Consumer Reports, Dedicated to Distortion?

The magazine best known for rating TV’s and vacuums really, really wants to give you nutrition advice. And while it may be good at testing toasters and car stereos it should probably be noted that its “Senior Scientist,” who can be found making nutrition recommendations all the time has a PhD in… wait for it…  “Integrated Pest Management.” Not making this up. Read for yourself.

So, here it goes again. This time Consumer Reports (CR) is focused on phthalates in food, a chemical found in plastics. However, testing random products without understanding what American’s actually eat doesn’t provide an accurate picture of consumers’ exposure to phthalates through foods. CR should have patterned its testing after FDA’s Total Diet Studies for a more scientifically based sampling scheme. But it did not, thus leading to a distorted report.

CR reports the total phthalates in nanograms per serving.  But they don’t report the serving size so there is no way to compare items listed in the article because each product’s serving size is probably different.  When FDA reports the results of testing the results are normalized for comparison purposes.

Reporting the results in nanograms per serving make the numbers huge and scary. Also known as distorted.  For example, pink salmon was reported at 24,321 nanograms/serving.  Assuming the serving size is 85g (85g is the reference amount for nutrition labeling purposes, but the actual serving size could be higher depending on the size of the can), the amount is 286 nanograms per gram which is 286 ppb or 0.286 ppm.  Not quite so scary.  (For reference: a nanogram is one billionth of a gram.  Compare to a microgram which is one millionth of a gram.  1 nanogram/g = 1ppb.  1 microgram/g = 1000 ppb or 1ppm.)

Safety assessments for chemicals are based on the daily exposure to the chemical, not on the amount of the chemical in a single product. For example, if 2 different foods have the same level of a chemical, but one product is consumed daily and the other product is consumed once per month, the risk of exposure is different.  The CR report does not take this into account. 

If you read carefully, CR reports that “regulators in the U.S. and Europe have set thresholds for … a few phthalates, and none of the foods CR tested had amounts exceeding those limits.” One more time, for the kids, “none of the foods CR tested had amounts exceeding those limits.”

Burying the lead and a history of cooking the proverbial books suggest a pattern that appears dedicated to distortion. Not a good look for Consumer Reports.