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Scientists Identify Corporate Structure as Bad for Public Health.
     Source: International Journal of Occupational and Environmental 
Health,, November 15, 2004

     Corporate power is a major cause of health problems, according to 
the October/December 2005 special issue of the International Journal of 
Occupational and Environmental Health.  Contributions to the issue 
reveal how corporate structure results in pressure to influence science 
and place the public at risk from pesticides, lead, asbestos, toxic 
municipal sewage sludge, and other harmful substances.
     "Occupational and environmental health diseases are in fact an 
outcome of a pervasive system of corporate priority setting, decision 
making, and influence," state guest editors David Egilman and Susanna 
Rankin Bohme. "This system produces disease because political, 
economic, regulatory, and ideological norms prioritize values of wealth 
and profit over human health and environmental well-being."
     Skip Spitzer, Program Coordinator at PAN North America and a 
contributing author to the journal notes that, "In market economies, 
private corporations play such a decisive role in the economic sphere 
that they are often able to secure more rights than people. 
Corporations deeply influence politics, law, media, public relations, 
science, research, education and other institutions. It's no surprise 
that corporate self interest routinely supersedes social and 
environmental welfare."
     In his article "A Systemic Approach to Occupational and 
Environmental Health", Spitzer describes how corporations are part of a 
"structure of harm", meaning that the very way in which corporations 
are structured produces social and environmental problems and 
undermines reform. The pressure to compete in the marketplace and 
create demand for their products creates incentives for corporations to 
shape the political system, the mass media, and science for commercial 
ends. Corporations use this power to avoid taking responsibility for 
the larger environmental and social impacts of their actions (or 
"externalities"), including the public health impacts of developing 
dangerous new technologies. Spitzer quotes Reagan administration 
economist Robert Monks describing the corporation as "an externalizing 
machine, the same way that a shark is a killing machine - no 
malevolence...just something designed with sublime efficiency for 
self-preservation, which it accomplishes without any capacity to factor 
in the consequences to others."
     This "structure of harm" creates incentives for corporations to 
seek political influence over institutions designed to protect and 
serve the public good. Corporations often use this power to influence 
scientific debates so as to avoid regulation and litigation. "Science 
is a key part of this system," note Egilman and Bohme, "there is a 
substantial tradition of manipulation of evidence, data, and analysis 
ultimately designed to maintain favorable conditions for industry at 
both material and ideological levels." Independent scientists whose 
findings counter corporate interests often face pitched battles to 
obtain funding, publish their research, and gain academic tenure.
     The corporate "structure of harm" undermines health protections not 
only domestically, but also by influencing the international agreements 
and treaties that shape the global economy. In her article "Who's 
Afraid of National Laws?", Erika Rosenthal, a frequent consultant to 
PAN in North, Central and South America, identifies how pesticide 
corporations are using trade agreements to block proposed bans on 
pesticides identified as the worst occupational health hazards in 
Central America. Through privileged access to closed-door negotiations, 
agrichemical corporations inserted deregulatory mechanisms into the 
draft Central American Customs Union and the Central American Free 
Trade Agreement. These agreements undermine health-based national 
pesticide registration requirements, weaken health ministries' role in 
pesticide control, block marketing of cheaper and less toxic 
pesticides, and have a chilling effect on future pesticide regulation. 
Rosenthal argues that as long as corporations have privileged access to 
trade negotiations and civil society is excluded, the resulting 
agreements will benefit special interests at the expense of public 
     The editors conclude that corporate corruption of science is 
widespread and touches many aspects of our lives, as indicated by the 
range of articles in the issue. In "Genetic Engineering in Agriculture 
and Corporate Engineering in Public Debate", Rajeev Patel, Robert 
Torres, and Peter Rosset analyze Monsanto's efforts to convince the 
public of the safety of genetically modified crops. Other articles 
describe how industry pressure on government agencies such as EPA have 
influenced cancer research and resulted in approving toxic municipal 
sewage sludge as crop fertilizer.
     Corporate corruption of science represents a real threat to the 
health and well-being of people and to the environment the world over. 
"The negative social impacts of corporate structures deserve a 
concerted response on the part of conscientious public health 
researchers," note Egilman and Bohme. Spitzer sees this analysis as a 
call for researchers to join movements working for fundamental change 
of corporate structure and power. "We need to build bigger, more 
integrated social movements with the popular wherewithal to make deep 
change," he states. "This means combining multiple issues, connecting 
local work nationally and internationally, and building long-term 
change goals into action for more immediate change."
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