Wednesday 13 November 2013

Label everything about everything

Newcastle's Clare Collins wants cancer warning labels on alcohol, cooked meat, processed meat (which has "no completely safe level of intake"), salty and salt-preserved foods.

I don't think she goes nearly far enough.

Doug Sellman has already warned us that muesli bars, ice cream, cakes, chocolate, donuts, jam, honey, pies and pastries, and other foods are addictive. So we need warning labels for all of them too. Those labels can go beside the cancer labels.

A bottle of Jack Daniels should come with a warning label that, if you drink too much of it at once, the trunk of a big old live oak tree might hit you in the face and that the bright sunlight might hurt you in the morning.

Any food that could lead to obesity, if you ate 3000 calories per day of it, should also get a warning sticker.

We can also have warning labels for any food that isn't organic, specifying exactly which chemicals were used on which ingredients at any point in the process. Just having something labeled organic is hardly enough when "not organic" can have a very wide range of scary chemicals. Maybe I don't mind glycosphate but maybe malathion scares the heck out of me. You'd have to be meddlesome and paternalistic to think I shouldn't get my sticker just because your science tells you that levels of chemical residue allowed under current regulations are basically harmless. Who are you to tell me what to be scared of?

I won't be happy until every package is so covered with warning stickers that you can barely tell what the brand or product is. Because seeing brands is bad too.

I also worry that, with growing evidence that obesity could be contagious via gut microbes, we might need warning stickers on obese people warning against sharing saliva with them. Mandatory "Warning: don't kiss me. Obesity may be contagious" t-shirts should do it. I also can't believe how people with STDs are allowed to walk around without warning tattoos on their foreheads.

And don't get me started on the inadequacy of road safety signs. Where's the warning sign about Homer's warning sign? Warning signs all the way down.

More seriously: here's the one warning label I'd like to see on alcohol. A simplified version of the J-curve relationship between alcohol consumption and all-source mortality from DiCastelnuovo et al, below. Drinking too little and drinking too much is risky.


  1. It's a sign of Western pamperedness to want rules and signs on everything, never being raised to understand that everything entails even some minimal risk that would normally be acknowledged by common sense had they had it.

    I recall some traffic study in Europe that pointed out that people drove safer when less sign were on the road. Why? Basically, less signs forced them to be *more* aware.

  2. You know, I've thought about this because I know that some imported produce ends up being fumigated if it has been found to be infested. There is no way of knowing, when you're in the supermarket, which produce has been fumigated (being on sale may be some indication though, because fumigated produce doesn't keep well). My preference is to avoid the fumigated produce, but it is evident to me that not enough other people either know or care about this, because if they did I think some retailer would fill that niche (and to some extent they already do in the organics market). You would, of course, pay more for produce guaranteed to be not fumigated. What I do not expect is for labelling to be made compulsory and for retailers and other consumers who do not care about this issue to meet the costs of my possibly not particularly soundly based preference. I can avoid fumigated produce if I really want to, just as people who prefer to avoid genetically modified produce can avoid it if they really care that much about it. I get the impression with some people that when as a baby they threw their (hand-crafted, wooden, eco-sourced) toys out of the cot Mummy always picked them up. On that subject, the perfect sound track to the lives of these precious petals would have to be 'Mother' by Pink Floyd (listen to it - you'll totally see what I mean). Some of them, I believe, eventually marry their mothers, albeit in a form they don't themselves recognise as such.

  3. Oh, dear! where's the gas oven? Oh, there it is with the big label on that says "Don't put head in oven while gas is on".