News Flash: Acrylamide Still Not Harmful — A National Institutes of Health panel declared last week that acrylamide — that mysterious chemical compound that reinvigorated the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s campaign against French fries and potato chips — is still not a health hazard. Now that the initial acrylamide cancer scare has died down, researchers are considering whether the chemical, found in starchy foods cooked at high temperatures, might cause reproductive and developmental harm in humans. The verdict? “Considering the low level of estimated human exposure derived from a variety of sources, the Expert Panel expressed negligible concern.” Which is about what we expected. The only surprise came when panelists recommended against further study of acrylamide’s supposedly harmful effects. One toxicologist on the panel told a Reuters reporter: “We don’t recommend doing those studies because we know the doses are so low that you’re just going to spend a lot of money with no results.”

Fat Profits, Skinny Science
“What I find scary is the multibillion dollar diet industry,” writes a professional medical researcher in today’s Eugene, Oregon Register-Guard. “The diet industry feeds off inaccurate ideas about correlations between fat and health … [C]orrelations between being fat and diseases are, at best, contradictory and confusing.” Another obesity expert, author Paul Campos, agrees: “In almost all large-scale epidemiological studies, little or no correlation between weight and health can be found for a large majority of the population — and indeed what correlation does exist suggests that it is more dangerous to be just a few pounds “underweight” than dozens of pounds ‘overweight’.” And Campos reminds readers that fast-food consumption isn’t the demon food cops make it out to be. “The heaviest consumers of fast food in this country,” he adds, “are single men in their 20s who weigh less than the average American.”

Buy Organic. Drive a Solar-Powered Skateboard. Kill Your Television
Celebrity chef Peter Hoffman is a man with a decidedly sour outlook. As chair of the organic-food-promoting Chefs Collaborative, Hoffman carps about food technology and blames a wide range of societal ills on the fact that agriculture has kept pace with the world’s population. At one memorable press conference held to complain about genetically modified food, Hoffman even took aim at the Nobel Prize-winning “Green Revolution,” which some estimate saved over 1 billion lives in the Third World. “We don’t need it now,” he barked in 2000. “We didn’t need it then.” In 2004, though, Hoffman is teetering precipitously close to the proverbial deep end. Newsday columnist Sylvia Carter reports that Hoffman “suggested at a recent conference on sustainably raised beef that if we ate really good, satisfying food, we would not need as many electronic gadgets and fancy cars.” The notion that our 21st-Century souls might be satisfied by organic food alone is quaint, but misleading: We’re willing to bet that the kitchen in Hoffman’s own restaurant has plenty of high-tech gadgets and expensive toys. But his theory does explain why so many organic-only food activists drive Yugos.

What We Really Need Is A CSPI Substitute
The CSPI made its reputation rabidly fighting against fatty foods in the name of public health. So why would CSPI call the approval of fat-free Olestra for use in snack foods “unwelcome news”? Chief CSPI food cop Michael Jacobson whines that FDA approval of the fat-substitute for use in microwave popcorn means that it “is going to be used more widely.” This despite the millions of saturated fat grams that won’t be digested by popcorn-loving Americans as a result. Perhaps CSPI’s seemingly inconsistent anti-Olestra position was influenced by the $40,000 in grants it accepted during 1998 and 1999 from the Helena Rubenstein Foundation for “public education on [the] health effects of olestra.”

Cue the “Jaws” Theme Music …
Health scares about fish are making their way downstream, as the New York Times notes: “[D]ozens of foods and activities and some procedures, whether their danger is overblown or not, are now believed by some pregnant women to be threatening to fetal health.” No surprise. Expectant mothers should avoid being reeled in by anti-fish attack ads from animal rights groups like the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and bogus mercury-in-seafood studies promoted by the Environmental Working Group. Good science suggests that food-scare activists should turn off the rhetoric and eat their fish. One recent study even encouraged pregnant women to eat more fish to avert depression. And the Food and Drug Administration reminds expectant mothers that fish “is a good source of high quality protein and other nutrients and is low in fat.”