Unhealthful News 91 – Artificial logic

In a great triumph for the pro-industry fanatics who think that giving people information about what they are being sold is too much to ask, a U.S. FDA advisory panel declared that there is no evidence that artificial colors cause a problem for most children, so there was no need for a warning label about them.

Uh, yeah.  No one ever claimed that the food colorings affected most children.  In fact, they quite specifically claimed that they had a bad effect on a very few children, a small subset with ADD or hyperactivity and who had a particular sensitivity.  That is why no one was seriously asking for a ban, merely a warning label.  That would be a useful tool for parents who had figured out their kids had this sensitivity, and could be ignored by everyone else with no harm done.

Of course, if it the committee had concluded there was no evidence that anyone suffered a problem, that would have been a good reason for having no warning.  Or if they had declared that, yes, there is need for some people to be informed, but the ingredients lists are sufficient warning for the wary, then that would have been a defensible argument.  (I am not saying either of these is right, just that they are defensible.)  But the claim was that since most people suffered no problem, there should be no warning.  By this logic, we should not have warning labels about peanuts, dairy, or phenylalanine or for that matter for drug side effects or most anything else.  There is, after all, hardly a warning label on any food that is directed at the majority of the population (I can think of none other than the obnoxious ones about alcohol).

And yet the press reports treated this as some reasonable sage decision, without questioning it.  So nice of them to stand up for the people.

In fairness, this warning label policy was pushed by Michael Jacobson, the guy who operates as the Orwellian-named “Center for Science in the Public Interest” (an anti-food-industry activist group that does not do actual science and has a very narrow view of the public interest).  Most of the time when someone rules against Jacobson it is a triumph for sober science.  Almost two decades ago a friend of mine proposed renaming CSPI “The ‘Don’t Eat That!!!’ Society of America”, and Jacobson has not improved any since then.  But in this case he seemed to have a point (contrary to the opinion of those who take the lazy course of knee-jerk objecting to anything he says).  And, again, perhaps it could have been argued that there is no risk at all (I am not a subject-matter expert).  But the way this played out, that was not the contention, so seemed like they got it wrong.

What, after all, is the harm in putting a sensibly-worded warning on a product?  The objections to it are like the objections to labeling genetically modified foods:  People might avoid it if they knew!  We cannot allow that!  Funny that these objections seem to come from the anti-regulation right wing that thinks people should always be allowed to make their own choices.  I guess they should be allowed unless those choices might be inconvenient for industry.  In that case, our wonderful American press will stand up for the right for committees like these (I did not vote for them; did you?) to suppress information in the name of Institutionalized Conservative Science (motto: Until we are absolutely positive that there is a problem, just let people suffer and declare their concerns to be groundless).

One response to “Unhealthful News 91 – Artificial logic

  1. I've not taken the time to thank you for your efforts with you UN series…thanks! I stop by daily and it's always a great read (even when I don't understand a word you say LOL–math is NOT my forte!).

    Yes, it's either “let people suffer” and disregard their concerns, or it's…until we know it's absolutely, positivily safe, we'll just ban it and you can't have it! Where is the middle ground? Where is an individual's right to choose? Where is the sanity?

    Enjoy your Harm Reduction Conference. I'm looking forward to reading your abstracts when they're available.

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