- The Washington Times - Friday, December 27, 2002

Overfunding the NIH

In writing in opposition to Morton Kondracke's column "Potential health research crisis" (Commentary, Saturday), I run the risk of looking foolish. Maybe Mr. Kondracke is engaging in parody when warning that, if spending on the National Institutes of Health does not continue to spiral upward, "laboratories will close, promising projects will stop," " young researchers will be forced out of the field" and "the country's entire medical research effort will be damaged ." He even suggests that smaller budget increases will "create uncertainty in young people." Horror of horrors.
Is Mr. Kondracke being sarcastic (or mathematically impaired) when describing annual NIH budget increases of less than 8.5 percent as "drastically reduced funding"? I am only a humble chemist with a doctorate degree, so forgive me for thinking that "reduced funding" means a decrease, rather than a substantial increase in cash.
The budget for NIH has more than doubled in just five years, and is now almost 10 times that of the National Science Foundation. Funding for NIH will increase by almost $4 billion in the current fiscal year. No bureaucracy, and certainly not one run by government workers, can efficiently and effectively absorb that much loot.
Having limited his interviews to researchers who directly benefit from this cash outlay, it is no surprise that Mr. Kondracke concludes that more is not just better, but imperative. If you're going to run through a litany of diseases, implying that all of mankind's suffering will end if NIH just gets enough cash, then why settle for only $4 billion more this year? Why not $40 billion?
The only crisis a disinterested party can detect is that not every congressman has had an NIH building named after him. Spending other people's money, and doing it to cure diseases, is an attractive concept, and thus we've seen the recent doubling of the NIH budget.
However, the use of transparently silly scare tactics to lobby for continuation of such extravagance is advocacy journalism at its worse.

Waldorf, Md.

On maternal mortality

As an obstetrician who experienced some of the changes cited in "Maternal mortality" (Nation, Dec. 18), I wish to make a few comments.
The reasons cited for the tremendous decrease in childbirth mortality during the last century including better sanitation, antibiotics, prenatal monitoring and blood transfusions are correct. Because childbirth has always been a "legal" procedure, its legal status had nothing to do with the improvement. Thus, to contend that fewer women died having abortions because the practice became legal is erroneous. Common sense and medical history tell a different story.
Abortion-related deaths decreased markedly after the 1940s because of the introduction of antibiotics and the skill of physicians, not because of the legalization of abortion in 1973. National Centers for Health Statistics figures show that 39 women died from illegal abortions in 1972, 35 in 1973 and 37 in 1974. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a co-founder of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and a personal friend, said he fabricated the figure of 10,000 women dying of illegal abortions each year in order to aid the drive to legalize abortion.


Watching porn on the taxpayer's dime

Americans should be disgusted and outraged not only about the sex study funded by the National Institutes of Health in which women watch erotic films, but over comments by the man conducting the study, J. Michael Bailey ("Federally funded study measures porn arousal," Nation, Monday).
Mr. Bailey believes Americans are small-minded and the government is "skittish" for not sufficiently supporting sex research, as if a woman's response to pornography is an important health issue.Yet many legitimate health interests are being neglected. For example, over the past four years, NIH hasn't been able to scrounge up enough money to fund a study of autism in children. I'm sure if such a study were tailored to examine the effects of autistic children on lesbian and bisexual women, such research would arouse Mr. Bailey's interest.
It is unfortunate that Americans work all year and pay taxes to the federal government only to see their hard-earned money go to support the sexual curiosity of persons such as Mr. Bailey. Why can't he use his own money to fund his own devious studies?

Baton Rouge, La.

Sugarcoating the truth

A recent column by Rich Lowry ("Sugar coated victory," Commentary, Dec. 18) was so filled with false and misleading statements about U.S. sugar policy that it is difficult to believe a seasoned reporter would make such errors unless he were deliberately making them.
To help set the record straight, here are the irrefutable facts about U.S. sugar policy:
U.S. sugar policy is designed to prevent the flooding of American markets with subsidized foreign dump sugar. Nonetheless, we import sugar from 41 countries, making us one of the largest importers of sugar in the world. Under international trade agreements, we are required to import about 1.5 million tons of sugar (roughly 15 percent of our needs) each year, whether we need that sugar or not.
There are no repeat no subsidies for U.S. sugar farmers. There's no guaranteed price for the farmers' sugar, either.
It's true that sugar processors can take out Commodity Credit Corp. loans to pay sugar farmers for their crop, using sugar as collateral. If market forces drive the price of sugar so low that processors are forced to forfeit their collateral to the lender, the loan is satisfied in the same way that a mortgage is satisfied if you can't make payments and lose your house. Not a happy situation.
Consumers in America can purchase sugar at 20 percent below what consumers in other developed countries pay on average.
Mr. Lowry sounds as if he's in the pocket of the big multinational candy manufacturers when he says the U.S. sugar policy amounts to a "tiny tax embedded in every Milky Way bar and Christmas candy cane ." The fact is that wholesale refined sugar prices in this country have been at a 20-year low, down about 33 percent, while the prices of candy bars and other sugar-containing products have continued to rise. Not a penny of the savings in sugar prices is passed on to the consumer by the candy companies and multinational food processors.
Also, the mythical $2 billion a year "consumer cost" to which Mr. Lowry refers is based on a thoroughly debunked study repeatedly refuted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The flawed study assumes that the United States could go into the thinly traded world market and purchase all of its sweetener needs without the price of world-market sugar going up even a penny and that all of the "savings" would be passed on to the consumers. Yeah, right. Mr. Lowry doesn't believe that anymore than anyone else does.
As for U.S. candy companies moving to foreign countries, they don't do it simply because they may or may not be able to buy sugar more cheaply. They do it primarily because of labor costs and other factors, as a Life Savers spokesperson acknowledged. (After all, Levi Strauss didn't announce moving blue jeans manufacturing overseas because of the price of sugar.)
Mr. Lowry should tell his readers facts such as this: The U.S. sugar industry has long endorsed the U.S. government's goal of eliminating sugar subsidies globally. American sugar producers are among the world's most efficient and would welcome the opportunity to compete with foreign sugar farmers on a level playing field, free of government intervention. The only way to achieve genuine free trade in sugar is through comprehensive, multilateral, sector-specific negotiations within the framework of the World Trade Organization all countries, all programs.
Please, Mr. Lowry, you certainly are entitled to your opinion, but let your readers make up their minds based on factual information.

Director of public affairs
American Sugar Alliance

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