“The sky is falling.” That’s all we ever hear from Chicken Littles who move the levers of power within the environment, public health, and animal rights movements.
We see this practically every day in the news, from fundraising groups claiming that tuna fish is pregnancy poison, to government bureaucrats wildly claiming salt is going to kill us.
Activists constantly create new moral imperatives out of shoddy science (or pure hypothesis), and then anoint themselves as the only ones who can set things right.
Yet the very do-gooders who are trying to “nudge” our lives into lockstep with their agendas have been wrong on issue after issue. Consider just a few of the battles the Center for Consumer Freedom, a group I manage, has waged:
1. Obesity deaths. In 2004 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributed a whopping 400,000 annual deaths to obesity. The government’s goal was obvious: to inflate the problem to epidemic proportions and create a mandate for more regulation of what we eat.
Our research proved that this number was grossly inflated. The CDC’s statistics double- and even triple-counted deaths. They even counted merely overweight people as “obese.” Faced with exposure, in 2005 the CDC was forced to revise its statements, eventually reducing the number of obesity-attributable deaths each year to 26,000. That’s more than a 93 percent reduction.
2. Mercury in fish. Environmental activists have stoked fears over trace levels of mercury in fish for years, claiming they harm unborn children in the womb. But the opposite is true. The most robust science on the subject shows that the very real health benefits of a high-seafood diet far outweigh any hypothetical health risks.
How did we get taken for this ride? The main story driving the fear is that its recommendations are based on island populations who eat whale meat (not tuna).
In March U.S. Senators Kristen Gillibrand and Tom Coburn wrote to the FDA calling for a revision of the agency’s “overly risk-averse” seafood consumption recommendations. And last year, a Cornell professor wrote an open letter (with over 130 signatories) to the FDA calling for the agency to immediately revise its fish-consumption risk assessment to reflect current science.
3. High fructose corn syrup. Sugar from corn is nutritionally the same as sugar from beets or cane. Despite the noise created by bloggers, more and more respected authorities recognize that sugar is no more healthful than high fructose corn syrup. These include the American Medical Association and the American Dietetic Association.
4. Trans fats. The “food police” at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) had a field day a few years ago in scaring up concern over trans fats. But CSPI itself was once a defender of the trans fats it now condemns, writing in its newsletter: “All told, the charges against trans fat just don’t stand up.”
5. Sodium. New York City’s public health nannies are hoping to reduce the amount of salt in everyone’s food, citing a manufactured “consensus” that salt leads to hypertension and subsequently heart problems.
Recently, European researchers reported that lower salt intake was associated with a higher rate of heart-attack death in a study of 3,700 people. And the editor of theAmerican Journal of Hypertension—presumably an expert on, you know,hypertension—is skeptical, calling salt-reduction efforts “an experiment on a whole population.”
6. Twinkie taxes. Public health activists believe taxing soda, cookies, and other foods will discourage consumption and cause Americans to lose weight. But science consistently fails to show that such taxes affect obesity rates. One Duke University study from December found that a 20-percent tax on sugar-sweetened beverages would reduce the average person’s daily energy intake by just 7 calories.
The list could go on, but you get the idea. Time and again, food-scare campaigns and big-government agendas are fact-light and rhetoric-heavy.
You can judge a man by his enemies, as the saying goes, and our efforts have not gone unnoticed. Our work takes us up against groups with nice-sounding names and good (but often undeserved) reputations, such as the “Humane Society” of the United States and the “Physicians Committee” for “Responsible” Medicine. (In reality these two groups are both clones of PETA.). Even Mothers Against Drunk Driving is no longer what it seems. Just ask its founder.
The Center for Consumer Freedom has been called a “front group” and its employees “henchmen.” I’ve personally been called a “hired gun,” “front man,” and—my favorite—“Dr. Evil.”
Sticks and stones. Few question the facts that the Center brings to the debate. If there’s a lesson here, it’s this: The Rachel Maddows of the world may mock you with their soundbite-over-sound-science way of processing reality, but real facts eventually satisfy people with level heads.
All it takes is being comfortable suggesting the emperor has no clothes.
Rick Berman is President of the public affairs firm Berman and Company. He has worked extensively in the food and beverage industries for the past 30 years. To learn more, visit http://www.BermanCo.com.