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It’s time to put warning labels on everything

“May Cause Abdominal Cramping and Loose Stools.” That’s only part of the delightful warning label the Food and Drug Administration insists that Procter & Gamble place prominently on potato chip and tortilla chip products prepared with its new fat-substitute, Olean. The FDA did not accede to the Center for Science in the Public Interest this winter when the Naderite group called for a ban on the new low-calorie snacks. But the FDA announced recently that it does plan to treat the products to a dose of perpetual bad publicity through package labeling.

The FDA approved the chips because research studies showed that any abdominal or other problems were minor and rare–about as rare as those suffered by eaters of regular potato chips, the fatty kind long available at every grocery store.

But since the FDA feels that we need to have every conceivable health risk, no matter how remote, placed constantly before our noses, surely we concerned citizens should demand that it require big labels on the standard chips, too. Something like, “May Cause Obesity, Heart Disease and Premature Death; And, in the Meantime, Abdominal Cramping and Loose Stools.”

Other health warnings could go on popcorn, ice cream, chocolates, donuts–and, oh, yes, broccoli. After all, there are other self-anointed experts seriously telling us that fruits and vegetables can be a source of potentially deadly toxins. (Kids, here’s a new argument against spinach: That stuff’ll kill ya!)

Some want the FDA to ban Melatonin, the hormone the brain itself secretes and which is sold in artificial form over-the-counter. Others wish merely to assign production to established pharmaceutical companies and allocation to a doctor’s prescription, which, together, of course, might just increase its price about ten-fold.

Dr. Richard A. Friedman, a psychiatrist at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center, wants many kinds of dietary supplements now freely available to consumers at health food stores and pharmacies put under the same daunting, scrutiny of the FDA. That agency can’t even get drugs commonly in use in Europe approved for prescription use here without years of redundant studies. Thus, what the FDA obviously needs now is a host of over-the-counter dietary supplements to investigate as well.

The fallback position–the moderate stance, if you will–is to scare the daylights out of consumers with large, mandatory warning labels. Well, none too soon, in my opinion. For example, how about one for lemon cough drops (“May Cause Yellow Tongue”) and another for Band-Aids (“May Cause Pain and Skin Redness When Removed Quickly”)?

One hesitates to think what might happen to drinking water consumption if city water departments have to list all the stuff that comes out of the faucet with the H2O–but, still, we’d better make them label those ingredients, down to the quadrillionth particle, just to be sure. A sign on every sink, alongside a “Mr. Yuk” picture, should suffice.

As word spreads of the myriad dangers that lurk in ordinary kitchen refrigerators and bathroom cabinets, whole new diseases are being created to cope with people’s heightened distress. The demand for these new diseases is especially keen among the over-educated and under-occupied. An article in “The Women’s Quarterly,” journal of the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, D. C., describes, for example, the pscho-pathology of Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS), which the author (and many doctors) cruelly compare to the “hysteria” that afflicted upper-middle class ladies of the nineteenth century.

“Aided and abetted by plaintiff’s lawyers,” Melinda Ledden Sidak reports, “MCS groups have pressured government agencies and the courts to recognize MCS as a disability under all state worker’s plans, as well as state and federal handicapped and disability laws.” So, taxpayers and insurance policy owners, get ready to pay for the latest fashion in angst.

Possible symptoms of MCS include “mental confusion, nausea, headaches, heart palpitations, joint pain, irritability and insomnia.” Among the reputed causes are exposure to any number of odors, such as perfume (“We want to destroy the fragrance industry,” says one activist), air fresheners, petroleum, deodorants, cleaning products, fireworks, licorice, and even toothpaste. Whereas some of us are nauseated by the stories we read in sensationalist publications, certain MCS sufferers believe they are made sick by the ink.

Put warning labels on everything, I say. Television sets, for example, not only carry terrifying stories about supposedly dangerous foods and everyday household products, but endless other nonsense. They definitely should be forced to carry a government warning: “Watching More Than One Hour Daily May Contribute to Obesity, Lassitude, Pessimism and Anti-Social Attitudes. Consult Your Doctor, Therapist and Lawyer.”

Along these lines, I notice that someone finally is organizing a class action suit against those dating services you see in weekly newspapers. Why, did you know that some of those personal ads are actually less than truthful? Surely we need the government to require honesty in all such advertising claims. Thus a personal for “SWM, 34, professional, likes music, hiking, sensitive relationships” might be forced to add, “Warning: Has two unpaid parking tickets; sings off-key; consistently tardy.”

Maybe we should have a government-directed warning added to wedding ceremonies: “Dearly Beloved, marriage is known to lead to divorce in some cases; and it may contribute to headaches, high stress levels and children.”

And don’t forget to put a warning label on the children. They’re really hazardous.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.