We Are the Rats!

August 4, 2010 in Diabetic Menu Item, Foodland, Nutrition by Victor Bunderson

Guest blog by Doctor Grandpa

We are the rats in studies using a wide variety of food-like substances. These may be new variations on sweeteners, or additives put into many food products to preserve them, dye them, flavor them, or give them texture and mouth-feel.  When public health consequences begin to come to light, spokespersons for the products using the substances often object to studies using rats, because rats are not people.

It is true that rats are not people, and sometimes the results differ.  Most often the rats have been found to be a good model for how people will also react. But people cannot be put into scientific experiments that control the causal connections between what and how much is eaten, to examine the connection to certain diseases.  Still, we are the rats, and we are in experiments at present.  We are the rats because studies with humans are going on.  They are just not scientific in the biological-medical sense.  They are scientific in the marketing and business profitability sense, as good business and legal research is surely used.  How much can a corporation control the substance through patents, trademarks, and control of the supply chain?  How inexpensively can they produce it?  How much penetration can they manage in different market sectors?  Such corporations also ask these research questions: Can we alter the product to reduce some ingredient found to be harmful, or sponsor research that shows it is not really so bad? Can we sponsor unrelated humanitarian projects to show we care? How much will it cost us to fight the lawsuits, and how long can we afford to keep selling it if it is indeed a threat to public health?

This business logic is the logic behind most research related to a profitable group of products. The long battles with the tobacco industry are still fresh in the memories of many of us. Eventually, science and internal whistle-blowers together accumulated enough evidence to show that cigarette smoking had a direct molecular linkage, a causal linkage, to cancer and other diseases, and that it was addictive. Whistle-blowers eventually, at some great personal cost, brought to light, evidence that company executives knew it was addictive all along.

But look how many years it took, and how strong the tobacco industry still is.  Now that obesity has become the number one public health concern, resources and attention will be taken away from tobacco and shifted to addictive, obesity-producing fudes.  These corporations will respond according to good business logic, and increasingly, with more visible attention to social responsibilities.  Where we see evidence of the latter, we and others will commend it.  Where they complain about waiting until definitive human studies have been completed, before they will accept the evidence, we should be angry, because we are the rats.

Imagine using human subjects in the study on rats who were permitted to over-eat junk food, and who developed obesity, and addictive brain changes. (See this study “A Rats-eye-View posted here on June 2, 2010.  It is impossible to control the food and drink, and access to it, let alone implant electrodes in the heads of the humans.  After the study, who but Nazi Dr. Mengele would willingly sacrifice the human subjects to examine the dopamine receptors to determine whether or not there is evidence of addictive brain changes?

As an example of an additive, not intended as a food-like substance, but added to the packages they come in, consider the recent huge recall of 28 million boxes of breakfast cereals, undertaken voluntarily by Kellogg.  This is enough to serve breakfast to 336 million people! While Froot Loops, Corn Pops, Honey Smacks, and others do not make Dr. Grandma’s list for a healthy breakfast, they fell off even Kellogg’s list when the complaints came in about the unusual smell, and a few people became ill.  In a blog post with the subtitle Froot Oops, Tom Philpott discusses how this massive recall, while showing commendable concern and appropriate action by the Kellogg Corp, reveals a “soggy food-safety system”.  Those of you who read about this product recall may have wondered what was the cause.  Philpott cites evidence that it was a component of crude oil, called Methylnaphthalene, which is widely used in packaging materials.  Since recalls usually bring in only about 36% of the products distributed, those of us who didn’t get the word or didn’t bother to return our cereal are the “rats” in a big uncontrolled experiment in how methylnaphthalene is going to affect human health in the quantities that get through and get eaten in the food. Philpott reports that in 1998, the EPA identified this compound as another of those “high production volume” chemicals for which basic safety data is lacking in the public literature.

So we are going to continue to serve as the rats in the commercial studies involving new profitable, patentable, processed substances until we take action to get better regulatory policies, and to understand and control our own food intake.  In Dr. Grandma’s post on the Princeton Study on Rat Obesity is an example of how credible evidence is increasingly accumulating on the impact of High Fructose Corn Syrup.  Her post on Erytritol as a coming alternative to HFCS and other calorie-laden sweeteners gives us good news about a healthy new choice.  We offer one version of this healthy choice as Doctor Grandma’s Delight.

And we advocate eating whole, healthy foods, prepared to taste yummy.  Today’s recipe is Delightful Almond Peach Crisp made with Dr. Grandma's Delight zero-calorie sweetener.