Home Commentary Don’t Read the Headlines

Don’t Read the Headlines


If you were to believe the headlines that topped the news last week, you would believe that bacon is as bad for you as cigarettes, hot dogs contain human meat, and farm chemicals are killing all the bees. The truth is none of these headlines are true, but people read them, shared them, and formed opinions by believing them. The problem is finding the truth on issues that involve scientific research can be difficult. In addition, most of us assume that when something is listed as news, that the information is new. This may not always be the case.

For example, the World Health Organization made headlines with its report that eating bacon, sausage, and other processed meats would give you cancer. The report by 22 so-called experts put processed meat in the same category as cigarettes and asbestos. What you did not read in the headlines, or in most news coverage, was that none of the data or the conclusions from it were new. In other words, we have heard this all before.

In 1980 America’s first dietary guidelines warned of the perils of saturated fat, including red meat. In 2007, the World Cancer Research Fund published a tome on the sources of risk for cancer—the group advised eating no more than 300g of red meat each week and avoiding processed meats, such as bacon and ham. The WHO report was just a review of all the old data that is out there, sort of like a food fear monger’s greatest hits. The WHO did not make dietary recommendations, but the implications of its report are clear (and, again, not particularly novel). Red meat should be gobbled in moderation.

This includes the hog dogs that made the headlines when a report claimed there was human DNA in hot dogs. A report by Clear Labs claims human DNA has been found in two percent of hot dogs. The California-based company report is described as an “online food guide for consumers.” Of course, social media channels went nuts with people sharing this and making jokes about what was really in a hot dog.  What was not reported or read by most was that “DNA can be everywhere. It’s easy to leave a human trail behind,” according to The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council.  According to the actual facts of the study, of all the samples tested, “only one meat hot dog showed any evidence of human DNA and that was at the cellular level.” The company also provided no details on its study including the methodology that was used. But, when do we let little things like credibility get in the way of a good food scare?

Finally, remember all those headlines about how farm chemicals were killing all the bees? They led the UK to ban their use, but now it seems they were wrong. A data review that included more than 400 scientific papers led Professor Charles Godfray, the Uk’s Chief Scientific Advisor to conclude that there was no obvious connection between neonicotinoids and honeybee colony damage, which could be because of the sub-lethal doses in the field. He did not see a clear tie-in with declining bee numbers, though they mentioned forage as a factor to pay attention to. Godfray states “A major factor behind the decline in bees is habitat change, and the role of neonicotinoids is unclear.” The UK is not reconsidering its ban.

So stop believing sensational headlines. Instead go fry up some bacon, put  it on a hot dog, and go outside and look for bees.

By Gary Truitt