In 2013, a Gallup poll on public perceptions of U.S. agencies found Americans are most positive toward the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).1 Sixty percent of those polled believed the CDC was doing an excellent or good job while only 8 percent rated them poorly.
There is clearly a disconnect between the CDC’s perceived image and the actual state of the agency. While their website claims the “CDC works for you 24/7,” they have fallen far short of achieving their motto of “Savings Lives. Protecting People.”2
CDC’s Cozy Ties With Coca-Cola
The CDC should be cracking down on corporations promoting products linked to poor health and disease. Instead, they appear to have taken Coca-Cola, a leader in the production of sugar-sweetened beverages linked to obesity and chronic disease, under their protective wing.
Earlier this year, for instance, Barbara Bowman, Ph.D., former director of the CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention (DHDSP), left the agency unexpectedly, two days after her close ties with Coca-Cola were revealed.
Bowman reportedly aided a Coca-Cola representative in efforts to influence World Health Organization (WHO) officials to relax recommendations on sugar limits.3 Bowman, however, was not the only CDC official looking out for Coca-Cola.
Uncovered emails also suggest that Dr. Michael Pratt, senior adviser for Global Health in the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the CDC, has also promoted and led research for the soda giant.4
At issue are Pratt’s ties to the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), which is a nonprofit front group serving the interests of the food and beverage industries. ILSI was founded by a Coca-Cola executive in 1978, and it has long been a champion for the junk-food industry.
For instance, one of the items on their agenda is to promote the concept of “energy balance,” which is the suggestion that exercise, and not sugary beverages and other sugar-laden foods, is responsible for obesity and chronic disease.
CDC Senior Adviser Working With a Coca-Cola and Food Industry Front Group?
Pratt’s ties to research backed by Coca-Cola and ILSI should raise more than a few eyebrows. According to The Hill:5
“He co-authored a Latin America health and nutrition study and related papers funded in part by Coca-Cola and ILSI; he has been acting as a scientific ‘advisor’ to ILSI North America, serving on an ILSI committee on ‘energy balance and active lifestyle.’
Until his activities came under scrutiny, he was listed as a member of the ILSI Research Foundation Board of Trustees (his bio was removed from the website … [in September 2016]). Pratt also served as an advis[e]r to an international study of childhood obesity funded by Coca-Cola.
And for roughly the last year or more he has held a position as a professor at Emory University, a private research university in Atlanta that has received millions of dollars from Coca-Cola entities.”
It’s likely impossible to quantify what effects such close ties with industry have on public health policy and the health messages being sent out to Americans. While Pratt is no longer working at Emory University, he is now reportedly going to be the director of the University of San Diego’s (UCSD) Institute for Public Health.
Ironically (or perhaps not), UCSD is going to be partnering with ISLI on a forum related to energy balance behavior — to be moderated, in part, by another CDC official, Janet Fulton, chief of the CDC’s Physical Activity and Health Branch.6
Corruption Widespread at the CDC
Conflicts of interest are not the only factors standing in the way of the CDC’s purported mission. Corruption is also widespread.
In 2015, Dr. William Thompson, a research scientist at the CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases (NCIR), claimed the CDC covered up a vaccine-autism connection in relation to the MMR vaccine.
The study discovered that African-American boys who received the MMR vaccine before the age of 36 months had an increased risk for autism. Thompson stated the study co-authors then “scheduled a meeting to destroy documents related to the study.”
He said the remaining four co-authors all met and brought a big garbage can into the meeting room, “and reviewed and went through all the hardcopy documents that we had thought we should discard, and put them into a huge garbage can.”7
The book “Vaccine Whistleblower” contains the unedited transcripts of four legally recorded phone conversations between Thompson and Dr. Brian Hooker, a scientist investigating autism and vaccine research.
The transcripts reveal the confession of the alteration of data that showed a significant link between vaccines and autism.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.: CDC a ‘Cesspool of Corruption’
The transcripts are also featured in the film, “Vaxxed,” which was originally scheduled to be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival earlier this year but was allegedly pulled due to threats from other filmmakers to cancel their participation.
The forward to “Vaccine Whistleblower” was written by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who has also spoken out about corruption at the CDC. He has been especially vocal about the dangers of vaccines containing mercury. Kennedy told Newmax:
“There are four federal studies that have looked at CDC and said the vaccine program at CDC is a cesspool of corruption … we should have vaccines without mercury.
… There are literally hundreds of studies by independent scientists and by CDC, FDA and the big universities and medical institutions in this country that show that thimerosal, which is a potent neurotoxin, [is] 50 times more neurotoxic than the methylmercury in fish. Why would we inject that into a child or a pregnant woman?”
As for the allegedly falsified autism and MMR vaccine study, Thompson, who still works for the CDC under protection of the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, has stated that he retained the hard copies of the data in the event a “neutral investigative or scientific body” would like to see it.
CDC May Be Easily Influenced by Money
The CDC claims it does not accept commercial support, but in an article published in the British Medical Journal, Jeanne Lenzer, the journal’s associate editor, wrote:8
“The CDC’s image as an independent watchdog over the public health has given it enormous prestige, and its recommendations are occasionally enforced by law.
Despite the agency’s disclaimer, the CDC does receive millions of dollars in industry gifts and funding, both directly and indirectly, and several recent CDC actions and recommendations have raised questions about the science it cites, the clinical guidelines it promotes, and the money it is taking.”
A 2009 investigation by the Office of the Inspector General concluded the CDC has “a systemic lack of oversight of the ethics program,” noting 97 percent of disclosure forms filed by the organization’s advisers were incomplete, and 13 percent of advisers didn’t file one.9 Other concerning findings revealed by the investigation include:
- CDC did not identify or resolve potential conflicts of interest for 64 percent of special government employees
- CDC did not ensure that 41 percent of special government employees received required ethics training
- Fifteen percent of special government employees did not comply with ethics requirements during committee meetings
The CDC’s longtime support of water fluoridation is also questionable, considering no toxicologist has ever been directly involved in the decision process. Instead, dental health professionals have been the sole body of experts directing the agency’s stance on water fluoridation.
The CDC Reeks of Incompetence
Even when the CDC isn’t embroiled in data falsification or rampant conflicts of interest, serious oversights in safety have occurred. In 2014, for instance, as many as 84 scientists and staff members at a CDC biolab were exposed to live anthrax. The live pathogen had been sent from a higher-security facility, and biosafety protocols were apparently not followed at either of the facilities.
The anthrax sample was supposed to have been inactivated prior to transfer, but due to multiple protocol breaches, it was still “live” upon arrival. In addition to failing to properly inactivate the pathogen, samples were also found to have been transferred in Ziploc bags, and stored in unlocked storage refrigerators in an area where unauthorized personnel were free to wander by.
Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, head of the CDC, issued a report that admitted to sloppy work ethics at the lab.10 The report also revealed two additional anthrax incidents, both of which occurred in 2006. Neither of these incidents had previously been disclosed to the public.
In both instances, the CDC “accidentally” shipped live anthrax to two different labs. A third erroneous shipment involved live botulism bacteria. It seems we can all count ourselves lucky that the CDC hasn’t killed large numbers of people yet through all these sloppy mistakes!
Safety Oversights That Could Allow Dangerous Pathogens to Reach the Public
And there’s more. Also in 2014, the CDC shipped deadly H5N1 avian influenza samples to a Department of Agriculture poultry research lab.11 They were supposed to send a far more benign variety for study. The error appears to have been discovered when all of the exposed chickens died.
The Agriculture Department reported the frightful mix-up on May 23, 2014, but CDC staffers didn’t report the error to senior management at the CDC until July. Then there was yet another mix-up in December, when employees in a CDC Ebola lab were potentially exposed to the virus after a technician mistakenly moved the wrong specimens from a high-level to a lower-level lab. Other safety breaches have also been reported, for example:12
- A door to a lab containing Coxiella Burnetti that was sealed with duct tape after a ventilation system malfunction
- Security doors leading to areas with dangerous pathogens left unlocked
- Backup generators failing to keep airflow systems moving at CDC labs during a power outage
An external group of 11 experts in biosafety, laboratory science and research was called to form an advisory group to evaluate the CDC’s lab practices, and it concluded its commitment to safety is “inconsistent and insufficient” and “laboratory safety training is inadequate.”13
Putting Your Blind Faith in the CDC Could Be Dangerous
It’s important to be aware of safety blunders, corruption and conflicts of interest at federal agencies like the CDC so you can take their health recommendations with a grain of salt. Far from the independent public watchdog they’re supposed to be, the CDC is closely tied to industry and may protect their interests over those of the general public.
It’s clear that we’re in dire need for truly independent oversight of the CDC and other federal agencies, but until that happens, you’re on your own to discern which health decisions make the most sense for you and your family.