Over the years, many conspiracy theories have circulated regarding transformative new technologies that were suppressed by entrenched interests. The vast majority of these conspiracy theories are nothing more than absurdly false urban legends. For instance, an infamous one involves a water-powered car that was supposedly suppressed by the oil industry.
This week, however, The Atlantic magazine may have uncovered a true conspiracy to suppress technology, and not surprisingly, the mechanism involves using the coercive powers of government. The story involves the discovery of a low-calorie sweetener that might have prevented the current epidemic of obesity.
Miraculin is a taste-modifier, one of only a handful of such naturally-occurring molecules in the world. It is found in the berries of a plant known as Synsepalum dulcificum or, colloquially, the “miracle fruit,” which grows in parts of West Africa…
The idea of introducing the miracle berry into food as a sugar replacement was actually first conceived almost 50 years ago by an entrepreneur called Robert Harvey who began to create a range of sugar-free products coated with the berry extract. Initially, his company Miralin appeared destined for instant success. In a poll in which schoolchildren were asked to choose between a sugary food and one of Harvey’s new treats, they voted overwhelmingly in favor of the latter.
However, things were about to change rapidly. The sequence of events which ensued would not look out of place in a Hollywood film. Harvey began to suspect that he was being followed on the way home from work; then one night in the summer of 1974, he reported that his office had been raided and his files stolen.
Shortly afterwards, the previously supportive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that miraculin was an additive, meaning that the berries could not be sold as a sugar substitute without further testing. Harvey suspected foul play. He suggested that the FDA had been pressured by the powerful manufacturers of sugar and artificial sweeteners, keen to quash this new challenge to their business, something both parties denied.
“For the FDA to overturn the ruling, as far as I understand it, would require years of testing and a large amount of money, which it was not possible for Harvey to raise in the poor economic climate of 1974,” explains Canadian author Adam Gollner, who chronicled Harvey’s story in his book, The Fruit Hunters.
And so for the next 30 years, the berry was largely forgotten, knowledge of its existence preserved only by a small group of fruit enthusiasts…
So the FDA not only fueled the obesity epidemic by encouraging the consumption of sugars and refined grains through its now-largely-debunked ‘food pyramid,’ but the agency also might have been instrumental in suppressing a healthier sugar substitute.
Obesity is a leading risk factor for all of the deadliest afflictions–cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s. Given that obesity is now the number one threat to public health, the number of lives lost due to the FDA’s actions must be incalculable. This is in addition to the many lives lost due to the FDA holding up life-saving drugs through its costly ‘valley of death’ approval process. As we noted last year, bringing a new drug to market now costs $1.2 billion and takes 12 years.
Since the 1960s, how high is the FDA’s net death toll? Millions?
FDA delenda est.