07 July 2013

Beware of approvers

Transgressions are often accompanied by approval.  Approval comes in the form of justification. It can also take the form of dismissal through trivializing, i.e. of the ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘he was not drunk, he was sleep-walking’ kind. 

The magnitude or otherwise should not however warrant dismissal and this is probably why the adage ‘punishment should fit crime’ came about.  Serious transgressions require heavy punishment, petty thievery warrant exaction of minor retribution. 
We are talking ‘approval’ here.  It is no secret that false and exaggerated claims, especially in a situation where the claimant’s reputation is suspect, need to be buttressed by approval.  Approval must come from entities that appear to be uncompromised, honorable, ethical and professional.  This is why people who have some kind of ‘scientific’ badge are tagged to claim. 

It is no secret that companies pump large sums of money into ‘research’ where compromised ‘scientists’ come up with conclusions that back false claims.  It is also no secret that certain drug companies dress up models with stethoscopes and physicians’ overcoats when peddling medicines.  The laws of the country are either inadequate or lack teeth to counter these unethical tactics of product and brand promotion.  Celebrities are used as models and they are also used as approvers.  For a price.  Kumar Sangakkara’s heart may bleed for those suffering from Osteoporosis, but if that’s the case, he should not accept a cent from Anlene, for example. Maybe he doesn’t.  Other do, though. 
Celebrities, in their ignorance, endorsing products is understandable.  When professional bodies play ‘approver’ for a price it is a serious matter.

A few years ago, the Heart Association prostituted its logo on a bran cracker product, claiming it was heart-healthy when there was no scientific evidence to support the contention. 
Then we have the Nutrition Society, whose name suggests it is a professional body, actively soliciting and receiving funding from sections of the food industry and thereafter offering apparently neutral views on issues that either endorse products by relevant companies or deflect or dilute criticism of the same.  Rightfully, they should disclose ‘interest’ when expressing their punditry. 

Recently, a high-ranking official of the Medical Research Institute, offering voice and designation to a promotional CD put out by the world poultry industry, subtly recommends that chicken be consumed three times a week, after contending that myths about the ill effects of eating chicken contributes to malnourishment among children.  No caveats are offered, for example about alternative sources of protein.  The message is simply ‘give your child chicken or risk stunting’. 
It is widely known, also, that infant foods that are not absolutely necessary are prominently branded in hospitals, especially in and around maternity and children’s wards, where unsuspecting mothers are persuaded to purchase the unnecessary. 

The truth is that the consumer is ill-equipped to critically assess claims made by corporate racketeers and advertising agencies that really don’t give a damn.  Add the frill that is approval by apparently impeccable authority and the battle is won (by the unethical) and lost (by the consumer). 
Whenever an uncompromised professional stands up and says ‘no’ or ‘wrong’ and points finger, it is not the relevant corporate entity that moves to sit him or her down.  It is the approving ‘authority’ that actively moves to pooh-pooh, marginalize and vilify.  That’s necessary because bucks count, one has to conclude. 

Let’s put them all together.  We have extremely rich companies eminently positioned to purchase political cover, ‘experts’ and worse ‘expert bodies’ ready to receive sponsorship and therefore ready to compromise, scientists up for purchase, and a consumer that is ill-informed.  The consumer would be like a Kumar Sangakkara suffering from cramps, flu and a cold and carrying a groin injury facing up to Dale Steyn in full cry, or like a flu-ridden, ankle-twisted and wrist-sprained Lasith Malinga hobbling up to bowl to Chris Gayle.  Who would bet on Sangakkara hitting a six? Who would bet on Gayle getting out?
There’s a positive here.  A healthy Sangakkara would negotiate Steyn.  A healthy Malinga can outwit Gayle.  An informed consumer who knows his or her rights would give those in the business of hoodwinking a headache.  A community of such consumers would knock them out.  


Anonymous said...

A thought provoking article. Hope the relevant authorities take note.

Rifkha said...

n Sri Lanka, fresh milk, fresh fruits, fresh vegs and fish and lean meat or even soya, kadala or koupi on a daily basis are affordable only to those who earn a decent income. Even manioc is quite expensive these days. But nobody talks about that. I have seen some qualified nutritionists, sitting in air conditioned rooms and leading a luxury life say “eat fish, eat veg, eat fruits, eat nuts, drink fresh milk, eat lean meat”, as if everybody can afford. The funniest part is they even go one step further and advise to have 5 servings of fresh veg and fruits and 2 glasses of fresh milk daily. They live in their own world and have no clue about the less privileged. All their advise is nice and fine for those who sit in AC rooms, do high profile jobs and drive their own or company provided cars but not for the poor and the vulnerable.

In countries like India Veg and Fresh Milk are relatively very cheap, even in big cities like in Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Hydrabad etc. Same in other south Asian countries. In SL it’s hard to find naturally ripened good quality fruits. They mostly look like plastic stuff and very expensive too. We destroyed tasty yellow papayas by introducing a modified variety called ‘red lady’ which is totally tasteless and highly chemicalized. Same with Guava. We can hardly find tiny yellow and green guavas with tasty red/white pulps in SL anymore. It’s been replaced by watery ‘kilo pera’. Locally grown fruits are more expensive than imported fruits. In Afghanistan the country I am employed the mangoes are imported from Pakistan and we get very good quality mangoes at a very cheap rate (even though it is imported) than in Sri Lanka, a country that’s popular for variety of mangoes. That’s the irony. Unless we find better alternatives there’s no way we can get rid of such product mafias and deceiving advertisements.

Instead of finding faults with the products and advertising it will be good to find solutions or help find solutions for such problems so that people of all walks can have better options and eventually make these products vanish from our markets and lead a healthy life.

PS: As for advertising I find lottery ads more harmful and destroying in large, than an Anlene ad.