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© Bella Stander


An Alternate View of Alternative Medicine: The Government's
Publishers Weekly
September 19, 1994

by Bella Stander

Not everyone, it appears, is in favor of books on alternative health. Opposition to their marketing, in fact, has come from an unusual source--the federal government. It would seem that the cross-merchandising concept, so successful in bookstores, could also be effective in health food stores. Who would object if books on herbs were placed next to the herbal supplements? The FDA, that's who. Under the Nutritional Labeling Education Act, any literature is considered an extension of product labeling. Displaying books with products constitutes "technically labelling"; the products could then be branded as drugs and both they and the books could be confiscated by the FDA. Since 1987, for example, the FDA has prevented California nutritional supplement maker NutriCology from selling the book Miracle Cure: Organic Germanium (Japan Publication) by Kazuhiko Asai. "The book is available elsewhere," says company president Stephen Levine, but because his firm markets germanium supplements, he cannot carry it.

According to New York City attorney Milton A. Bass, who specializes in food and drug law, there are titles currently in bookstores that the FDA could seize if it were so inclined. The publisher of one of these titles acknowledges that he took a calculated risk in publishing it; another publisher PW spoke to admitted passing up that same title because he was fearful of the FDA. The publisher of a different potentially problematic title says, "It's getting to the point of censorship. The threat of FDA action is affecting what publishers are willing to put their name on and' what booksellers are willing to stock."

No publishing professional would speak to PW on the record about the FDA. Alexander Schauss, executive director of Citizens for Health. a nonprofit advocacy group based in Tacoma, Wash., remarks, "You'd think that people would be indignant and would speak out, but they're all too scared to say anything." Respite will only come with passage of the Hatch-Harkin Dietary Supplement Bill, which Schauss's organization is promoting and the FDA is fighting.

Ellis Island Redux

Another problem, the closing of part of an exhibit on immigrant health traditions at New York's Ellis Island Immigrant Museum, is not going unchallenged. As was reported in PW last month (News, Aug. 15, 1994), M. Ann Belkov, superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island, had the exhibit's last room closed after she received two letters complaining that it promoted health fraud by displaying photographs of recent books on alternative medicine. Belkov also removed Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide (Future Medicine Publishing) from the museum gift shop, which is run by a separate concession.

PW has learned that the first of the letters was written by "quackbuster" Victor Herbert, J.D., M.D., an outspoken opponent of alternative medicine and coauthor of The Vitamin Pushers: How the Health Food Industry Is Selling America a Bill of Goods. In his letter, Herbert described Alternative Medicine as "organized quackery's 1993 encyclopedia of frauds" and Avery Publishing, which publishes Sharks Don't Get Cancer and other titles on nonconventional cancer treatments, as "the leading organized cancer quackery publishing house in the U.S."

"We've always wanted to be the leader in something," quips Avery's managing editor, Rudy Shur, whose letter of complaint to Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has gone unanswered. FMP, through Seattle attorney Lance Rosen, also wrote to Babbitt and is "evaluating all legal options and will pursue the matter vigorously." "We are appalled," says Rosen, "not that Mr. Herbert wrote such a letter, but that the superintendant of the Statue of Liberty of monument was so moved by it."

Belkov insists that Herbert's letter had nothing to do with her decision, although Herbert reportedly threatened assistant superintendant Larry Steeler with legal action during an Independence Day party. Repeating part of her statement to the New York Times (Aug. 25), Belkov declares, "One letter does not intimidate, but any time we get a complaint about anything at Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty we evaluate it." In this case, she toured the exhibit and decided that the final room {which had been added in her absence) "didn't fit in with the time period that we related to in the exhibit." And with the room closed, she concludes, Alternative Medicine "didn't pertain to the bookshop or Ellis Island." Rosen is not mollified, pointing out that, "Once a book is on the shelves, it can't be removed for content."

Citizens for Health has taken up the publishers' cause. On a fact-finding tour of the Ellis Island exhibit, Schauss and the group's executive v-p of legal affairs, Joan Priestley, M.D., discovered that the room in question, which they had been told would be left as is, had been "stripped down to a few pieces of double-sided tape," says Schauss. Museum staff led the two to the basement, where they found the framed book covers. "We expected to see some zany titles, but we were truly shocked by how noncontroversial the books are that were selected." Among them were Avery's The Book of Shiatsu and The Complete Book of Homeopathy, AIDS and Chinese Medicine from Keats/OHAI; Rodale's The Doctors Book of Home Remedies; FMP's Alternative Medicine; and Traditional Medicine and Health Coverage by the United Nations World Health Organization.

"The irony of ironies," says Rosen, "is that this story unfolds at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. What is the lady burning with her torch--books?"

© 1994 Bella Stander

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