Investor’s Business Daily
Viewpoint – by Henry I. Miller
May 1, 2009
President Obama tried recently to reassure a nation jittery about the economy: “(W)ith every test, each generation has found the capacity to not only endure, but to prosper — to discover great opportunity in the midst of great crisis.”
But no matter how effective stimulus packages and strategies may be, recovery from this downturn will be plagued by government regulation that is damaging the ability of industry to perform the kind of scientific and technological innovation that was the engine of past recoveries.
FDA, EPA and USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agencies that perform a gatekeeper function — which means they need to approve hightech products such as gene-spliced plant varieties and pharmaceuticals and other chemicals before they can be marketed — are unscientific; overly risk-averse; and highly politicized, easily prodded to excesses by congressional demagoguery.
The pharmaceutical industry used to be one of the nation’s most innovative and successful, but excessive, erratic regulation has pushed development costs into the stratosphere, made the outcome uncertain and slowed approvals to a trickle.
As Fred Hassan, CEO of drug company Schering-Plough said of the regulatory climate, “What will it take to get new drugs approved? The point is, we don’t know.”
The plight of the industry is likely to become worse. The Congress and FDA have been moving inexorably toward placing various restrictions on the prescribing, distribution, sale and advertising of newly approved drugs.
In addition, they have imposed additional requirements in order to obtain even those limited, or conditional, approvals, a devastating double whammy that is dangerous for patients and damaging to one of the nation’s most critical industries.
The chemical industry is another favorite target of regulators and politicians. An example is the EPA’s designation as pesticides of pheromones, natural chemicals by which animals, particularly insects, influence the behavior of members of the same species.
When male insects seeking female mates are exposed to appropriate pheromones, they become confused and cannot easily locate the females. As a result, many of the females fail to mate and lay eggs, and the numbers of offspring are reduced.
Although pheromones are effective in minuscule amounts and show virtually no toxicity in animals other than insects (and are far safer than conventional chemicals), the EPA classifies them as “pesticides” and requires extensive and hugely expensive testing in order to use them commercially.
Another example is the EPA’s “land disposal restrictions” when toxins are present, which impose yearly costs of approximately $205.5 million in order to avoid 0.22 cases of cancer from groundwater contamination and 0.037 cases from air pollution — that is, about one case of cancer every four years — and $20 million from property damage.
Many Obama appointees who will be in a position to influence science- and technology-related issues are ideological, radical, and poorly qualified to offer sound, unbiased advice on policy.
They constitute a Who’s Who of hostility to modern technology and the industries that use it: Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of agriculture; Joshua Sharfstein, deputy FDA commissioner; Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator; and Carol Browner, coordinator of environmental policy throughout the executive branch.
None of them has shown any understanding of or appreciation of science.
Browner was responsible for gratuitous EPA regulations that have slowed the application of biotechnology to agriculture and environmental problems; Jackson worked in the EPA’s notorious Superfund program for many years; and Merrigan relentlessly promoted the organic food industry, in spite of the facts that organic foods’ high costs make them unaffordable for many Americans, thereby discouraging the consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables; and because of their low yields, are wasteful of farmland and water.
While a staffer for the Senate Agriculture Committee, Merrigan was completely uneducable about the importance of genetically improved plant varieties to advances in agriculture.
The nomination of John Holdren to become the president’s science adviser is another profound disappointment.
In 1980, Holdren and two other scientists made a famous wager with economist Julian Simon: They bet $1,000 that five metals — chrome, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten — would be more expensive 10 years later. They were wrong on all five predictions, and had to pay up in 1990.
Holdren also calculated that famines due to climate change could leave a billion people dead by 2020, championed “population control measures,” and believed 280 million Americans would likely be “too many.”
He now admits to having abandoned some of his previous views. And although Holdren will head the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, he has no history of advocacy for technology.
He will be yet another global-warming ideologue and yes man among many in the White House and federal agencies.
Mr. Obama’s Panglossian promises cannot alter the fact that economic recovery will be delayed and attenuated if America’s science and technology are neglected on one hand and hamstrung by overzealous regulators on the other.
Miller, a physician and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was an official at the FDA from 1979 to 1995 and is the author of “The Frankenfood Myth.”