TSCA Feeding Frenzy
A reporter from the environmental news service Greenwire writes on a New York Times blog, A modern tool that is likely to play a central role in the debate over a [1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, or TSCA] overhaul: biomonitoring, which measures chemicals at minute levels in human tissue and bodily fluids and provides evidence of direct exposure.
This is important right now because both the EPA and Congress are considering reforming TSCA, and it's important that governmental overseers and the public understand the limits of biomonitoring, says ACSH's Jeff Stier. It's an important science, but it is often over-interpreted in terms of what you can take away from the fact that we are able to detect the presence of chemicals in the human body. It has gotten so sophisticated that you can detect any amount of any chemical you want in human blood, but the mere presence of a chemical in the body does not make it a health threat.
ACSH's Dr. Gilbert Ross agrees: All kinds of activist groups are coming out of the woodwork because of the two-pronged attack coming out of Lisa Jackson's EPA and the various preliminary bills percolating in Congress to revamp TSCA, aimed at either a broad approach to rid the environment of all 'toxic chemicals,' or specifically to 'protect our children' from them. Once the healthcare reform debate is settled or set aside, these will become topics number one, two, and three on the agenda of anti-chemical activists.
U.S. News interviewed former food industry insider Hank Cardello to discuss his new book Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat, and among his insightful comments on soda taxes, calorie-count menus, and food labeling was the following exchange:
[U.S. News:] Can we trust food companies to be partners in this? The [Center for Science in the Public Interest] has knocked Coke's new 7.5-ounce cans as well as food companies' 100-calorie packs as 'fleecing' us by charging more per ounce of product.
[Cardello:] I'm a proponent of those smaller packages. I saw research showing that if you give one panel of people 100-calorie packs and another panel a regular box of food, the groups eating the packs took in 120 fewer calories per day. Yes, corporations get higher margins. But let them make money if it's better for the population!
It seems like CSPI's problem is the fact that the industry is making more money from people buying these new products, says Stier. If Coca Cola went in the other direction and made thirty ounce cans, they'd criticize that too. This raises the questions: what is CSPI's end game, and what are they against here? When they criticize this it seems that, rather than trying to fight obesity, their main goal is to fight profits.
Old News, New Panic
The FDA is under pressure to make changes to its drug-safety program in light of the old news that GlaxoSmithKline's PLC diabetes drug Avandia is linked to heart attacks.
All drugs have potential toxicities, says Dr. Ross. There's no new data here. All of these discussions were considered by the FDA panel and FDA as a whole in 2007 and 2008, and they decided to leave Avandia on the market with a boxed warning about the potential for heart problems. When they cite 'hundreds of patients' getting heart damage, that's hundreds out of possibly thousands or millions, but giving a numerator without denominator is a misleading debate tactic.
This is the old red pill, blue pill discussion. Some patients will do better on Avandia, and for others there are other options. Having this drug as an option for patients and doctors to consider is certainly not as outrageous as it was portrayed when it hit the news, especially when you consider that many of the 'victims' of these drugs were attracted to the debate by lawyers' advertisements.
EWG's New Low
ACSH staffers are accustomed to the outrageous scare tactics used by environmental activist groups, but every once in a while they manage to surprise us. Case in point: the latest heartfelt message from the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
We get fundraising e-mails from EWG, and they're often quite offensive, says ACSH's Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, but this one takes the cake. Their recent e-mail started off by saying, 'No baby should be born pre-polluted' before they mention that they're working with Sen. Al Franken and Congressman Steve Israel on legislation to make sure that household cleaners list every potentially toxic ingredient.
A lot of people hear about groups like EWG and think, 'Oh, they're environmental, they must be reasonable,' but this is the same group that is working with San Francisco's mayor to get cell phone stores to list radiation levels at point of sale; they actually believe there's a real health risk from the radiation from cell phones. And now they're targeting any ingredient that's even potentially toxic.
How's that for a fundraising letter? says Stier. Well, we need your help to fight back. Your support will allow us to reach out not only to Sen. Franken and Congressman Israel, but also their more open-minded colleagues by sending them a copy of our Holiday Dinner Menu, which will help them realize how absurd EWG's campaigns are. Please help us today.
Curtis Porter is a research intern at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH.org).