The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Lowdown

By Jim Hightower, October 6, 2000, News

Over the Counter Fraud

How many legs does a dog have if you count its tail as a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.

Neither can "Citizens for Better Medicare" be counted as a grassroots group just because its organizers call it one. This outfit has already spent $38 million on television ads proposing federal funding of prescription drugs for seniors. Sounds good, but who exactly are these "Citizens" for Better Medicare? The organization turns out to be a front group for the large drug companies. The Wall Street Journal reports that CBM is funded by the drug giants and headed by the former marketing director of the industry's lobbying arm.

While CBM wants Medicare to cover prescriptions, it's also adamant that the government should do nothing to hold down the prices drug companies charge for these prescriptions. What a deal! These huge corporations, already notorious for gouging American consumers, would gain millions of new customers through Medicare, then bill us taxpayers for whatever rip-off price they want to charge.

This so-called citizens group claims to have 300,000 members, but the Journal notes that anyone who clicks onto the group's Web site automatically is counted as a "member." CBM also lists medical organizations as supporters, yet several of these groups have complained that they never gave permission and do not support the drug companies' greedy grab.

Meanwhile, not only are the drug giants flooding the airwaves with deceptive ads, they're flooding the halls of Congress with some 300 hired lobbyists, and so far they've flooded our lawmakers with more than $11 million in campaign contributions for this fall's elections.

Yes, Medicare should cover prescription drugs for seniors. But as government health plans do in other countries, Medicare should negotiate a deeply discounted price to keep the drug companies from robbing us.

Shell Games

The poet wrote: "Never seek to know for whom the bell tolls/ [deep-sounding bell tolling] it tolls for thee." Well, Taco Bell, the Mexican- food chain, recently had its bell rung, loudly and clearly, on the issue of genetic contamination of its taco shells. It's all a part of the wonders of the brave new world of high tech globalization.

Try to follow the bouncing ball as we review the cast of characters: Taco Bell, a subsidiary of Tricon Global Restaurants, licenses the supermarket sales of its brand-name taco shells to Kraft Foods, which is owned by tobacco giant Philip Morris. Kraft gets the actual taco shells from a factory in Mexico that is owned by Sabritas, a subsidiary of PepsiCo. In turn, Sabritas gets its corn meal from a mill in Texas, owned by Azteca Milling. Azteca bought its corn from some place that included some genetically manipulated corn that had been developed by Aventis CropScience, a subsidiary of the European drug giant, Aventis.

Clear on all that? The sticky part for Kraft and Taco Bell is that not only was the corn from Aventis genetically altered, but this particular kind of genetically altered corn is not approved for human consumption. A consumer group called Genetically Engineered Food Alert found the adulterated taco shells in the supermarket, and this caused Kraft to point to Taco Bell, which pointed to -- well, Azteca says it doesn't know who to point to, just don't blame them.

So where did the contaminated corn come from? No one knows, which points out the danger of releasing these unsafe, poorly regulated, genetically altered organisms into nature. Pollen from altered crops easily pollinates non-altered crops, ultimately contaminating our whole food supply.

Genetically Engineered Food Alert (800/390-3373) is working to stop these global, biotech profiteers.

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