The Risks of Mislabeled Risk
Supposedly health-conscious consumers are increasingly choosing products with “free from” labels, from “BPA-free” plastics to “non-GMO” foods. But many of the scary-sounding ingredients are perfectly safe; worse, manufacturers sometimes substitute inferior – or even harmful – ingredients or processes.
Legitimate objections have been raised about the independence and integrity of the commentaries that Henry Miller has written for Project Syndicate and other outlets, in particular that Monsanto, rather than Miller, drafted some of them. Readers should be aware of this potential conflict of interest, which, had it been known at the time Miller’s commentaries were accepted, would have constituted grounds for rejecting them.
STANFORD – Increasing numbers of supposedly health-conscious consumers are choosing products with “free from” labels, from “BPA-free” plastics to “non-GMO” foods. But such labels do not increase public safety. On the contrary, not only are many of the scary-sounding ingredients perfectly safe, but manufacturers, in their haste to meet consumer demand, sometimes substitute inferior – or even harmful – ingredients or processes.
The blame for this situation lies mainly with activists and the news media for fanning unwarranted public fears. But a recent academic study demonstrates how manufacturers, by drawing attention to what they are omitting from a product, perpetuate spurious concerns that actually drive consumers to take greater health risks.
The study explores, mainly through the lens of product labeling, how people evaluate the risks of Bisphenol A (BPA) – a chemical that is commonly used to harden plastics and prevent the growth of bacteria in food cans – compared to its alternatives. It found that “people evaluate a situation in which scientific evidence is tempered by controversy similarly to a situation in which there is no scientific evidence at all.” In other words, because there have been questions about the safety of BPA, people disregard the scientific evidence altogether.