CSPI Seizes Opportunity to Launch Another Cancer Panic Attack

Food scolds have been abuzz lately, promoting the scientifically questionable idea that drinking diet soda boosts the risk of heart attack and stroke. And the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has kept the heart-health-focused story alive by injecting it with a fresh dose of cancer fears.

Seemingly unable to control his urge to play on the public's fear of the dreaded "C-word," CSPI Fear-Monger-in-Chief Michael Jacobson told USA Today this week that he thinks diet drinks are better than sugar-sweetened soda—and then promptly changed the subject to begin perpetuating cancer fears both new and old:

Animal studies have raised cancer concerns about some of the artificial sweeteners in [diet] drinks, including aspartame and acesulfame potassium, he says. And the caramel coloring in colas contains two cancer-causing chemicals and should be banned, Jacobson says. There is "clear evidence of toxicity in animals."

The cancer risks in diet soda are probably small, Jacobson says,"but there is no reason to accept any cancer risk in a worthless junk food, whether it's diet soda or regular soda."

Jacobson's most recent cancer scare—over caramel coloring—was based on rodents being subjected to ultra-high doses of "chemical by-products" assured to cause "lung, liver, and thyroid tumors in laboratory rats and mice." But how risky is the coloring? It turns out that you'd have to drink 1,000 sodas a day to consume the levels that caused cancer in lab rats. That's about one soda every minute if you stayed awake for 16 hours a day. We're going to go out on a limb and say that the risk of getting cancer from caramel coloring in soda is effectively nil for people who aren't hooked up to a soda IV.

And Jacobson couldn't resist digging up two old cancer scares—aspartame and acesulfame potassium—that continue to haunt CSPI because it just can't convince the federal government to fear them. According to the National Cancer Institute, neither of these artificial sweeteners is associated with increases in cancer risks. And aspartame scaremongering has also been shot down by other "science in the public interest" entities, including the Food and Drug Administration, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and Health Canada.

Just for fun, we decided to see what else Americans shouldn't spend their precious time here on Earth needlessly worrying about. The odds of dying from an air- or space-transport accident are 1 in 7,032. By Jacobson's logic, every plane should be grounded. Thankfully, consumers who need to get somewhere have decided it's worth the minuscule risk.

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