- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Times’ article about the health czar’s conflicts of interest could just as well have been written about Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, who re-entered government through the revolving door of Henry Schein Inc., the nation’s No. 1 dental-products company (“Obama ‘czar’ was highly paid chief of legally troubled firms,” Page 1, Tuesday).

Having made over a million dollars for the light work of being a Schein corporate director, Dr. Hamburg signed an ethics contract pledging not to participate in any activity affecting Schein so long as she held stock or stock options in that company. Then she figuratively tore up the ethics agreement, participating in the rule-making for dental amalgam (so-called silver fillings), even though Schein sells more amalgam than any other company.

After checking her stock option’s value on June 30, Dr. Hamburg insisted on convening a policy meeting on July 1 about the amalgam rule so that she could provide “feedback” to the staff and review the rule’s “next steps.” She then waited until the rule was a fait accompli before purportedly withdrawing (though never actually filing a recusal document). While telling American consumers that she was recused from the issue “based on the requirements of federal ethics laws and the standard of ethical conduct,” Dr. Hamburg reassured her corporate benefactor that her “friendships” at Schein “will outlast the period of my recusal.”

The resulting amalgam rule allows Schein to market amalgam without disclosing the very presence of mercury to consumers, even though this neurotoxin is amalgam’s chief component. It is a 180-degree reversal of Republican Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach’s pro-consumer policy on amalgam, which included a consumer Web site that warned parents and pregnant women that mercury from amalgam can cause neurological damage to children and unborn babies.

With Dr. Hamburg disregarding her ethical obligations to the industry’s benefit, it’s no wonder that right after the rule issued, Schein’s general counsel e-mailed the commissioner that the company is “indebted” to her for her work at FDA.

CHARLES G. BROWN

National counsel

Consumers for Dental Choice

Washington

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