Activists prey on the public’s confusion about scientific information to create unjustified fear about perfectly safe food ingredients.
By J. Justin Wilson
Last year alone, accidental exposure to large quantities of di-hydrogen monoxide (DHMO), a chemical found in practically everything we eat and drink, killed more than 3,500 Americans, including 700 children. According to theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention it ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional death. Even consuming seemingly reasonable quantities of DHMO can lead to dilutional hyponatremia, a potentially fatal brain condition.
DHMO is a colorless, odorless liquid that is used to cool nuclear power plants and is a key component in many pharmaceutical drugs. More troubling, the industry’s widespread use of DHMO has meant that it is even beginning to turn up in our lakes and rivers.
The facts could not be clearer. DHMO is a public health threat, and consumers have a right know if it is in food. But the Food and Drug Administration, as well as the Oregon Health Authority have yet to require even a simple label telling consumers that, “This product may contain water.”
"Di-hydrogen monoxide" is just a scary-sounding "chemical" way to say "water." And while people do drown or die of hyponatremia (water poisoning), the water we drink or use in foods is harmless.
But my joke betrays a truth: Activists prey on the public’s confusion about scientific information to create unjustified fear about perfectly safe food ingredients, and even generate misinformation to support their agendas. Washington voters rejected one of those agendas this fall by defeating Initiative 522 (I-522), a measure to mandate special front-of-package labels on foods produced using modern scientific biotechnology. But radical environmentalists, anti-business activists, and the organic food industry continue to mislead the public. Activists say Oregon is the next stop on their campaign of deception and scaremongering. Expect radical activists to promote junk science about the essentially nonexistent risks of crop biotechnology in the hopes of hurting non-organic food producers while using a ballot initiative to promote the $30 billion organic food industry that’s trying to increase its market share.
Biotech foods have been modified with the purpose of increasing crop yields; some even have added vitamins, such as the Vitamin A-containing golden rice. Biotechnology is not that different from cross-breeding plants to get certain traits — except modern technology allows scientists to do it in more precise ways.
To organic activists, if it’s not “natural,” it must be bad. But while they are waging a long campaign against biotech foods, the evidence that such food is harmful tends to be scientifically pathetic. Take their new “gold standard,” a French study from last year that supposedly showed biotech corn caused cancer. That study was widely disseminated — and was repudiated by the European Food Safety Authority andsix French science academies.
For all the sound and fury over biotechnology (called “genetic modification” or “GMOs” by critics), reputable scientific authorities find nothing wrong with the process. The World Health Organization advises that “no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population.” TheAmerican Medical Association and American Association for the Advancement of Science reached similar conclusions.
Ultimately, even supporters of “GMO labeling” acknowledge that their campaign is not about safety, science, or health. They couch the mandate in language of “acceptability” or a “having a right to know,” but in reality they want the government to advertise against their competitors. Certified organic food producers — who bankrolled the I-522 campaign — cannot knowingly use biotech crops, and they are exempt from I-522’s labeling requirements. The leading donors to the campaign in favor of I-522include a producer of organic soaps, an online retailer of organic foods and supplements, and an organic cereal company. As a reporter for the Seattle Timesnoted in his write-up on a legislative hearing on the Washington measure, it looked “like an organic-food industry effort to impose a label on its competitors.”
Washington voters—just as Oregon voters did in 2002 when the Beaver State rejected these warning labels the first time activists put them to a vote—sent an important message with their votes this November on I-522. If activists try again, Oregonians should join the rest of the Pacific Coast in valuing honest science above scaremongering.
J. Justin Wilson is a senior research analyst at the Center for Consumer Freedom, a nonprofit coalition supported by restaurants, food companies and consumers to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices.