Food Scares: Short On Facts, Long On Lawsuits

A woman who claims to have served her family beef around the time a single case of mad cow disease was discovered is now suing her supermarket. Never mind that a Harvard study found the risk of a human getting sick from mad cow disease is “zero or as close to zero as scientists ever dare say.” Or that we’re 2,000 times more likely to be obliterated by a near-earth asteroid. In the food scare arena, facts seldom get in the way of litigation.

The woman and her family, of course, haven’t suffered so much as a sniffle from the beef in question. Still, her suit claims that the supermarket should have
tracked her purchase through its customer-loyalty card system, retrieved her phone number, and personally contacted her with a warning.

This mad cow lawsuit is just the latest example of trial lawyers looking to cash in on food scares — scares driven by
activists determined to control what we eat. Earlier this year, researchers funded by the activist-driven Pew Charitable Trusts claimed farmed salmon contained dangerously high levels of PCBs. The study’s own results showed PCB levels to be “within up to date safety levels set by the World Health Organization and the European Commission” and public health officials declared that “consuming farmed salmon does not pose a health risk to consumers.” Nonetheless, activists and trial lawyers shifted into overdrive. Scaremongers at the Environmental Working Group tried to cash in by suing the farmed-salmon industry.

Last year, the diet scolds at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) inspired and encouraged a series of lawsuits against food companies over dietary acrylamide, which has yet to be linked to any health problems. Even before CSPI released its list of so-called acrylamide offenders, a round of lawsuits were filed based solely on that list. Again, the facts failed to support the mischief. Acrylamide in food (first discovered by Swedish scientists in 2002) is not known to cause cancer in humans. Both major studies investigating the potential links between dietary acrylamide and cancer concluded that no such association exists.

Like acrylamide and infinitesimally small levels of PCBs in salmon, mad cow disease may not be a real threat, but it serves the purposes of trial lawyers with a profit motive and food activists with an axe to grind.

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