The Capital Press Misses Its Mark

Trey Smith

According to the Capital Press, a regional weekly agricultural newspaper produced in Salem, a proposed labeling requirement in California is bad policy. Advocates want "consumers of french fries and other foods to know about acrylamide".

What is acrylamide? Is it a substantial health risk? Neither of these questions is addressed adequately in the editorial.

In fact, the only information that deals with acrylamide itself is contained in the repeated idea that it's "a naturally occurring compound that can be created when potatoes -- or many other foods -- are fried or cooked at a high temperature".

Instead of discussing the health concerns of this substance, the Capitol Press attacks the idea because it would be bad for business.

In this case, growers, processors and retailers stand to pay the price for labels that won’t protect the public’s well-being and distract residents from the important real business at hand.

It sounds like acrylamide is nothing to get in a tizzy about. Yet, according to the FDA,

A potentially cancer-causing agent used to manufacture certain chemicals, plastics, and dyes has recently been found to be a natural by-product of cooking certain foods. The Food and Drug Administration is taking a closer look at this white, odorless chemical, acrylamide, to determine how much of it occurs in foods and whether it could pose a health risk.

In April 2002, researchers in Sweden discovered that cooking at high temperatures could create acrylamide in many types of foods, particularly starchy foods such as french fries, potato chips, bread, rice, and processed cereals.

Scientists know that acrylamide causes cancer in laboratory rats. They also know that contact with large quantities of acrylamide can cause nerve damage in humans. But no one knows whether the tiny amounts of acrylamide in cooked foods can cause cancer or have any other harmful effects when ingested by people. "As soon as we heard about this problem, we took action and laid out a solid plan to learn more about acrylamide and to reduce exposure to it," says Terry Troxell, Ph.D., director of the FDA's Office of Plant and Dairy Foods and Beverages.

Some critics charge that the FDA is grossly understating the issue. As early as 2002, the Center for Science in the Public interest (CSPI) reported that "the amount of acrylamide in a large order of fast-food French fries is at least 300 times more than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows in a glass of water."

I don't know about you, but I like the idea of knowing what I'm shoving down my throat. If it has the potential for causing long term health issues, it would be nice to know this on the front end.

Consequently, I think the Capital Press has woefully missed the mark. Yes, labels may add some costs to certain products, but isn't our health and well-being worth the minuscule cost?

  • David (unverified)

    CSPI Lied on Acrylamide

  • Trey Smith (unverified)

    Hmm. What on earth is the Center for Consumer Freedom? According to their own website,

    "The Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit coalition of restaurants, food companies, and consumers working together to promote personal responsibility and protect consumer choices...

    "The Center for Consumer Freedom is supported by restaurants, food companies and more than 1,000 concerned individuals. From farm to fork, our friends and supporters include businesses, employees and consumers."

    In other words, the CFC is the kind of special interest front group that would try to bury or discredit an issue such as this.

    Nice try. I'm not buying what you're selling.

  • jammer (unverified)

    Yes, labels may add some costs to certain products, but isn't our health and well-being worth the minuscule cost?

    Is saying "No, and I think you and the FDA are in general full of it" one of my options? I'm guessing probably not - that in fact you're gleefully willing to use my tax dollars to force your fear-mongering, Big Brother, nanny-state propaganda down my throat with little regard for my opinions on the matter.

    By the way, isn't your precious FDA one of the big reasons terminal cancer patients won't be getting medical marijuana legally in this country anymore?

  • Trey Smith (unverified)

    Jammer, This IS the beauty about labels. You don't have to read a label. If you do read it, you don't have to heed it's warning or advice. You can choose to live your life oblivious to whatever information you so desire.

    But here's the rub. You want to enforce YOUR opinion of information on everyone else. Some people might be interested to know if there are concerns regarding particular foods they consume. Yet, you don't want them to know.

    Seems you want your opinions shoved down everybody's throats, literally.

  • (Show?)

    I've never understood why anybody would be against labeling. More information is better, no?

  • (Show?)

    p.s. Even with a label, I'm still eating french fries. Well, actually, shoving them down my throat.

  • jammer (unverified)

    You don't have to read a label.

    No, but under your my-way-or-the-highway government-knows-best-because-I-said-so paradigm, I'm forced to subsidize your boundless paranoia, which I find rather annoying, unjust and counterproductive. (I'm quite sure I'm safe in assuming bread, potatoes, rice and corn flakes are far from the only dire health hazards that you think American taxpayers ought to be forced to warn themselves about.)

    Just wondering, do you even eat french fries or starchy foods cooked at high temperatures? If not, then what the hell are you worried about? If so, are you going to quit once they start labeling them HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH?

  • Trey Smith (unverified)

    Jammer, I don't understand your preoccupation here with taxpayers. While it's certainly true that CONSUMERS may pay a penny or two more, we're not talking about TAX dollars.

    Now, do I eat fast food french fries? Very, very rarely. However, if acrylamide is indeed a health risk, then it could well lead to decreased worker productivity (hurting the GDP) and increased health care costs through higher insurance premiums paid by you and me.

  • (Show?)

    In intro econ I was taught that one of the assumptions one needs to make about markets to assume that they produce economically efficient results is informed buyers and sellers. To put this differently, markets produce different patterns of preference involving evaluation of price vs. other characteristics of goods & services purchased depending on knowledge of those other characteristics. Deny me information and you are restricting my freedom.

    Economics of course tells us nothing about ethically efficient results, despite the warm fuzzy thinking of market ideologues.

    In ethics, a fundamental principle regarding persuading people to take part in an activity, e.g. a medical experiment, is informed consent.

    In common sense ethics, people commonly recognize that lies of omission are still lies, and can have harmful consequences through being misleading.

    Libertarians generally are said to hold that among the limited roles government ought to have is that of preventing and punishing fraud, because fraud destroys the basis of free contracts. Failure to provide pertinent information in commercial and financial contracts can constitute legal fraud in various circumstances. Other varieties of misleading through omission that don't constitute or are hard to prove as legal fraud may have remedies, e.g. "lemon laws" in car sales. And people who gain advantage through lying this way in forms that are not technically illegal are disdained by most people as nasty types.

    Yet "market conservatives" who purport to dislike nanny states are happy to have a nanny state, and moreover, one corrupted by conflicts of interest through revolving door industry-government ties, decide that it knows better than I do what risks I should take, and deny me significant information. Not just happy to have such a state, but active politically to ensure that markets are misshapen by lack of full information.

    What hypocrisy. It's not about freedom, it's about profiting from ignorance and selling harmful goods.

  • jammer (unverified)

    we're not talking about TAX dollars

    So this new little program is revenue neutral, huh? Just going to administer itself without hitch or glitch? No regulatory agencies asked to do anything new - no testing, no oversight, no taking any enforcement actions against companies for noncompliance, no keeping track of any bureaucratic red tape? Companies are just going to start voluntarily declaring that their product might give you a horrible illness (even though they don't believe it themselves)?

    if acrylamide is indeed a health risk, then it could well lead to decreased worker productivity

    ... again, your minuscule little words stamped on the back of a french fry box are going to prevent this from happening somehow? Come lunch time you think even an educated bloke like Kari is going to pause to read the fine print before he inhales his Supersize? You think it might convince him to go with the salad instead? Sounds like wishful thinking to me - and by the sounds of it, to him, too.

    But whatever, you're the labeling freak, you're the one advocating a change in the satus quo, you're the one wanting to pass laws and divert scarce resources away from wherever else they might go because you claim this is such an important government priority. I'd say that places the burden of proof squarely on your shoulders to show not only that the health risks warrant the initiation of your plan (Precautionary Principle kiss my ass), but that the economic payoffs are going to be worth it (which I highly doubt) - and that if we use the full force and authority of government to pursue your scheme we can expect higher worker productivity, lower health premiums and all the other good stuff you say is in the offing.

    Again, I'm a wee bit skeptical at this point. But if you think you can convince me - well, start convincing.

  • Trey Smith (unverified)

    Chris: Bravo!!

    Jammer, Okay, you got me there. I guess since we live in a nation in which the assumption is that most companies won't voluntarily follow the law that we taxpayers will necessarily need to pay a bit to monitor compliance. Of course, if the majority of companies valued the law, this wouldn't be much of a problem, would it?

    You need to read Chris Lowe's marvelous response.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    While confessing I didn't read your post, Trey, nor any of the comments, I readily concede the Capital Press got facts wrong or has taken the wrong position on this one issue or action or whatever it is. But ...

    ... the Capital Press is a paper I well appreciate and its readers are people I greatly respect to keep knowledge and to be governed by it. I see many wrong reports and wrong positions in the Capital Press, and more than many right ones. I am less concerned with a lot of a week's particulars than I am concerned with the gestalt, or sum meaning in them. Even in such principle or broad view the Press gets it wrong or is blind sometimes, but ... the most important quality despite all the failings is -- which I see in that paper and its readers -- the integrity that comes from a strong sense of self which enables them to admit when they are going wrong, or went wrong, and to change their opinions, plans and behaviors.

    This the song celebrating the alert pragmatism of farmers.


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