Trick or Treat: The tale of ‘dangerous’ Pumpkin Spice Latte

A Case of Misguided Activism

Just in time for fall, Starbucks announced a recipe change to their beloved Pumpkin Spice Latte recipe: it is removing the caramel coloring and adding real pumpkin.

Why? It’s the result of a misguided campaign, to make a 400-calorie beverage appear “healthier”, led by consumer groups, like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and self-proclaimed food activists like the “Food Babe” Vani Hari.

These groups have demonized the caramel coloring, which contains the chemical 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). It is a natural byproduct of roasting coffee beans and other processes that involve high temperatures, including the production of certain caramel colors (see: Maillard reaction). The concern does not seem to be based on science. Regulatory authorities in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Hong Kong have determined that that there is no immediate or short-term risk from 4-MEI levels typically encountered in food as a result of the addition of caramel coloring.

These groups claim that 4-MEI is a known carcinogen, ignoring the fact that the dose required to cause cancer in lab mice is over 80 milligrams per kilogram of body weight everyday for 106 weeks. This means the average adult male in the U.S., weighing about 195.5 pounds, would need to consume over 7 grams of 4-MEI every day for over two years. They also don’t seem particularly concerned about “natural” 4-MEI in their coffee, soy sauce, beer or bread, but people are very worried about the exact same chemical when it is added in artificial coloring. Because PSLs are, for most people, not a dietary staple and only available for a short time of year, the amount of 4-MEI exposure from pumpkin spice lattes is likely a tiny fraction of one’s total exposure to 4-MEI.

Is this decision designed to treat us to a safer beverage or trick us through marketing to make us think we are consuming a safer treat? I’m gonna go with trick and brilliant marketing.

Because the uproar is only about the artificial 4-MEI, and no one is talking about all the naturally formed 4-MEI we are exposed to (even in the same drink), all I can conclude is that Starbucks made these changes, not based on scientific evidence regarding potentially dangerous exposure limits and the toxicity of 4-MEI, but rather on market research in response to rising consumer fears propagated by so-called “food activists”.

As someone involved in toxicology research, I am all in favor of reducing toxic exposures. This is a noble goal. Unfortunately, targeting the food villain of the month is a largely ineffective way to accomplish this. Consumers and journalists have an important role to play, but that all depends on having access to accurate, current information and working with scientists and regulators to work towards this goal.

These campaigns against single chemicals lead companies like Starbucks to change their recipes not based on science, but because activists like Vani Hari and Michael Pollan, who won’t buy their food anyway, can’t pronounce their ingredients. These campaigns usually do not reduce toxic exposures overall and they do not educate or empower consumers.

The tale of the pumpkin spice latte is a perfect example of how these campaigns are based on fear and a fallacious appeal to Nature, with little regard for the scientific data. Even when there are data to suggest that there might be some toxicity, these campaigns are rarely evidence-based. There is a crying wolf factor as well; the scientific illiteracy of many of these activists makes it easier to dismiss all concerns about toxic exposures, even the valid ones, as unfounded chemophobia.

These misguided campaigns are often counterproductive for reducing toxic exposures and effecting positive change.

Bisphenol A and regrettable substitutions

The campaigns against specific chemicals often overlook the big picture resulting in what has been dubbed “regrettable substitutions”. This refers to the removal of a chemical without considering the alternatives that might replace it. A now classic example of regrettable substitutions concerns Bisphenol A (BPA). Bisphenol A is thought to be an endocrine disrupting chemical that scientists have studied and continue to study extensively. Although there is still disagreement about the effects of BPA in humans, for sake of argument, let’s assume there is no question about whether BPA is toxic at real life exposure levels.

When consumer groups bypassed scientists and regulators and convinced companies to remove BPA, it was replaced with Bisphenol F and Bisphenol S. Their main virtue was that they had been studied far less than BPA and were not in the crosshairs of activists and so they were easily substitutable. But in fact studies show they have similar activity and potency as BPA in cellular and animal models and similar biological effects in humans as BPA. Thus, while these campaigns reduced exposure to BPA specifically, they did not reduce exposure overall to phenols, which have similar effects. They may even have made it more difficult to make regulatory changes since there is less research on BPF and BPS.

There is real science behind how to choose safe alternatives when phasing out a chemical. These campaigns bypass that process completely and would likely be better able to reduce toxic exposures by pushing for adoption of adequate chemical alternatives assessment.

Antibiotic resistance and false evidence

Last week, Subway announced that they will only be serving meat from animals that have never been treated with any antibiotics, even to treat a sick animal.

The brand recently communicated a commitment to transition to only serving chicken raised without antibiotics important to human medicine. Today, the brand confirmed that it is beginning to transition to serving only protein from animals that have never received antibiotics across all of its 27,000+ U.S. restaurants in early 2016.

This announcement came as an effort to address concerns by activists about antibiotic resistance. They motivated people to join the campaign by scaring them about toxic antibiotic residues in meat products. Food activists all over the Internet are commending Subway for this decision. Vani Hari gushed on her blog:

I had my bags packed and ready to go to deliver over 250,000 petition signatures with several consumer advocacy groups to Subway headquarters this week but all my plans came to an abrupt halt.

Subway just announced that they have committed to eliminating the use of antibiotics in ALL of their meat in the U.S. – and they also provided a timeline. It’s never felt so good to cancel my plans!

Farmers, on the other hand, are dismayed that this policy did not even allow for treating sick animals even if the antibiotics are not used in human medicine and completely ignored that there are very strict regulations and testing to ensure that there are no antibiotic residues in dairy, meat, poultry and egg products. In other words, the campaign did more to fuel mistrust of farmers than educate the consumer.

To be clear, antibiotic resistance is a looming problem. However, antibiotic residues in our meat are not a factor in this. The actual concerns about antibiotic resistance have nothing to do with drug residues in your meat; they are less about the treatment of sick animals and more about the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and prevention of disease (prophylaxis). Subway’s marketing decision may make food activists happy. However, actual policy only requires farmers to follow existing laws and the new voluntary FDA regulations that were announced in June of this year, before these groups launched their campaigns against Subway. In reality, this ‘victory’ will accomplish little in the very important battle against antibiotic resistance.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious enough problem we should all worry about that there is no need to make up problems about exposure to antibiotic residues to justify taking action. Activists are motivating by misleading people and, as a result, it makes it easier for people to dismiss all concerns, even the valid ones, about antibiotic resistance.

Related article:  Careless farming could cost us benefits of GM crops

These examples demonstrate how chemophobic hysteria detracts from the message when there are actual issues of concern, making it more difficult for valid concerns to be taken seriously. Organizations like the Environmental Working Group, The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, and people like Vani Hari and Michael Pollan, seem to completely disregard the basic principles of toxicology and science to promote the idea that there is no acceptable level of any synthetic chemical, ever.

Many scientists and skeptics remain doubtful about suspected endocrine disrupting chemicals and issues of antibiotic resistance, partly because the groups speaking out most loudly about these concerns have shown a lack of scientific credibility on other issues. For example, this past weekend, The Huffington Post ran an article about endocrine disrupting chemicals, but had to throw in some nonsense about glyphosate causing birth defects, even though it is neither teratogenic nor endocrine disrupting. Because they continue to misrepresent facts, to draw inflammatory conclusions, or to seemingly just make things up, these campaigns are, ironically, counterproductive in the long term for the goal of reducing toxic exposures.

For consumers who are concerned about chemicals, there is a lot of science-based information and it’s publicly available!

None of this is meant to say that toxic exposures aren’t an issue. But not all chemicals are toxic in the doses that we are typically exposed to. There is a lot of publicly available information about our exposures and the associated health effects. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Department of Health and Human Services, and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) all maintain databases and websites meant for the public to find the most up-to-date scientific information.

  • The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) at the CDC has collected enormous amount of demographic, socioeconomic, dietary, and health-related data about the U.S. population. Data from NHANES is used to generate the CDC growth charts for kids that many of us are familiar with. The data is also used to calculate the prevalence of diseases and risk factors for disease, in epidemiological studies and to identify areas of concern that need to be addressed by public health officials. Much of the data collected as a part of the survey and the analysis of this data is available on the CDC website. Data on chemical exposures is included in this survey and that data is compiled into tables that are published on the CDC website as well.
  • NIEHS also funds exposure assessments, especially as it relates to children’s health. They recently launched an expanded program, the Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource, to help researchers add or expand the environmental exposures studied.
  • The Household Products Database is maintained by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The database, which was started in 1995 and is updated twice a year, contains information about the most common non-food and non-pharmaceutical consumer products. It provides the ingredients for a huge number of products and links out to databases like ToxNet that contain the toxicology data on those ingredients. Information about food-related and pharmaceutical products are available on the FDA website.
  • Paula’s Choice maintains an ingredient dictionary that is much more in line with current toxicology data that EWG’s database. Their ratings take into account dose, mode of exposure and formulation; all things that EWG seems to ignore in their assessments.

What are effective strategies for reducing toxic exposures at a public health level?

First and foremost, be skeptical and apply reasoning and critical thinking when you read a claim. Educate yourself with accurate, science-based evidence. This means information from reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals. If you are not familiar enough with a field to assess whether a journal is reputable, find science communicators with established reputations for reporting science accurately. Take advantage of the publicly available resources, including those listed above.

Remember that no exposure occurs in isolation and that exposure to a chemical does not necessarily mean there is an ill effect. Even with these toxic exposures, toxicologists are often talking about small effects that can often be counteracted through positive exposures. Dr. Robin Whyatt, Deputy Director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health said the following on an NIEHS podcast about phthalates that captures this idea (emphasis mine).

People are exposed to a lot of different compounds but we know that eating a really good diet during pregnancy is absolutely critical and has enormous beneficial effects, that taking prenatal vitamins is very beneficial and probably the key thing in terms of a child’s development is stimulation of the child. Read to your child. Play with your child. Talk to your child. All those things are just incredibly important and probably have much more effect, positive effect than these chemicals are having negative effects. So it’s really important to keep this in perspective. This is one exposure. It’s worth trying to avoid, but you can do a whole lot to help your child by the way you eat and by how you play with your child.

Encourage funding of research to fill the gaps in our knowledge. Toxicology and exposure science are making huge methodological and technical advances. Today, we can do so much more than screen just one compound at a time for mutagenicity and for whether it causes cancer. Regulators can only make decisions based on the evidence. Help them have more evidence by campaigning for increased funding for toxicology research. This funding must come from both public agencies and industry. Yes, I wrote industry. As those who stand to profit from this research, industry needs to bear some of the cost burden of this research, just as pharmaceutical companies contribute to clinical trials. Taxpayers should not bear this burden alone.

Learn about the different regulatory mechanisms for different classes of chemicals. Chemicals are regulated based on how they are used. Pesticides are regulated differently than food additives, differently than cosmetics, differently than drugs, and differently than consumer products. Each class requires different levels of pre-market testing, different types of monitor and different procedures for handling violations. Multiple agencies play different roles in these regulatory processes. Without understanding how these processes work and how they are different, it is not possible to encourage effective reforms.

Above all, avoid inflammatory rhetoric and hysterical chemophobia; stick to the facts and the evidence.

Alison Bernstein a neuroscientist studying the role of epigenetics in neurodegenerative diseases and toxic exposures. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, 2 kids, and 2 cats. You can follow her on Facebook and G+, where she writes as “Mommy PhD”, and on Twitter @mommyphd2.

56 thoughts on “Trick or Treat: The tale of ‘dangerous’ Pumpkin Spice Latte”

  1. Considering all my aunts and uncles, mother and two grand parents died of cancer I prefer to be cautious about “natural ingredients” and all chemicals in my food. There is such a thing as a cumulative effect. This latte might not kill you but if everything you put in your mouth is far from a a real food and contains chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, or dyes at some point there’s going to be a build up of toxins. Is it really that hard to make food items out of whole foods? People are starting to demand change and that’s a good thing.

    • Yes, there is a cumulative effect. But cherry-picking data and randomly selecting chemicals/ingredients to vilify doesn’t help anyone lead a healthier life. All it does is scare people. Maybe instead of worrying about a naturally-occurring chemical that is in *all* coffee regardless of whether it also has a syrup with caramel coloring, all these “food activists” need to band together and make a huge push to ban tobacco (I’m not saying I want them to do this, but it’s an example). They’re out there terrifying people into thinking treating a sick animal with antibiotics is going to bring MRSA down on us all when there are bigger, more obvious threats out there. Why don’t they all go work on peace in the Middle East? Because it’s too hard and doesn’t make them any money.

      • Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, but these groups just confuse people about why that is (it’s not antibiotic residues in your meat and sick animals will always be treated, just routed to a different seller). I think that makes it much harder to make real progress on the issue.

      • Quite sure the comment is about man made chemicals, i.e, not the chemicals found within the nature of the food that we consume rather than what has been processed by manufacturers.

        • And where is it written that plant-manufactured chemicals are any safer than man made ones?(Naturalistic fallacy there). Plants don’t evolve to be eaten. They evolve to survive. Why do you think tobacco produces nicotine? Because it is an insecticide. A natural one, but toxic nonetheless.

          • I never made such an assertion. Pretty sure that the plant life man has learned to eat over the last
            10,000 years has eliminated most of the potentially toxic plants found
            in nature from our diet. Where as the current engineering of our food
            certainly hasn’t passed the same test. Only time will tell if the manufactured chemistry processed food will have long term consequences to our children.

          • Do you seriously think that mankind is eating the same proteins and metabolites that were present when plant breeding started? When we do plant breeding we are counting on the plants we select to be different (read better). Every time this happens, metabolites in the plants change, both in amount and composition. You don’t need genetic engineering to do this, but people like you arbitrarily single it out anyway. So the idea that we have been (or should be) giving every change 10,000 years to pass a badly organized feeding trial is not workable.

          • Again, you either misunderstand what I write or I am very poor in communicating by text. I never said I believe we are eating the same plants over the past 10,000 years, I said we likely have eliminated the seriously harmful ones from our diet. If you disagree, well fine.
            I also said we won’t know the effect of all the chemistry that goes into processed food for a long time. As an example I will list the ingredient list for a popular snack food, I’m posting it because it is popular and shows what I mean about the chemistry in processed food: Hostess Cup cakes.
            I read labels and when I see such a list I avoid the “food”.

            Sugar Sugar , , Wheat Flour Enriched Wheat Flour Enriched ( ( Flour Flour , , Ferrous Sulfate Ferrous Sulfate [[ Iron Iron ] ] , , Vitamin B Vitamin B [ [ Niacin Vitamin B3Niacin Vitamin B3 , , Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1Thiamine Mononitrate Vitamin B1 { { Thiamin Vitamin B1Thiamin Vitamin B1 } } , , Riboflavin Vitamin B2 Riboflavin Vitamin B2 { { Riboflavin Vitamin B2 Riboflavin Vitamin B2} } , , Folic Acid Vitamin B9 Folic Acid Vitamin B9 ] ] ) ) , ,Water Water , , Vegetables Vegetables , , and/orand/or , , Animal Shortening Animal Shortening , ,Contains One Or More Of The Following Contains One Or More Of The Following ( ( Soybeans Partially Hydrogenated Soybeans Partially Hydrogenated , ,Cottonseed Cottonseed , , Or Or , , Canola Oil Canola Oil , , Beef Fat Beef Fat ) ) , , Corn Syrup Corn Syrup , ,Corn Syrup High Fructose Corn Syrup High Fructose , ,Corn Syrup Corn Syrup , , , , Contains 22% or lessContains 22% or less , , Whey Whey , , Corn Starch Modified Corn Starch Modified , , Leavening Leavening ( (Baking Soda Baking Soda , , Sodium Acid Sodium Acid , ,Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate ,, Monocalcium Phosphate Monocalcium Phosphate , ,Sodium Phosphate Sodium Phosphate ) ) , , Salt Salt , ,Corn Syrup Solids Corn Syrup Solids , , Calcium Carbonate Calcium Carbonate , , Corn Starch Corn Starch, , Calcium Sulphate Calcium Sulphate , , DextroseDextrose , , Soy Lecithin Soy Lecithin , , Polysorbate 60Polysorbate 60 , , Mono and Diglycerides Mono and Diglycerides , , Cellulose Gum Cellulose Gum , , Calcium Caseinate Calcium Caseinate , , Wheat Gluten Wheat Gluten , , Agar Agar , , Gelatin Gelatin , , Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate , , Caramel Color Caramel Color , , Chocolate Liquor Chocolate Liquor , , Locust Bean Gum Locust Bean Gum , , Potassium Sorbate Potassium Sorbate , , and and , , Sorbic AcidSorbic Acid , , To Retain Freshness To Retain Freshness , ,Flavors Natural & Artificial Flavors Natural & Artificial

          • I think you are spot on guy.
            Most of our food these days are of the kind you list above. There are many chemicals approved for food but not tested.
            Most of our food is made from chemicals derived from GM corn and soy. It’s “bleached” of anything except a “pure” substances such as HFCS, oils and starches before being assembled together into things that sort of look like food.
            Then they add preservatives and even vitamins in some misguided attempt to replace the things that real food already has. Except real food has thousands of other things, most we don’t even know about.

            The proof that our food is terrible is obvious. Just look up the most common, the most expensive, the most debilitating diseases in the US and they are going to be related to the food we are all eating.
            Just look around at the people in our country. This is the result.

          • Guy, you say you are “pretty sure” about plant life, yet you really don’t know. Sorry, you are wrong. Some of the most toxic substances known are in the plants that humans and livestock eat, and they have been there for more than 10 thousand years. Your speculation is false, bordering on religion. Go study up on natural toxins. You will soon learn that biotechnical modification of food and feed plants has actually made them safer. There are many other changes that could be made to make our dietary components free of natural toxins but the anti-GMO screamers are blocking those changes from happening. You should make an effort to get on the right (correct) side of the issue.

          • It’s true, I don’t know, it is an opinion based on my limited knowledge and experience. So you take issue with my assertion “Pretty sure that the plant life man has learned to eat over the last 10,000 years has eliminated most of the potentially toxic plants found in nature from our diet.”, the operative word is “eat”, not plants in general. I am well aware that the pit of many fruits are poison as well as the
            leaves and stems of otherwise edible vegetable plants, e.g tomatoes, but these are plant parts that are not commonly eaten. I’m also aware that green potatoes, raw almonds, cashews, kidney beans poisonous.
            But since you find fault with my statement and my ignorance of edible fruits and vegetables, maybe you might be kind enough to present your credentials and share what you know about edible plants. This way you can help the uninformed like myself.

          • Here’s some actual information about toxicants in food. We consume far more “natural”chemicals that are toxic to some degree than we do “artificial” ones.

            Here’s the abstract (although the article is available for free)

            The toxicological significance of exposures to
            synthetic chemicals is examined in the context of exposures to
            naturally occurring chemicals. We calculate that 99.99% (by
            weight) of the pesticides in the American diet are chemicals that
            plants produce to defend themselves. Only 52 natural pesticides
            have been tested in high-dose animal cancer tests, and about
            half (27) are rodent carcinogens; these 27 are shown to be
            present in many common foods. We conclude that natural and
            synthetic chemicals are equally likely to be positive in animal
            cancer tests. We also conclude that at the low doses of most
            human exposures the comparative hazards of synthetic pesticide
            residues are insignificant.

            http://www.pnas.org/content/87/19/7777.full.pdf

          • Thanks for providing the link, there sure is a lot to digest (pun intended).

            With respect to healthy diet and food sources, do you think it fair to say that in spite of the toxiciy of the fruits and vegetables listed that processed foods containing Trans Fat, High Fructose Corn Syrup and a myriad of other forms of sugars create metabolic problems and should be avoided or at least minimized?

          • That may be true, but it certainly was also true before GE foods, and has nothing to do with genetic modification.

          • agscienceliterate, all I said was that the commentator , ann marquez

            , was likely talking about man-made chemicals added to processed food. I didn’t say anything about Genetically Modified foods but another responder, Good4U, attributed that to me. Read his/her post. Industry adds chemicals to foods for a variety of reasons, e.g. increase shelf life. Not being part of the food science industry there is no way I can possibly know why so many chemicals and their purpose are added to processed food. I find it interesting how many here seem to have a defensive knee jerk reaction to my comments.

          • If you make really strange assertions like “Pretty sure that the plant life man has learned to eat over the last 10,000 years has eliminated most of the potentially toxic plants found in nature from our diet.”, and if people respond, that isn’t knee jerk. It’s common sense.

          • I don’t worry about toxic plants common in today’s diet. I eat healthy balanced foods, mostly, and lots of GE foods. Maybe some of them might be toxic if I ate a truckload of them in one day, but I’m not very likely to do that.

          • So, either you site this article to tell us a lot of vegetables are carcinogenic so why bother trying to fight cancer; or, you site it to show plants have a way to fight off disease like humans do (white blood cells, T cells, etc.) and so why not throw in a bunch of man-made likenesses on our plants because we are all going to get cancer anyway. Most of the chemicals in cabbage weren’t tested and the study does not conclusively take into account the other aspects of plants that do boost our immune system and therefore assist in excreting anything harmful from our bodies. It’s just like this blog is saying– you can take apart anything and find something bad in it. But take the whole and that presents a very different picture. Accumulation over years is not discussed which is how people generally eat–over years. Not days.

          • I think you are talking about the Ames PNAS paper? The point is not that veggies are carcinogenic. They aren’t carcinogenic in real world settings (even with cumulative and chronic exposures, as you mention). In fact, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is known to decrease cancer risk. The point is that we can scare people a lot about “chemicals” but we already consume a lot of chemicals that would fail the Ames Test, over many days and years. Ames’ motiviations for this paper are discussed here: http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/06/synthetic-v-natural-pesticides/?_r=0
            and here: http://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cpdb/text/handbook.pesticide.toxicology.pdf

            And just a clarification not all chemicals accumulate. Many are cleared by your kidneys and liver. Some, with specific chemical characteristics, accumulate and these have been largely banned or phased out, although there are still some that we need to get rid of, especially in developing countries that don’t have as strong regulations (see the Stockholm Conventions). So there are some toxic chemicals. But not all chemicals are toxic. People who drum up fear of all the toxins (they really mean toxicants!) but not based on the evidence of which chemicals are a problem and which are or based on the irrelvant classification of natural or synthetic are doing just that – fear mongering.

          • Not really. Most of the cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower have, etc.) known carcinogens in them, we just don’t eat enough for them to be toxic. You missed the point of the article. Additionally you don’t understand how much we know about chemical toxicities. Most of the problems we run into in food processing comes from handling and process deviation from standards. Another interesting side note, organic foods have had higher incidence of e. coli contamination than traditionally produced foods (from manuring practices). Natural does not mean 100% safe. Nothing replaces critical thinking ability and its practice.

          • Look, I never commented on the article, I was responding to betheranne’s condescending post. But please, what’s your point about unprocessed food, is there a reason you left out how beneficial they are in fighting cancer: http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/diet/cruciferous-vegetables-fact-sheet. Can you say the same thing about the laundry list of chemicals added to Hostess Cup cakes? I think not. Do you or anyone else know the effect of all the chemicals in the Hostess Cup cakes have on the body and possibly reproductive systems. Was this comment really necessary; ” Nothing replaces critical thinking ability and its practice”? Would you agree that processed, packaged, food manufacturers are not in the public health business?

      • These colorings derived from the Maillard reaction are natural anyway. There are far more concerning carcinogens in any roasted/grilled/burned organic material (such as meats, vegetables). There’s no increased safety margin just because something’s ‘natural.’

    • Ann, it definitely sounds like you have a strong family history of cancer – perhaps due to “bad” genetics. Other well known factors are smoking and obesity. Hopefully you are getting all available cancer screenings, regularly, rather than thinking that you won’t get cancer because your are eating only “natural” foods. Remember, people who don’t smoke and are not obese are living longer than ever – and those people who are interviewed never claim that their longevity is due to avoiding “chemicals” or GMO foods. The food in the grocery store is all safe to eat. Just eat as many different foods as you can find, and you will be eating the best possible diet.

    • Would love to know what you consider a “real food,” Ann. Please do explain.

      Certainly you don’t think that there are some kinds of foods that actually don’t contain any chemicals, preservatives, pesticides, or dyes? Um, what would those foods be?

      Maybe your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and mother all died of eating “toxic foods,” are you implying? What “unreal” foods did they eat? Did they smoke? Any other risk factors? Ofr are you jumping to a conclusion that all of their deaths are attributed to chemicals in their foods? Did they all eat the same stuff?

  2. This article was shared by Science Bites. It’s a REALLY tiny page. Mostly with shares, but with a one or two original posts. but what was said on it was pretty good. Here’s a copy and paste.

    “There is a growing problem in the United States. It is called fear-mongering. This has been happening all over, and it is because of self proclaimed food activists who know NOTHING about science are constantly crying that “The sky is falling!” and are using various marketing schemes in order to convince people to stay away from perfectly good food, and instead; buy the overpriced items that they say are safe and are getting dividends from every sale because of the endorsement.

    Natural Nancy, PhD. Food Babe David Wolfe, and many others are guilty of instilling fear of food in others and then endorsing organic foods that are often brand specific. In many cases (practically all in the case of Vani Hari), they get money in return for selling specific products that have the claims of GMO-free, Gluten free, Organic, and healthy. Many of those same items also contain the same ingredients that are decried by these people.

    In all cases, the scientific illiteracy is strong with these folks. They are smart, just not in the scientific field. For example, Vani Hari has a degree in computer science and marketing. Marketing in a nutshell is “how do I get people to buy what I am selling?” They have followers aplenty, and those followers are enough of a force that yes, changes HAVE been made in order to appease them. Are the changes good? Well in the case of Subway phasing out the use of chicken that has received ANY antibiotics, even if the animal were to become sick; that change is NOT good.

    Fact is, these people are spreading scientific illiteracy, which is what we at Science Bites are here to combat. We are not the only group, either. Kavin Senapathy – Writer, Science Defender, Bill Nye The Science Guy,SciBabe, I fucking love science, and many others have joined the call to combat scientific illiteracy, and those who would create fear of it in people.

    On a personal note, it’s all well and good to decide what one eats. However, it is not good to decide to mess with what another person chooses to eat. Now if one donates to a food pantry, one can decide to donate organic foods. There is nothing wrong with that. But to FORCE a company to one’s way of thinking when they aren’t even a customer? That’s wrong. It’s also a form of terrorism. Economic Terrorism.”

    • “To FORCE a company to one’s way of thinking when they aren’t even a customer? That’s wrong. It’s also a form of terrorism. Economic Terrorism.”
      Really??
      So companies that sell food shouldn’t be accountable for their ingredients? What
      about false advertising, when they make bogus claims? What about the food that
      kids are served in school? What about the formula they give babies in hospitals? You are trying to defend an old, flawed, out dated system where consumer health is not considered and money only matters. We know much more now about the impact food has on health then ever before. Our nation has a health crisis on it’s hands and it’s related to what we eat.

      • False advertising? You have just described the bogus claims of the “natural” and organic industry. Do you hold them “accountable” for their many contamination recalls? Bogus claims? Convenient ignoring of the fact that many of their own foods are produced by mutagenesis? If you want to stop murky marketing, start with the organic industry.

  3. I think your assessment is incomplete. You complain about “ordinary” people being confused and that if they only listen to “experts” thing would be better. BUT, you are not trying to see things from the other side.

    PEOPLE ARE SICK!!!
    People are sick and they are getting sicker everyday.
    People are dying.
    People are going broke paying their medical bills.
    People are on lots of expensive drugs.
    Guess what? It’s MOSTLY DUE TO THE FOOD WE ARE EATING.

    You say: “Unfortunately, targeting the food villain of the month is a largely ineffective way to accomplish this. Consumers and journalists have an important role to play, but that all depends on having access to accurate, current information and working with scientists and regulators to work towards this goal.”

    But you don’t seem to understand.
    The media has sold out to the food industry.
    Regulators are owned by the food industry.
    Scientists are owned by the food industry.

    So its up to us ordinary people to do what we can for ourselves and each other until we can all acknowledge that we are eating BAD food that is unhealthy and it’s only because people place profit ahead of all of our health.

  4. Allison, great article and all good points. However, I would even caution dependence on so called “peer reviewed” information today. All “peers” are not created equal, nor are all “peers” without biases and competing agendas. Science today is skewed heavily by funding sources. As we are seeing in the politics of our so called democracy – money drives the outcomes.

    We are a technological society that is awash – no actually drowning – in dubious, superfluous and often useless information. Unfortunately and ultimately it is up to the individual to not only prioritize and sort through the agenda based promotional information, but as well the competency of the authors of the information, their biases and methods used to determine its voracity.

    Science today is not just the process used to search for truth. It has become a business process used to find the money necessary to search for the “truth” – at least those “truths” that the market place will pay for and a non-critical thinking public will pay them to hear.

  5. I don’t live in fear when I eat clean, organic, and toxin-free. I live in freedom knowing I am going to be disease-, obesity-, cancer- and unknown-cause-of-my-disease-free. I love being free of chemicals and toxins and free of Big Pharma and Big Food paid-for lies. I am free to live because I am doing the best for my body that I can. I am happier now than I have ever been!! I’ve known enough people who are fighting cancer and auto-immune diseases without medication to know it’s totally worth it! :) No one in my immediate family is on medication because our lifestyle keeps us healthy. My research into real science, meta-analysis outcomes have paid off. I look at third party, no bias research, not paid for by Big Pharma or Big Food. If everyone did the research instead of reading blogs, they would likely come to the same conclusions.

      • But because I eat a slew of great, colorful vegetables every day, and I’m not overloading my body with foreign, artificial things, my immune system is top notch and can very handily fight viruses and bacteria invasions. My kids live the same way I do and have not been sick yet this school year while their teachers and classmates all have. And it’s not just what we eat. We don’t use toxic cleaners or hand sanitizer in our home. Only vinegar and baking soda for the house and essential oils for hand sanitizer at school. By reducing toxins and daily boosting the immune system, your body can fight anything, even cancer. But the key is to greatly reduce toxins in your home, to start. You surely can’t get rid of all toxins but I have the power to make wise choices and until the research says long-term exposure to toxins is not the cause of all our problems, I will keep my lifestyle up, free from sickness so far.

          • Sorry I am so offensive to your senses. I am a nurse and promise to take good care of you when you get to the hospital, even when you are rude to me.

          • Thank you. And I promise that my farmer friends will continue to feed you. And that my own nurse friends take care of you when you fall sick with e.coli contamination at Chipotle.

            Your holier-than-thou sanctimony is amusing, but not compelling.

          • Well, in the scientific community, you indeed are “set apart.” (does your religion really set you apart from others? Make you special? Wow. Some inclusive god you have there.)

            And keep being sanctimonious about your health. One day you will be sick, diseased, and hopeless, like all of us. It is the nature of living things. (your god forgot to tell you that?)

    • Erika, better tell that to the folks who just got very, very sick from eating “clean, organic, and toxin-free” food at Chipotle’s, which just closed over 43 stores. You’re living in a fantasy world if you think organic = clean, and GE = cancer.
      And “everyone” who HAS done the research certainly has not come to the innocently naive conclusions that you have.

      • I find it funny you are attacking me for my choices. I am not attacking you. How do you expect me to see your point of view when you are so rude? I am only speaking from my own experience and appreciate the small oganizations that fight for my health by making food available for you and I to choose from.. by all means eat what you want and let me be.

        • Erika, I am pointing out the silliness of your presumptions. Especially when you admit you don’t read the organic research either. Yet, somehow, you have concluded that your choice (and I support your choice to eat whatever you want) represents healthier food, and that “big pharma” and other corporate involvement in development of food is “bad.” If that is being rude, so be it.

          I don’t expect you to see my point of view. But I do expect you to look very closely at the rationale (and hype) behind your own point of view.

          And you still haven’t responded to “clean organic” and Chipotle.

          • Still not sure why you are picking on me. You are still childish and rude in your word choices as you respond. I suspect it’s because you are paid to come these websites and find people like me to discredit and try to make foolery of them. You still have not acknowledged that I have done the research, have a Bachelor’s of Science and know what kind of research is real. There is not any research that tells me that GMO food is safe. There is no evidence that it does not harm. Mansanto has messed with nature and I know when you mess with nature, you mess with the organization and economics of how things work. Something is going to break. Why would I want a Round-up ready seed that grows into who knows what and put Round-up in my body? I don’t trust the FDA, AMA, or CDC. I dont trust you, I don’t trust the author of this blog. I trust my own experience and my God. I don’t care about Chipotle but commend them nonetheless for caring enough about people to offer an alternative to crap. I would eat there any day. I don’t live in fear but in pure joy knowing I am doing good things for my health and my family. I love going to bed at night feeling good about my choices. I hope you do too. How is it hype when it works for me? Our country is one of the sickest in the world and you want to tell me not to believe the hype? I’m living the hype and I am free of disease. I invite everyone into the hype because it will feel good to be free.

          • Erika, really. Get real. You have a BS, but you evidently only read BS if you don’t “trust” FDA, AMA, or CDC. Who DO you trust? Food Boob? Seralini? Oh, and God. What does God tell you about GE foods?

            You are being questioned for your thoughts and opinions. Really, is this picking on you? My, my, you are very sensitive. You don’t want to be questioned at all, it seems.

            I am glad you live in pure joy and feeling good about your choices. Your choices are not based on science, but then again, your BS degree should have educated you about correlation, causation, and logical thinking. The fact that you believe people are sick because of …. let’s see … why not GE? Yeah, GE foods! That’s it! show a considerable lack of understanding of science. You say you have “done the research.” Please clarify what sources you have used for your strange conclusions about health and GE foods. “One of the sickest countries in the world…” … really? Source, please. What you read will tell me who you are, and from where you assume your credibility. Unless it’s from God, and in that case I really don’t care to know.

            Your BS degree should also have informed you that you can’t ever “prove” that X is safe. Scientific methods can only show, with reasonable certainty, whether or not you can reject the null hypothesis (in this case, whether it is likely that GE foods are NOT safe). Please read up again on statistical evidence and “proof.” You may have missed that semester.

            And being paid for my insightful and lucid pearls of wisdom? Well, thank you dearie! I’m still waiting for my check.

            I repeat: Use your head, and your BS degree (the science one, not the b— s— one) to examine closely the rationale and hype behind your own rather unique point of view. If you feel that my asking questions about your unsubstantiated views “makes a fool of you,” then you are choosing to feel like a fool.

            Get empowered. Educate yourself. Make your food choices based on evidence. And tell God she needs to re-take a science and statistics class, too.

          • “Free” of what? Please don’t tell me you don’t eat foods with histidene, leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, isoleucine, tryptophan, myristic acid, or phylloquinone …. you won’t find these ingredients labeled on foods you eat, but you are not “free” of them, and hundreds of other “chemicals,” if you eat bananas.

            Do the research. (and by the way, it’s Monsanto, not “Mansanto,” and Monsanto is one of many seed companies that sell GE seeds. Along with conventional and organic seeds, by the way.)

            You don’t have to trust the author of this blog, but you do need to have a set of reliable paramaters to make intelligent and accurate decisions on your own. That means getting interested enough to do reliable research. (not Food Boob) Talk to your kid’s high school science teacher about “messing with nature.” Or maybe God has some perspectives on that too.

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