Sunday, July 11, 2010

Food additive dangers grossly overstated

The bias in Joanne Brookfield's The Age article on food additives – Guess who's coming to dinner? – is evident from the outset:

The rot - that is, the tampering with food to prevent rot - set in with the Romans, according to food purists.

Treating foods to prevent rot is not "tampering", of course. The mammoth 2,200+ word article doesn't get any better, Brookfield overstating the health risks of aspartame:

Artificial sweetener aspartame (951), which is used in more than 5000 products, has been found to increase rats' risk of leukaemia, lymphoma and breast cancer...

This ignores that aspartame is probably the most researched of all food additives and is deemed to pose no risk whatever to the general population. It seems that Brookefield has been persuaded on the dangers of food additives by "[a]nti-additive campaigner Julie Eady", who features prominently.

''I'm not a scientist and I make no claims to be,'' the mother of three says. She began researching food additives and their effects after the birth of her first child, simply so she could be better informed about the choices she was making. What she found, though, has caused her to take action. Her work as a consumer advocate through Additive Alert won her the Western Australian Consumer Protection Award in 2007.

''In Australia, astoundingly, this precautionary principle isn't applied universally when evaluating the safety of food additives. This is why we have carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic substances present … in many of our processed foods,'' Eady writes in her book Additive Alert: Your Guide to Safer Shopping. Her book, like her website, is not intended as definitive scientific reference but as a consumer guide. ''Where's there's doubt, why on earth not err on the side of caution?'' she asks.

So Eady is, like Dr Peter Dingle, a self-appointed food expert without any apparent nutrition qualifications. Here's her website's description of saccharin's dangers:

Known carcinogen especially linked to bladder and reproductive cancers. Banned in US in 1977 but reinstated with strict labelling provisions

Wrong, according to Wikipedia:

Studies in laboratory rats during the early 1970s linked saccharin with the development of bladder cancer, resulting in the United States Congress mandating that all food containing saccharin bear a warning label.

In 2000, the warning labels disappeared because scientists learned that rats have a unique combination of high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine. One or more of the proteins that is more prevalent in male rats combines with calcium phosphate and saccharin to produce microcrystals that damage the lining of the bladder. Over time, the rat's bladder responds to this damage by over-producing cells to repair the damage, and this leads to tumor formation. This does not occur in humans, so there is no bladder cancer risk.

The delisting of saccharin led to legislation, which was signed into law on December 21, 2000, repealing the warning label requirement for products containing saccharin.

Not surprisingly, a search for "Julie Eady" and "Peter Dingle" produces 290 hits, many linking to fringe publications and websites but including ABC News, where Eady bogusly claims:

What I found was really interesting about MSG was that in Australia and the United States, it's actually banned, prohibited for foods for infants and young children because its know to cause damage to the brain and developing nervous system but because of labelling loopholes that only keeps it out of babies food.

And here's Dingle claiming modern foods are... bad, really bad:

There is no doubt that diet can be linked with virtually every disease, virtually every disease and whether it's one percent of the cause or ninety nine percent of the cause and in many cases I see the ninety-nine percent cause. You know, I see the cases where you've got obese kids with diabetes with all the ramifications and effects of diabetes including cardiovascular disease, etc etc. Or you see the kids who are on these incredibly processed diets and they've got a high, extremely high ADHD rates and everyone's going oh der I wonder why? I mean look at their food, it's crazy. The food is definitely contributing.

There is a whole alternative universe (pun intended) of pseudo-experts providing dubious advice and overstating the dangers of modern foods in order to make money, presumably lots of money, from the gullible.


Anonymous J.M. Heinrichs said...

preventing the rot can involve drying, salting and smoking foods, all of which predate the Romans by millennia.

If these 'researchers' wish to explore the world of original foods, they might visit here:


8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MSG occurs in mothers' milk. It occurs naturally in many things and no studies have ever proven the existence of porblems like "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". Yet it is still the villain in these food nanny farces.

1:13 PM  

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