Skewing the Facts
In high school, one of my freshman science teachers came to class very excited to inform us about a “new” toxic chemical: dihydrogen monoxide, or DHMO. He filled us in on the details, saying that DHMO causes death in very small amounts if inhaled, is a major component of acid rain, causes severe burns, is found in pre-cancerous tumor biopsies and contributes to environmental maladies such as soil erosion and hurricanes. And the list didn’t stop there.
DHMO sounds like a pretty dangerous chemical, maybe even something we should eliminate from our lives, and when asked, most of the class voted to ban DHMO. Then came the kicker. Dihydrogen monoxide is simply the chemical name for water.
His point was this: to the uninformed consumer, information can be easily skewed and facts can be hidden. While dihydrogen monoxide can be deadly, it is also absolutely required to sustain life. In skewing the information, Science isn’t the only place where facts and figures can be skewed or information intentionally left out to create an entirely different picture.
Recently, a report issued by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) called the 2011 Meat Eaters Guide to Climate Change and Health spurred responses in the blogosphere and in news media across the nation, with recommendations to re-institute “Meatless Mondays” or to buy organic and grassfed products.
A large part of the report focused on the emissions and greenhouses gases that result from production of lamb, beef and pork, as well as in the production of cheese. However, when you get to the end of the report, EWG admits that grassfed beef produce more methane and nitrous oxide as a result of longer finishing time.
“There are few definitive studies of the net amount of greenhouse gas emissions from grassfed versus confined-feedlot, grain-fed meat,” says the EWG report. My question is this: why weren’t these studies done?
Is this just another form of skewing the information, like with dihydrogen monoxide? The EWG isn’t providing us with all the information necessary to make a educated decision, and I think it’s something that Americans need to be aware of when we’re making our food decisions.
From my research, organic products, particularly organic produce, are no nutritionally different than conventionally produced vegetables. A study published in Food Chemistry by P.C. Cardoso says, “There is no evidence of the nutritional superiority of organically grown fruits.”
Keep in mind, I’m not advocating against grassfed or organic products. The beauty of living in the United States is that we get to make the choices about how we live our lives and what we want to eat. Ultimately, it’s a question of whether you are willing to pay a little extra for organic produce and grassfed beef.
I simply aim to make people aware that anyone with an agenda can easily spin information or conveniently leave out facts to support their case. It’s really up to us to educate ourselves on what we are eating.
So the next time the latest dihydrogen monoxide scare breaks into the media or another report making outrageous claims or pushing an agenda, make sure to check the facts and figures and look at all the information before making your decision. Don’t ban dihydrogen monoxide and don’t condemn conventionally produced cattle.