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The Food Industry’s “model of systemic dishonesty”

In 1993, the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found that a high intake of trans fat may increase the risk of heart disease by 50 percent. That’s where the trans fat story started in Denmark, ending a decade later with a ban on added trans fats in 2003. It took another ten years before the United States even started considering a ban. All the while, trans fats were killing tens of thousands of Americans every year. With so many people dying, why did it take so long for the United States to even suggest taking action? I explore this in my video Controversy Over the Trans Fat Ban.

One can look at the fight over New York City’s trans fat ban for a microcosm of the national debate. Not surprisingly, opposition came from the food industry, complaining about “government intrusion” and “liken[ing] the city to a ‘nanny state.’” “Are trans fat bans…the road to food fascism?”

A ban on added trans fats might save 50,000 American lives every year, which could save the country tens of billions of dollars in healthcare costs, but not so fast! If people eating trans fat die early, think about how much we could save on Medicare and Social Security. Indeed, “smokers actually cost society less than nonsmokers, because smokers die earlier.” So, “we should be careful about making claims about the potential cost-savings of trans fat bans….more research is needed on the effects of these policies, including effects on the food industry.” Yes, we might save 50,000 lives a year, but we can’t forget to think about the “effects on the food industry”!

How about “education and product labeling” rather than “the extreme measure of banning trans fats”? As leading Danish cardiologist “puts it bluntly, ‘Instead of warning consumers about trans fats and telling them what they are, we’ve [the Danes] simply removed them.’” But we’re Americans! “As they say in North America: ‘You can put poison in food if you label it properly.’”

People who are informed and know the risks should be able to eat whatever they want, but that assumes they’re given all the facts, which doesn’t always happen “due to deception and manipulation by food producers and retailers.” And, not surprisingly, it’s the unhealthiest of foods that are most commonly promoted using deceptive marketing. It’s not that junk food companies are evil or want to make us sick. “The reason is one of simple economics”—processed foods simply “offer higher profit margins and are shelf-stable, unlike fresh foods such as fruit and vegetables.” The food industry’s “model of systemic dishonesty,” some argue, “justifies some minimal level of governmental intervention.”

But is there a slippery slope? “Today, trans fats; tomorrow, hot dogs.” Or, what about the reverse? What if the government makes us eat broccoli? This argument actually came up in the Supreme Court case over Obamacare. As Chief Justice Roberts said, Congress could start ordering everyone to buy vegetables, a concern Justice Ginsburg labeled “the broccoli horrible.” Hypothetically, Congress could compel the American public to go plant-based, however, no one can offer the “hypothetical and unreal possibility…of a vegetarian state” as a credible argument. “Judges and lawyers live on the slippery slope of analogies; they are not supposed to ski it to the bottom,” said one legal scholar.

If anything, what about the slippery slope of inaction? “Government initially defaulted to business interests in the case of tobacco and pursued weak and ineffective attempts at education” to try to counter all the tobacco industry lies. Remember what happened? “The unnecessary deaths could be counted in the millions. The U.S. can ill afford to repeat this mistake with diet.”

Once added trans fats are banned, the only major source in the American diet will be the natural trans fats found in animal fat. For more on this, see Banning Trans Fat in Processed Foods but Not Animal Fat and Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy.

Ideally how much trans fat should we eat a day? Zero, and the same goes for saturated fat and cholesterol. See Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero, Good, Great, Bad, and Killer Fats, and Lipotoxicity: How Saturated Fat Raises Blood Sugar.

More on industry hysterics and manipulation in:

In health,

Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live presentations:


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

37 responses to “The Food Industry’s “model of systemic dishonesty”

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  1. I hope you all noticed the pointed absence of any references at all to the core and backbone of the processed food industry: grain dairy and sugar. You aren’t talking sincerely about processed food if you are omitting them.

    So, this is not one of Doctor Greger’s better efforts. His bias is hanging out.

    1. John,

      This is a blog. You want him to write a book on this page.

      He was using trans fat as an illustration of systemic dishonesty and it does fit there and understanding the process is helpful.

      1. I do understand that Deb, but when I do exactly the same thing, everybody practically foams at the mouth and demands to see citations and my scholastic record.

    2. Your unusual beliefs about grains and other things are well known. It’s a bit much for you of all people, John, to accuse others of bias.

      In any case, this is essentially a blog post about trans fats. Don’t you bother actually reading these things before getting up on your soapbox?

      1. Of course I read the whole thing and of course I know the article is about transfats. However, the transfats issue is issue is 30 years old and has been flogged to death. Of course there are people who are too young to have heard, seen or been run over by runaway transfats articles that refuse to die.

        I think it’s high time the shortcomings of gran be discussed in an unbiased way. It’s not like there’s any shortage of material. It’s just that grain issues are not receiving the attention they deserve.

        You may not think so but I’ll bet Dr. Greger is taking me more seriously than you are.

        1. John

          I have no idea if Dr G is taking you seriously or not.. However, he has done a fair number of videos and blogs on grains over the years. None of which seem to sail in the same direction as you. In fact his Daily Dozen includes at least three servings per day of whole grains

          Now, it is entirely possible that whole grains only seem healthy because they are usually compared to refined grains. I don’t think the research has been done comparing a WFPB diet including whole grains versus a WFPB diet excluding them.

          However, the arguments you’ve put forward as to why all grains must be unhealthy simply don’t make any sense to me. Also a number of the assumptions you’ve based your arguments on seem to be factually incorrect.

          Health authorities and scientific panels around the world have concluded that whole grains are healthy and we should be eating more of them. You want us to believe that you know more about these matters than they do but I don’t find any of the arguments you have presented to be convincing.

  2. Reading the blog, the food industries aren’t the ones who learned the data and wanted to make changes so that people didn’t die.

    I don’t understand that.

    Mentally, I believe they are still human beings but I guess it is the sophisticated processes of justification, denial, and distraction. Like any addict. If you don’t focus on the people dying, they aren’t really there. If you get people to focus on their rights, while you are killing them, they won’t focus on the fact that the industries don’t care about whether they live or die.

    It is the worst of what business can be.

    1. Deb,

      In his book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us,” author Michael Moss states that food company executives know better than to feed their own families the edible products that their companies manufacture.

      I have seen this myself in my brief exposure to the industry, for example with a synthetic edible oil, which was zero calorie but with the properties of oil in edible products (junk food): after a presentation on the synthetic oil, not one of the meeting attendees — all scientists in this case — raised their hand to indicate that they would eat it or feed it to their own families. Because they all knew better, too.

      I think it’s a matter of money, and profits.

      1. They know their own products and won’t eat them because they know the truth about those products. BUT, that doesn’t stop them swallowing the hype from any other company.

        Those food scientists are are dense as a clay brick. Their kids eat cereal and milk and are just as obese as anyone else’s kids.

        They fall for each other’s corrupt science with less reason to do so. None of you are any different.

          1. Not congenitively stupid Fumblefingers. There is the element of choice here and that is worse. You are abusing your brilliance by failing to use it. Sort of like unscrewing the light bulb so you can stub your toe in the dark and blame it on the chair you kicked.

  3. I guess it is the same process where animal lovers can still eat animal flesh if they compartmentalize and have good enough internal sentences.

    Very few people can do it without the internal logic sentences. We have such a strong need to justify everything.

    1. These days anyone can get over squeamishness about killing animals by watching Youtube.

      You can watch up close and personally as lions eat zebras and cape buffaloes as they stand in place bawling as first their genitals are eaten as an appetizer, then the anus and on into the interior of the animals. Now and then, the victim looks back at its hind end to see its own guts being munched on.

      After watching stuff like that now and then, you realize that when humans kill animals, it’s done with as much mercy and compassion as possible most of the time.

      You don’t have to compartmentalize so much as accept that life on earth is all about staying alive by consuming live food.

      Only humans cook food. Everything else eats their food raw and alive. Nothing enjoys being eaten. When it’s your turn, that’s what happens unless you are burned in a fire or some other accident.

      1. You can always cover your cruel choices with this argument. Suppose there were no predators other than humans. And there were two kinds of slaughterhouses. Cruel ones and less cruel ones. You could justify your meat eating by saying you only eat the meat from the less cruel ones.

        It is. possible to eat only plants and live well. And not spend your energy justifying why the meat you eat is ok because X Y Z is worse.

        1. In case you haven’t noticed Dennis, we already have those choices in play right now.

          The only real reason we need to eat meat is for B12 since we don’t manufacture it and it only comes from animals naturally. Yes I know there is a synthetic version available since the 40s, but for the millions of years before that, eating meat was essential. So we know that as our digestive tracts were evolving, meat was indisputably on everyone’s menu up until 80 years ago. Even now, few people use B12 supplements comparatively speaking.

          At present, in many areas on earth, the necessary number of carnivores are being reduced as we speak. We have appointed ourselves as the population limiters for the prey species. We are doing a terrible job and the planet is beginning to pay a heavy price. Us not eating meat is not helping. Take feral hogs and wild boars for instance. They will soon have taken over the North American wilderness from south of the Mexican border to the arctic and they populating the east too. They eat everything. Plant or animal. They aren’t concerned with savagery. Ever watched a pig kill a cow and eat it? There are worse ways to die but not many.

          So being a holier than thou vegetarian is not helping anyone but the vegetarian. If everyone became a vegetarian or close to it, Covid-19 could not exist.

          If we don’t want vermin species to overrun the planet, we need to stop killing the species that limit the prey species or forget about beef and start eating wild pork.

      2. John Newell,

        It’s not just slaughtering animals that is done in humanely. It’s how those animals are raised, in conditions beyond cruel. And the whole industry is cruel to the workers as well. If you eat meat, you are outsourcing that cruelty to others. Unlike the animals you mentioned, YOU YOURSELF are not killing the animal you eat. You give that job to those unfortunate enough to be much poorer and more desperate than you.

        Than there are the considerations of sustainability — raising animals for consumption consumes far more resources in land, water, and petrochemicals than does raising plants for food — and environmental degradation, excessive contribution to GHG emissions, and contribution to development of antibiotic resistance and pandemic pathogens, all far greater than raising plants for consumption.

        There is just no good justification for eating animal products.

        It’s not even healthier for us. And it’s definitely not healthier for the planet, for our life on this planet.

        1. I’ve been aware of what you said for most of the 42 years I’ve been researching health restoration. One things that hunting your own meat makes you realize, if you are capable of understanding the obvious, is that wild meat is real meat and meat from domesticated animals is only vestigial meat barely worthy of the name. It’s pink coloured fat.

          Wild animals run for their lives and lead a tension filled, fat burning existence. Their meat is lean and tough and stringy.

          Domesticated animals lead a sedentary existence without tension, without fat burning and without threat. The only threat they see or become aware of these days, is when they are loaded on the truck to the slaughterhouse and from there to the kill floor.

          That’s terrifying. There’s no escape and they know it. The only reason they exist, is for us to eat them. Cruel? Yes. But an impossibly merciful death compared to that of any wild animal.

          Wild animals are eaten alive most of the time. As animal, you get to see yourself being eaten alive. Whether it’s head first, balls first or guts first depends entirely upon what is eating you. You get to see it all up close and personal. According to you, that’s not cruel. You’re right. it’s not cruel, it’s just how real life is almost without exception.

          If we let them go, most domestic animals would dead soon after. Cows by the way, are man-made, not native in any environment. Any self-respecting predator makes short work of a cow. Chickens fall apart if we don’t eat them. Pigs and goats destroy any ecosystem they are in unless it’s solid rock.

          Domestic sheep can’t exist without us.

          We’re better off without ducks. They don’t need us but we need their feathers. They would survive.

          I don’t support any form of animal farming. I see it all as unnatural and cruel no matter who is doing it. I don’t support a lot of the abuse in the pet industry either. If you want to talk about unnecessary cruelty, that is where you start.

          That by the way is where I got my pandemic experience. The tropical fish industry is and always has been one pandemic after another. If you are a real doctor, then I don’t have to tell you that the principles within which pandemics operate are identical to those that govern human pandemics.

          That’s how I can say with authority that the Covid-19 pandemic could not exist without human idiocy on many levels – especially diet. It’s the perfect marriage where public food ignorance, fraud, medical sector food ignorance, fraud, more of the same on a grander scale in the political sector with one important, additional dimension: the power to make all of the blind stupidity legal to the point where sanity cannot prevail.

          Without domesticated animals, there would be no wild animals because we would eat all of them in less than a year.

          Most of the animals that have become extinct did so because we ate them. Then we destroyed their habitats because we deserved it.

          Convincing people to eat more vegetables is exactly what my book, KILL THE CORONAVIRUS is all about.

          Guess how well that is doing?

          People won’t stop eating vegetables even when it’s clearly explained that failing to eat enough vegetables weakens their immune systems. Eating domestic meat makes consumers sitting ducks for Covid-19.

          Almost no ones cares, unless I’m standing right in front of them, with the book.

          Dr. J, as much as I agree with you, humans will go extinct before losing their desire for meat.

  4. I am thinking the blogs don’t have a big enough audience.

    I wonder if this side could be “interviews” or something like that.

    Not sure if it is a good idea but that is my two cents.

    1. I agree with you. Too many people are functionally illiterate, or bone lazy. That’s why I’m here instead of writing my own blog.

      I am going to try Youtube and see how that works. Maybe I can incite a food fight.

  5. You bring up a good point about poor choices may cost less for Medicare and Social Security due to shortened lifespan. This might be a good thing for society as a whole.

    Maybe it is a good thing to rely on survival of the fitest?…i.e. not only physical but mentally more intelligent, and logical. Those that read, understand and practice the info provided by would improve their odds of a long and vital life. Those that dismiss the science perrish sooner.

    The result: We would have many more older intelligent people that are fun to be with. Those that take a “devil may care” attitude fall by the way side–expire sooner. Let the odds sort it all out naturally.

    Instead of edicting to the masses through laws, it should be left up to individual freedom of choice. However, it is vitally important to provide the “best available balance of evidence” to those with the ability and desire to understand.

    1. Maybe true about saving some money on Social Security. But I doubt it saves on Medicare. The older people who eat poorly, won’t move, live a lot of years running from one doctor to another. One ‘procedure’ after another. Cost lots of money taking pharmaceutical drugs, with very low quality of life. Modern medicine can keep them going for a long time. I see it all the time. But most of them, unfortunately, refuse to change their lifestyle.
      Had one tell me, “I’ve always eaten well” (meaning any junk that appeals to her). And “Honey, ladies don’t sweat”. I try to keep a sense of humor, but…

      1. Marilyn,

        Glad you have a sense of humor still.

        As far as the Medicare goes, I think it was Dr. Kim A.Williams who said that blood pressure medicines will bankrupt Medicare soon.

        When I look at the people who don’t take of themselves, they also don’t go to the doctor very often and they definitely die younger. A lot of them die before they reach the age of getting any money from Medicare or Social Security, particularly now that the age to qualify has increased.

  6. We are all about “my rights” but not “my duties”. Everybody wants to smoke, overdrink, overeat, eat “poison” because it is their God-given right to do so.

    I suppose they should get a government-given right to pay health insurance according to their life style and not expect me to pick up their cancer /cardiovascular treatment tab in my premium and Medicare deductions. I am very healthy person who, for the past 30 years, goes to the doctor once a year for a check-up. My insurance premium is the same as anyone my age who drinks, eats and smokes to death (literally). Call me cruel, but I do not think it is fair. I should pay 1/3 of their premium,

    1. Carolina, I can’t agree with you more!

      My car insurance company just introduced a voluntary system that gives a discount to “safe drivers”. The way it works is that you carry a monitoring device in your car that monitors your speed, fast stops, fast cornering, etc. It connects to your smart phone and the data is sent to your insurance company. If you drive safely, your next bill is substantially reduced! I know it sounds “Orwellian” but at least you do pay a lot less for insurance. Is this the wave of the future? I’m pondering the different pro’s and con’s of this arrangement!

      1. It’s an invasion of privacy. Plain and simple. Lowering speed does not increase accidents on long drives, it increases accidents as drivers fall asleep from sheer boredom.

        Ontario has the stats and they support what I’ve said, every year since 1988.

  7. Most of the comments I have read are all about the “cost” re healthcare….what we need to address is the cost to our civilization – burning of the Amazon to provide food for cattle – that are then shipped to Europe…the run-off from big agriculture – which pollutes our rivers and ground water – the use of antibiotics in order to keep the animals alive which we then eat…the UN published a report – animal agriculture – contributes to more to global warming than ALL transportation combined – planes, automobiles etc. the picture is much bigger than the “cost to healthcare”….as the cost of healthcare is directly related to the corruption/control of the Big Pharma and Big Ag – whom have lied, manipulated and spend billions of dollars to ensure the former….people are so confused about what to do – they do nothing….not because they don’t want to be healthy – many do not have access to fresh fruit and vegetables…many simply do not know how to eat healthy…etc. Its a BIG picture and we need to start addressing the real underlying systemic causes.

    1. I’ve been saying and promoting the eco message since 1970 when I painted my Pollution Mural in High School. Everything I put in it then, including 9/11 has come true. At the time, everybody laughed at it. They all thought the world was too big for the images in my painting to come true.

      Well, they’ve all come true.

      Seeing you people write now, what I wrote, said and painted 50 years ago seems like a bad joke to me.

      Here’s the difference: I did all of that 50 years before it was reality. Just imagine what I see 50 years from NOW.

      What is coming is far, far from what you see in science fiction movies and novels.

      You won’t understand until the word “sustainable” is considered the most evil word ever spoken.

      There is no such thing as sustaining a broken reality. Restoration is what you have to aim for, but that concept is already too little too late.

      Why is that? Human overpopulation causes too much of all the wrong thing: chemical contamination of every description produced much faster and in vast quantities that have long since overwhelmed our planet’s ability to cope with it.

      We brought this on ourselves when we learned to throw the first rock that killed an enemy or predator. By doing that, we started a chain of events that saw us defeat all of our population limiters.

      Then we domesticated our food supply and made things much worse. Shelf life equaled an unparalleled human population explosion that has yet to abate.

      With Covid-19, life on earth finally has a hope of life surviving the scourge of humanity.

      But even that is vulnerable to being overcome. Oddly, it could not exist without the four fake foods humans have used to transform the entire planet with.

      They are: grain, dairy, sugar and domesticated meat.

      We have wrecked the planet by terraforming it while reshaping the parameters of what deserves to live according to man and what doesn’t.

      We could blame it all on the bible, but the bible is only a reflection of what people were already thinking.

      It was invigorating to think of our species as the Master of all life down to the merest single celled germ. But completely wrong in every aspect.

      Unfortunately nearly everyone alive today still thinks that way. There are too many people alive today for it to be possible to shut down the human virus in time to save life as we know it and how it has been for the 3.6 billion years before humans ruined the planet.

      I’ll stop there because you don’t want to know what is happening that you are not educated enough to imagine, much less anticipate.

  8. Hi: This paragraph from Wikipedia sums it up nicely about food industry takeover of government in a SciFi future in regards to the 2006 movie Idiocracy. It’s a funny movie and points to our own present:
    Spoiler alert for one scene.

    “President Camacho gives Joe the impossible job of fixing the nationwide food shortages, dust bowls, and crippled economy within a week. Joe discovers that the nation’s crops are irrigated with a sports drink called Brawndo, whose parent corporation purchased the FDA, FCC, and USDA. When Joe has the drink replaced with water, Brawndo’s stock drops to zero and half of the population lose their jobs, causing mass riots. Joe is sentenced to die in a monster truck demolition derby featuring the undefeated “rehabilitation officer” Beef Supreme. However, Beef’s derby vehicle is too large to enter the arena and is crushed under the collapsing pillars and ceiling. “

    1. Howard, there is truth to the balance with the economy crashing and people losing their jobs and that causing other health problems.

      I watch videos on homelessness every week and they have been talking about the epidemic of homelessness.

      Years ago, it was mostly caused by addiction, coming out of foster care and prison, and mental health issues, with losing jobs as part of their descent.

      It is still those things but there are so many foster kids who end up homeless and there are thousands upon thousands who end up homeless while they are working because of a low-income housing shortage and medical bills are one of the biggest causes of bankruptcy and that is one of the bigger causes of homelessness.

      They have been having tent fires within the homeless population. More than one tent fire per day so that is going to make things so much worse for the homeless.

      I watched a man who had lived in LA all of his life and he left and he showed a picture of the area he has lived from 10 years ago with not one visible homeless person to every inch of the sidewalks covered in tents and fire alarms day and night because people commit arson against each other.

      So much of the homelessness comes from what I would call the broken systems. Foster care. Prison. Mental Health. Lack of Low-income housing. Lack of affordable medical care and insurance.

      I watched a video by an articulate, sweet foster child who had been on his own and homeless for years and he was staunchly against removing children from their parents and is trying to get governmental people to have a concept that it would be cheaper and better for the children if they moved an aide in to help make a safer situation for the child.

      He said that he was removed from a woman who had problems but she was committed to him and loved him and she needed help. But instead, he entered “the system” and never ever had a place to call “home” or a parental figure again for the rest of his life and he said that they move you around so often that even if you get one or two good people in the middle, it was so much worse than the bad things from when he had a mother.

      That is what I believed and how I thought anyway. That they fix the wrong system. Fix foster care instead of families. Make homelessness illegal and throw the people into prison and spend 100 times more than if they built low-income housing and put guards to make the people safe there, instead of putting them in solitary confinement for 40 years.

  9. While there have been very few highly controlled clinical trials studying the effects of CLA and VA on heart disease and atherosclerosis, the few that exist also support the conclusion that these natural trans fats may actually reduce the risk of heart disease. In animal studies, CLA has demonstrated potent anti-atherogenic effects, preventing fatty streak and plaque formation in the arteries of rodents by changing macrophage lipid metabolism. While more research in humans is needed, it seems that grass-fed dairy and meat products, high in both CLA and vitamin K2, are some of the best foods you can eat if you’re looking to prevent a heart attack.

    CLA has even been shown to reduce the risk of cancer, in both experimental and case control studies. It appears to work primarily by blocking the growth and metastatic spread of tumors, controlling the cell cycle, and by reducing inflammation. CLA is able to interrupt the omega-6 PUFA metabolic pathway for the synthesis of eicosanoids, preventing the inflammatory processes that promote cancer development. This may be one reason why dairy consumption has been shown to be inversely associated with certain cancers like breast and colorectal cancer. Based on these animal and human studies, it’s possible that CLA plays a role in cancer prevention.

    1. Hilarious. Domesticated animal meat is still meat from animals that get almost no exercise. Eating grass, while good for the inclusion of the normally absent K2, does not change the fact that the meat is stuffed with fat that is not visible to the naked eye and still not digestible once it solidifies in us.

      So, once in you, that white stuff called lard in the supermarket, is still lard in your venal system. And still not good news for your insurance agent.

      This is partial science at its best.

  10. 100% correct John. Also, suggestive lab studies (often funded by the industry benefiting from the sale of the animal products) like those cited by Phillip are no substitute for clinical studies on humans, which unequivocally show that consumption of animal products of any sources increases the risk for disease and premature death.

  11. The article started out telling us trans fat was terrible and end up including saturated fat as a health problem. And there’s the rub, we have “experts” like Dr. Campbell of China Study fame along with his son writing articles telling us that saturated fat isn’t the problem. It’s the protein level consumed by the world that’s the problem. Of course we also have the fact that every extra calorie of carbs consumed turn into saturated fat which the body feeds back to us. Are we to believe that our bodies, evolution, or God (depending on your belief system) are trying to kill us by designing the body’s storage mechanism intentionally defective? If that’s the case we also have to believer that mom is trying to kill us with breast milk that has a higher percentage of saturated fat than cow’s milk. Or is Dr. Campbell correct and the problem isn’t and never was saturated fat.

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