June 21 2013
Alrighty…everyone take a deep breath. And, for heaven’s sake, stop cleaning out your refrigerator and pantry of “toxic” food.
If you’re one of the many panicked people who read the recent Daily Mail article revealing a “shocking list” of foods that contain “dangerous chemicals,” calm yourself: this is alarmism at its finest.
In fact, the article actually advises readers to “sit down before reading” that “Many of the chemicals found in America's most common foods are considered to be so unhealthy that they're actually ILLEGAL in other countries.”
Of course, what they don’t mention is that many of these "other countries" operate on the “Precautionary Principle,” a regulatory scheme which relies not on science-based assessments of risk but on unfounded fears of particular products. In other words, the Europeans are easily frightened and basically ban everything, so let's stop citing the actions of those governments as good sources on what’s really dangerous.
On a side note: if you would like a good primer on the Precautionary Principle, check out this thorough report which explains the regulatory scheme and how, if the United States adopts the Precautionary Principle, it will destroy American industry. It’s also worth noting that U.S.-based environmental and public health organizations are pushing for adoption of the Precautionary Principle. These groups are thrilled to see the Daily Mail piece because it creates a demand for greater regulation and generates considerable support for the Precautionary Principle.
I digress; let’s go back to that hysterical article:
A new book on nutrition lists six food additives that are found in a wide range of popular groceries sanctioned by the Food and Drug Administration, but foreign governments have determined to be too dangerous to allow their citizens to consume.
'Rich Food, Poor Food' by Doctor Jayson Calton and Mira Calton, a certified nutritionist, features a list of what the authors call 'Banned Bad Boys' - a list of the ingredients, where they're banned and what caused governments to ban them.
That paragraph offers readers an important clue about the so-called experts making these claims. This book is authored by nutritionists; not toxicologists. In other words, these two food nerds don’t have a clue about the science of toxicology and therefore really have no business talking about dangerous toxins and scary chemicals.
Moving on: The article lists everything from food coloring to a number of preservatives along with the charges that these chemicals cause a number of deadly diseases (I’ve written previously on the junk science surrounding food coloring here).
Of course, this article is no different from the dozens of other badly written alarmist articles that appear each day warning moms that they’re poisoning their children. As with those other articles, this one fails to mention that in order for these additives to pose a danger, they have to be ingested in massive doses. The chemicals that are present in these foods are at such low doses, they simply do not pose a risk for humans. But more importantly, while it might seem scary that your kids cereal is “made from a product that's made out of the same stuff that makes gasoline,” moms should also be aware that many of these scary sounding additives are keeping the food safe from the real danger—pathogens—you know, tiny little bugs that actually do kill kids.
But, hey, I get it; the article gets more clicks when you say DANGER DANGER DANGER!
Look, people have a choice, they can recognize that this is just another example of food and chemical alarmism or they can continue to feel freaked out over nothing.