Rent Seekers Keep it Phony

Why does industry sometimes (all too often) support government regulation? You would think they would prize their freedom. But think again. Many businesses are willing to use the government to get a competitive advantage, an activity economists call rent seeking. And, unfortunately, some will even work in tandem with unscrupulous activists to spread misinformation about a competitor’s product and then call for government bans.

Consider the the website “Keep it Organic.” Its stated purpose is to “provide you with important facts about organic foods and beverages, information about current trends in the organic industry and we hope, an objective look at the organic market as it relates to consumer interests.” The posts on the site all attack the use of bisphenol A in food packaging, claiming it taints food and deprives it of the label “organic.” Headlines include: “Plastic Chemicals Make their Way from Oceans to Food Chain to Humans,” “‘TIME’ reports on ‘The Perils of Plastic,'” and “Chemicals Found in Water Can Make you Fat.” Yes, it sounds like the same old hype we get from many green activists.

But “Keep it Organic” is an industry website. If you scroll down to the bottom it reads: “Copyright © 2006 GPI.” Follow the link to GPI and it brings you to the Glass Packaging Institute. Wow. They didn’t simply employ activists to sully their competitors–aluminum and steel can producers whose containers are lined with BPA–they were willing to get their own hands dirty. But their apparent ownership of the Keep it Organic site is oh, so subtle. They even list themselves under the “Recommended Links” section along with a bunch of outside groups that include environmental activists.

The GPI website is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to phony campaigns and claims about BPA. My colleagues Iain Murray and Michael Fumento have highlighted other political forces that are moving this issue, despite science to the contrary. A study on the topic published by Jon Entine at the American Enterprise Institute does a wonderful job documenting the crazy extent that activists–including some scientist-activists who were recently awarded federal grants to do research for NIH–have gone to push forward BPA bans. It is a must read for anyone with an interest in this topic.

Unfortunately, such hype is having considerable influence on policymakers. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) has a bill that may come to the senate floor next week–S. 593–that could ban BPA uses for food containers. This is a dangerous policy because BPA resins line steel and aluminum cans to protect our food supply from deadly pathogens. True, we could switch many products to glass packaging, as GPI wants–but breakage and resulting food waste is an obvious drawback. The smarter approach is to stick with the science, and the science weighs heavily in BPA’s favor as a safe and effective product for use in food packaging, as documented in our CEI-Casscade Policy Institute study.