Deadly Secrets: When Companies Hide, Alter Safety Findings

Two recent reports highlight the lengths that corporations will go to suppress details about the safety of their products. In Europe, pesticide manufacturers omitted a series of brain toxicity studies to European agencies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to forgo a consumer warning for Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based powder was partly due to a report written by scientists handpicked by the healthcare conglomerate.

Pesticide Studies Hidden from Regulators

Nine studies on brain toxicity were not submitted to EU authorities responsible for approving pesticides, according to researchers. The research focused on how pesticide exposure impacts neurotoxicity in rats and revealed that exposed rats suffered from the following:

  • Changes in brain size
  • Delayed sexual maturation
  • Reduced weight gain

The pesticides identified included a range of insecticides that are, or have been, used on a range of crops, including tomatoes, strawberries, and potatoes.

About the Johnson & Johnson Report

In the United States, unsealed emails revealed that Johnson & Johnson and its talc supplier selected the scientists who wrote a report that assessed the health risks associated with talc-based powders. The emails showed that the companies persuaded the researchers to change the final conclusions of their report. Relying on information in the report, FDA regulators decided not to include a safety warning on Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based products.

Studies have found that J&J’s consumer talc products, including baby powder, contain asbestos, a carcinogen. The company is facing over 40,000 lawsuits in the U.S. that claim its asbestos-contaminated baby powder is linked to ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.

Lessons Learned 

The Johnson & Johnson emails underscore the limitations of the FDA when it comes to ensuring the safety of consumer goods that millions of Americans assume are safe. Consider the following:

  • The FDA’s cosmetics-monitoring budget is $14 million, compared to $2 billion for the U.S. drug industry and $1 billion for the food industry.
  • The FDA doesn’t review personal care products for safety before they go on sale, as they do with drugs.
  • The vast majority of data that comes into the FDA is funded by the companies, according to an associate professor of health policy at George Washington University who served as the FDA’s associate commissioner for women’s health from 2000 to 2005.

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