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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Consumers Urged to Stand by Food Chemical Law

Food Day, April 21, 1977, has come and gone. Sponsored by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), this annual event is involving increasing numbers of Americans who want to learn about food, nutrition, health and safety, and what the food industry does to them. A latter-day Ambrose Bierce could probably define civilization as a transition from finding food to finding out about food. The transition, thanks to the food industry, is far from complete.

The selling strategy of the large food processing corporations is simple and four-fold. Make the food easy to chew, visually acceptable, tasty, and get the children to nag the parents to buy their brand. The ingenious misuse of modern chemistry and psychology can achieve these goals without providing food that is nutritious, clean and free of harmful additives.

Deception plays an important role in this merchandising game. Food that is to be transported over long distances and sold weeks or months later loses its natural flavor and often its natural color. Enter heavy seasoning, tenderizers, sweeteners and a flock of artificial food coloring additives to beguile and camouflage.

Enter also long range damage to human health. After years of neglect the Food and Drug Administration is discovering that many of the additives, assumed to be safe on industry’s assurance, contain unacceptable risks of cancer.

Almost all the major artificial food colors are either under suspicion or are being removed from the market. Several coal tar dyes, including red dye No. 2, already have been banned. Since these chemicals have no food value, do not enhance taste and are totally cosmetic, their market prohibition leaves consumers indifferent, if not thankful.

Not so, however, with sweeteners like saccharin and the cyclamates. The so-called diet food and drink industry knows when they have many people hooked by their taste buds, which is the basis for the colossal falseness and shiftiness characterizing the industry’s full page advertisements in newspapers and magazines.

The industry is lobbying to make Congress repeal the Delaney law prohibiting the sale of any food additive that causes cancer in human beings or animals. Here are five points that should help consumers through the fog of corporate obfuscation:

1. Food chemicals which cause cancer in animals have a high probability of causing cancers in human beings.

Scientists routinely give high doses to laboratory animals because such studies are predictive of human risk. High doses are used because of the small number of animals tested and their high metabolic rates and short life span compared with human beings. There is no known safe level for a cancer-causing substance in human beings.

It is false that almost anything consumed in large quantities will cause cancer. Only a small proportion of chemicals tested cause cancer even at the highest doses.

Society cannot wait for human evidence of cancer before banning a food additive. Cancer has a latency period of up to 40 years in human beings and even then it is difficult to trace the cancer to its chemical cause or causes.

Cancer in human beings is increasing rapidly and is attributed by scientists largely to manmade environmental pollutants, additives and other exposures. The Delaney law is based on a preventive ethic to block the entry of cancer-causing food additives into the marketplace without any corporate or political interference.

If you are concerned about preserving this life-giving law, write to Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, 2000 P St, NW, Washington, DC 20036. And if you want educational materials about Food Day, write to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1757 S St., NW, Washington, DC 20009.