The Consumers Union of the United States — the group that does the household appliance comparison tests and publishes the results in Consumer Reports — might know something about refrigerators, but its record and most recent foray into the food inside leaves a lot to be desired. This time around, the group is promoting the sketchy theory of “food addiction” in the pages of the Washington Post.
Citing Kelly “Twinkie Tax” Brownell, the group argues that “High levels of sugar, fat and salt, and various flavors and food additives might actually hijack the pathways of the brain in ways that are similar to opiates and other drugs.” Mind the “might” — the article notes that “not everyone is swallowing the theory.”
Who is “not everyone?” Just the American Psychiatric Association, publishers of the official registry of mental disorders (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, or DSM-V) which does not recognize “food addiction” as a condition. Consumers Union also didn’t address the Cambridge University research that found that “criteria for substance dependence translate poorly to food-related behaviors.”
There should be no surprise why. In its assessment of food issues, Consumers Union adheres to the misguided “precautionary principle.” In a nutshell, the principle holds that government should ban anything that might be even a little bit risky. Since everything has at least some risk, the ultimate result is paralysis and misinformed guidance.
This principle leads Consumers Union to be a notorious — and usually inaccurate — scaremonger when it comes to food. The group has stoked fears of mad cow disease (a condition that has killed fewer people than too-hot tap water). Consumer Reports magazine demanded warning labels on fish packages despite there being considerable evidence that avoiding fish over minuscule risk is harmful rather than helpful. Perhaps they should stick to toasters.