To see the painful impact of media-driven health and food scares one need look no further than current headlines stemming from network news attacks on USDA-approved beef. At least 600 jobs are now in jeopardy as the company under attack was forced to suspend operations at three separate plants.
ABC News has led that charge, calling the beef by an activists’ pejorative term -- “pink slime” -- 52 times in just two weeks, despite the fact that the product is both safe and legal and has been for two decades. Unethical or irresponsible reporting like that can quickly sway public opinion against a product or company and depress sales, regardless of whether the perception is accurate.
That’s a common occurrence. In just days it will become clear whether the Food and Drug Administration has been cowed by left-wing activists who have worked hard, hand-in-hand with the news media, to demonize bisphenol A. BPA, as it is more commonly known, is a chemical often used in plastics and that has been in the liners of cans for roughly 50 years in order to protect consumers from food poisoning and spoilage. It is also used in other types of food packaging and many consumer products.
It has succeeded in protected consumers, but anti-chemical green groups want it banned unless it can be proven safe. In other words they want it presumed guilty. The FDA has until March 31, to respond to the National Resources Defense Council’s petition that the government agency ban the chemical for use in food and beverage packaging.
Dr. John Rost of the North American Metal Packaging Alliance (NAMPA), told BMI “We do not believe that such an action is reasonable, given the fact that BPA has been recently reviewed by the European Food Safety Authority, the Japanese food safety branch, the Regulatory Authorities of Australia/New Zealand, and the World Health Organization and deemed safe in its current use, not to mention FDA’s own conclusion of safety back in 2010.”
Despite that, the pro-regulation liberals at NRDC (and dozens of left-wing anti-chemical groups) maintain that bisphenol A is a health threat because it “leaches” into food and is ingested. BPA does get ingested, primarily through contact with packaging, but major studies have failed to find this dangerous because the body rapidly metabolizes and excretes the chemical.
The 2011 Teeguarden et al. study, found little evidence that BPA was somehow migrating to the bloodstream (which it would have to do in order to have the estrogenic effects the left claims it has). Instead, the study which was funded by the EPA and “duplicated” by two other agencies found that even when people consume very high levels of BPA, the amount of BPA found in the bloodstream is much lower than levels “causing effects in rodents exposed to BPA.”
A “huge” study conducted just two years earlier, threw “cold water” on the BPA controversy “by showing complete absence of effect of a range of bisphenol A exposures,” according to Richard Sharpe, a leading endocrinologist.
Such science hasn’t done anything to blunt liberal criticism of BPA or to modify the hyperbolic nature of national media coverage on BPA. Business and Media Institute found that 97 percent of two years’ worth of newspaper and TV news stories that discussed BPA were about the supposed danger or potential threat of the chemical. Outrageous, especially since the left has been unable to show proof of harm.
Still, reporters regularly warned people to avoid BPA by “using a glass water bottle or metal,” advising them to “go fresh” or “go frozen” and use glass containers for storage instead of Tupperware. Generally the additional time, expense, or inconvenience was ignored.
CBS even crossed from embellishment to blatant falsehood when Katie Lee claimed on the CBS “Early Show” “That’s been shown to cause liver disease, heart failure, all sorts of things.”
The news media have not created this controversy on its own. It has been pushed into the news by activist scientists, extreme eco-groups and at least one prominent “progressive” PR firm. That firm, Fenton Communications, has bragged about its ability to get its clients into “mainstream news outlets.”
Conveniently, one of Fenton’s clients, BornFree is a BPA-free baby bottle company. The left-wing publicity group “positioned” the company, which obviously stood to gain from any government regulation of BPA, as a “leading consumer health advocate.” How? By having them testify before a California State Senate committee that was considering a ban on BPA. BornFree is even cited as a “case study” on the Fenton website and the firm has bragged not only that the baby bottlers saw sales rise, but that “national legislation has been introduced to ban BPA from children’s products.”
This is old hat to Fenton Communications, which has played a big role in multiple health scares including one of the most famous modern panics. Fenton helped NRDC successfully convince the public that apples were a danger in the 1980s. After NRDC released a report claiming that Alar, a chemical used to help ripen apples, was a cancer threat. Fenton Communications helped them get national news attention on “60 Minutes” for it.
Rather than maintain objectivity and ask hard questions, CBS’s “60 Minutes” frightened viewers and even “broadcast an illustration of a skull and crossbones over an apple in its report on Alar,” according to The New York Times. Talk about advocacy over impartiality. It turned out that the animal tests were “analogous to drinking daily, for life, 19,000 quarts of juice made from Alar-treated apples,” according to a report from American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).
It didn’t matter that the fear was unwarranted. The EPA went on to ban the use of Alar anyway and the damage to industry from the public panic was already done. Cathy Bernath, a fourth generation apple farmer, told the Times in 1991, “The Alar thing just killed us. No money was coming in, so we had to go to the bank to get next year’s crop in shape. That put us in a hole that we never recovered from. What made me especially mad was that we had never used Alar.” The Bernaths were foreclosed on and had to give up the 54-acre farm.
That’s right. It wasn’t just Uniroyal Chemical Company (the makers of Alar) that suffered. It wasn’t just apple farmers using the produce. It was the entire apple farming industry, over bad science and hyperbolic reporting.
Let’s hope the FDA doesn’t follow the EPA’s example. If the FDA gives in to left-wing fearmongering in its upcoming decision, industries, and ultimately individuals, will feel that pain. According to Rost, “Any action taken by the US FDA to ban BPA would have an adverse impact on the metal packaged food market, but the industry would be obliged to comply with any new regulation.”
“An action to ban [before alternatives are full developed and vetted] could result in, removal of some products from the store shelves until suitable alternatives could be identified that meet hte same high level of performance needed to guarantee the safety of the packaged foods,” Rost concluded.
The burden of those changes would not fall merely on industries like metal packaging, but on consumers as well. Additional costs are often passed down to purchasers, who also must suffer with the lack of choice that results from any regulatory action.
Even if the FDA denies the NRDC’s petition, NRDC and dozens of anti-chemical groups, Fenton Communications, and the media are unlikely to retreat from their war on BPA.