I was discussing a bit of food related news that a friend of mine was concerned about… and as far as I could tell, her worries were unfounded based on the information given. This led to a bit of a rant about consumers and food information. I think it is a good public service announcement, so I am posting it here:
Brought to you by your local(ish?) Master of Food Science 😉 (with a minor in Soil and Water Science):
I think a huge issue with consumers’ knowledge about food is that different industries try to twist the story- making you go one way or the other. Non-scientific magazines publish stories that are being summarized by someone not in that field of study- so they are going to assume the conclusions given by the authors of the science journal are right. But you have to be able to look at the studies conducted critically-
How did they do this study?
What are the controls?
Did they consider all the variables?
Are they influencing results by the choice of material?
Are they reporting in a biased manner?
Do I agree with their conclusions?
You will often find that scientists want to inflate their research- “I found that ___ causes cancer!!” when that isn’t the case, they found something that maybe might encourage cancer a little bit when the moon is full and you just hiked a mile in the snow on a Tuesday… We need to spread knowledge, not fear, and the food industry and government regulators need to find a better way to disseminate the truth, not misinformation.
Furthermore, the average lay-person doesn’t know this. They often can’t critique a study the way that scientists can. Even then, different areas of research can look at the same results in a different way. For example, if a pure microbiologist looks at my masters thesis work, their conclusions will be different from mine.
Lastly, you need to have a strong handle on the perspectives of public health scientists vs. industry scientists. A PH specialist may tell you that a 0.001% of illness is too much of a risk- that can translate to…I’m making up a number here, 1,000 people in the US getting a mild illness, maybe. The chance of those people getting dangerously ill is 10% if they have a liver disease, and the chance of death is 1% under the same conditions. An industry professional may say that this risk is ok, because you can’t completely annihilate risk, but a public health professional may say NO! Too much risk!
But will the people with liver disease even eat your product, when it is told that they should be mindful? Who knows! WHO KNOWS! That’s why it is so complicated, and some articles may scream from the rooftops that something is dangerous/ bad for you… but they may not include all of the parameters.
So, in the end…
knowledge over fear.