“According to the latest study” is a powerful phrase. Newspapers, bloggers, and others rely on a steady stream of studies and reports to generate new content. The problem, of course, is that the “latest study” rarely represents a scientific consensus, let alone a scientific fact. More often than not, it seems that studies from activist groups use data to obscure their findings in a mess of tables and figures that an average reader or reporter can neither comprehend nor question. Nevertheless, journalists need something to write about and a “study” with “data” usually fits the bill.
Consider a recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), group of professional worrywarts and scaremongers who cling to the most radical interpretation of the precautionary principle. EWG’s report suggests that everyone should eat less meat in an effort to mitigate global climate change. The report suggests that if consumers choose to eat meat, they should purchase “meat, eggs and dairy products that are certified organic, humane and/or grass-fed as they are generally the least environmentally damaging.”
But according to Washington State University Prof. Judith L. Capper, EWG’s report “demonstrates a lack of basic livestock production knowledge.” The problem, Dr. Capper explains, is that in suggesting organic or grass-fed meat over conventionally raised animals, EWG did not account for a variety of factors like herd dynamics and growth rates that influence meat’s carbon footprint. Dr. Capper explains:
EWG’s promotion of organic or grass-fed systems as having a low environmental impact is ironic given that such systems actually have a greater carbon footprint compared to their conventional counterparts.
Meat is not alone in receiving EWG’s double standard for supposedly green products.
Green products like organic foods are rarely as environmentally friendly as some environmentalists suggest. For instance, a recent study by the Center for Consumer Freedom found that reusable shopping bags contained levels of lead that should have sent the Environmental Working Group into a tizzy. It didn’t. Despite the fact that some bags contained seven times the legal limit for lead—which EWG calls a “potent neurotoxin”—EWG was more than willing to give them a pass due to their “green” image. A spokesperson told USA Today, “We don’t see any need to turn away from reusable bags.” That statement came in spite of the EWG’s apparent zero-tolerance policy for lead in other consumer products, like cosmetics.