There is a curious way our ill-conceived regulatory system considers beneficial vs unbeneficial food products.
If a the intent of a product is to benefit health, performance or wellbeing then it is measured for ‘risk’. Not risk-to-benefit ratio. Just risk. It doesn’t matter if a product is so amazingly beneficial it can restore a rotted corpse into Superman. If there is ANY possibility of ANY outcome occurring in ANY person under ANY circumstance that is not solely the primary desirable effect of the product, the product is deemed ‘risky’, hysterically warned against by ‘health experts’ and probably prevented from sale.
By contrast, if a product is completely unbeneficial (eg food colour, flavour, preservative, alcohol etc) then it is measured only for ‘safety’. ‘Risk’ is ignored. The concern is only whether the item can be consumed for a short while without anything glaringly negative obviously happening? If so, its considered perfectly safe to consume.
So ‘risk’ is assessed only in beneficial products to prevent their sale. ‘Safety’ is assessed in unbeneficial products to allow their sale.
On the surface this might seem reasonable because risk and safety sound like natural opposites. But they aren’t. They are in fact different qualities which are not mutually exclusive. Something being safe does not mean it is without risk. Something having risk does not mean it is not safe.
The issue is, when it comes to the sale of something impacting physiology we are delving into the realm of legal liability. Blacks Law Dictionary defines risk as:
- The uncertainty of a result, happening, or loss;
- Liability for injury, damage, or loss if it occurs;
And there you have the issue: ‘risk’ is about the financial responsibility for any uncertainty! It has nothing to do with actual danger being balanced against actual benefit.
And the definition of ‘safe’ in Blacks Law Dictionary:
- Not exposed to danger;
- Unlikely to be overturned or proved wrong
So essentially, when a Government agency deems something ‘safe’ they are really saying to lawyers: don’t argue because we have deemed this unlikely to be overturned or proved wrong!
So lets consider water. Virtually everyone on the planet safely consumes it every day. Hundreds of thousands of people also drown in it every year. So is water safe or risky? Its both.
Banning water is a ridiculous idea. But a genuine argument could be made over the risk of death and destruction water undeniably poses. Measured against safety – as only unbeneficial products are – water wouldn’t be banned. If measured only against its risk – like beneficial products are – water would be banned.
As you might expect, this is why we get such confused messaging. Wine gets applauded as great for health while its risks are ignored purely because its intent is NOT beneficial. By contrast, the amino-acid Tryptophan – which can be found in every complete protein food and supplement – is illegal to sell by itself. The intent of selling tryptophan is for its beneficial effects on sleep quality. But many years ago a batch of it was contaminated and some people got sick. Because one batch got contaminated once, Tryptophan is still considered too ‘risky’ to sell and comes with a $30,000 fine in Australia!
Similarly, the pesticides sprayed all over crops are not intended to be beneficial to consume so they are assessed for ‘safety’; not ‘risk’. Organic crops are sold as beneficial to consume so they get assessed for risk. Unsurprisingly we get told organic food has no benefit over the ‘safe’ sprayed food – the pesticides are ‘safe’, remember – and, in fact, organic food may be more risky to consume! Yes, poison-free food is ‘risky’. Food laden with poison is ‘safe’.
The meaning of these words is critical to understand. Applying a risk test to beneficial products and a safety test to unbeneficial products ensures we only have access to the most risky and the least beneficial foods!