Tuesday 17 May 2005

Natural plant extracts.

Rob rightly derides this latest scare-mongering Luddite bollocks.

Of course it's junk, relying on the fact that modern chemistry can detect things in vanishingly small concentrations and then having a bunch of B-list types say how concerned they are that their bodies contain scary chemicals. Crucially they don't tell us how contaminated the tested people were, except for Sarah Beeney's 3226 nanograms of a DDT breakdown product per gram of fat. And is this level (3.2 millionths of a gram per gram of fat) remotely dangerous to her health? They don't say but I suspect it isn't. If it were dangerous they'd hardly be slow to say so.

Melinda Messenger asks:

Why should I allow my body or my children to be filled with man-made chemicals, when I don’t know what the health effects of these substances will be?

Ah, but what if those chemicals make your tits bigger? Is that OK?

Antony Worrall Thompson:

Antony’s blood sample contained 20 man made chemicals ...

... one of which was probably synthetic insulin, since Anthony's diabetic. If it weren't for some of the man-made chemicals in his bloodstream, he would be dead. Scary.

Notice that this campaign is being run by the WWF and the Co-operative Bank. Now, the Co-operative Bank are a profit-making corporation who use ethics as a selling point. "Bank with us," they say, "and we won't invest your money with people who torture kittens or pour bleach over the breakfasts of the poor." This is all well and good: what we libertarians are always saying is that the market provides opportunities for people to act ethically, so we don't need government to ban things, and here's proof of it. What I'll be interested to see, though, is how many anti-corporate anti-globalisation left-wingers warn us to ignore the results of this study on the grounds that it forms part of the marketing campaign of a multinational corporation so must be biased. I predict silence.

Anyway, this is really just a good excuse for me to rant about bloody natural bloody plant bloody extracts.

For some reason (probably idiocy), the modern public have convinced themselves that Man-Made Equals Bad and Natural Equals Good. And the cosmetics industry's advertising reflects and preys on that. "Made with natural plant extracts," they tell us. "Contains natural minerals." But they rarely tell us which extracts from which plants and which minerals they're asking us to rub into our hair or face or feet, or drink, or snort. If an advert were to say — and, to be fair, some do — "Contains an extract of the Chilean potato tree, which clinical trials have shown decreases the incidence of genital warts in toddlers," then, well, fair enough. Maybe the claim's wrong, but it is at least a claim, which can be checked. But most just tell us, "We made this out of natural stuff instead of man-made stuff, so it must be healthy. Quick! Pour it in your eyes!"

Aspirin is proven to decrease the risk of heart attacks; it also rots the stomach lining: it is both good and bad. It is man-made these days, but, before we worked out how to synthesise it, it came from the bark of the willow tree. It was both good and bad when it was natural, and it is identically both good and bad now it's man-made. Similarly, we are now able to manufacture vitamin C; we don't need fruit to get hold of it. I bet some of those celebrity's bodies contained some man-made vitamin C, yet adding that to the list of man-made chemicals probably wouldn't help the cause of manipulatively alarming the ignorant public. And what about fluoride? I bet that's on the list: health fanatics have started to get terribly upset about it lately. We put it in the water supply because it's good for you, you spoons. Being man-made has absolutely nothing to do with how dangerous a chemical is; it is merely a sign of humankind's ingenuity that we've made it.

Hemlock is a natural plant extract. So is ricin. Uranium and cyanide are natural minerals. And, if they're too clever for your average idiot to work out, you'd think even the slowest mind might realise that mustard gas is made out of mustard. It was never reported on the news that Saddam Hussein killed thousands of Kurds with a natural plant extract, was it?

If I were to make a drink with hemlock in it and advertise that it "contains natural plant extracts", people would rush out and drink it like there was no tomorrow. Which, of course, there would be.


In the comments, Andrew points out that mustard gas isn't made of mustard at all. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. That's just bloody typical: of all the bits of the post I could have got wrong, it would be the sentence in which I mention the slow-minded, wouldn't it? Damn.

Anyway, my main point still stands, obviously, even if I have turned out to be one of the very ignoramuses I'm insulting. I'm off to slap my wrists for a bit.

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