The Politics of Peanut Butter
Anderson, Glen, State Legislatures
Conflicting studies and special interest groups make developing policies to protect public health contentious and chaotic. How can lawmakers recognize 'sound' science and make good decisions?
We face health risks every day. Second-hand tobacco smoke, Car exhaust. Radon and asbestos. Pesticides in foods. High fat diets. Eating peanut butter. Not eating peanut butter.
Peanut butter? Some scientists claim that eating a peanut butter sandwich once every 10 days will give you a cancer risk of seven in a million. Others claim that eating peanuts is healthy, citing research that diets high in peanuts and peanut oils reduce the risk of heart disease by 21 percent, far outweighing a seven in a million (.0007 percent) cancer risk.
Should policymakers ban peanut butter or promote it?
How can decision makers create good policy when they are bombarded on all sides with conflicting scientific studies cited by aggressive industry and public interest groups?
Science is based primarily on facts gained from studies and technical investigations. Policy, on the other hand, tends to be value-based and incorporates the wishes of the public, industry and special interests. This does not mean that science is without controversy. As with public policy, scientists debate different theories and solutions until they arrive at a consensus.
"Policymakers often are put in the position of choosing between extreme points of view rather than making decisions based on objective and rigorous evaluation," says Ken Olden, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
But it is "inappropriate," he says, for groups to request more scientific research as a delaying tactic, "We have to have the courage to act when information is available that the potential risks outweigh the benefits [of not acting]."
The public may want laws that provide reasonable protection and err on the side of safety when not enough information is available. Conversely, business and industry would prefer to wait until science provides overwhelming evidence of an environmental health risk before engaging in potentially costly regulation. In the center of the fray stands the policymaker, whose task it …
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Publication information: Article title: The Politics of Peanut Butter. Contributors: Anderson, Glen - Author. Magazine title: State Legislatures. Volume: 26. Issue: 6 Publication date: June 2000. Page number: 22. © 2009 National Conference of State Legislatures. COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group.
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