Consumer Health Digest #19-34

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
August 25, 2019

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making. Its primary focus is on health, but occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

"Organic" food fraud mastermind kills himself. Randy Constant, 60, who led the largest known "organic" food fraud scheme in U.S. history, has committed suicide via carbon monoxide inhalation in his garage. [Foley RJ. Coroner: Leader of large organic food scheme dies by suicide. Associated Press, Aug 20, 2019] Constant's scheme called for farmers to add small amounts of USDA-certified grains to conventionally grown grains and represent the products as certified. The products were then priced higher than conventional grains but lower than certified products whose sellers who were complying with USDA rules. The grains were sold mainly for use as animal feed to companies that marketed organic meat and meat products. Constant was sentenced to 122 months in federal prison. Three Overton, Nebraska farmers whom he recruited to join his scheme also received sentences:

All four had pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges and cooperated with a two-year investigation that isn't over. A fifth farmer pleaded guilty in the case and is awaiting sentencing. [Foley RJ. Leader of largest US organic food fraud gets 10-year term. Washington Post, Aug 16, 2019] Constant admitted that his scheme involved at least $142,433,475 in grain sales with the vast majority of sales being fraudulent. As part of his plea, he agreed to forfeit $128,190,128 in proceeds. [Owner of northeast Iowa organic grain brokerage pleads guilty to fraudulent sales totaling nearly $140 million. U.S. Attorney's Office Northern District of Iowa news release, Dec 20, 2018]

The harm to consumers from Constant's scheme was financial rather than health-related. The USDA certified organic labeling program itself misleads consumers who pay premium prices based on false expectations that "organic" food is inherently superior to foods produced through conventional methods. It has not been demonstrated that (a) "organic" food is generally, safer, more nutritious, or more healthful than conventionally-produced food or that (b) "organic" agriculture has less harmful impact on the environment. Critics of the certification program—which began 18 years ago—characterize it as assurance that products are "genuine" fakes rather than fake fakes. [Barrett S. "Organic" foods: Certification does not protect consumers. Quackwatch, Aug 21, 2019]

Video promoting "Facilitated communication" criticized. Craig Foster, Ph.D. has written a devastating review of the award-winning documentary Deej, which claims the technique of facilitated communication (FC) supposedly reveals the hidden intelligence of a young man named Deej who has nonverbal autism. The video has been screened at colleges, conferences, and film festivals in the United States and was part of the Public Broadcasting System's America Reframed series. Foster notes:

Facilitated communication does not hold up under scientific scrutiny, but that does not prohibit supporters from developing and distributing documentaries that present only one side of the story. Scientists are therefore left with trying to educate the public about FC and its deceptive appeal. Deej is just another chapter in this tired, unfortunate story. The documentary looks promising for the same reason that FC looked promising. To those unfamiliar with the history of FC, Deej might look like he is authoring the FC-generated communications shown in the documentary. In reality, Deej provides no reason to believe that this is actually true. Deej is just old FC pseudoscience wrapped in new documentary packaging. [Foster C. Deej-a vu: documentary revisits facilitated communication pseudoscience. Behavioral Interventions 1-10, 2019 DOI: 10.1002/bin.1687]

Video critique of chiropractic "adjustment" posted. British chemist and anti-pseudoscience video producer Myles Power has posted an engaging 23-minute video that counters misinformation about chiropractic adjustments. [Power M. Chiropractic: quackery hiding in plain sight. YouTube, Aug 11, 2019] Powers states:

There is no scientific evidence that [chiropractic adjustment] can restore or maintain health, and only lukewarm evidence that it can help with lower back pain, with most credible research putting it on par with a good massage. Chiropractic adjustments are frequently associated with mild to moderate adverse effects, with serious or fatal complications in rare cases.

ThetaHealing®debunked. Jonathan Jarry, M.Sc. has looked closely at ThetaHealing®, which uses testimonials to claim that it produces miraculous effects. [Jarry J. ThetaHealing: The money you'll spend never existed. McGill Office for Science and Society, Aug 1, 2019] Jarry notes:

Classic critique of 1886 homeopathic product catalog republished. Homeowatch has uploaded a catalog of "high-dilution" homeopathic products that was published in 1886 and appropriately ridiculed in an essay in 1890 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Even though medical science was in its infancy, enough was known to be certain that such products—made by repeatedly diluting an original substance to a point where no molecules of the original substance remained—could not work. The catalog included "high-dilution" products made from moonlight; blue, red, and yellow rays of the light spectrum; black or East India cockroach; chimney soot; mosquito; rabies virus; and even pus from a rectal abscess. One product, made from the sap of the Caguil tree, was offered as a treatment for "uncontrollable desire for coitus." [Curiosities of homeopathic pharmacy. Homeowatch, Aug 18, 2019]

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This page was posted on August 25, 2019.