by Kelly Lenz

Farm and Auction

January 8, 2003

I had never heard of the group before, but a news release last week from an organization called the National Anxiety Center caught my eye. After all, some of the most anxious people I know are in the farming and ranching business.

Alan Caruba, a veteran business and science writer, founded the NAC in 1990. The center’s original purpose was to debunk the many claims made by environmentalists and consumer organizations that were engaged in deliberately false, media-driven scare campaigns. Caruba calls the center a clearinghouse for information about scare campaigns.

For each of the past twelve years, Caruba has released his annual review of what he terms “The Most Dubious News Stories of the Year.”

Topping the “Most Dubious” list for 2002 is what Caruba calls the “obesity epidemic.” In a campaign similar to that leveled at the tobacco industry, some people and groups have taken dead aim against the fast-food industry.

“This attack was greeted with joy by trial lawyers, the only people who actually benefit from idiotic lawsuits,” Caruba said.

In July, the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine warned against trans-fatty acids, thus putting certain foods off limits. That same month a New York City attorney filed a lawsuit against four fast-food corporations on behalf of an obese client.

Second on Caruba’s list is the “Beware of Chocolate” campaign. In May, a California-based group called the American Environmental Safety Institute filed a lawsuit against major chocolate makers for failing to warn consumers against the alleged danger of infinitesimal amounts of lead and cadmium. Caruba noted that trace amounts of minerals, including arsenic, exist in everything we eat without any demonstration of harm.

Also on the “Most Dubious” list was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which claimed that toxic sludge was good for fish. In June, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers defended the dumping of toxic sludge in the Potomac River saying that it may “actually protect the fish.” Based on the EPA’s latest Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation regs, which came out this past month, I get the distinct impression the agency doesn’t feel the same way about livestock waste.

Caruba also cites attacks against plastic by the environmental movement, end of the world claims (including a prediction that a space rock will hit the world in 2019), efforts by an environmental group (the Ocean Conservancy) in 2002 to declare the oceans to be “wilderness,” and an attempt to curb “light” and “noise” pollution.

In July, the International Dark-Sky Association launched an effort to reduce nighttime lighting to “save the night skies.” In August, a group called Noise Free America announced that “noise pollution” was a growing epidemic that would lead to “social deterioration and chaos.”

I am not sure about the “light” pollution, but these noise folks might have a good point. Having formerly lived next to a major street in Topeka, I can assure you that kids (and immature adults) with loud car stereos do indeed lead to primitive homicidal behavior by those forced to listen to over-modulated hip-hop in the middle of the night.

Caruba also mentions the debate over global warming, but he also cites differing opinions. For instance, Dr. Robert Gagosian, president of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts, is predicting that “The earth’s climate could switch gears and jump very rapidly,” thus plunging everyone into a new Ice Age instead of predicted global warming.

“Predictions are fun, they get headlines, and they scare anyone silly enough to pay attention,” says Caruba.

There were other things on Caruba’s “Most Dubious List,” but it was his closing statement that impressed me most.

“All this is going on,” Caruba said, “despite the fact that life expectancy in America is the highest it has ever been and the ample evidence that life on Earth continues to improve for people throughout the world. The Earth is not running out of food or natural resources. The claims of environmentalists and others have nothing to do with scientific and economic data that clearly demonstrates the improvement of life for people everywhere.”

Kelly Lenz is farm director for AM 580 WIBW Radio and the Kansas Agriculture Network.