May 7th, 2010, Fairfax, VA—Americans for Limited Government’s TimesCheck.com Editor Kevin Mooney today issued the following analysis of New York Times coverage of conflicts of interest in the Food and Drug Administration:
Suddenly, The New York Times is exorcised and agitated about potential conflicts of interest within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) committee structure. Some of the scientists serving in policy advisory positions could be unduly motivated to make recommendations on the basis of their own financial interests, a recent editorial warns. Stipulations are already in place to guard against conflicts that may open the way to decisions that are not in the public interest.
Ideally, there should no waivers but agency has made some recent progress, editorial points out. Whereas the FDA had been granting waivers to more than 15 percent of the members, it is now granting waivers to less than 5 percent. Although The Times articulates a legitimate concern, it appears to be feigned and not real.
Even as it huffs and puffs about potential conflicts, the editorial neglects to mention that the FDA has set up a panel on menthol with the aim of outlawing it in cigarettes. The panel is stacked with people who have a clear bias. In many instances they would stand to profit from the prohibition that is being entertained. This raises some questions.
If The Times has such faith in its editorial stance, why the sleight of hand? If there’s a bias at work here against certain products in deference to others, shouldn’t this find its way in the editorial? It would appear the outrage is highly selective and agenda driven.
“An important panel set up by the FDA has a near majority of its voting members getting paid by special interests who have billions of dollars riding on the outcome of the committee’s ultimate decision,” Bill Wilson, President of Americans for Limited Government, observed. “This is ludicrous.”
“The Obama administration continues its rhetoric about a balanced, objective approach to science – an approach that sets aside agendas and emphasizes science – but we keep finding that special interests trump scientific findings,” he continued. “On this advisory pane, the heavy influence of big pharmaceutical companies is overwhelming. Pharmaceutical companies stand to make huge profits if the committee takes certain actions like banning menthol.”
• Jack Henningfeld a voting member of the committee is a consultant to GlaxoSmithKline the maker of Nicorette gum who would stand to benefit financially from further restrictions on tobacco products
• Neil L. Benowitz was Pfizer consultant which makes the drug Chantix that aids people who want to quit smoking. Benowitz has also worked for GlaxoSmithKline and Nabi Pharmaceuticals
• Dorothy Hatsukami received grant support <http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=100445&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1048442&highlight> from Nabi Pharmaceuticals to study their nicotine vaccine
• The head TPSAC, Jonathan Samet, also received grants from GlaxoSmithKline and the organization he headed was funded by two different pharmaceutical companies.
“Remarkably, The Times could have inserted a few lines from its own reporting to provide readers with some perspective on the tobacco panel,” noted Kevin Mooney, the TimesCheck editor. “They are entitled to take whatever editorial stance they want. But when they go out of their way to avoid mentioning and highlighting conflicts that bedevil their policy goals, it gives good cause to wonder about what is omitted in the other reports.”
FDA Conflicts are Wrong Except Where they Advance New York Times’ Agenda, Kevin Mooney, May 7th, 2010:
Experts, Conflicts and the F.D.A., New York Times, May 4th, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/05/opinion/05wed3.html
F.D.A. to Examine Menthol Cigarettes, New York Times, March 29th, 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/business/30tobacco.html