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5 Things Corporations Are Trying to Hide From You

These are but a few of many examples of a larger corporate opposition to basic disclosure.
 
 
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Last month, Gallup  reported that despite economic crises brought on by financial deregulation, far more Americans still worry that there will be too much regulation rather than not enough. No doubt, the survey results reflect the triumph of conservative “free-market” rhetoric in equating regulation with job loss in the American psyche. That’s a victory of ideology over economic reality, because, as  Businessweek recently noted, regulations are hardly job killers. Instead, the magazine points out, they typically “wind up creating about as many jobs as they kill.” In the process, they also mitigate major social problems, as Coca-Cola and Pepsi just proved.

In a move that could serve as the singular parable about the value of regulation, the two soft drink behemoths recently announced they “are making changes to the production of an ingredient in their namesake colas to avoid the need to label the packages with a cancer warning,” according to  Reuters. The shift comes in the face of a science-based decision to designate the ingredient a potential carcinogen, which then subjected it to a California regulation mandating disclosure of such compounds to consumers.

Over the course of history, the most famous regulations — not the free market — have reduced everything from wage theft to pollution to financial implosions to mass food poisoning. Less well remembered — but equally important — is that subset of regulations that simply force companies to tell us exactly what is in their products. Those empower consumers to make more informed decisions about where to spend their money — and, as last week showed, they often end up prompting companies to preemptively produce their wares in a more responsible manner.

Even to those who think the government shouldn’t set rules dictating the terms of production, basic disclosure regulations should be considered a no-brainer in a functioning capitalist economy. Such regulations don’t say a product cannot be produced — they simply say that when the product is produced, consumers have a right to know what is in it. Why would anyone argue against that?

Why? Because money — Big Money — is involved.

Almost every time a disclosure regulation has been proposed, the moneyed interests involved mobilize to stop them — or at least slow them down. In the pursuit of profit, industries would rather keep consumers in the dark than be forced to answer pesky questions about human health, the environment and other such concerns. Consider just the last few years:

1. The oil and gas industry has fought tooth and nail against state legislative proposals to at least disclose what kinds of toxic chemicals they are pumping into the ground when they engage in hydrofracturing.

2. Major meat producers have  opposed country-of-origin labeling regulations, successfully using the World Trade Organization to knock down those rules so as to keep consumers in the dark about where their meat is from.

3. Monsanto, the agriculture bio-tech giant, has used its political clout to stop regulatory proposals in the United States that would force food companies to tell consumers whether products included genetically modified ingredients. But that’s not all: The corporate colossus has also  convinced the U.S. government to use its power to try to gut  other nations’ GMO labeling laws, too.

4. The cosmetics industry has not only stopped state legislatures from regulations banning suspected toxins in beauty products, but has also ensured that the federal government regulations do not require the disclosure of most of those toxins. “Since the federal cosmetics law was written more than 70 years ago, the FDA has banned just eight out of the 12,000-plus ingredients used in cosmetics,” notes activist  Annie Leonard. “The FDA doesn’t even require all of the ingredients to be listed on the label.”

 
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