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Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0199937196
ISBN-10: 0199937192
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Editorial Reviews

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In a nutshell, public-health professor Freudenberg finds that the greatest threat to the health and well-being of humanity is an upside-down health system. He contends that, rather than a political-economic system that supports the health of the general population, public health is compromised to support the well-being of our current political-economic system. He refers to what he calls a “corporate consumption complex,” a disproportionately small group of business and political interests, as if it is an entity that thrives on “hyperconsumption” by a mass populace whose good health is being sacrificed in the name of profit. He makes his case via examples of both blatant and unintentional disregard for public health within the food, alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical, gun, and automobile industries, which value profit over consumer health. His argument is so strong, passionate, and laced with intemperate phrases that it is clear that Freudenberg’s intention is less a call to reason than a rallying cry for an army of Davids against a systemic Goliath. --Donna Chavez


"Superb, magnificently written, courageous, and compelling exposé of how corporations enrich themselves at the expense of public health--and how we can organize to counter corporate power and achieve a healthier and more sustainable food environment. This should be required reading for anyone who cares about promoting health, protecting democratic institutions, and achieving a more equitable and just society." -Marion Nestle, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, New York University; author Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

"A reservoir of constructive indignation that can arouse all Americans who adhere to basic human values." --Ralph Nader

"A real eye-opener. Freudenberg lays out the labyrinth of connections between corporate misbehavior and the health of the world, then and gives a roadmap to fix it. I love this book." --Cheryl G. Healton, Director, NYU Global Institute of Public Health; former President and CEO, American Legacy Foundation

"After documenting how multinational corporations manipulate us into hyperconsumption, this book goes on to identify the strategies we can, together, use to liberate ourselves." --Richard Wilkinson, Emeritus Professor of Social Epidemiology, University of Nottingham

"Freudenberg brings clarity to our understanding of these fundamental determinants of population health in a way that no one else has." --Sandro Galea, Gelman Professor and Chair of Epidemiology, Columbia University

"A richly detailed account of how corporate power has been used to corrupt health and well-being, along with excellent advice on what readers can do about it." --Kirkus Reviews

"An exceptionally detailed and thought-provoking historical profile of how corporations have risen to power and maintained their influence in the shaping of our societies." --The Lancet

"Lethal but Legal provides an advocate's perspective on how industry shapes health, and in Freudenberg's words, "This is something not only to think about, but to rant about." - Health Affairs


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (February 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199937192
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199937196
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,393 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nicholas Freudenberg is Distinguished Professor of Public Health at City University of New York School of Public Health. He studies the impact of corporate business and political practices on global health and the environment.

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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By David Wineberg TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Nicholas Freudenburg attacks what ails us from a slightly different angle. He collects a litany of woes under the rubric of what he calls the Corporate Consumption Complex, as opposed to the military-industrial complex made famous in a warning by Dwight Eisenhower three days before he left office – to someone who expanded it greatly.

There are half a dozen fat targets in this book, with copious footnotes to back the figures that are so frequent they are largely forgettable. But the underlying theme is that corporations want us to consume more, far more than a normal diet has ever required. This includes not just processed food, (Hyperpalatable processed food is softer and easier to chew than real food, leading to faster and increased consumption), alcohol and tobacco, but also cars and guns. It’s all about larger share of bank account, and anything that stands in the way, eg. health services, inspectors, government – be damned.

He is particularly incensed at all the marketing to children. From Ronald McDonald and Happy Meals toys to underage drinking (every year, there are 4 million hospital visits and 4700 deaths from alcohol for those under 21) and shootings (every day, 60 children are shot, and 12 die of it). These are avoidable, expensive, not to mention pointless, premature deaths. As for tobacco, Freudenburg says that for every dollar made by Phillip Morris, $7.39 has to be spent in healthcare.

Meanwhile, the new non-communicable (chronic) diseases account for 75% of US healthcare costs. 44% of Americans have one and 13% have three or more. Freudenburg doesn’t say, but they are the result of chemical compounds, 88,000 of them, that have never been tested or approved. They are in processed food, the air, manufactured furniture, fish, animals, and water.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Fred Musante on May 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For anyone interested in the affect of major corporations' business practices on public health in the U.S., Europe and around the world, this is an important book. I even cited it as a reference in a paper for one of my MPH classes.

Like a prosecutor representing the people, Nicholas Freudenberg lays out the case against the "corporate consumption complex," a term chosen to liken it to the "military-industrial complex" that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us against. The corporate consumption complex is the alliance of big, multinational corporations, industry associations and public officials, who mutually benefit by sharing the profits gained from the promotion of the corporate consumption ideology into expanded markets. He focuses on six industries, automobiles, guns, pharmaceuticals, food and beverages, alcohol and tobacco, and explores how each has built its political influence in order to prevent governments from protecting their citizens. The tobacco industry alone was responsible for 100 million premature deaths in the 20th Century, and is on track to better than tenfold in the 21st.

A well informed person probably will have heard some of the material in this book before, but not all of it. And one of Freudenberg's strong points is how well he explains the context of corporate consumptionism. For instance, most people know that unions, public interest groups and environmentalists oppose NAFTA and other recent multinational trade treaties, such as the TPP that is currently under negotiation. In a few pages, Freudenberg explains why these are bad, how they hurt public health in the U.S. and its trading partners alike, and how big corporations use their financial might to get government leaders to go along with them. And you might have heard that the National Rifle Association represents the corporate interests of gun manufacturers and dealers, not the personal interests of gun owners. Freudenberg explains how this came to be.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Fred Curtis on August 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This well-written and exhaustively researched book is a major addition to the literature on the negative impacts of corporations. Exploring the "corporate consumption complex", Freudenberg brings the concerns of public health to the discussion of the for-profit corporation. Drawing on the literature about corporate power and rights, he lays out a comprehensive analysis of the corporate system and its pernicious effects. He focuses on six industries: food and beverage, alcohol, tobacco, guns (non-military), automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Beyond looking at the damaging impacts of corporations in these industries on health, he has a systemic analysis of corporate power and consumption ideology, as well as two excellent chapters on previous successful efforts to rein in corporate health injuries and a vision of how to create a broader movement that would have more long-lasting effects in creating a healthy and sustainable future by restoring democratic values and influence over corporations. This book is a welcome addition to the literature on corporate malfeasance, including Jeffrey Clements, Corporations are not People, Ted Nace, Gangs of America, and Marie-Monique Robin, The World According to Monsanto. This is a much more successful treatment of the issues addressed than the earlier It Ain't Right but It's Legal: Harmful Social Consequences of Legal Industries. While I would have liked some greater depth in a few of the case studies and missed the inclusion of energy corporations, the book is well-focused and brings an important and previously missing public health focus to the debate about corporate power and its consequences.
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Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health
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