Last week I received an email invitation to watch a free screening of Bought, subtitled “The Truth Behind Vaccines, Big Pharma, and Your Food.” Since all three are pretty hot topics, I settled back for what I knew would be one of those feel-bad movies. You know what I mean. Moonstruck is a feel-good movie, Sophie’s Choice the perfect feel-bad experience.
With most documentaries that expose something or other about politics, conspiracies, and health care, when the credits finally scroll you’re not feeling well at all. Before you read any further, know the screening is free until March 15, when the price increases to something like $4.98 to rent it.
I was especially intrigued by Bought because I noticed that Toni Bark, MD, our nearby, Evanston-based ER physician and homeopath was listed as an executive producer. Moments later, I realized she would also be interviewing the numerous scientists, whistle blowers, and concerned parents appearing in the film. Dr. Bark, whom I’ve known for years but haven’t seen for some time, is now big into anti-aging medicine and looks simply terrific.
Trying to get a handle on Bought isn’t easy. There are three very distinct issues here, and the filmmakers bring them together in a single 90-minute film in an effort to convey that they’re linked in ways they’re simply not. In addition, you need to know Bought is a propaganda piece, opinion more than science, appealing mainly to the “I knew it all along” conspiracy theory crowd, among whom I include myself. But there’s an undeniable manipulation of facts to get points across. Are the issues a lot more complex than conveyed in the film? Of course they are. And yes, I do know they had just 90 minutes, but there’s almost too much going on. Too many issues.
The vaccine issue
Believe me, when you work in a busy integrative medical center, you hear a lot about vaccines (“Are they really dangerous?” “Can you write me a letter to excuse my child?”). As the movie lingers on one severely handicapped child after another along with their utterly exhausted moms telling Dr. Bark how their perfectly healthy baby was fine until a few hours after an immunization, how the child then became acutely ill, and now…this, you feel the urge to lynch all vaccine researchers and Big Pharma executives.
But don’t toss the healthy baby out with the bath water. Few people remember how diphtheria and polio were once leading causes of death among children. How if he hadn’t been Jewish, polio vaccine discoverer Jonas Salk would have been canonized by universal acclaim.
Linking an increased frequency of autism to the increased use of aluminum or mercury in vaccines may look dramatic in the animated graphs of Bought, but it’s just not good science. One reason there seems to be more autism is that doctors are better trained to diagnose it. In addition, when you assign to what were once mildly quirky but otherwise normal kids a label of mild autism (Asperger’s) you get what seems like a lot of autistic kids.
Since just about all children get immunization shots, believing that all autism must be due to those shots just doesn’t cut it as responsible logic.
The Big Pharma issue
Of course these guys have become everyone’s favorite villain, mine included. And with good reason. Government investigations (when the investigators themselves are not on Big Pharma’s payroll) have revealed fudged data from researchers, bribes to prescribing doctors, and hidden side-effect reports—enough to make you never again want to swallow another pill, ever.
And the prices, the advertising, the greed! (Worth noting that we tolerate both the high prices and sweatshops of Ralph Lauren and Apple, because, well, we like the RL look and Apple products are beautifully designed and fun.) Dr. Bark and Bought spend a lot of time on Big Pharma, basically reiterating what we already know. Yes, GlaxoSmithKline and Merck did pay huge fines for misleading advertising, and yes, what they did was definitely illegal, and yes, a $3 billion fine is actually small potatoes when compared to the reaped profits, but this is all old news.
Big Pharma does promote its vaccines because the profits are vast, but I’m not quite sure where lies the moral wrong. Yes, Big Pharma does take financial advantage of the government’s compulsory immunization schedule, but taking advantage of a public law that’s been on the books for nearly 100 years (so I learned in Bought) is not a criminal act.
If you’re offended by Merck’s ads for its HPV vaccine Gardasil, then don’t send your daughter for the shot. HPV is pretty harmless (most infections clear by themselves). The cancer prevention part is more hype than fact–a small percentage of HPV infections do cause cervical cancer, but whether Gardasil actually prevents the cancer isn’t known.
The GMO Issue
See what I mean by too much? Bought has already covered two huge topics–vaccines and Big Pharma–and now we’ve got to worry about GMOs as well. Certainly the very thought of eating a changed gene, perhaps of a species that’s not ours, at first blush gives us all the willies. Of course we already eat the genes of other species out of necessity, as it’s illegal for us to devour each other.
I don’t mean to be a smart-ass here, but as spooky as the warped gene animation appears in Bought, among scientists who aren’t even on Monsanto’s payroll there’s general consensus that GMO foods are no more dangerous than those containing no GMOs. I know, I know, Europe/China/Russia all have GMO bans, but if you look it up the reasons these were set in place were economic, not safety.
The same cannot be said for our overuse of pesticides and herbicides (a very real issue related to GMO crops, by the way), which make everyone, including the farmers and workers who inhale the sprays, quite nervous. One of the best moments of Bought occurs when Dr. Bark takes some children to a grocery store. As she reads an ingredients list and talks about the chemicals soaked into each potato chip, they all seem to turn slightly green. But those are chemical additives, not GMOs.
The whole GMO controversy sounds exactly like the hoopla raised 50 years ago when the government started fluoridating water. Years later, nothing bad has occurred, nobody died of anything related to fluoride, we didn’t become zombies (as some predicted), and we all have fewer cavities.
The Bought take-away
Despite my misgivings, I urge you to see Bought. You’ll learn a lot, you’ll put your critical thinking skills to the test, and you’ll have some interesting dinnertime conversations. I hope you’ll also use the material to challenge your doctors, learn to say no to unnecessary drugs and vaccinations, and pay better attention to what you eat.
Understand that Bought is propaganda and while you’re watching it, think about what the other side (vaccine researchers, food producers, even Big Pharma) might be saying in their defense. I know that might be difficult, though, because Bought will definitely get your dander up.
David Edelberg, MD