Balancing the upsides and downsides
Not much in nature or science is totally beneficial or totally detrimental. There are upsides and downsides to everything. Many downsides don’t even register on the radar, but being uninformed is no longer adequate in a world that is destructing before our very eyes.
With a new Labour led government, there couldn’t be a more opportune time for Kiwis to push for far more consumer product transparency. Until recent times, major corporates had little difficulty in concealing less palatable aspects of their operations, but with the advent of social media era nothing is secret anymore.
To make informed decisions, consumers need to be alerted to potential harms via packaging information. Harm is a very broad term, but it could range from the known downsides of added sugar in food to animal testing of cosmetics.
A good place to start would be the humble plastic shopping bag. If it were obligatory for bags to be printed with warnings about harm to marine life and extended half-life in landfills, it would at least force the perpetrators into deliver an important environmental message. Of course, this would require legislation, but it really wouldn’t be that hard.
Clinical studies require all findings to be published, but the same balance doesn’t extend to consumer information. Product packaging with few exceptions such as OTC medicines and cigarettes deliver exclusively positive information. It begs the question as to whether we consumers need to worry our little heads about such things as hormones and steroids present in animal based foods, or food dye added to hydroponically grown cucumbers to make them look greener. (Traditionally, the flesh of cucumbers was off-white, today it is often green)
The use of palm oil in toothpaste is another example of an inconvenient truth. But closer to home is the dairy industry which exhorts the health benefits of cow milk to the extent that the industry perceives itself as a dietary crusader delivering free milk to schools. The risks associated with consuming bovine milk are never visited. Notwithstanding, a growing school of thought believes cow milk is a perfect and complete food, but best for those with four legs, two horns and a long tail!
Even the calcium benefits of milk are not fully supported by clinical studies. The message of drinking milk for healthy teeth and bones is at best an exaggeration. For example, a Harvard study of 78,000 women who drank milk 3 times a day, doubled the risk of fractures (1)
Similarly, a 1994 study of elderly men and women in Sydney, Australia, showed that higher dairy product consumption was associated with increased fracture risk. Those with the highest dairy product consumption had approximately double the risk of hip fracture compared to those with the lowest consumption. (2)
Experts are predicting that radical dietary changes are inevitable in coming decades. Current systems of food production are becoming increasingly unsustainable, thus obligatory information on packaging might prove useful in persuading consumers to look at alternatives.
Or are we happy to be kept in the dark?
(1)U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Bone Health and Osteoporosis: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General; 2004.
(2)Feskanich D, Willett WC, Colditz GA. Calcium, vitamin D, milk consumption, and hip fractures: a prospective study among postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77:504-511.
Copyright © Julie Carter