries to adjust to these new chemicals.

Fake sugar (saccharin, Equal, etc.) could be the monarch butterfly of genetically-engineered corn.

And speaking of genetically engineered food, isn't it cute how the food companies accuse all of us who are concerned about eating stuff with built-in pesticides, antibiotics, and herbicide-resisting genes of being a bunch of nummies?

Americans are known for their rush to embrace any of the latest technologies, from computers to cell phone and internet gadgets. Yet when we say it is nuts to fool around with Mother Nature, and that we want to eat real food, we are suddenly anti-technology Luddites.

Does not compute.

Agribusiness (Monsanto, Dow Chemical, etc.) has gotten patents on this stuff (corn, potatoes, soybeans, grain) so that no one else can produce them. But they say -- and so far the FDA has agreed -- that even though this food is so different that a patent is warranted, they don't need to be labeled, even if only to provide that patent information.

They say (and have testified in hearings even here in Maine) that to add that information to labels would confuse us. We're too dumb. We can't absorb all that information. (They have actually said this, in front of a room full of people in Augusta.)

One thing we can do here in Maine is read. I'd pay attention to those labels, and I'd bet you would too.

We should pass a law in Maine (one I will sponsor if elected) to require labeling of all genetically-engineered food, down to the retail level.

And if the Agribusiness companies don't like it, and decide to take their genetically-engineered ball and go home, I for one would not stand in their way.

Jean Hay of Dixmont is running for State Senate in District 10.

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