Dear Harris Teeter Manager,
I heard you got harassed the other day. I know this because last week I received an email from a group called Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families (SCHF). The group’s name might not be very creative, but they are effective at reaching moms with their overwrought claims that affordable food and everyday products are destroying the earth and threatening human health.
The SCHF organization casts itself as a small, grassroots collection of activists looking to make the world a better place. But in reality, the organization is a well-financed coalition of more than 200 radical environmental groups, labor unions, and businesses hoping to make life much more difficult for the average family.
The invite I received via email read:
Action outside a local Harris Teeter. We’ll talk to the store manager, pass out flyers to customers entering the store and take video of consumers talking about why they care about toxic chemicals in products. This event will be fun and kid-friendly. It’s part of a national day of action with events across the country.
Sadly, I couldn’t make it to the protest. I wanted to go. Really. I wanted to be there so I could pull you aside and quietly tell you that these people don’t represent the majority of moms. I would have told you that there’s a whole universe of reasonable moms out there who know you don’t stock dangerous and toxic products on your store shelves. I would have explained that most moms are like me and don’t buy into the bizarre conspiracies peddled by these groups that profit from fear. Most moms know that product manufacturers and grocery store companies aren’t working to poison their customers.
But I had to miss the protest because, like most other moms, I had a billion other things to do. You see, unlike the mostly white, wealthy, and…oh, darn — what’s the word activists like to use? — Ah, yes, “privileged” professional agitators the SCHF trots out for these protests, I have a job and three young kids. In short, I just couldn’t spare the time.
Even though I missed the protest, I’ve been thinking about it all week. I’ve been anxious that these agitators may have made an impact: Some moms might have seen media reports about the protests or encountered these protesters at the grocery store, and now they’re worried and perhaps wondering: Are there dangerous products lurking on these store shelves? Some moms (including some that can’t afford it) will understandably react by buying more expensive products — perhaps the ones that just happen to be sold by companies that are members of and financially support the SCHF fear campaign (see the whole list of coalition members here). Can you say conflict of interest? Or should we just call it advertising?
I also worry businesses like Harris Teeter (and the many other large retailers that have been the target of SCHF bullying) will start to believe that these groups somehow represent the average mom. I know that businesses have to listen to consumers, because happy customers mean more revenue for the company. It’s a win-win situation for consumers and businesses. That’s basic economics — which again, most moms understand.
These extreme environmental groups are trying to subvert this process and make it seem like all moms are demanding something that we really aren’t. Businesses sometimes have trouble telling the difference between what’s real and what’s fabricated when it comes to feedback from their customers. Sadly, many businesses roll over to the demands of these groups at the first hint of conflict. Understandably you don’t want any trouble or bad headlines, so it seems prudent to cave to the demands of these vocal minorities — confusing activist demands for what their loyal customers actually want.
Yet groups like SCHF are pushing companies like yours to go against the interests of most of your customers, and they are using bad science and scare tactics to do it.
Consider the SCHF campaign’s latest fabrication: that the use of Bisphenol-A (commonly known as BPA) in canned food is dangerous. According to SCHF, the epoxy lining in canned food, which is made of BPA, is toxic. Yes, BPA is toxic if you ingest massive quantities of the chemical. But no human is doing that. Instead, humans come in contact with trace — almost undetectable — levels of BPA when they eat a can of soup or touch a piece of plastic that contains the chemical.
Contrary to the bad science promoted by the SCHF campaign, BPA is incredibly safe as commonly used in food and products. In use for over 60 years, the chemical has been the focus of thousands of safety tests and has been declared safe by every major international health agency (you can read the European Food Safety Commission’s latest statement here). In addition, to date, there has been no reputable scientific studies showing any harm associated with eating something that’s been packaged in a container that uses BPA or coming in contact with a plastic item that contains trace amounts of BPA.
So, why do manufactures use BPA, or any chemicals for that matter? In short: Chemicals make food safer and products more durable, which keeps prices lower. That’s good for consumers. Many moms would be horrified to learn what would happen if companies started doing what the SCHF campaign really wants — removing chemicals from products. Here’s a snapshot: Prices would increase for products that don’t last as long and don’t work as well. Food would spoil more easily, and Americans would start to see an uptick in food borne illnesses, skin irritations, other infections, even death as food and many other products are left vulnerable to dangerous bacteria. Canned food — a staple grocery item for the poor and even for middle class families — would disappear from store shelves as there is no safe alternative to BPA currently available to food manufacturers. Consumers should ask themselves: Is this what they want?
I hope you and all Harris Teeter store managers know that the tactics being employed by the SCHF campaign are nothing new. These are the same tactics employed by The Food Babe and CSPI’s Michael Jacobson and many powerful environmental groups who are increasingly harassing store owners — bullying them until their unscientific demands are met.
As a mother, I tell my children all the time that they should never bully other kids, that they need to respect people’s choices and above all, they should never lie. The SCHF organization breaks all of these rules. It encourages the bullying of local store managers, advocates the use of intimidation and harassment, and promotes the use of fear and exaggeration to promote their agenda. Even worse, these organizations shame lower income mothers who choose to buy inexpensive food and household products.
I hope Harris Teeter stands up for science and reassures customers that they stock perfectly healthy and safe items in their stores. Mostly though, I want you to understand that the SCHF organization does not represent moms, but rather the wishes of well-funded and smoothly operated environmental agitators hell bent on making life more difficult for reasonable and budget conscience moms like me.
Julie Gunlock is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.