Retailers Should Keep Consumers — Not Greens — In Mind

culture-of-alarmism_ltrAs part of its Culture of Alarmism project, the Independent Women’s Forum (IWF) has recently launched a coalition letter — which includes CEI — to retailers to combat the greens so-called “Mind the Store" campaign. We (IWF, CEI, and 21 other groups) advise retailers to ignore radical greens' advice to remove certain products from store shelves, and instead honor consumer freedom.

The greens' effort, led by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, calls on the nation’s top 10 retailers — Walmart, Kroger, Target, Walgreens, Costco, Home Depot, CVS Caremark, Lowe's, Best Buy, and Safeway –to remove a wide range of useful products from store shelves because they contain one of 101 so-called hazardous chemicals.

According to this group:

Since we began in 2009 the evidence that unregulated chemicals are having profound health impacts has only grown. The Presidents Cancer Panel report and the recent United Nations report are just two examples. (Our own report summarizes the state of the science linking chemicals and various health impacts here.) And yet the government is too slow to respond in the face of chemical industry opposition.

In reality, there is no compelling evidence that trace chemicals in consumer products pose significant risks, particularly when used as directed. As I noted in a recent IWF paper on cancer, the President's Cancer Panel report is a political document, not a scientific study and its claims have been rebuked by reputable cancer researchers. The IWF paper and material found on CEI's offer lots of other reasons why consumers should not be alarmed by these products.

But that doesn't seem to matter to the greens, who developed a rather arbitrary and scientifically meaningless list of chemical targets. They placed substances on their 101 hazardous chemicals list if the group found them on two of six government "chemicals of high concern lists" (see the greens' "methodology" here). Yet these lists tell us nothing about actual risks. Rather, these politically derived government listings merely demonize chemicals because they are theoretically dangerous at some unspecified level. That makes them "hazardous" but not necessarily risky.

For example, cyanide is a hazardous product because at a high level, it can kill you. But if you experience no — or trace level — exposure, it has no effect. For example, the trace level of cyanide found in Brussels sprouts poses no real risk to consumers who eat them even pretty regularly. Ditto for water. Water is essential, but if you drink too much it can kill you. Trace exposure to chemicals in consumer products poses even lower risks than chemicals found in food since its more difficult for them to enter the human body.

Such realities make the Mind-the-Store campaign completely nonsensical. It suggests that retailers remove all products made with their 101 hazardous chemicals, which apparently includes food products. Given that humans eat food products — increasing our exposure, one might place these on the chopping block first. Accordingly, if retailers did apply the Mind-the-Store Campaign advice, they have to consider removing the following products from their store shelves:

  • Any frozen food, soup, rice, pasta, or other food made with mushrooms, particularly Shiitake mushrooms. Mushrooms naturally contain the allegedly dangerous formaldehyde.
  • Any food containing carrots, which naturally contain trace levels of arsenic.
  • Coffee, any frozen or food with grilled asparagus, dried fruit, or any product that contains baked or fried potatoes or other carbohydrate rich foods. These contain acrylamide, which is naturally created in many foods when cooked. Kiss those french fries goodbye.
  • Wine, beer, and spirits. Are you crying yet? Fermentation and distillation produces a wide range of trace chemicals in alcohol products, including acetaldehyde.

However, a real danger exists if retailers cave to the green hype as consumers will lose access to safe and effective products that both enrich our lives and make them safer. Second-best substitutes might not only fail to meet our needs, they could prove more dangerous. For example, if activists succeed in removing many flame retardant products from the market, more people might die in fires. If we eliminate disinfectants such as triclosan, more people may get sick. If we take formaldehyde out of cosmetics, more consumers might suffer health effects from applying rancid products on their skin. And if retailers refuse to sell containers lined with bisphenol A-based resins, inferior replacement products may lead to increased food-borne illnesses.

This is why IWF, CEI, and other coalition partners are calling on retailers to ignore the "Mind-the-Store" campaign advice. After all — despite the greens nanny statist comments that it's "not feasible" for consumers to make wise choices — consumers are better situated to decide what products they want to buy and which they don't.