Derek Lowe debunks viral food and chemicals article

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In a world dominated by the click of a button, where bad news seemingly travels at the speed of light, while science-based good news barely makes it into the media at all, it should come as no surprise that an article titled "Eight Foods That We Eat In The U.S. That Are Banned In Other Countries" would get a half million hits on BuzzFeed.

At first glance at the title anyway one may think that the article is indeed about actual foods eaten by Americans. But one would be wrong. As Derek Lowe a chemist and widely-read blogger that we here at ACSH consider a friend points out in his science blog In the Pipeline, the article isn't talking about foods of any kind: it's talking about (drumroll) chemicals!

In his blog, Lowe attempts to clear up the hysteria surrounding chemicals mentioned in the above BuzzFeed item, with emphasis on the facts, of course. A few of the chemicals that made the cut: olestra, potassium bromate, BHA and BHT, arsenic, and so on and so on. For each chemical, Lowe expounds upon the fallacies and nonsense to be found in abundance in the article, then he gives an explanation as to why the descriptors are incorrect. For instance, when talking about brominated vegetable oil, BuzzFeed incorrectly insinuates that the bromine compounds used to keep carpets from catching on fire is to be found in your cooking oil. But had the author known his chemistry, he would have been able to also tell you what Lowe points out: elemental bromine is very different from the form in which it is found in commercial products, the ionic bromate, while the elemental bromine will certainly cause an "agonizing death." Bromate, he goes on, "is used in some bread flour at 15 to 30 parts per million, and if the bread is actually baked properly, there's none left in the finished product."

There is, however, one tiny reference about Olestra in Lowe s piece that ACSH President Dr. Elizabeth Whelan couldn t help but point out.

While I agree that Derek Lowe s column is an informative essay on the nonsense of chemophobia, I think he is a bit off-base with his appraisal of the fake fat Olestra. He implies that you should avoid olestra, but the evidence that it is in any way toxic is without evidentiary support and was mainly promulgated by Michael Jacobson and CSPI a decade ago, as he single-handedly brought the product to a halt by spreading spurious rumors, Dr. Whelan said.

At any rate, Lowe s piece is a great read and quite educational, to say the least. We here at ACSH applaud his informative yet sardonic approach to chemical hysteria. You can read Lowe s piece in its entirety here.