Jolley: Five minutes with CSPI's bad science

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Michael F. Jacobson holds a Ph.D. in microbiology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a school with a justifiably great reputation for turning out great engineers.  He proves that microbiology is not engineering.

According to Wikipedia, Jacobson co-founded the Center for Science in the Public Interest in 1971, along with two fellow scientists he met while working at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law. He has been a national leader in the movement to require nutrition labels on all foods and most beverages to help consumers make informed decisions about what to consume. Jacobson's main claim to fame is he gave our media the now widely over-used phrases "junk food" and "empty calorie".

In the interest of full disclosure and transparency Jacobson sits on the National Council of the Great American Meatout, a bizarre annual event patterned after the very successful Great American Smokeout.  Meatout is sponsored by the also bizarre Farm Animal Rights Movement. Jacobson and his organization, probably under the mistaken belief that all foods consumed should be pre-approved by the health cops, created a hit list of 'bad'  foods and beverages.

Jacobson calls for punitive taxes on this hit list of unhealthy foods, warning labels (think cigarette packs) on packaging for evil foods and beverages, and highly restrictive rules and regs on advertising and marketing junk foods.  He has also asked that lawsuits be filed against food producers and retailers whose food products are 'detrimental to public health.'

Proving that M.I.T. is a great engineering school but maybe not so hot in other areas, Jacobson just wrote a 'memo' headlined  "Hoofing it Away from Beef.'  If only the academic requirements behind M.I.T's microbiology degrees were as strenuous as those behind their engineering degrees, we might not have been subjugated to such 'light- my-hair-on-fire-and-let-me-run-naked-down-the-highway' food theology.

"Deciding between steak and chicken tonight?" he asked. "Corn-fed beef is by far the worse choice, not just for you, but for the environment and for the welfare of the animals."

We won't let the similarity in the nutritional value of the two protein resources negate his 'far worse choice' line will we?

He bullet points his arguments (I shoot back in italics after each credibility-free point)

■ Health. Today, most cattle end up in feedlots, where high-calorie grains fatten them up quick­ly. The extra fat eventually zeroes in on human arteries. And red meat—especially hot dogs, sausages, and other processed meats—promotes colon cancer.

So he assumes ALL the extra weight put on cattle is pure fat, none of it cooks out on the grill and we eat all the fat on our plates?  He really is a clueless vegan, isn't he? The fact that beef is leaner than ever and has an excellent nutritional profile is something that he seems to willingly let escape his 'scientific' mind seems a bit curious. 

And would he please do two more things before he writes about this issue again? (1). Understand that 'hot dogs, sausages and other processed meats' aren't all red meat.  Some are made from turkey, chicken and/or pork - often call 'the other white meat.'  (2). The jury is still out on that colon cancer thing. Medical News Today called it a myth, quoting a Japanese study completed in 2007. 

■ Environment. Whether cattle live out on the range or in feedlots, they emit methane gas, a potent cause of global warming. What’s more, growing corn and soy­beans for feed requires huge amounts of fertilizer, pesti­cides, water, and fossil fuel. Statistics Canada estimates that beef and dairy cattle are responsible for 30 per cent of all food-related greenhouse gas emissions. That’s triple the global-warming impact of fruits and vegetables.

Then there’s the stench from the manure at feedlots—they’re called “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs—that can sicken nearby residents.

More fuzzy science from Jacobson.  And it's refreshing to know that he and so many other urban dwellers like NYT columnist Nicky Kristof, have realized that animals poop, an unpleasant but natural function shared by other species like people and whales.  Now all we have to do is teach Jacobson that, like cattle in feedlots, bears in the woods do the same thing.  BTW, that Statistics Canada estimate was based on some earlier reports that have since been debunked.  If Jacobson can talk about junk food, can we talk about junk science?

■ Animal welfare. The grain that’s fed to animals in feedlots can cause digestive, hoof, and liver diseases and may necessitate the continuous use of antibiotics. That can trigger the growth of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that can infect humans.

Mikey, Mikey, Mikey, whatever are we going to do with you? Two different parts of the same sentence were based on SWAG's, otherwise known as statistical wild-as guesses. "Can cause' and 'may necessitate'?  Please! Neither point you tried to make is valid. And for probably the last time because these folks refuse to learn - most of the antibiotics used in animal ag are not used with humans. Banning them this afternoon would have no direct effect on human health issues.

The most serious problem with antibiotic resistant bacteria is caused by the staggering over prescription of human antibiotics for human use.  Jacobson's suggesting something like trying to combat the use of steroids in baseball by banning the use of tennis rackets.

More from Jacobson's memo:

"The government could help protect our health and the environment by banning the routine feeding of important antibiotics to live­stock, which should lead to cleaner, less densely populat­ed CAFOs and healthier ani­mals. It also could set limits on the air and water pollu­tion from CAFOs. Moreover, it could mount mass-media campaigns aimed at encour­aging people to continue switching from red meat to poultry and legumes and to eat more produce, seafood, and whole grains."

Important note: Jacobson was writing to a Canadian audience from his Canadian office, proving that America doesn't have a monopoly on people who cry out for government intervention immediately upon the supposition that something bad might be afoot.

But those are improbable reforms considering that one out of every nine MPs in the governing Conservative Party—including the Minister of Agriculture—is a farmer. And there are no conflict-of-interest rules to force farmer–MPs to recuse themselves from farm-policy decisions in the House of Com­mons or in Cabinet law-making roles.

Why should farmers recuse themselves from helping make policy decisions that effect farmers? Why should people with a big bully pulpit and a shocking lack of knowledge about an issue be permitted to railroad agriculture back into the 1880's?  And Jacobson's pot shot at the Minister of Agriculture's background?  I think it's a damn good idea that the man in that office is capable of telling the difference between a ham hock and a side of beef.

Jacobsen signs off on his memo with this comment:

"But you don’t need to wait for the govern­ment to act. Just think twice when you approach the beef counter at the grocery store; skip the burgers and steaks at restaurants; and encourage your school or workplace cafeteria to save money, the environment, and lives by serving less beef."

I always think twice, sometimes more often, when I approach the beef counter; should I buy 2 or 3 pounds of ground beef?  Sirloin or Kansas City strip?  I rarely skip burgers and steaks when I eat out; I'm still searching for the perfect burger.  And I'm still trying to figure out how the Jacobson's of this planet figure serving less beef saves money, the environment and lives. Maybe it's just another meaningless mantra from intellectually disabled aliens?


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Robert    
Kentucky  |  April, 16, 2014 at 09:11 AM

Chuck: Ouch! This is quite a response to Jacobsen's prescriptions that frankly borders on the same over-the-top attitude you attribute to him. But maybe that's what you were driving at, I'm not sure.... The thing is, if you're going to mash up his ideas on the grounds of "bad science" then you have to introduce "good science." You sort of do in a couple of places, but in most (especially the issue of the environment) you simply denigrate rather than offer serious alternative discussion. This unfortunately seems to be a bit of a departure from your usual opinion pieces. I sure hope it isn't a trend.

Chuck    
Kansas  |  April, 17, 2014 at 10:01 AM

Sorry, I had just written a parody of a similar story written by Nicholas Kristof in the NYT a few weeks ago and then I read Jacobsen's piece. I could/should have done more with his environmental comment, there is plenty of research out there that refutes his opinion. Maybe I should write something soon delving into the fallacies he presents.

AJ    
April, 16, 2014 at 01:09 PM

The Jacobsen's of this world should just eat how they wish, and leave the rest of us alone. I personally eat a lot of fish, because that is what I enjoy. BUT, I also eat red meat when I feel like it, and I enjoy it very much! It's not my business what other people eat or don't eat. I dislike others telling me what to do, or what is or is not best for me. In general, most people need to mind their own business a whole LOT more!

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