More than Going Hollywood: What You Should Know about The Informant

Vitamin Connection

Written By:
Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.
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Your customers may soon be asking you about the new movie, The Informant. What is it all about and why does it affect you? When we chatted with Mark Whitacre, Ph.D., in April about the weaknesses of the SELECT trial, and comparing high-selenium yeast and selenomethionine, I mentioned that I would interview him again about an upcoming Matt Damon movie and a Discovery Channel documentary called Undercover, in which Dr. Whitacre is the main subject of both.

 

Your customers may soon be asking you about the new movie, The Informant. What is it all about and why does it affect you? When we chatted with Mark Whitacre, Ph.D., in April about the weaknesses of the SELECT trial, and comparing high-selenium yeast and selenomethionine, I mentioned that I would interview him again about an upcoming Matt Damon movie and a Discovery Channel documentary called Undercover, in which Dr. Whitacre is the main subject of both.

passwaterDr. Whitacre earned a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry from Cornell University and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Ohio State University. His doctoral thesis research was on the biochemical role of selenium at the cellular level. Dr. Whitacre also holds two law degrees (J.D. and LL.M). He is currently the COO and the president of operations of Cypress Systems, Inc., a Fresno, CA-based nutritional biotechnology company. He is recognized in the biotechnology industry as a seasoned executive with almost two decades of top management experience. Most of his experience was obtained at Fortune 500 companies prior to leading entrepreneurial companies. Much of Dr. Whitacre’s career has been in the area of biotechnology and microbial fermentation. His experience is international in scope, having lived several years in Europe for an international company. He also was involved in the Southeast Asian market for two large international companies.

Passwater: Dr. Whitacre, can you tell us about the upcoming movie and when will it be released?

Whitacre: The movie is called The Informant and it opened at many cinemas September 18 and will be in all cinemas by October 9th in the United States. It will be at most overseas cinemas by year-end. Matt Damon plays me in the movie and Melanie Lynskey plays my wife, Ginger. Scott Bakula and Joel McHale play the two FBI agents for whom I went undercover.

Passwater: Wow, that’s something. I haven’t heard from any of my colleagues before: “Matt Damon plays me in the movie!” Will there be a premiere where Oscar-winner Matt Damon and the other actors attend? If so, will you attend?

Whitacre: Yes, the premiere was in New York City on September 15. My wife and I attended. We were very excited about that.

Passwater: What is the movie about? And, is the Discovery Channel documentary about the same subject?

Whitacre: The movie is about a historic price-fixing case at a Fortune 500 company where I went undercover for the FBI for almost three years (from 1992 to 1995). My wife and I were recently invited guests at Warner Brothers, where we were able to have a private screening of the movie. We have agreed not to discuss details of the movie until it is released. We enjoyed the movie. It is the dark-comedy version of a serious story.

The Discovery Channel documentary is called Undercover: Operation Harvest King, and it is a very serious film. Discovery interviewed my wife, three FBI agents who were involved with the case, and me. It has aired several times this year, and most recently on August 4. It will air again a few times throughout this year.

Both an actual video excerpt from the Discovery show and the movie trailer are on the homepage of my Web site, www.markwhitacre.com.

Passwater: Watching the excerpt of the Discovery Channel documentary, I noted the FBI agents said you are a “national hero” and got a raw deal in the case. How do you feel about that?

Whitacre: I appreciate the FBI’s support very much, and all of the support they continue to give me. However, I made some horrific mistakes in the case and would do it much differently today. The case happened almost two decades ago in the early 1990s.

I will not disclose details since I do not want to give away the plot of the movie or the Discovery show.

solgarPasswater: Well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for our readers either, but do you feel that the story is something that would be of special interest to health food retailers and supplement consumers?

Whitacre:
I think it may be of interest. It shows how good leaders can lose their way. And, the products involved were in our industry.

Passwater:
Didn’t you go undercover for almost three years as an untrained civilian? Even highly trained FBI agents are not allowed to go undercover longer than one year at a time since they can easily crack under pressure.

Whitacre: That is true. And, I certainly cracked under the pressure of living two lives. On one hand, I was building a company during the day as the divisional president of one of the largest companies in the world. By night, I was tearing down the same company when I met with FBI agents often until midnight turning over tapes that I recorded of illegal activities. The two lives were at odds with one another. But, that is still no excuse for some of the mistakes that I made during the case.

Passwater: Isn’t there also a book about you that was published recently?

Whitacre: That is also true. The book is Mark Whitacre Against All Odds: How The Informant and His Family Turned Defeat into Triumph. This authorized biography was just published in early August. It is a very inspirational book discussing how my family survived the whole ordeal. We made a firm decision early on, even while in federal prison, to get better and not bitter. The only difference between these two words is the letter “i.” A synopsis of the book and details about it can be found on my Web site, www.markwhitacre.com, or at the publisher’s official Web site, www.markwhitacreagainstallodds.com. In addition to the book being listed at www.XLIBRIS.com, and sold online at www.Amazon.com and www.BarnesAndNoble.com by mid-August, the book will also be available at many bookstores nationwide this fall.

Passwater: Does the book have details about other things besides the FBI undercover experience?

Whitacre: Yes, it does. The book includes the rest of the story. Only five out of 18 chapters are about the undercover years and the Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM) case. The book has details about the early years such as what it was like growing up in a very small town of 1,300 people in southern Ohio (where my parents still live in the same home I grew up in), how I met my wife in the eighth grade, how we both attended the Ohio State University, and about attending Cornell University for my doctorate in selenium biochemistry under the direction of Dr. G. F. Combs, Jr. That is where my interest in selenium really flourished.
OptiPure
The book also includes everything that has happened after the case up to present time, including what I have been doing the past three years, which is back to my roots of working on selenium again, a true passion. There is still much to do in the area of high-selenium yeast (SelenoExcell) and cancer prevention. There is a whole chapter and an appendix about this subject in the new book.

The book also announces a new health campaign that we at Cypress are currently launching, which can be viewed at www.healthyodds.com. The focus of the campaign is about taking control of your own health to move toward the prevention of disease, especially cancer, instead of treatment. We are very excited about using this media platform to bring the message of “prevention” to the consuming public. We see it as a much-needed social issue that can help tackle our healthcare crisis. People need to take control of their own health, as many chronic diseases can be prevented if the right exercise and nutrition regimens are in place.

Our nutritional industry has a big part to play in providing prevention-minded consumers the information and products to assist them in making informed decisions in their self-managed health care. We are excited that the Healthy Odds Health Campaign will play a part in this effort to reach out to motivated consumers.

Passwater: Dr. Whitacre, thanks for another interesting chat and thanks again for what you did for our industry. I hope our readers enjoy the movie, the Discovery documentary and the new book. WF

Dr. Richard Passwater is the author of more than 40 books and 500 articles on nutrition. He is the vice president of research and development for Solgar, Inc. Dr. Passwater has been WholeFoods Magazine’s science editor and author of this column since 1984. More information is available on his Web site,
www.drpasswater.com

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, Oct. 2009