Proper Gander – An appetite for profit

The usual template followed by TV documentaries presents issues in a frustratingly simplistic way, reshaping and reducing them to fit the pattern. The format starts with a speedy summary of what’s to come, which assumes the viewer doesn’t have the patience to see a story unfold. The rest of the programme is still edited in a snappy way which jumps around from one aspect of the topic to another, just at a less fast pace. Scenes of the reporter speaking with victims and experts on the issue are usually short, cutting down their explanations to a minimum in case we lose interest. Statistics aren’t very visual, so evidence of wrongdoing is livened up as shaky footage filmed undercover by the reporter with some personal risk of being rumbled. Bouncing between briefly sketched out aspects of a problem doesn’t give the subject enough depth, nor help the viewer comprehend it. Watching a documentary which keeps to this template is like watching edited highlights of the start of a more substantial programme. Problems are revealed and questions are raised, but any answers suggested never reach the fundamental causes or reasons. The usual implication is that different state regulation will resolve the issue, although why such reforms have never brought about a capitalist paradise isn’t considered. The companies which produce mainstream documentaries are embedded in the system, and so aren’t going to look beyond it.

A recent example of this formula being followed was BBC Three’s The Skinny Jab Uncovered, an investigation into the availability of semaglutide. This is medication which has been developed over recent years to manage type 2 diabetes and which also works as an appetite suppressant. NHS doctors are only likely to prescribe it to help with weight loss for people who are classed as obese. Other people who want to lose weight and can’t afford a private prescription can easily find lots of cheaper traders in semaglutide at beauty salons or online who won’t ask any questions apart from what their payment details are. Most people hear about it on social media such as Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. Demand grown by online promotion and discussion has outstripped supply, leading to a global shortage.

The product is a white powder which buyers mix with a liquid and then inject themselves with. The people attempting this aren’t likely to have had any medical training beforehand, and the packs they receive don’t even tend to come with instructions. Buying semaglutide from a salon can be accompanied by haphazard advice from staff about dosage and administration, as revealed by undercover filming. Some packets are stamped with words like ‘not for human consumption’ or ‘for research purposes only’, intended as a get-out clause for the seller if anyone makes any complaints after using it. Understandably confused buyers have tried to work out what to do for themselves or have turned to social media groups for guidance, with posts such as ‘I’m a bit scared’ and ‘hopefully I don’t die’. Some have experienced unpleasant side effects such as nausea and ended up in hospital. The manufactured desire to be thin makes some people accept or overlook the risks which come with self-administering what’s sold as semaglutide.

Reporter Pria Rai buys 12 packs from various suppliers and sends them off to a laboratory for analysis. Perhaps surprisingly, as many as eight were pure samples, with the others being adulterated with sugar or containing no semaglutide at all. Diluting drugs with cheaper substances is a longstanding tactic by dodgy manufacturers and dealers to maximise how much money they make from each dose. Semaglutide made illicitly is likely to come from producers working outside state regulation, which further saves on costs which come with safeguards and testing. All this means that as well as being unsure how to use the product safely, buyers are unsure what they’re putting into themselves.

When Pria contacts the companies selling packets containing little or no semaglutide, they reply with flat denials or abuse and gloating. These sellers represent the weight loss industry at its most blatant. While semaglutide suppresses the appetite for food, it has fuelled an appetite for profit. Making money by encouraging and preying on insecurity about looks is more important to sellers than acting responsibly about a medical procedure. This has led to dubious tactics to reduce production costs and also unreliable and extravagant claims to promote sales of the product. The documentary doesn’t explain the weight loss industry in this way, though, and just ends with a quick mention that the government’s regulator is investigating.

How would this situation play out in a socialist society? Does the principle of free access to goods and services mean that anyone could have substances such as semaglutide on demand? The practicalities would be for people at the time to decide, but any responsible society would have safeguards around medication which had the potential to be used in a harmful way. Regulation of medication in a socialist society would only be based on the best available knowledge of its properties, a framework to make decisions which wouldn’t have to compete with an obsolete need to make money. This means that the current risks with semaglutide wouldn’t apply, such as the adulteration of black market supplies to minimise costs, and responsible use being linked to what people can afford. There would be no reason to produce or administer it in a way which encouraged harm. And what place would a substance like semaglutide have in a socialist society, apart from its use to treat diabetes? We don’t know to what extent people would crave an appetite suppressant as a dieting technique, but it’s likely to be less than today. Attitudes to weight, attractiveness and health would differ, and wouldn’t be shaped by an economic market, and in particular by industries which profit from manipulating how we want to look.


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