The Voice of Young Science has recently taken part in an Ask for Evidence open letter campaign addressing the need for supermarkets to correctly inform the public about health risks by reducing advertising on products “free-from” non-harmful hysteria-laden products.
You know, MSG, GM, that kind of thing.
The letter was under embargo, but has gone live today.
Ask for Evidence also has some nifty information on their website about what all this means and why it is so important: playing up to people’s unfounded paranoias only consolidates their beliefs and encourages them to trust irrational convictions. Rather than something sensible, like science. And after that, all you need to do is “hear” something is dangerous for your health and people will run from it.
For immediate release:
Supermarkets seriously misinforming customers about health risks
In an open letter to ten supermarket CEOs, early career researchers have called on supermarkets to stop misleading customers about health risks. They accuse the supermarkets of playing on unfounded fears about health effects from GM, MSG, parabens and aspartame.
The rumoured health effects are not supported by scientific evidence, the Voice of Young Science (VoYS) researchers say, and excluding these substances does not provide a health benefit. The researchers had earlier asked UK supermarkets to give reasons for advertising products as “free from” these substances. Without exception, those supermarkets which responded did not provide evidence of health effects. Instead they blamed customer concerns.
The researchers say that the supermarkets know there is no evidence and the negative claims are cynical marketing. Supermarkets that market their products as MSG-free, GM-free, paraben-free and free from artificial sweetener are misleading customers who are concerned about making healthy choices. The supermarkets are also undermining public efforts by the scientific community to communicate the risks and benefits of food choices.
A copy of the letter and a summary of the evidence enclosed with it is available under embargo (see Notes).
Simon Rees, VoYS: “Lidl makes their products with ‘No Added MSG’ because that’s what they think customers want. No science. No evidence. Simple marketing.”
Lucy Brooks, VoYS: “It seems Iceland’s decision not to sell GM products is based on customer demand. If science and logic are to prevail then change needs to start somewhere: first by supermarkets using evidence as the basis of their policies.”
Duncan Casey, VoYS: “I contacted ASDA to ask about the basis for their policy, which is, “led by our customers” according to their policy statement. However, the company was unwilling, or unable, to provide any further information beyond the vague statements on the website; I can only conclude that their stance is led more by scare stories in the press than by any real evidence.”
Victoria Murphy, VoYS co-ordinator: “Hundreds of researchers in the VoYS network are involved in tackling public misinformation about science and health. They make incredible efforts alongside their research work, but they have been frustrated about product and marketing claims. While the media and others have become a good deal more balanced in their presentation of research into MSG, GM, parabens and sweeteners, supermarkets are misleading thousands of people every day. People who want better communication of food risks and benefits are forced to struggle uphill against this tide.”
Professor Rob Chilcott (Chair of the UK Register of Toxicologists): “There are many examples of the public being misled by baseless opinion masquerading as scientific fact. A case in point is the current outbreak of measles, which may be largely attributable to the continued yet totally unfounded distrust of the MMR vaccine. Therefore, it is refreshing to see a new generation of scientists who are prepared to openly challenge misconceptions that may be adversely influencing public debate on important issues such as the safety of GM crops and food additives.”
Dr John Emsley, toxicologist: “It is good to see the VoYS network taking issue with some enduring myths. MSG occurs naturally in many foods and is especially high in cheese, peas and tomatoes. It has the food code number E621 which indicates it is regarded as safe to use in EU countries.”
1. Voice of Young Science (VoYS) is a network of early career researchers who play an active role in public debates about science. It developed around the work of Sense About Science in 2005 and now has hundreds of members internationally. VoYS guides to communication and previous myth busting publications can be viewed at http://www.senseaboutscience.org/voys.html
2. A copy of the letter sent to ten supermarket CEOs, signed by 71 researchers, is available under embargo here, together a summary of current evidence on MSG, parabens, GM and artificial sweetener, which was sent with the letter: http://bit.ly/13FCA3q
3. This letter was sent to Aldi, Asda, Co-Op, Iceland, Lidl, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.