Julie Gunlock

Typically environmental organizations target consumers with overwrought warnings of how some everyday product or activity is destroying the world and threatening their health. Yet now, activists are turning their targets toward major retailers. These companies should reject these scare tactics, which will harm not only their businesses, but consumers too.

The “Mind the Store” campaign, the latest initiative of a radical environmental organization, pressures the nation’s top ten largest retailers to remove products from store shelves that contain, in any amount, a list of one hundred chemicals the organization deems hazardous. Following the alarmism playbook, the organization claims these chemicals are linked to a variety of frightening health problems like hormone disruption, cancer, and birth defects despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Alarmism about chemicals is nothing new. Environmental groups have long disseminated their exaggerated claims through the media to consumers in the hopes that Americans would be scared into altering their purchasing habits and would start demanding chemical-free products.

This strategy had some success. Bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make plastics more durable and to prevent bacterial contamination in canned food, is no longer used in certain products. Why? Not because BPA is unsafe—it has been used in products for over 60 years and has been declared safe by every major international health agency—but because faced with myriad looming state and local bans and restrictions on the chemical, manufacturers actually asked the FDA to ban its use in certain baby products. From the manufacturers’ standpoint, it’s far easier to face one outright ban of even this useful, perfectly safe and reliable chemical, than to try to comply with thousands of regulations.

Yet, in this sluggish economy, environmental groups have found that fear mongering is less effective than it once was. Americans appear less willing to pay more for products based on flimsy science. Consequently, these groups turned their attention to the retailers--demanding retailers stop offering certain products. The logic goes: if we can’t scare consumers into behaving, we’ll take away their choices.

Julie Gunlock

Julie Gunlock is director of the Culture of Alarmism project at the Independent Women’s Forum (www.iwf.org).