Friday, September 25, 2015

Much Ado About Nothing

The latest fast food controversy involves Chipotle’s new advertising campaign announcing that virtually all its items would be free of genetically modified ingredients and antibiotics.  CBS reports that the non-profit Center for Consumer Freedom “launched a campaign last month asserting Chipotle's ‘G-M-Over It,’ campaign is misleading,” because their fast food can lead to obesity.  The counter argument shows pictures of morbidly obese people as examples of what can happen.

The company responds that they are sincere about their commitment, but sincerity is not the same as telling the truth.  You can sincerely believe the world is flat, but that doesn’t make it so.  Reporters side with the company, pointing out that the critic has been sponsored by tobacco and food companies in previous campaigns, that some of those campaign “targets have included unions, the Humane Society and Mothers Against Drunk Driving;” but questionable associations, possible conflicts of interest or just having an ax to grind might imply, but does not necessarily prove, falsehood.

First, despite trying to dress it up with catchy advertising as a healthy alternative, no fast food is really the healthiest choice.  On the other hand, it may lead to, but is not responsible for obesity – behavior is responsible for obesity in almost every case.

Second, what they are fighting about is beliefs and not facts.  GMOs have never been shown to be dangerous or even unhealthy.  Genetic modification has happened in nature for thousands of years, sometimes randomly and sometimes directed by humans and today it also happens in the laboratory.  I have provided details with sound references to back this up several times in the past (Genetic Engineering and More on the GMO Panic and Food Paranoia).

Experts agree.  Last spring, ten doctors from various institutions sent a letter to Columbia's dean of medicine calling for the dismissal of Dr. Oz from the staff.  The letter read in part:  “Dr. Oz has repeatedly shown disdain for science and for evidence-based medicine, as well as baseless and relentless opposition to the genetic engineering of food crops."

So Chipotle tries to lure in customers based on unfounded beliefs that avoiding GMOs will somehow make what is essentially fast food healthier.  The company is counting on the fact that unlike beliefs in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, people will not grow out of this one.  They are, after all, sincere.

This reminds me of a story I heard in the Seventies from some college students who would mix chocolate milk in the dorm cafeteria with skim milk rationalizing that the low calories of one would offset the less healthy effects of the other, but still deliver the chocolate taste.  At least this had some logical backing.  Trying to rationalize indulging in fast food with the promise of some mythical non-GMO benefit does not even live up to that questionable standard.  So what are they fighting about?

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