Thursday, May 04, 2006

Letting the Market Decide


It seems that a antiseptic agent commonly used in hand soaps and other products survives treatment in sewage plants:

Researchers estimated that more than 70 percent of the triclocarban used by consumers is released to the environment when treated sludge is put on land used, in part, for food production.
In Chemical and Engineering News, a dispassionate advocate of sound science - who just happens to represent the detergent industry - responds to these findings with a fusillade of PR boilerplate:
"This is an important topic, but we need to decide what to be concerned about and what not to," says Hans Sanderson, director of environmental safety at the Soap & Detergent Association. In light of the looming threat of a bird flu pandemic as well as public health risks posed by other infectious diseases, "why remove an extra health protection in consumers' homes?"
A fair question. First, there’s the plain fact that triclocarban is ineffective against viruses, which means it’s useless against avian flu. Second, an FDA panel recently found that there was no benefit to using antibacterial soaps.
Antibacterial soaps don't reduce the risk of illness any better than plain old soap, proclaimed an FDA advisory committee today in a unanimous vote.
After a scientific slapdown of that magnitude, it's hard to see how trying to pass off antibacterial soap as "an extra health protection" against avian flu amounts to anything more than arrogant quackery. The industry doesn't see it that way, though:
Elizabeth Anderson, a lawyer for the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association [said] "We feel strongly that consumers must continue to have the choice to use these products."
Translation: "We don't care what the facts are, and we don't care what the dangers of drug-resistant bacteria may be. If we can keep consumers ignorant, confused, and frightened enough to buy this stuff, we're goddamn well going to do it."

3 comments:

monkeygrinder said...

I once chose AB soap every time I shopped. I mean, why not?

Then I decided I were a big bacteria, and it started to make me nervous.

But seriosuly, before I knew, I did.

Clearly, what needs to happen is government should preserve the right of SOAP magnates to keep the AB label, but remove the right to actually infuse triclocarban into the sweet bar of cleanliness.

Then, consumers would have the right to make a false choice.

roger said...

thus keeping false hope alive.

the trade assns need some new boilerplate. "consumer choice" has become a cliche for "we want to sell crap. dangerous crap."

Phila said...

Clearly, what needs to happen is government should preserve the right of SOAP magnates to keep the AB label, but remove the right to actually infuse triclocarban into the sweet bar of cleanliness.

See, that's what pisses me off most, in some ways...the lack of creativity. Take the stuff out, and find some other way to market it. Hell, market it by saying "Improved Formula: Now Triclocarban-Free!" For every customer who says, "In other words, your soap is back to being plain old soap," there'll be ten more who say, "Wow...triclocarban-free soap! Gotta have it!"

IIRC, the first instant cake mix, which required nothing but a couple of water, was rejected by consumers. The manufacturer was just about to give up, when someone said "Let's tell people they need to add an egg." Turned things around right away.

There's always a way. Nine times out of ten, all this PR / lobbyist nonsense boils down to is "We're afraid of change, 'cause we're out of ideas."