The federal government's lack of action that has allowed Abbott Laboratories to gain a stranglehold on the baby formula business is a key reason behind the current shortages that are driving parents mad and jeopardizing the health of little kids.
That's the contention of Paul Cienfuegos, who has spent most of his adult life working to take away the power he believes has been ceded by government to America's corporations, much to the detriment of "we the people."
The author of "How Dare We? Courageous Practices to Reclaim Our Power as Citizens," Cienfuegos says on The Lean to the Left Podcast, that current policies that allow virtual self regulation of such companies constitute a scandal that needs to be addressed.
“Why did we the people, through our government agencies, allow the monopolization of baby formula production in the United States?" Cienfuegos asks. "We have four corporations controlling the entire baby formula industry, and one of them violated all sorts of cleanliness laws in their factory and the federal government shut them down a while ago because they actually caused the death of two children and the harm of a number of other children. So they were shut down until they could clean up the factory and get the bacteria out of the assembly line. “
But it took months for that action to be implemented, which Cienfuegos claims is because the “corporate leaders in the food and drug industry” actually run the Food and Drug Administration. “All of the regulatory agencies we have,” he says, “are designed to shield corporations from the public.” Corporate leaders, he says, “are at the table writing the regulations. The whole thing is a scandal.”
Noting that only nine people at the FDA are in charge of regulating the baby formula industry, he says “every single federal agency is underfunded and understaffed,” and it’s by design.
On May 16, the FDA reached an agreement with /Abbott on steps needed to reopen its plant, and said it expected production to restart in about two weeks. The plant has been closed since February after several babies who had consumed its formula became ill and two died.
On the podcast, Cienfuegos outlines strategies employed by Community Rights US, an organization he founded, that since 1999 have helped more than 200 communities in a dozen states pass local laws reigning in corporate power. Those steps are also described in his book.
“The state and the federal government have the authority to overrule what local governments want to do to protect peoples’ health, safety and welfare," he says. "So we pass laws that strip state and local governments of that authority, which is illegal currently, but we do it anyway to force into the public conversation an understanding that what you think is going on is not what’s going on."
Cienfuegos ticks off a litany of corporate rights, including "personhood" and property rights, that allow companies to force harmful actions on a community, which his organization seeks to limit or eliminate. “You gain an understanding that corporations do not have a right to cause harm,” he says. “So what are you going to do about it?”
Listen to the podcast: