President, Strategic Communications, LLC

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Science, Integrity and George Bernard Shaw

Are the far left food critics – you know, the eat only locally grown, certified organic crowd – right in stating with certainty, that the nation’s top nutrition communicators, the FDA, state governments and anybody else they disagree with have been bought by “Big Food” and should be ignored? George Bernard Shaw summed up the potential conflict of interest this way. The story goes that once at a party, he asked a very beautiful and rather obnoxious woman to go to bed with him for £1000. She ummed and ahhed but finally agreed. He then asked would she go to bed with him for £10. She exclaimed, "Do you take me for a whore?" He replied "Madam, we've already established what you are. All we're doing now is arguing about the price."

Conspiracy theories that would not make a B-movie (it's Oscar night) and a lack of transparency from all sides is now part of every scientific issue. A good case study is the safety and labeling of Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs). The conventional, evidence-based science, concludes these products are “safe” as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined them. In addition, FDA has declared, after extensive public comment rule-making, that these products are “identical” to their non-GMO cousins and do not require any additional labeling because they are safe. In 1992 FDA reasoned that a “GMO-free” label would be “false and misleading” a violation of federal law, since it would imply the GMO free product is better than the identical conventional product. Just recently, several well-known food and drug lawyers have opined that a “GMO-free” label may violate the First Amendment, on the same grounds, a “GMO free” label implies a false claim on a critically important issue, the safety of the national food supply. Interestingly, contrary to Chez Pannisse dogma, there is no "right to know" established in US food law. None. Nada. Zip. Zero. Get it?

No set of facts can change the conspiracy nuts’ minds but it would be helpful if the critics knew the law before blathering away incessantly.  In a perfect world we would rely on the “experts” to help guide us on the what is safe question. However, what happens if a vocal, noisy minority does not believe the experts?
The food industry is doing nothing to help itself. Last week public relations giant Porter-Novelli (PN) held its annual Food 3000 session, this year in Vancouver. It brings top nutritionists together with PN’s clients and other corporate sponsors for “educational discussions.” Facebook and Twitter overflow with reports on the meeting. However, with one exception, Dave Grotto, one of the nation’s most respected nutritionists, no one'sTweets or Facebook postings disclose that it was a sponsored event.
Without this disclosure, are we left with Shaw’s conclusion, that we have established the type of people who attended the meeting are and all we are left is to haggle about their price. At a time when integrity in the scientific decision-making process is under violent attack, I think the folks who attended the PN winter getaway, should have done better. If the leaders do not disclose, who will?

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