Saturday, July 12, 2014

Receiving Sight

Recently, the church where my late husband served as worship minister held a blood drive in his memory. It was appropriate, because Dan frequently organized blood drives and was a blood and plasma donor as often as he was allowed. (Sometimes he wasn’t allowed to give because of places he had recently traveled.)  Dan was also a tissue donor. After his death, skin, bone and other tissues were shared with those who needed them. I was told that two people were likely to receive sight because of corneas they would receive from my always-giving husband.

I’ve been thinking about sight lately. Dan gave physical sight, but I’m also feebly trying, through this blog, to facilitate sight, or at least insight, myself. I want us all to see and understand the connection between products we use and the health symptoms we and others face. I want to help bring attention to the deception and obfuscation that prevent us from even easily knowing what we’re buying and using.

Last month, USA Today reported on a Consumer Reports survey finding that 66% of consumers wrongly believe the word “natural” on a food label means something. Consumers believe it may mean that a food contains no artificial ingredients or that no pesticides were used. Others connect the label to a lack of genetically engineered organisms, growth hormones or antibiotics. As the article states, however, “The problem is, consumers are wrong. Under federal labeling rules, the word natural means absolutely nothing.”

The situation is no better for personal care products. An Organic Consumers Association report noted that a survey found consumers to be "widely confused" by personal care product labeling. The report notes that almost half of survey respondents believe that a personal care product labeled  “Made with organic ingredients" is composed of "all" or "nearly all" organic ingredients, but that there are no federal regulations that require that.

Of course, the labeling problem goes far beyond the use of terms like “natural” and “organic.”  Problems include the fact that many ingredients don’t have to be listed at all, and that single innocuous-sounding terms can hide multitudes of potentially-dangerous chemicals. The Environmental Working Group reports that tests of fragrance products found an average of 14 chemicals per product that were not listed on the label.

Perhaps the most dangerous misperception regarding chemicals is that personal care, cleaning, and other common products are tested for safety before being marketed. A brief internet search didn’t quickly yield statistics, but I did find a report from the University of Massachusetts that addresses the issue.  The publication, entitled “Presumption of Safety: Limits of Federal Policies on Toxic Substances in Consumer Products states, “Despite the fact that most consumers believe that everyday products are thoroughly tested for dangerous chemicals and determined to be safe by government authorities, the reality is that existing regulatory systems leave significant gaps in their capacity to adequately protect consumers from chemical hazards in these products.”

It would be nice if products were proven safe before being sold, but they aren’t. It would be nice if we could count on labeling laws to help us be informed consumers, but we can’t. Addressing problems begins with seeing problems. Lord, please give us sight.