Entrepreneurs deliberately added melamine to powdered milk and infant formula. The public was shocked; not we in public health.
We are familiar with deadly actions taken with full knowledge of harmful consequences. Melamine is a common chemical, available in bulk, known to be toxic. They added it to food and animal feed to increase protein content readings in assays. The adulterated products fetched higher prices. So the feed and food producers poisoned children in China to increase their profits.
Those who know the health consequences frequently pursue deadly market tactics. The tobacco industry sells cigarettes, fully aware that they kill. To increase profits, the industry went further, adjusting nicotine levels to make cigarettes more addictive. They marketed the addictive, lethal product to youth.
Similarly, food industry marketing creates today's obesity epidemic. The industry has sold more and more food -- tasty, convenient, and inexpensive -- knowing that overconsumption will cause disease and death. Others have added lead or asbestos to consumer products, long after dangers to human health were known.
We must not rely on individual morals or societal ethics to protect the public. Rules, regulations, and enforcement must be one step ahead of those willing to harm people for financial gain.
We in public health do not wait to count the bodies. We act to protect, making it against the law to endanger people.
Should we have expected anything less from those who might have regulated financial markets: mortgages, derivatives, credit swaps, insurance, etc? If you doubt the potential for harm, consider the 10 years of global misery from the 1929 crash until World War II pulled the world out of the Great Depression.
The take-home lesson: public health caution is required whenever we expose people to markets.
That's my opinion. I'm Dr. Anthony Robbins, Co-Editor of the Journal of Public Health Policy.
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Medscape J Med. 2009;11(1):24 © 2009
Cite this: Public Health and the Menace of Markets - Medscape - Jan 26, 2009.