Gary Ruskin on US Right to Know and the Movement for Public Health

In October 2023, the New York Times ran an article titled — Food Industry Influence Could Cloud the U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Gary Ruskin

The article was based on a new report from U.S. Right to Know, a public interest group based in Oakland, California.

“It is a long-running concern of government watchdogs,” the Times reported. “Some of the experts responsible for helping to craft the U.S. dietary guidelines also take money from big food and drug companies.”

“A report published by the nonprofit U.S. Right to Know makes those concerns plain. Nine of the 20 experts on the 2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have had conflicts of interest in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical or weight loss industries in the last five years, the report found.”

“Gary Ruskin, the executive director of the nonprofit, said the finding ‘erodes confidence in the dietary guidelines,’ which provide recommendations on how people can eat a healthier diet. The guidelines are widely used by policymakers to set priorities in federal food programs, health care and education – and questions about industry influence could damage the public’s trust that the recommendations are based in science rather than reflecting corporate interests, Mr. Ruskin said.”

Landing that story in the New York Times is the kind of impact that U.S. Right to Know has been having over the past decade.

“We have looked at unsafe pesticides and how the pesticide industry works its influence at federal, state and local levels, also in academia,” Ruskin told Corporate Crime Reporter in an interview last month.

“Another focus has been chemicals in our food system. We find that the Food and Drug Administration and other regulatory agencies are asleep at the switch. There are a number of chemicals in our food that are not safe – including artificial sweeteners and preservatives. We write about those chemicals.”

“We have fifteen academic papers on the ultra processed food industry and how across the world it keeps trying to promote ultra processed food even though there’s growing evidence linking the consumption of ultra processed food with obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some types of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and all cause mortality.”

“We have an investigation ongoing about the origins of Covid-19 and the cover-up that is occurring both in China and in the United States.”

What have been your top couple of successes?

“We did a lot of reporting on the political machinery that supports glyphosate and Roundup that is deployed by Bayer and its allies. We tried to unpack how this pesticide continues both in the United States and around the world.”

“Our academic studies have broken ground both in corruption in public health, for example the corruption of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But also we looked at how the ultra processed food industry, and especially Coca Cola, attempt to influence public health and corrupt it and turn it into a weak and ineffective effort.”

“We have broken story after story about various aspects of the origins of Covid-19 and about high risk virology research and how poorly overseen it is and how dangerous it could be.”

What has been the counterattack by industry groups against U.S. Right to Know?

“It has been pretty extensive. The chemical industry spent quite a lot of money trying to conduct a surveillance and discredit operation against us. And we have lots of documents showing that. In the beginning, there was an effort to try and convince the American public that we are funded by Russia or that we are somehow Russian apparatchiks.” 

“When I first started filing FOIA requests about the chemical industry, there was a big effort, involving Monsanto and public relations staff and others, to try and discredit us.” 

“They say that in one of their reports that our efforts will impact the entire industry and that it has the potential to be extremely damaging to the industry. They were very worried. They deployed eleven Monsanto employees and two public relations firms to try and discredit our organization in a wide variety of ways.”

“More recently, the efforts are more toward calling us an anti-vax organization, even though we have never done any work on vaccines. There is just this long-standing public relations effort to discredit us and it continues to this day.”

There has been very little action from Congress on obesity. But recently, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) did hold a hearing. Was there any outreach to your group in formulating that hearing? And what did you make of it?

“Senator Sanders did not reach out to us. But the hearing itself was great. And Senator Sanders’ op-ed in USA Today was great. (US can fight Type 2 diabetes, obesity. Start with kids, by Bernie Sanders USA Today, December 14, 2023.)”

“It was probably one of the best things I’ve seen on obesity from a United States politician in years. So it was heartwarming to see it.”

“The whole health system is corrupt and failing us badly. The life expectancy in the United States is now 76 years. In Japan it’s 84 years. In Sweden it’s 83 years. In France it’s 82 years.” 

“In the United States we have so much money but we die at a younger age. Why is that?

These diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes and cancer are often preventable. They arise from addictions to ultra processed food and junk food. They are diseases of our politics. They arise from the manufacturing and market that we know are likely to bring ill health and the utter failure of federal, state and local governments to do much about it.” 

“It was great at least to see Senator Sanders trying to do something about it.”

Wasn’t the hearing more performance art? Senator Sanders proposed banning junk food advertisements to children. But in fact, Congress earlier had prohibited the Federal Trade Commission from banning junk food ads to children. What’s the follow up, even for his proposal to ban junk food advertising for children?

“Performance art is where it all starts. There was a time when our Congress was filled with performance art – if that’s what you are calling hearings on a wide variety of matters of health and environmental matters. We see so little of this anymore that it was great to see one happen again.”

“Senator Sanders has to build some support among his colleagues. And a hearing is a good place to start.”

“But generally speaking, Congress and the federal agencies orient solutions only toward what makes money for Big Business. If it doesn’t make money for Big Food or Big Pharma, it doesn’t happen. That’s one of the reasons why the Sanders op-ed and hearing were so surprising. It was the exception that said – Big Food is causing a national emergency and we really need to do something.”

There have been a number of jury verdicts in the United States against Bayer for marketing its weedkiller glyphosate or Roundup and causing cancer among its users. What is Europe doing and what are we doing?

“Europe just relicensed Roundup for another ten years. But it’s pretty clear that across the world, citizens and consumers are turning against using Roundup. We will see how much longer it can hang on in the face of so much citizen and consumer opposition. It can’t keep going forever.” 

Where are we now in terms of the science and public sentiment on Covid origins?

“Most Americans think the evidence suggests Covid-19 came from a lab. There have been four years of collection of evidence on this matter. We filed 27 lawsuits on these matters. We filed more than 150 FOIA requests and broke lots of stories. And when you add it all up, the preponderance of the evidence suggests that Covid-19 came from a lab in Wuhan – the Wuhan Institute of Virology. That case is not proven, but that’s where most of the evidence lies.”

Is there scientific consensus?

“There is no scientific consensus. There are virologists and members of the bio defense community who argue strongly against the possibility of a lab origin of Covid-19. But the accumulation of evidence in support of the idea that Covid-19 came from a lab is quite strong.”

Isn’t there a split in the U.S. government over lab origins?

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Energy have been more inclined to say this was lab origin. But also many former government officials who have expressed the view that lab origin is the correct analysis.”

What has Congress done about this?

“A select subcommittee in the House is conducting an investigation. They are interviewing people and holding hearings and subpoenaing documents and people. That investigation is ongoing. On the Senate side, the Senate Homeland Security Republican staff is doing quite a lot to collect documents and investigate.” 

Republicans are more active in pursuing Covid lab origins. Democrats are more defensive. 

Why is that?

“Much of it is probably because of Anthony Fauci. He has been one of the leading advocates for gain of function research in the United States. He is beloved by so many Democrats. He has been very strong on the notion that there is not a lab origin of SARS Cov 2. Along with Francis Collins, who is now the President’s chief science advisor, they have done what they could to try to squelch discussion and consideration of this. Democrats out of solidarity are siding with them. All of the heavy lifting has been done by Republicans.”

[For the complete q/a format Interview with Gary Ruskin, see 38 Corporate Crime Reporter 1(12), January 1, 2024, print edition only.]

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