Be Wary of the National Health Federation (1993)
Stephen Barrett, M.D.
The National Health Federation (NHF) is an alliance of promoters and followers who engage in lobbying campaigns and many other activities. It is antagonistic toward established medical practices and uses the words "alternative," and "freedom" to suit its own purposes. The information in this article was published in 1993 as part of a chapter on "Health Freedom Crusaders" in my book, The Health Robbers: A Close Look at Quackery in America. As you read this article, keep in mind that it describes things as they were in 1993. The people mentioned are no longer in leadership positions, some have died, and its tax returns indicate that it has fewer than 1,000 members. However, its focus and activities have not changed.
NHF is headquartered in Monrovia, California. Its members pay from $36 per year for "regular" membership to a total of $1,000 or more for "perpetual" membership. NHF members receive occasional mailings and a monthly magazine called Health Freedom News (formerly called Public Scrutiny and the NHF Bulletin). In 1991, it had about 6,600 members.
Since its formation, NHF's stated purpose has been to promote "freedom of choice" by consumers. As expressed for years in its Bulletin:
NHF opposes monopoly and compulsion in things related to health where the safety and welfare of others are not concerned. NHF does not oppose nor approve any specific healing profession or their methods, but it does oppose the efforts of any one group to restrict the freedom of practice of qualified members of another profession, thus attempting to create a monopoly.
At first glance, this credo may seem "democratic" and somehow related to unfair business competition. What NHF really means, however, is that government should not help scientifically based health care to drive unproven methods out of the marketplace. NHF wants anyone who merely claims to have an effective treatment or product to be allowed to market it without scientific proof that it works.
NHF promotes questionable health methods and has little interest in scientifically recognized methods. Health Freedom News contains ads for questionable treatments and products that are being marketed illegally. Nutritional fads, myths, and gimmicks are mentioned favorably by NHF publications and convention speakers. Worthless cancer treatments, particularly laetrile, have been promoted in the same ways. Articles in NHF publications have looked with disfavor on such proven public health measures as pasteurization of milk, immunization, water fluoridation, and food irradiation. Use of nutritional supplements is encouraged by claims that modern food processing depletes our food supply of its nutrients. "Natural" and "organic" products have been promoted with suggestions that our food supply is "poisoned." Chiropractic, naturopathy, and homeopathy are regarded favorably. Books that promote questionable health concepts are given favorable reviews. Antiquackery legislation is condemned. Underlying all these messages is the idea that anyone who opposes NHF's ideas is part of a "conspiracy" of government, organized medicine, and big business against the little consumer.
NHF has been very active in the political arena. It presents testimony to regulatory agencies and sponsors legislation aimed at minimizing government interference with the health-food industry. To bolster the influence of its lobbyists, it generates letter-writing campaigns that urge legislators and government officials to support NHF positions. These campaigns typically include charges of persecution, discrimination, and conspiracy. NHF also has filed lawsuits against government agencies and helped to defend people prosecuted for selling questionable "health" products or services.
Not surprisingly, most of NHF's leaders have been economically involved with the issues it has promoted-and at least twenty have been in legal difficulty for such activities. NHF's officers and board members have included the following people.
Fred J. Hart, who founded NHF in 1955, was president of the Electronic Medical Foundation, a company that marketed quack devices. In 1954, Hart and his foundation were ordered by a U.S. District Court to stop distributing thirteen devices with false claims that they could diagnose and treat hundreds of diseases and conditions. In 1962, Hart was fined by the court for violating this order. He died in 1976.
Royal S. Lee, D.D.S., a nonpracticing dentist who died in 1967, helped Hart found NHF and served on its board of governors. Lee owned and operated the Vitamin Products Company, which sold food supplements, and the Lee Foundation for Nutritional Research, which distributed literature on nutrition and health. One of the vitamin company's products was Catalyn, a patent medicine composed of milk sugar, wheat starch, wheat bran, and other plant material. During the early 1930s, a shipment of Catalyn was seized by the FDA and destroyed by court order because it had been marketed with false claims of effectiveness against serious diseases. In 1945, the FDA ordered Lee and his company to discontinue illegal claims for Catalyn and other products. In 1956, the Post Office Department charged Lee's foundation with fraudulent promotion of a book called Diet Prevents Polio. The foundation agreed to discontinue the challenged claims. In 1962, Lee and the Vitamin Products Company were convicted of misbranding 115 special dietary products by making false claims for the treatment of more than five hundred diseases and conditions. Lee received a one-year suspended prison term and was fined $7,000. In 1963, a prominent FDA official said Lee was "probably the largest publisher of unreliable and false nutritional information in the world."
Jonathan V. Wright, M.D., who became NHF's board chairman in 1992, is embroiled in disputes with the FDA involving nutritional products that the FDA seized in a much-publicized raid on Wright's clinic and an adjacent pharmacy.
Kurt W. Donsbach, D.C., a protégé of Lee, replaced Fred Hart as NHF's board chairman in 1975 and held that position until 1989. In 1971, after agents of the California Bureau of Food and Drug observed Donsbach tell customers at his health food store that vitamins, minerals, and/or herbal tea were effective against several serious diseases, he pled guilty to one count of practicing medicine without a license and agreed to cease "nutritional consultation." In the ensuing years, Donsbach has marketed supplement products, issued publications, operated nonaccredited correspondence schools, marketed a bogus "nutrient deficiency" test, and administered dubious treatments at Mexican cancer clinics.
During NHF's early years, Andrew S. Rosenberger served as the group's "nutrition chairman" and spoke at NHF conventions. For many years, he and his brother Henry operated a large chain of health-food stores called Nature Food Centers. In 1938, their firm made an agreement with the FTC to stop making therapeutic claims for more than twenty products. During the 1950s, the Post Office Department filed several complaints against the firm for making false therapeutic claims for various products; in each case, the company agreed to discontinue the claims. In 1962, the Rosenberger brothers were fined $5,000 each and given six-month suspended prison sentences for misbranding dietary products. Nature Food Centers was fined $10,000.
Clinton Miller was NHF's legislative advocate from 1962 through 1989 and has also served as NHF's executive director. Before coming to NHF, Miller chaired the antifluoridation committee of Utah, which helped make Utah the least fluoridated state in the U.S. In the 1960s and early 1970s, he operated Clinton's Wheat Shop (a health-food store) in Bountiful, Utah, and Miller's Honey Company in Salt Lake City. During this period the FDA took seven enforcement actions (two citations and five seizures) involving products marketed by these companies. One was a seizure from the wheat shop in 1962 of some "dried Swiss whey," which the FDA considered misbranded when claimed as effective in treating intestinal disorders. The whey was returned when Miller agreed to change its labeling. In 1976, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Maureen Kennedy Salaman, NHF's president from 1982 to 1992, hosts a radio talk show and has been very active in promoting questionable cancer remedies. Her 1983 book, Nutrition: The Cancer Answer, claims that "the American Cancer Society advocates treating cancer rather than preventing it." In 1984, she ran for vice-president on the Populist party ticket.
David Ajay was president of the National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA), a trade association that represents health food retailers, distributors, and producers.
Norman J. Bassett was publisher of Let's Live, a magazine that promotes questionable health methods.
Walter Douglas Brodie, M.D., was convicted twice of failing to file income tax returns. In 1977, he was sentenced to six months in prison, and in 1987 he was fined $10,000 and sentenced to one year in prison and five years' probation. In a 1983 letter describing how he has prescribed laetrile and other "alternative" cancer treatments, Brodie stated that he had moved his practice to Nevada after "political persecution" by the California State Board of Medical Quality Assurance, which had unsuccessfully attempted to discipline him several times.
Kirkpatrick Dilling, who was NHF's general counsel for many years, is an attorney who specializes in the issues in which NHF has been involved. He has also been the attorney for the Cancer Control Society, a group that promotes questionable methods of cancer treatment.
H. Ray Evers, M.D., who died in 1990, was a leading practitioner of "chelation therapy." During his career he claimed to have treated more than twenty thousand patients and supervised more than 500,000 chelation treatments. In 1976, at the FDA's request, a Louisiana federal judge prohibited Evers from using chelation therapy in Louisiana. Testimony in the case suggested that at least fourteen patients had died from this therapy at Evers' hospital. Later that year, Evers was given a suspended prison sentence and two years' probation after pleading guilty to "intimidating and impeding officers of the Internal Revenue Service." According to the IRS agents' report, Evers had cursed at them, threatened their lives, and attempted to run one of them down with his car when they visited his property in connection with a tax matter.
Evers then moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where, despite FDA efforts, a judge allowed him to continue doing chelation therapy. In 1980, he opened the ninety-bed Evers Health Center in Cottonwood, Alabama. His letter to prospective patients stated that his practice was "limited to the diagnosis and treatment of chronic degenerative diseases by the nutritional, non-toxic, metabolic method including chelation therapy" and offered "special regimes of treatment" for arthritis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer, Parkinson's disease, and other diseases. According to the clinic brochure, a patient's typical day would include a visit with Dr. Evers, spinal manipulation by his chiropractic associate, chelation therapy (three hours), and other therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen and colonic irrigation.
In December 1986, the Alabama Medical Licensure Commission revoked Evers's medical license. According to an article published by his son Michael, the proceedings were based on Evers's use of an herbal salve to treat a thirty-year-old woman who had cancer and died several months later, presumably of her disease. The revocation was for "engaging in the practice of medicine in such a manner as to endanger the health of [the patient]," "using untruthful or deceptive or improbable statements concerning the effects or results of his proposed treatment," and "demonstrating unprofessional conduct in the treatment of [the patient]." The commission also concluded that Evers's actions constituted "gross malpractice." After the appeals process ended, Evers moved his practice to Mexico.
Michael Gerber, M.D., had his California medical license revoked after hearings before the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance in which he was accused in 1984 of improperly administering to patients. One patient was a fifty-six-year-old woman with treatable cancer who had allegedly died as a result of Gerber's neglect while he treated her with herbs, enzymes, coffee enemas, and chelation therapy. The other patients were three-year-old twin boys with ear infections for which Gerber had prescribed 70,000 or more International Units of vitamin A daily and coffee enemas twice daily for several weeks. After his medical license was revoked, Gerber acquired a homeopathic licence and began operating a chain of clinics in Nevada.
Garry Gordon, M.D., has been president of the American Academy of Medical Preventics (currently called the American College of Advancement in Medicine), a group of doctors who do chelation therapy. He has also been medical director and board chairman of Mineralab (a large commercial hair analysis laboratory) and director of a subsidiary that sold questionable nutritional products.
Bruce Halstead, M.D., was convicted in 1985 of twenty-four counts of cancer fraud and grand theft for selling an herbal tea called ADS to ten patients with cancer and other serious diseases for $125 to $150 per quart. Although he maintained that ADS was a "nutritional supplement," analysis showed it to be 99.4 percent water and a brownish sludge composed mainly of coliform bacteria (the same bacteria found in human feces). Halstead, who operated the Halstead Preventive Medicine Clinic in Colton, California, has been a leading promoter of laetrile, chelation therapy, and many other questionable practices. Following the trial, which lasted for five months, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Hyatt Seligman called Halstead "a crook selling swamp water." He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to four years in prison, but remains free during the appeals process. According to an article published by Michael S. Evers, Halstead maintained during his trial that he was the target of a "Medical Gestapo" out to destroy health practitioners who deviate from orthodox cancer therapies such as surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. In 1992, his license to practice medicine in California was revoked. He is still vice-president of the Committee for Freedom of Choice in Medicine.
Bruce Helvie had vitamin and mineral products seized by the FDA because they were marketed with false and misleading claims for the treatment of more than twenty-five diseases and conditions. The seized products were destroyed by consent decree in 1960.
Bob Hoffman, who died in 1985, published bodybuilding magazines and sold bodybuilding equipment and food supplement products through his company, York Barbell Co., of York, Pennsylvania. In 1960, the company was charged with misbranding its Energol Germ Oil Concentrate because literature accompanying the oil claimed falsely that it could prevent or treat more than 120 diseases and conditions, including epilepsy, gallstones, and arthritis. The material was destroyed by consent decree. In 1961, fifteen other York Barbell products were seized as misbranded. In 1968, a larger number of products came under attack by the government for similar reasons. In the consent decree that settled the 1968 case, Hoffman and York Barbell agreed to stop a long list of questionable health claims for their products. In 1972, the FDA seized three types of York Barbell protein supplements, charging that they were misbranded with false and misleading bodybuilding claims. A few months later, the seized products were destroyed under a default decree. In 1974, the company was again charged with misbranding Energol Germ Oil Concentrate and protein supplements. The wheat germ oil had been claimed to be of special dietary value as a source of vigor and energy. A variety of false bodybuilding claims had been made for the protein supplements. The seized products were destroyed under a consent decree.
Despite his many brushes with the law, Hoffman achieved considerable professional prominence. During his athletic career, first as an oarsman and then as a weightlifter, he received over six hundred trophies, certificates, and awards. He was the Olympic weightlifting coach from 1936 to 1968 and was a founding member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. These activities helped make Hoffman a major factor in the growth of nutritional fads for athletes.
Max Huberman was president of the National Nutritional Foods Association and a board member of the American Natural Hygiene Society.
Victor Earl Irons, who was vice chairman of NHF's board of governors for more than twenty years, received a one-year prison sentence in 1957 for misbranding Vit-Ra-Tox, a vitamin mixture sold door to door. In 1959, shipments of eight products and accompanying literature shipped by V.E. Irons, Inc., were destroyed under a consent decree because the products were promoted with false or misleading claims. Other seized products were ordered destroyed in 1959 and 1960. Irons has claimed that virtually everyone has a "clogged colon," that deposits of fecal material cause "toxins and poisonous gases" to "seep into your blood and poison all your organs and tissues," and that "if every person in this country took 23 home colonics a week, 95% of the doctors would have to retire for lack of business." Literature from V.E. Irons, Inc., has stated that "the most important procedure toward regaining your Health is the COMPLETE and THOROUGH cleansing of the colon, no matter what or how long it takes." This is the goal of the "Vit-Ra-Tox Seven Day Cleansing Program," which involves eating no food, drinking a quart or more of water daily, using herbal laxatives and various supplement products, and taking at least one strong black coffee enema each day. Ten years ago, products for this program cost $60, while those for maintenance after the seventh day cost about $100 per month.
Bernard Jensen, D.C., is a leading proponent of iridology, a pseudoscientific system of diagnosis based upon examination of the eye. He formulated the products and was chairman of the health advisory board of Nova Nutritional Products, Inglewood, California, a multilevel company that called itself "the ultimate in nutritional science." Nova's products included Stress-Buster, Immune Forte, and Endurance Plus. Jensen also helped found and was board chairman of Vitality International, a Seattle-based multilevel marketing company whose products included a "life extension formula" called New Youth.
Terence Lemerond is president of Enzymatic Therapy, Inc., of Green Bay, Wisconsin, which has marketed hundreds of formulas containing vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, and/or glandular tissue. The company has made illegal claims for these products in advertisements, newsletters, "confidential reports," testimonial messages, "research bulletins," "health guides," and other materials given to health food retailers for distribution to their customers. Company publications state that Lemerond studied nutrition for twenty years and was a nutritional consultant for nine years.
During the late 1980s, the company held seminars whose attendees received a loose-leaf manual describing how Enzymatic Therapy products could be used to treat more than eighty diseases and conditions. The manual also contained "protocols" for using various products to combat AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, arthritis, and other serious health problems. In 1991, after five years of investigation and several warnings, the FDA took Lemerond and Enzymatic Therapy to court. In 1992, the case was settled with a consent degree barring the company from marketing products with unproven therapeutic claims. The court order also lists fifty-six items that cannot be marketed or manufactured unless new promotional material for them is approved by the FDA.
Andrew R.L. McNaughton was a central figure in the worldwide promotion of laetrile. In 1977, he was placed on two years' probation after pleading guilty to a criminal charge of conspiracy to facilitate the transportation of smuggled laetrile. He had a prior conviction in Canada for a stock fraud.
Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D., who died in 1988, was NHF's president from 1981 to 1982. He spoke frequently at NHF conventions and produced a newsletter and a syndicated newspaper column, both called The People's Doctor. Although he had taught at several medical schools and been chairman of the Illinois state licensing board, Mendelsohn considered himself a "medical heretic." He opposed water fluoridation, immunization, licensing of nutritionists, and screening examinations to detect breast cancer. One of his books charged: "Modern Medicine's treatments for disease are seldom effective, and they're often more dangerous than the diseases they're designed to treat"; that "around ninety percent of surgery is a waste of time, energy, money and life"; and that most hospitals are so loosely run that "murder is even a clear and present danger."
Mendelsohn was also president of the New Medical Foundation, a tax-exempt organization formed in the late 1970s to support "innovative forms of medical education of the public and the medical profession." At a meeting sponsored by this group in 1984, he said:
Doctors complain that quacks keep patients away from orthodox medicine. I cheer! Since all the treatments, both orthodox and alternative, for cancer, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, and arthritis, are equally unproven, why would a sane person choose treatment that can kill the patient?
In 1986, the National Nutritional Foods Association gave Mendelsohn its annual Rachel Carson Memorial Award for his "concerns for the protection of the American consumer and health freedoms."
Betty Lee Morales, who died in 1987, was president of the Cancer Control Society. She published two newsletters, owned a health food store, and was co-owner of Eden Ranch, the company that marketed Betty Lee Morales Signature Brand food supplements. Promotional material from Eden Ranch suggested that Americans who did not use food supplements ran a significant risk of developing deficiency diseases. Among its many supplement products were Lipotropic Plus, to relieve "liver stress," and Nia-Flex, for stiff joints.
During her career, Mrs. Morales also provided "nutritional consultations" by telephone and by mail. In 1976, the Lehigh Valley (Pa.) Committee Against Health Fraud (LVCAHF) tested the quality of her advice after answering an ad in Let's Live magazine for Eden Ranch products. The reply contained a two-page health questionnaire which LVCAHF returned, indicating that the writer, "age 61," was in good health except that:
For several years I have had (on and off) pain and swelling in the joints of my fingers and toes. During the past few months, I have had attacks of blurred vision. Sometimes my eyes ache and I see halos around lights at night. Your suggestions would be most welcome.
The arthritis symptoms, while not specific, were compatible with a diagnosis of gout, a type of arthritis that can sometimes benefit from a special diet. The eye symptoms were taken from a textbook description of glaucoma, a condition that could soon lead to blindness if not medically treated. Mrs. Morales' reply contained a disclaimer that her advice was for:
public education . . . and to assist individuals to cooperate with the doctors of their choice in building better health. . . . In the event that the information is used without the supervision or approval of a doctor, that is prescribing for yourself, which is your constitutional right, but we assume no responsibility.
Her "highly personalized nutrition program" consisted of "detoxification" with a special diet and enemas, plus fifteen different food supplements that could be purchased from Eden Ranch or a health-food store. Based on an enclosed price list, the supplements would cost more than $40 per month; however, they had no medically recognized benefit for either arthritis or visual difficulty. Mrs. Morales did not appear to recognize that the writer's symptoms might be serious or require urgent medical attention.
Roy F. Paxton headed a firm that marketed Millrue through agents, health food stores, and ads in an NHF publication. In addition, Paxton consulted personally with prospective customers, diagnosing them and recommending Millrue for such diseases as cancer, arthritis, and diabetes. In 1958, he and his company were fined a total of $1,200 for false and misleading labeling claims for Millrue. When they persisted in selling the product and promoting it through an NHF publication, the FDA again brought prosecution for misbranding. In 1963-the year that Paxton's term as NHF governor expired-he and the company were fined a total of $4,000 and he was sentenced to three years in prison.
Donald F. Pickett founded and was board chairman of the Neo-Life Corporation, a multilevel company that sells dietary supplements and various other products. The company magazine has advised Neo-Life distributors that people who complain about being tired, sluggish, or listless might be lacking in essential nutrients. To induce sales, the magazine suggested telling prospects that "food low in nutrients will have the same long-term effects on the body as used oil does to the automobile-lower performance and greater wear and tear."
James R. Privitera, Jr., M.D., was convicted in 1975 and sentenced to six months in prison for conspiring to prescribe and distribute laetrile. In 1980, after the appeals process ended, he served fifty-five days in jail. Then, because he had been prescribing unapproved substances (including laetrile, calcium pangamate, and DMSO) for the treatment of cancer, the California Board of Medical Quality Assurance suspended Privitera's medical license for four months and placed him on ten years' probation under board supervision. During the probationary period, Privitera was "prohibited from making any representation that he is able to cure cancer through nutrition." He was also forbidden to tell a patient he had cancer unless the diagnosis had been confirmed in writing by an appropriate board-certified specialist.
Privitera founded two companies that have marketed devices for doing "live cell analysis," a procedure in which blood obtained from a patient's finger is placed under a dark-field microscope to which a television monitor has been attached, so that both the practitioner and the patient can examine cells and particles in the blood. Proponents claim that this method can be used to detect "multiple vitamin and mineral deficiencies, toxicity, tendencies toward allergic reaction, excess fat circulation, liver weakness, and arteriosclerosis." However, the test has little or no value in diagnosing such conditions.
John N. Ritchason, N.D., wrote The Vitamin and Health Encyclopedia (1986) and The Little Herb Encyclopedia (1982), both of which recommend vitamins, minerals and/or herbs for more than 150 health problems. The books state that Ritchason had a Ph.D. from Donsbach University and was a naturopath, iridologist, herbalist, Touch-for-Health Instructor, and Registered Healthologist.
Frank Salaman, a current board member and former husband of NHF president Maureen Salaman, was convicted in 1977 of conspiring to smuggle laetrile.
Emory Thurston, who died in 1981, was an active promoter of laetrile and displayed pamphlets he had edited at a booth at NHF conventions. At a 1973 convention, when approached by an agent of the California Bureau of Food and Drug who said she had cancer of the uterus, Thurston offered to supply her with laetrile. He instructed the agent to contact him at his office at the Institute for Nutritional Research in Hollywood. He later sold laetrile to the agent and advised her not to have surgery. After additional evidence was gathered, Thurston was convicted, fined, and placed on probation for two years.
Paul J. Virgin, who has served as NHF treasurer, was public relations director of the Alta-Dena Dairy, the leading producer of certified raw (unpasteurized) milk. This dairy has been implicated repeatedly as a source of salmonella infection in raw milk consumers in California. In 1989, a California judge ordered the dairy (then operating as Steuve's Natural) to stop making false and misleading claims that its unpasteurized products were safer and nutritionally superior to pasteurized milk products. The judge also ordered the dairy to place a warning label on its raw milk cartons.
Floyd Weston is a former insurance executive who stated in an interview in NHF's Public Scrutiny that he had organized a group of businessmen in 1975 "to conduct a worldwide search for the answer to good health." One of his "discoveries" was an "electrodiagnosis" machine based on the theory that there is "an electric wiring system in the body-each organ having a wire that goes to a standard location in the hands and feet." Weston claimed that such devices can "verify the exact condition of individual organs throughout the body," "differentiate between acute, chronic, or degenerative stages," and "discover these pathological processes when regular clinical diagnoses cannot detect them." Treatment is then administered with homeopathic remedies, vitamins, and/or minerals. At various times, Weston has shared ownership of a homeopathic clinic and marketed electrodiagnostic devices and homeopathic remedies. California authorities are currently trying to stop him from marketing such devices.
Other NHF board members have included Sid Williams, D.C. and Robert Atkins, M.D.
NHF's "Vitamin Bill"
NHF's most notable campaign occurred during the 1970s with a bill to weaken FDA jurisdiction over vitamins. In 1972, after lengthy study, the agency had proposed that food products be labeled so that ingredients, nutrient content, and other information would be displayed in a standard format. These provisions became regulations with little controversy.
The FDA proposal also said that labeling could neither state nor imply that a balanced diet of ordinary foods cannot supply adequate amounts of nutrients. Because this struck at the heart of health food industry propaganda, NHF filed lawsuits and proposed legislation to remove FDA jurisdiction over vitamins. Crying "Fight for your freedom to take vitamins!" NHF organized its members and allies into unprecedented political activity. Article after article urging support of the anti-FDA bill appeared in the NHF Bulletin, in various health-food industry magazines, and in chiropractic journals. Letter-writing kits were distributed by chiropractors, by health-food stores, and in special NHF mailings. At a Congressional hearing on this issue, several Congressmen reported that they had received more mail about vitamins than about Watergate.
In 1976, as a result of this pressure, Congress passed the Proxmire Amendment to the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Though not as restrictive as NHF's proposal, this law prevents the FDA from regulating food supplements unless they are inherently dangerous or are marketed with illegal claims that they can prevent or treat disease.
NHF has also promoted "Medical Freedom of Choice" and "Foods Are Not Drugs" bills. Federal laws now require that all new drugs be proven both safe and effective before they are marketed. NHF's proposed bills, which would remove the efficacy requirement, would open the door to any supposed "remedy" that doesn't kill people on the spot. Such bills are a snake-oil salesman's dream.
The Promotion of Laetrile
Because laetrile lacks FDA approval, it is illegal to market it in interstate commerce. In 1977, a federal court set up an "affidavit" system under which personal supplies of laetrile could be imported into the United States by cancer patients certified by a physician as "terminal." The plaintiff in the case was Glen Rutherford, a Kansas seed salesman who believed that laetrile was needed to keep him alive. Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against Rutherford in 1979, the affidavit system was not dismantled until 1987. During the appeals process, Rutherford became an NHF governor, Kirkpatrick Dilling became one of his lawyers, and NHF took care of his attorney fees.
From 1978 to 1982, NHF published Public Scrutiny, a monthly newspaper (later converted to a magazine) whose primary focus was on laetrile and "metabolic therapy." Most of its original staff members were prominent promoters of laetrile, and three of its advisers had been convicted of laetrile-related crimes. Each issue of Public Scrutiny contained a full-page ad from the Laetrile Information Center, a company near the Mexican border that would arrange for legal importation. Mexican clinics and other sellers of laetrile also advertised regularly in Public Scrutiny.
After NHF governor James Privitera, M.D., was charged with a laetrile-related offense, appeals in Public Scrutiny raised more than $5,000 to help defend him; and after he was convicted, NHF generated more than 10,000 form letters asking California governor Jerry Brown to pardon him (which he did). NHF also contributed $5,000 toward the legal expenses of the parents of Chad Green, a three-year-old boy with leukemia; and an NHF governor served as a lawyer for the parents.
Chad attracted nationwide attention when his family moved to Mexico to defy a Massachusetts court order that the boy receive proper therapy and stop getting laetrile. The October 1979 issue of Public Scrutiny described how Chad was thriving, how his father was studying for a career as a "nutrition consultant," and how Chad's mother had stopped his chemotherapy without telling the Mexican clinic doctor. A few days after the newspaper was distributed, Chad died. His parents continued to promote laetrile and to claim that Chad died because he had "lost the will to live." However, the autopsy showed recurrent leukemia, and cyanide (a breakdown product of laetrile) in his liver and spleen.
NHF also assisted the parents of Joey Hofbauer, an eight-year-old boy with Hodgkin's disease, a form of cancer usually curable in its early stages. In 1977, New York State authorities sought custody of Joey because his parents chose laetrile over effective treatment for the boy. With NHF attorney Kirkpatrick Dilling representing the parents, the court ruled that they were "concerned and loving" and "not neglectful" in rejecting conventional treatment. After eighteen months of laetrile and megavitamin treatment from Michael Schachter, M.D. (a New York psychiatrist who occasionally lectures at NHF conventions), Joey was moved to the Bahamas for another type of questionable treatment. He died in 1980 with lungs full of tumors.
A bill to exempt laetrile from FDA jurisdiction was introduced by Public Scrutiny's legislative advisor, physician-Congressman Larry McDonald (D-GA). In 1979, a malpractice suit against him by survivors of a patient he had treated with laetrile was settled for $30,000. NHF's efforts to exempt laetrile petered out after McDonald was killed in the crash of the Korean airliner shot down by the Soviets in 1983.
Opposition to Fluoridation
Adjusting community drinking water to about one part fluoride to one million parts of water is a safe, simple, and inexpensive way to help prevent tooth decay. Although NHF's leaders claim to be interested in preventing disease by "proper nutrition," they are rigidly opposed to fluoridation.
Over the years, NHF has assembled many documents which it claims are "proof" that fluoridation is dangerous (which it is not). Close examination of these documents shows that they contain reports of poorly designed "experiments," twisted accounts of actual events, statements by respected scientists taken out of context to change their meaning, misinterpreted statistics, and other forms of falsification. Given enough publicity, however, these items have convinced many communities that fluoridation is too risky.
In 1972, NHF granted $16,000 for a fluoridation study to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a group led by former associates of Ralph Nader. To help raise this money, a special mailing to NHF members announced that a clinically controlled test was being conducted by "FRIENDS of indisputable, scientific reputation." The mailing claimed that the study would arm NHF with "unassailable, up-to-date, scientific data to help defeat fluoridation." When CSPI learned about this message, it protested, stating that the study would be a scientific review whose outcome was certainly not fixed against fluoridation. NHF apologized, claiming that the fundraiser had been mailed "without being cleared by appropriate officials" and contained "serious errors" about the study's nature. NHF members were never told of these errors, however. Nor were they notified when the study concluded that "the known benefits of fluoridation far outweigh any risks which may be involved."
In 1974, NHF announced that opposing fluoridation would be its number two priority and that a biochemist named John Yiamouyiannis had been hired to "break the back" of fluoridation. Yiamouyiannis soon began issuing reports based on misinterpreted government statistics, claiming that fluoridation causes cancer. He was joined in this effort by Dean Burk, a retired National Cancer Institute employee who was also a leading promoter of laetrile. In 1980, Yiamouyiannis left NHF and founded another group whose structure and activities were similar. Although NHF remains opposed to fluoridation, it has had little political involvement since Yiamouyiannis departed.
In 1986, a company controlled by Kurt Donsbach published The Great Medical Monopoly Wars, a book which claimed that the American Medical Association, the FDA, drug companies, and various individuals were conspiring to "destroy the American free-enterprise system in the health care field." The book contained false and defamatory statements about antiquackery activists John H. Renner, M.D., and Victor Herbert, M.D., J.D. Despite warnings from the pair's attorney, NHF and several allied individuals, organizations, and publications promoted the book and made additional defamatory remarks. Dr. Renner filed suit in Missouri against six defendants and wound up collecting $60,000 in an out-of court settlement with Donsbach, Clinton Miller, and Maureen Salaman. Dr. Renner's suit against the book's author, P.J. Lisa, is still pending. Dr. Herbert filed suit in Iowa against twenty-six defendants, twenty-two of whom were dismissed by the judge because he felt that they were not doing enough business in Iowa for his court to have jurisdiction. Dr. Herbert has appealed the dismissal. The case involving the four remaining defendants is scheduled for trial in 1993.
These lawsuits appear to have caused considerable strife among NHF's leaders, some of whom had been upset with each other anyway. In 1989, Donsbach left under bitter circumstances and launched a new organization. A special NHF report distributed in July 1990 stated that Clinton Miller had been fired for setting up an unauthorized bank account, and that attorney Dilling was suing NHF for $64,633.17 for allegedly unpaid fees in the Herbert and Renner cases. NHF wound up suing Donsbach, Miller, and various other former NHF members. These difficulties, added to other financial problems and decreased membership, appear to have greatly weakened NHF.
Some Final Comments
During the past century, scientists have developed rules for determining what methods are effective in preventing and treating disease. At the same time, laws have been developed to protect the public from methods that are ineffective, unproven, or promoted with misinformation.
NHF is antagonistic to accepted scientific methods as well as to current consumer-protection laws. Instead of supporting the rules of science and law, its leaders want to destroy them. They clamor for the right to market methods without ensuring that they are effective. The "freedom" they espouse would be nothing more than a hunting license for quacks. Despite their shortcomings, can generate large letter-writing campaigns which create the illusion that they represent a large constituency. They have won some significant court and legislative battles and intend to win more.
This article was posted on July 18, 2003.
The introduction was updated on July 15, 2012.