The Return Of A Bad Bug

‘People say it’s a sin to feel too much within.’
Bob Dylan1

The social structure of quackbusting in Britain has undergone manifold
changes since its first organised appearance in 1988 with the
Campaign Against Health Fraud (CAHF).2

It looks very much as if the quackbusting movement has learnt
lessons from its early and more amateur forays into name-calling
attacks on progressive environmental and alternative health organisations.
One of these lessons has been not to get too personally involved,
as did Caroline Richmond and Duncan Campbell in the early days of
HealthWatch. Another contemporary lesson is to righteously declare –
at least exposing in part – the corporate funding for pre-eminent
groups and institutions.

The North American quackbusting experience has seen many
splits and divisions in the National Council Against Health Fraud,
mainly as a consequence of the need to avoid liability in legal actions
taken against it.

In Britain, the reverse of this process has occurred. After CAHF’s
first unsuccessful attempt to become a quackbusting agency within the
Department of Health, its days were inevitably numbered. Without
clear operational links to government, or substantial funding from corporations,
it was powerless as a lobby and ersatz regulatory agency.

In 1997, New Labour, while ditching its working-class and tradeunion
base, brought to power a rag bag of former Liberal and Social
Democrat Party workers, many of whom had been deeply involved in
public relations for the pharmaceutical industry and other multinational
concerns.3 The time could not have been better for the development
of pro-corporate-science lobby groups4 and little conspiratorial
cabals, which wanted to defend science technology while attacking
alternative medicine and everything – as they saw it – irrational.

Perhaps the two most instrumental new peers of 1997/1998, were
Dick Taverne and David Sainsbury (let’s not bother using their
anachronistic titles, let’s just call them Dick and Dave like the East
End music hall act that they have been). Dick had been a member of
the Labour Party in the 1980s, before deciding that the unions and
Militant Tendency, were a malevolent leftwing force that was gaining
power and taking over. On his resignation, he took up working with
Dave in the Liberal Democrats, a group heavily influenced by Labour
defectors. ‘Outside’ of politics, Dick pursued his professional occupation
as an executive of an influential PR company with pharmaceutical
industry clients.5

Both Dick and Dave were given peerages around the time of
Labour’s victory, and both embedded themselves with considerable
influence within the Lords and the Government, and, when Tony Blair
came to power, Dave took up the post of head of the Department
Trade and Industry (DTI). Profits from his biotech companies and
trusts were placed in a ‘blind trust’ so that personal control and profit
from them was suspended – well that was his story, anyway. On entering
the Lords, Dick immediately moved onto the Parliamentary
Science and Technology Committee.

From the time of Dave’s appointment, the Department of Trade
and Industry was taken over by industry and its lobby groups. In the
Lords, Dick worked hard to set up the organisations to relay corporate
propaganda from Dave’s office to parliamentarians, and from there to
organisations and individuals of influence.

Dave’s department also held the brief for all the ‘science’ research
councils, and so from 1997, such organisations as the Medical
Research Council (MRC) also became infected with the radical
Liberal agenda, which put industry, its PR and lobby groups in the
driving seat of government.

One of the earliest signs that Dave was in bed with the enemies of
democracy was the secretly-instituted but later well-publicised meetings
with representatives of Monsanto, who wanted to introduce GM
crops to Britain.6 A less well-publicised dirty tricks campaign ensued
around the B complex vitamins. Aspecific group was set up within the
DTI to rubbish the idea that B vitamins were helpful, especially to
women’s health, PMT and the menopause. Although this campaign
and, for instance, the presenting to the House of Commons of fake
research data about damage done by B6, can be traced, the reason for
setting up the campaign remains obscure. Some have suggested market
competition to anti-depressants and specific pharmaceutical treatments
for PMT and the menopause could have been behind the campaign.

Aided by these two industry influential peers, some of the most
important cultural and academic institutions in Britain were completely
corrupted. Dick and Dave were responsible for formulation
and organisation of a whole new anti-environmental, pro-science, proindustry,
lobby group, which within a short time, in a classic scenario
from the film The Body Snatchers, had replicated and merged with the
older quackbusting structure.

The history and development of the campaign to introduce GM
food while bypassing any democratic or accountable processes, is
well recorded by Jonathan Matthews, George Monbiot and the
GMWatch web site.7 A summary of the progress of this Lobby can be
bullet pointed in the following way:

First: A major campaign in the late Nineties and early part of the
21st century to radically redefine and censor science reporting in the
media. The lobby groups drew up a regulatory charter, Guidelines on
Science and Health Communication. Without any statutory authority
at all, the lobby demanded that newspapers and other media follow
these guidelines.8

Central to this set of guidelines was the idea that non-scientists
should not be allowed to write about science or report on science matters.

At one end of the scale, this meant that newspapers should stop
reporting any personal stories of those who had faced illness either
with alternative therapies or without pharmaceuticals. At the other end
of the scale, it forbade popular science journalists and qualified social
scientists from writing, for example, about alternative medicine, whatever
their background. This campaign also involved the placement or
the taking-up of certain journalists and DTI-backed ‘scientists’ in
some media. This was particularly the case with the BBC.

Second: An ongoing campaign organised on a military level and
begun inside the DTI, to bring, without consultation, GM crops and
other GM products to Britain. Groups organised by the DTI were set
up within the Royal Society and in the Royal Institution. Leading, corporately-
funded academics were embedded in these campaigns, bogus
stories were planted in the press, attacks and campaigns against individual
scientists who came out even slightly against corporately
backed research or products. The most important victim of this conspiracy
was Dr Arpad Puztai.

Consequence one: Two major pro-corporate science lobby
organisations were set up: Sense About Science and The Science
Media Centre.

Consequence two: Within five years of these organisations coming
into being, the major actors in Sense About Science and the
Science Media Centre had assumed control of HealthWatch.
Today, HealthWatch is a much stronger, more professional organisation
having been gifted the power and, no doubt, funding of
these new lobby groups.9

Consequence three: The most powerful interests to have come
together in all these structural groupings were: The Cabinet
Office, the DTI and Members of the previously named
Revolutionary Communist Party, now embedded in a number of
influential policy organisations; Liberal peers who had shaped
New Labour and ensured that there were no ‘working class’ or
radical elements within it; heads of major industries, the ABPI, the
Royal Society, the Royal Institution, the BBC and a number of
specific journalists.

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