Industry spin – exploiting confusion, spreading misinformation

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Industry spin – exploiting confusion, spreading misinformation

Who Stole Common Sense indeed

Who Stole Common Sense indeed

A couple of days ago a post by Chris Chinn appeared on the American Farm Bureau blog, entitled “Who Stole Common Sense“.

He goes into the whole idea of litigating to get warning labels on hotdogs because they contain additives that may cause cancer, as well as lawsuits relating to odours from intensive farms.

The point here isn’t to argue whether these lawsuits are valid – what I’d like to look at is the misinformation and spin presented in the post.

In his discussion of the hot dog lawsuit he writes:

This week I have read some crazy headlines in the media. They range from neighbors suing each other over livestock odors to an activist group wanting to put a warning label on hot dogs claiming processed meats contain nitrates which may cause cancer. But it doesn’t stop with a warning label; they want to sue the makers of hot dogs as well. Where has common sense gone in this country? It seems society is more concerned about suing people than feeding a growing population.

Our bodies create nitrates, and green leafy vegetables have more nitrates than processed meat products. Spinach has 85 times more nitrates than a hot dog. If we allow warning labels to be attached to hot dogs, will we also have warning labels on our vegetables as well? Where does it stop?

In this section he makes a mistake, confusing “nitrites” with “nitrates“. This is actually a common error, but has been reported correctly in all the news articles I could find about the lawsuit. While this may be a real mistake on his part, he hasn’t made an effort to correct that error in his post, even though I pointed it out in the comments.

Which leads me to think he may have deliberately made this error to create confusion around the issue? The point of his argument, that “green leafy vegetables have more nitrates than processed meat products” hinges on the error of confusing nitrates and nitrites. Leafy vegetables do not contain nitrites – they are added as a preservative to processed foods.

The second section, about residents of the towns where these large-scale intensive farms are located suing the farms for the smells caused by the farms, is framed in such a way that leaves out the important difference in number of animals per farm:

Suing neighbors over livestock odors is something our founding fathers would have probably laughed at. If livestock were being housed in an urban area, I can understand people being upset. Livestock barns are built in the country though, where livestock are supposed to be raised. If you move to the country, whether it was 30 years ago or last week, you should expect to smell the country air, which includes the odors created by livestock.

In one of these cases, the people suing were awarded $1.1 million. These are not cases of city folk moving out into the country. These are long-time residents forced to take action against the pollution of their land and air by industrial farms.

I grew up in the country, next door to a dairy farm, and we even had our own farm animals on our land. We smelled manure a bit a few times a year, when the farmers spread it on their fields. That is an expected countryside odor, but a sickening stench is more than anyone should have to bear.

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