Search for: hazard

Why ‘hazard based’ agricultural chemical regulation doesn’t work

In many ways, various governments have passed regulations with a “one size fits all” mentality. More often than not, however, this approach wrongly limits consumer choice, and more importantly creates tremendous externalities which are often left unaddressed. Our goal is to highlight instances where the “one size fits all” approach has failed consumers and explain why.

Concern over glyphosate in food has become a major topic the last couple of years and has gained a lot of media attention in a recent study where they found that organic beers and wines contained small traces of glyphosate – a pre-harvest herbicide and harvest aid used on cereal crops like wheat, oats and vegetable seed oils like canola and sunflower. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit for glyphosate is 100 times greater than the amounts found in the beer and wine samples, and thus, the risk of human contamination is extremely low.Nevertheless, policymakers want to ban glyphosate which would reduce crop yields and make beer and wine even more expensive.

You probably heard about the “Beepocalypse” – the catastrophic scenario in which declining honeybee population is caused by pesticides. However, honeybees aren’t actually declining but increasing. Occasional reductions in honeybee populations are multifactorial, but varrora mites and the viruses they carry are likely the leading drivers, nutrition being another big factor. According to a USDA bee researcher: “If there’s a top ten list of what’s killing honey bee colonies, I’d put pesticides at number 11″. By creating a “one size fits all” regulation and thus banning pesticides, policymakers could make the mite problem worse which would actually harm honey bee colonies instead of protecting them.

Read more here

Understanding “hazard” and “risk”

A lot of the Brussels conversation over the precautionary principle is misguided.

By 2030, the European Union’s “Farm to Fork” strategy aims to reduce the use of pesticides significantly. The EU deals in percentages of the total use of chemical substances it wants to cut, whether or not their scientific safety assessment was in any shape or form negative. This in essence makes it a political ambition, not an evidence-based policy.

When reading articles, blog posts, or policy papers related to the use of pesticides, we often hear the word “hazard”. “Highly-hazardous” chemicals or substances are in the focus of many environmental groups, who demand that the EU cleans up its act on the alleged ‘poison’ in our food. Theirs is a misunderstanding of the scientific meaning of “hazard” and “risk”

Risk-based regulation manages exposure to hazards. For instance, the sun is a hazard when going to the beach, yet sunlight enables the body’s production of vitamin D and some exposure to it is essential to human health. As with everything else, it is the amount of exposure that matters. A hazard-based regulatory approach to sunlight would shut us all indoors and ban all beach excursions, rather than caution beach-goers to limit their exposure by applying sunscreen. The end result would be to harm, not protect human health. 

The same logic of hazard-based regulation is all too often applied in crop protection regulation, where it creates equally absurd inconsistencies. For instance, if wine was sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under EU law, as alcohol is a known and quite potent carcinogen at high levels of consumption. All this is rationalized through an inconsistent and distorted application of the precautionary principle. In essence, hazard-based regulation advocates would endorse outlawing all crop protection methods that cannot be proven completely safe at any level, no matter how unrealistic — a standard which, if applied consistently, would outlaw every organic food, every life-saving drug, and indeed every natural and synthetic substance. 

By ignoring the importance of the equation Risk = Hazard x Exposure, hazard-based regulation does not follow a scientifically sound policy-making approach.

As risk-management expert David Zaruk writes on his blog The Risk-Monger:

“So why then are there individuals in Brussels who think that a regulator’s job is to remove all hazards, regardless of our ability to control exposure to the hazard, regardless of the limited exposure levels, regardless of the lost benefits? For these lobbyists (often activists for environmental-health NGOs), a hazard is considered as identical to a risk (regardless of exposure) and the regulatory goal (for them) is to remove all hazards. They support the approach known as: Hazard-based regulation.

Hazard-based regulation implies that the only way to manage risks is to remove the hazard. If synthetic pesticides are hazardous, remove them. If we cannot be certain that a chemical has no effect on our endocrine system (at any dose), then deny authorisation.”

This concept of differentiating hazard and risk in the scientific and regulatory language is also supported by EFSA — the European Food Safety Authority, which advises the European Union on things such as chemical approvals.

Understanding hazard and risk is essential when addressing all questions as they relate to the precautionary principle. Artificial intelligence is prone to fall victim to a similar level of over-regulation the advocates of extreme caution get their way. Instead, the European Union should choose the road to innovation. Evidence-based policy-making is about assessing risks, but it is also about managing risks for the sake of allowing for innovation while ironing out problems as they appear. 

We cannot allow ourselves to fall behind in the global race for innovative technology because we are too afraid of changes.

Originally published here.

Lina Khan’s Anti-Progress Paradox

Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan has it out for Amazon, and it is a fight she’s been preparing for since grad school. Six years ago, in 2017, Khan amassed attention with the publication of her academic article criticizing Amazon’s eCommerce dominance. Khan was 29 years old, just a year older than Amazon is today.

Thanks in part to the notoriety Khan achieved from that publication, the Biden Administration appointed her to the FTC, and she has been eager to put Amazon in the hot seat ever since.

Khan’s article, “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” featured in The Yale Law Journal, notes how Amazon’s “sheer scale and breadth…may pose hazards” to our economic system and “the potential social costs of Amazon’s dominance” is worrisome. However, just one page prior to these assertions, Khan notes how customers “universally seem to love the company” and that “close to half of all online buyers go directly to Amazon first to search for products.” 

Khan’s article, and the attention it received, signals a scary level of evasion within our culture. There is a strong desire to bash big business and vilify the success of billionaires, yet much of their wealth was derived through the power of our own pocketbooks. Our Starbucks coffee, use of smartphone capabilities, and online shopping sprees weren’t brought on by force — they were choices. And to a large extent, we are better off because of them.

This is not to say that marketers haven’t improved their ability to appeal to our interests, incentivize our purchase decisions, and persuade us with readily available buy-it-now buttons. But being coaxed is not the same as being coerced.

Over 200 million people across the globe have opted to use Prime, and even government agencies (too many in the US to name) have readily signed on for Amazon Web Services (AWS). The launch of AWS in 2006 has been a huge benefit to organizations of all shapes and sizes, and the sheer scope of offerings that Amazon has developed over time for helping small businesses is truly remarkable. 

Currently, more than 60 percent of sales in Amazon’s stores are derived from small and medium-sized businesses, and Amazon has gone to great lengths to incentivize various forms of entrepreneurship.

Amazon offers educational assistance to those looking to leverage its platform through programs like Seller University and Small Business Academy, and it enables sellers to differentiate and appeal to consumers according to what region they are in or communities they represent.

The value derived from using Amazon’s logistics and promotional strategies is undeniable given that it has resulted in the creation of entire agencies whose sole purpose is to help other firms maximize their use of Amazon. 

Indeed, despite the FTC’s aversion to Bezos’s business, Amazon is an American brand to be proud of. Over the years, it has earned many awards and accolades for its customer-centric approach and Amazon is often referenced in business courses to reiterate best practices for business growth.

People love the Amazon brand – so much so that it was ranked higher than the US military in the Harvard CAPs Harris Poll and achieved top positions in both the Morning Consult list and the Axios Harris Poll for its favorable status and reputation. And yet, little appreciation is granted by Khan or her FTC colleagues for how Amazon improves efficiencies for small and medium-sized businesses or caters to customers who may have limited means

If Amazon can be sued by the FTC for the success it has achieved in catering to customers and enabling the sales of third-party sellers, what chance does a small business have for crafting its own strategies and having autonomy over its own operations and distribution networks? Industrial liberty is being hampered by government power more than it is via corporate power, and all members of the business community should be concerned about this fact. 

A society can’t progress when an economic system is subject to bureaucratic bullying or when the dynamics of market mechanisms are distorted by political pressures. 

Antitrust laws, as being applied by Lina Khan, are truly anti-progress.

Originally published here

Are we witnessing the first cracks in the EU’s “better safe than sorry” approach?

A new amendment to EU essential oils regulations spells victory for European consumers and industry

Good policy-making means correcting unfortunate mistakes. For this reason, it is wonderful to see the European Parliament address burdensome essential oils rules. In today’s plenary vote, Members of Parliament approved amendment 32, designed to adjust Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP)regulations. Instead of grouping essential oils under the ambiguous label of mixtures containing more than one substance, any natural water or steam emulsions will now be more accurately described as substances of natural botanic origin, separate from already extant rules (EU) No 1107/2009 and (EU) No 528/2012 for organic insecticides.

The proposal significantly improves the European Union Chemicals Agency’s (ECHA) ruling. The initial plan was based on a hazard mentality, which allowed for no amount of risk so long as a single part of a substance may be troublesome in a hypothetical laboratory setting. It further equated essential oils with hazardous artificial compounds when all the available evidence suggests they are natural and perfectly safe. As a result, the ECHA would most likely have curtailed essential oils from being bought or sold via EU regulation 2021/1902.

The original regulations would have only added fuel to the fire consumers face. The EU-wide inflation rate remains high at 4.3%, a figure well above the European Central Bank’s price stability target of 2%. Higher prices translate into a general price rise, making it harder for ordinary Europeans to make ends meet. Thanks to the extra regulations, the few available products would have become more expensive due to the added compliance costs, piling further momentum to price rises. In the worst-case scenario, ordinary buyers could have been deprived of some of their favorite perfumes, shampoos, and make-up kits (which contain at least nine hundred and ninety-two substances derived from rose, chamomile, lemon, tree bark, or other natural components).

The amendment will prevent either scenario– essential oils never have to be withdrawn from the market because of unfounded safety concerns or comply with additional labeling rules and regulations. Consumers are left to enjoy the same items at affordable prices.

Producers in European member states also have reasons to celebrate the certainty the amendment brings to their businesses. France could have lost its position as the second-biggest supplier of lavender and the third-biggest exporter of the plant, and 458 million euros in exports. Bulgaria’s Kazanlak Valley is famous worldwide for its rose oil. It alone yielded two tonnes of essential oils, then exported for 92 million euros annually. Bulgarian workers and companies who were reasonably concerned about the implications of the ECHA’s actions can now breathe a collective sigh of relief. So, too, can the 4500 families in Italy’s Reggio Calabria responsible for harvesting 95% of all bergamot around the world. Italy’s 174 million euros in exports are safe and secure.

Smaller players in the market were even more vulnerable to change. Lithuanian cosmetics companies could see their mint, chamomile, juniper, and spruce overseas exchange disappear, losing 379.9 million euros. Minor yet entrepreneurial enterprises like the Tedre Farm in Estonia, originators of a more efficient carbon monoxide extraction method for raspberry oil, may have been rendered insolvent under the ECHA’s plans. With amendment 32, they and others can make their mark in the broader market unperturbed.

However, policymakers should go further and urge the ECHA to change its mentality towards regulation altogether. Currently, the ECHA operates based on a hazard-based, “better safe than sorry” approach, which has led it to oppose essential oils needlessly. Instead, regulators should practice the risk-based method, assuming realistic intended use levels. In doing so, they should incorporate the empirical evidence that shows essential oils to be harmless to humans and the environment into regulatory decision-making.  This way, they will avoid making any future mistakes.

Originally published here


Central European Affairs has recently dealt extensively with the EU overregulating essential oils. We had a podcast here at CEA Talks with the expert on this proposal, Dr. Emil Panzaru, who works at the Consumer Choice Center as Research Manager and also ran an op-ed with our magazine in which he explained the problems of the proposed legislation. Now, we are going after the story, and we want to see what happens on the EU level when there is a push from experts, stakeholders, and civil society to cancel the proposal or change it if possible. It is fascinating looking at how the “Brussels bureaucracy” operates when we experience every day that the Hungarian government would never give in to anything coming from other actors but its politicians.

CEA: Dr. Panzaru, when we last talked, you enthusiastically outlined why the proposal by the European Union Chemical Agency is terrible for the industry of essential oils and, in the long run, bad for the consumer. Can you update us on whether there are any developments regarding this issue?

Emil Panzaru: First, I would like to reiterate what I told you last time. Placing essential oils with other harmful substances is a big mistake. When we see such an example of overregulation, we have to raise our voices, especially when we know those who will be hurt the most are mainly SMEs, small farmers, and, last but not least, consumers.

CEA: Would anyone benefit from the changes to chemical regulations outlined initially by the European Chemicals Agency?

EP: Regulations change the balance of costs and benefits firms must make. As such, there are always benefactors and losers of every regulation; in this case, those who need not comply, for example, outside competitors like the Chinese, would overtake their European competitors and take over the market with their essential oils products.

CEA: Do you see any positive change in the run-up to the decision-making?

EP: Definitely. Just over a week ago, a new amendment was put forward, which suggests that water or stem-based extracts like essential oils are safe as they are organic botanic products. The proposal also recommends a new category for these substances apart from existing legislation on biocides and natural pesticide. 

CEA: Can the industry and consumers now be relieved that these products will continue to be produced as before?

EP: Not yet. This amendment still needs to be voted on and accepted. But I must say that this amendment is going in the right direction. Probably, some decision-makers finally realized that removing these products from the shelves just because one in a hundred substances might prove dangerous under laboratory conditions was not feasible and would have been downright economically harmful to European businesses and consumers. Based on the initial logic, anything can be labeled harmful. 

CEA: Speaking of which, would the original proposal bring about extra costs for producers?

EP: It surely would. This is a solid argument as well. When you look at the extra procurement costs that it would entail in an economic environment of high inflation, which you, as a Hungary-based outlet, must understand much better than in some other parts of Europe, you will see that a lot of producers would have to close operations or increase prices, which would then be unable to compete with producers who are not affected by the original proposal and further drive the price momentum of inflation. Due to this unnecessary supply problem, consumers will have fewer items to choose from and be able to afford fewer of them in the first place.

CEA: Following this note, could you share more insights into how this proposal affected countries that are the leading producers and what this amendment means for their industries?

EP: Before the amendment, these regulations were causing significant concerns for countries heavily reliant on essential oil production. For instance, Bulgaria is the world’s leading rose oil producer, and the threat of their business being wiped out by irresponsible regulations was a real threat. Italy, France, and Estonia also faced the potential loss of substantial export revenue due to the overregulation. Amendment 32 provides much-needed relief for these countries, ensuring their essential oil industries can thrive without unnecessary hurdles and economic losses.

CEA: What are your expectations for the EU’s future of essential oil regulations?

EP: Recognizing essential oils as organic and safe in Amendment 32 is a step in the right direction, but there’s still work to be done in promoting sensible, risk-based assessments in regulatory processes. My expectation for the future is that policymakers and regulatory agencies will employ a risk-based (rather than hazard-based approach) and continue to listen to scientific evidence. That means prioritizing common sense in their decision-making and ensuring that essential oils and other natural substances are regulated in a fair and balanced manner to the benefit of both consumers and industries.

Proposed EU essential oils amendment is a relief for European consumers and businesses

Under its strict “better safe than sorry” hazard approach, the ECHA intended to modify existing Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) rules and group essential oils under the nebulous category of mixtures containing more than one substance. The original plan meant essential oils were wrongly considered on par with dangerous artificial substances and became open to potential market restrictions under EU regulation 2021/1902.

Introduced on the 21st of September as a correction to the CLP, Parliament’s amendment 32 now rightfully recognizes these water or steam-based extracts as organic and safe. The proposal creates a new rubric of multi-constituent substances of natural botanical origin not covered by existing rules (EU) No 1107/2009 and (EU) No 528/2012 for organic insecticides.

Consumers and producers have every reason to support this potential return to regulatory and economic common sense. Emulsions like rose or lemon oil are vital ingredients for bio-make-up kits, shampoos, deodorants, and other cosmetics. The 2.29 billion euro European clean beauty industry could not exist without them. Provision 32 reassures suppliers that their items will not be spontaneously removed from shelves just because one particle out of a hundred could prove dangerous in a hypothetical laboratory setting. It also guarantees that no frightening labels or warnings will be present on the packaging, which would have needlessly scared many consumers away.

Most importantly, it means companies do not have to incur extra costs when inflation is already driving prices up across the board. It is worth remembering that EU-wide inflation rates remain stubbornly high at 5.9%(jumping in Hungary to a whopping 14.2%). Now was not the time for a thicket of unexpected chemical regulations to make things even harder. Thanks to the Parliament’s intervention, consumers can still find their favorite items in stores at the usual prices.

EU member states should feel even more encouraged by the amendment. Bulgaria is the world’s number one rose oil producer, harvesting almost two tonnes of emulsions annually for exports worth 92 million euros. Bulgarian producers were understandably worried the ECHA might wipe their business out. Approximately 4500 family-owned small companies in Reggio Calabria generate 95% of global bergamot production.

The ECHA’s initial decision left their future uncertain, and Italy could have lost 174 million euros in exports. France’s renowned lavender business and 458 million euros were on the line. Estonia’s Tedre Farm, inventor of a novel carbon monoxide method for emulsifying raspberries, would have squandered the fruits of its innovation. Bulgaria,  Italy, France, Estonia, and other member states can now rest assured that EU regulations do not unfairly disadvantage them.

There is still work to be done, of course. The proposal has only been tabled and is pending formal adoption in a Parliament plenary. For all the reasons mentioned above, MEPs should move to approve the amendment at the first available opportunity.

More so, policymakers should strike at the root of the problem and urge the ECHA to consider a change in mentality. In light of the essential oils case, it has become clear that hazard-based thinking does not accurately reflect the dangers of substances. Such reasoning must be replaced with a risk-based assessment of emulsions and other compounds. A risk-based evaluation would operate with safe intended use levels and take realistic evidence seriously. Research has shown that essential oils are harmless to people, plants, animals, and the environment and preferable to artificial repellents like DEET and picaridin. Regulators should listen and follow suit. That would be the best news to look forward to.

Originally published here

New EU rules on essential oils will hurt honest businesses and consumers

For many people, the European Union and its institutions have always meant overregulation and bureaucracy. Their beliefs are fed from time to time by specific rulings or proposals. This time it is the European Union’s Chemical Agency (ECHA) that has set sight on essential oils as substances needing strict control. You are most likely using essential oils without knowing it and with no harm done. Hundreds of such water or steam-distilled extracts make it into insect repellents,perfumes, cosmetics, and other toiletries like shampoos in small doses that havepassed skin and allergy testing. But the ECHA is not planning to consult their safety record and actual levels of exposure (what, in public policy speak, one would call ‘risk-based thinking’). Instead, it will amend CLP (Classification, Labelling, and Packaging ) and REACH rules to mark essential oils as hazardous complex chemicals of more than one constituent substance. Suppose one molecule in the mix could be characterized as a threat under isolated laboratory conditions or deduced via statistical reasoning. In that case, policymakers can label these natural oils dangerous or ban their usage altogether.

Legitimate producers and European consumers alike have no reason to welcome the news. Inflation, the rise of prices across the European economy, has not yet subsided – the EU’s average annual rate stood at6.4% in the EU (5.5% in the euro area), above the ECB’s price stability target of 2%. However, the average masks considerable variation in which poorer EU countries are affected more than their well-off counterparts. Luxembourg’s annual rate is amere 1%, whereas Hungary registers 19.9% (the highest in the EU), Poland at 11%, Romania at 9.3%, and Bulgaria at 7.5%. Because consumers in poorer countries tend to spend more of their income on essential goods and find saving money hard, they are likely to suffer disproportionately because of inflation.

Similarly, legal producers (who make it an objective to comply with the rules fully) in these countries will see a generalized rise in the cost of services, leaving their financial prospects uncertain. By demanding more onerous procedures, the ECHA’s ruling makes it harder for suppliers to bring their goods to the market. As fewer goods are available to buy, the measure is fuelling the momentum of rising prices, which leaves consumers even worse off than before.

The ECHA’s decision is particularly damaging when considering how the European essential oils market works. Notably, smaller companies drive the industry in the EU. No less than 95% of the world’s supply of bergamot comes from 4500 Italian families cultivating it in the Calabria region. The Essential Citrus team in Portugal extracts oil from over 350 citrus varieties in Alejento. Estonia’s Tedre-Farmuses a one-of-a-kind carbon monoxide method to distill oil from 2.5 hectares of raspberries. As such, these enterprises have much smaller profit margins, meaning they are less likely to be able to afford to operate in an environment with costlier restrictions and where their dedicated buyers are scared away by frightening warning labels. With their loss comes a loss of revenue, potentially endangering the 2.29 billion euro European clean beauty market and more economic woes for consumers.

Policymakers, producers, and consumers should encourage the ECHA to reverse course and avoid this outcome. Preliminary discussions began on the 30thof June when the EU’s Permanent Representative Committee requested that the EU Commission re-evaluate the classification for essential oils four years from now. But that should only be the start. Better still, regulation should focus on the genuine threat from fraudsters who overpromise and underdeliver on the medical effects of essential oils using concrete evidence (like safety tests grounded in plausible levels of exposure) rather than hypothetical reasoning.  Consumers can then stay safe without making the cost-of-living crisis more complicated than it already is.

Originally published here

Harm reduction, not policing, will boost public health in Alabama

By: Elizabeth Hicks & Stephen Kent

In a landmark move earlier this year, Alabama state lawmakers passed first-of-its-kind legislation effectively outlawing the use of cigarettes and vaping products in vehicles when a child 14 years of age or younger is present. That law is now in effect statewide. While the intent behind this legislation is undoubtedly noble, the treatment of vaping and smoking as equals is going to cause real harm in Alabama. This will not go the way lawmakers think. 

The idea of the new law is simple. Adults should not be subjecting young children to cigarette smoke and adversely impacting their health when the kids have no say in the matter. Smoking, after all, is a choice that adult consumers make for themselves. 

Older folks who grew up in the heyday of cigarette smoking often share some memories of being in smokey cars with the windows rolled up, toughing it out at a time when smokers weren’t widely aware of the hazard posed by second-hand smoke to their passengers. That time is past. 

Acknowledging this fact, we have to all ask ourselves what protection is owed to young passengers in the car with smokers, and also what kind of laws will reduce harm for both children and their parent/guardian in the driver’s seat. Alabama Representative Rolanda Hollis made an effort to address this in HB3, but the law’s failure to make distinctions between cigarettes and vape products which have been shown to be 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes, is not going to be a net benefit to public health. 

Alabama is a state that sees a staggering number of smoking-related fatalities, close to 8,600 deaths annually, along with nearly $309 million in Medicaid costs incurred by the state. Reducing these harms is important, and it should start with incentivizing cigarette smokers to switch. Passing laws that insinuate the two products are equally harmful reads to a smoker as an excuse to keep on with the product they’re accustomed to. Switching can be hard, but the potential for small social benefits like not being kicked to the curb every time you want to smoke is one of those things that makes the switch to vaping easier. The same goes for smokers behind the steering wheel. 

Harm reduction strategies work. There is little evidence, however, to show that punitive measures like $100 fines for smoking in the car whilst parenting is going to be a boon to public health in states like Alabama. 

As is well known, cigarettes contain a harmful cocktail of chemicals and tar, which contribute to respiratory diseases and cancer. These components are not present in the vapor produced by e-cigarettes.  Toxicologist Igor Burstyn of Drexel University noted that the contents of e-cig vapor “justifies surveillance,” but that exhaled vapor contains so little contamination that the risk to bystanders is insignificant. This has been supported by Public Health England’s updated review of evidence in 2018. 

Tacking financial penalties to vaping in the car, even with the windows down and fresh air flowing in, smacks of the early days of COVID-19 alarmism when police were arresting people for being outside at public beaches or doing watersports. When it comes to vaping, the level of risk and the effort that will be required to police the activity, just don’t line up. 

Yes, nicotine fuels both products in question, and there’s no getting away from its addictive qualities for the smoker. If the Heart of Dixie wants to lead the way in protecting public health, it is never too late to embrace harm reduction strategies when it comes to smoking. 

Elizabeth Hicks is the U.S. Affairs Analyst and Stephen Kent is the Media Director for the Consumer Choice Center


La classification de certaines substances comme plus ou moins dangereuses montre de graves lacunes dans la communication aux consommateurs des réalités scientifiques.

Le Centre international de recherche sur le cancer (CIRC), un organisme associé à l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS), a récemment annoncé qu’il classerait l’édulcorant artificiel aspartame comme « possiblement cancérogène ». L’agence n’a pas encore révélé l’ensemble des données sur lesquelles repose cette décision, mais quelle que soit la teneur de la publication à venir, l’annonce inquiète déjà de nombreux consommateurs quant à leur consommation de substituts du sucre.

En réalité, l’aspartame peut être consommé sans danger. La nouvelle classification de l’OMS en dit plus sur les lacunes de la stratégie de communication des risques de l’agence que sur l’aspartame.

Peut-être, ou probablement ?

Le CIRC classe ce qu’il appelle les « agents » en quatre catégories de cancérogènes.

Le groupe 1 comprend les agents pour lesquels il existe des preuves solides d’un lien avec le cancer – les radiations, par exemple, ou l’opium et le tabac. A l’inverse, les agents du groupe 3 sont ceux qui sont « inclassables quant à [leur] cancérogénicité pour l’homme ». Au grand soulagement de nombreux lecteurs, la caféine est un agent du groupe 3.

Mais deux groupes existent au milieu. Le groupe 2A comprend les agents « probablement cancérogènes », ce qui indique un risque plus élevé que le groupe 2B, qui énumère les agents « peut-être cancérogènes » – ce qui est le cas de l’aspartame.

Pour déterminer si un agent est cancérogène ou non, le CIRC procède à une évaluation basée sur la danger (« hazard », en anglais), c’est-à-dire qu’il examine le potentiel de nocivité d’un agent, et non la probabilité qu’il le soit effectivement. Mais le CIRC n’est pas une agence de sécurité alimentaire et ses conclusions ne disent rien sur la question de savoir si une consommation raisonnable constituerait un risque pour les consommateurs.

Dans le cas de l’aspartame, une personne pesant 60 kg devrait boire entre 12 et 36 canettes par jour de soda édulcoré à l’aspartame pour augmenter son risque potentiel de cancer au-delà des niveaux de base. C’est pourquoi l’utilisation de l’aspartame est autorisée au Canada et dans de nombreuses autres juridictions depuis plus de 40 ans.

Bien que l’on ne sache pas exactement quelle est l’ampleur de l’augmentation à partir d’une consommation de 12 à 36 canettes, elle est probablement inférieure à un centième de pourcent, en termes absolus. En dessous de ce seuil de consommation, les consommateurs ne courent aucun risque.

L’abus de « … » est mauvais pour la santé

Les consommateurs doivent comprendre que les responsabilités du CIRC sont très différentes de celles du Comité mixte FAO/OMS d’experts des additifs alimentaires (JECFA) et que ce dernier utilise des méthodes tout à fait différentes. Le JECFA n’a jamais trouvé l’aspartame cancérogène, alors que le CIRC, dans la longue liste de produits qu’il a évalués, trouve presque toujours des agents potentiellement cancérogènes – parce qu’il ne tient pas compte de la quantité absorbée par un consommateur raisonnable.

Pour que l’aspartame soit inclus dans la catégorie 2B (c’est-à-dire « peut-être cancérogène »), il suffit qu’une seule des caractéristiques suivantes soit remplie : « des preuves limitées de cancérogénicité chez l’homme, ou des preuves suffisantes de cancérogénicité chez l’animal de laboratoire, ou des preuves mécanistes solides, montrant que l’agent présente des caractéristiques clés de cancérogènes pour l’homme ». L’expression « preuves limitées » signifie que l’agence n’a pas besoin d’établir une relation linéaire entre l’agent et l’apparition d’un cancer, comme elle le fait pour le groupe 1. Le « peut-être » dans « peut-être cancérogène » a donc un rôle important à jouer.

Le problème des classifications du CIRC est qu’en fin de compte, elles ne donnent aux consommateurs que des informations très limitées. Si l’on retire de l’équation les niveaux d’exposition, c’est-à-dire la dose, presque tout peut devenir nocif.

Le soleil est nocif par une chaude journée d’été, mais la plupart des consommateurs limitent leur exposition en appliquant un écran solaire ou en se mettant à l’ombre. S’il existe des cas où le soleil peut être considéré comme cancérogène, ce ne serait pas une bonne communication sur les risques que de les étiqueter comme un agent cancérogène, et donc comme quelque chose à éviter à tout prix – pas sans alerter les consommateurs sur le fait qu’il y a une quantité saine de soleil qu’ils devraient se sentir à l’aise d’avoir.

Les dangers du sucre

Tout comme une quantité excessive de soleil peut provoquer un cancer, une quantité excessive d’aspartame peut théoriquement en provoquer un aussi. Toutefois, la plupart des consommateurs ne s’exposent pas au soleil à un niveau cancérogène et ne boivent pas 10 litres de boissons gazeuses sans sucre par jour.

L’aspartame et d’autres additifs alimentaires similaires nous ont aidés à nous éloigner d’un additif que nous devrions probablement consommer avec plus de précaution : le sucre. La surconsommation de sucre peut entraîner des problèmes de santé importants, notamment l’obésité et le diabète. Faire peur aux gens en brouillant les réalités de la perception des risques des édulcorants artificiels risque de les pousser à se rabattre sur des boissons sucrées qui sont en fin de compte pires pour eux.

La classification de l’aspartame comme cancérogène possible ouvre également la voie à un fléau tout à fait différent : les avocats spécialisés dans la responsabilité civile. Aux Etats-Unis en particulier, les évaluations du CIRC fondées sur les risques ont favorisé les actions collectives qui, dans le cadre de procès devant jury, ont permis de soutirer des millions de dollars aux fabricants de produits sûrs. Cela permet peut-être à certains avocats de s’offrir des jolis appartements à New York, mais ne contribue guère à faire progresser la santé publique.

Le cancer est un problème majeur dans notre société et il convient de redoubler d’efforts pour persuader les consommateurs de modifier les comportements qui augmentent le risque de cancer. Cela dit, les décisions consultatives telles que l’avertissement sur l’aspartame ne rendent pas service au débat sur la santé publique en faussant la perception des risques et en alimentant les conspirations sur l’empoisonnement des consommateurs par l’industrie alimentaire mondiale.

Originally published here

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