Announcing a new paper, with official title “Scientism, Legalism and Precaution — Contending with Regulating Nutrition and Health Claims in Europe” in European Food and Feed Law Review by Jaap Hanekamp and a bunch of others, including Yours Truly. Alphabetical list: Aalt Bast, William Briggs, Edward J. Calabrese, Michael F. Fenech, Jaap C. Hanekamp, Robert Heaney, Ger Rijkers, Bert Schwitters, Pieternel Verhoeven.
(Paper is due to be up today, but there may be delays.)
Regular readers will recall Hanekamp, who is the force behind this new paper, wrote a series of posts on precaution and the precautionary principle here (start with this one).
Europe’s push towards a single harmonised market that offers information on the benefits of foods is encapsulated in Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006, the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR). The NHCR will be the main focus of our contribution. Our contention is that this regulation not only stifles scientific research, limiting it to the relationship between nutrition and health, but also hinders Europe’s public health, especially with respect to the intake of micronutrients. We will analyse this with the aid of some aspects of the current state-of-the-art in the nutritional sciences.
Since I’m traveling these two days, some excerpts:
“We are not naïve with respect to the reality of authority in science, but authority as a rule is of a personal nature; in science there is no such thing as a ‘scientific high court’ that decides on issues of method and science. Such a form of legalism — the concept of strict adherence to law or directive — implicitly generated by the instatement of EFSA, — fosters scientism — that is the view that all real knowledge is scientific knowledge. The latter, at heart, stands for a self-defeating overestimation of what science is and can deliver.”
“Article 7 of the European Unionâ€™s General Food Law (Regulation 178/2002/EC) 30 defines precaution in terms of the uncertainty that a food or foodstuff may possibly cause harmful effects on human health.” And what foods or foodstuffs, we might ask, does this exclude? Can we think of any? “The scientism peddled by European regulation, in the final analysis, inevitability and poignantly gives a misleading picture of food science itself and its many findings.”
“A much more sensible approach is to respect the immense knowledge that we have gained especially during, say, the past 100 years and deal with the fact that the fundamental details of this knowledge still elude us to a considerable extent. That is a major pointer to the immense chemical complexity of food and the intricate ‘hidden’ connection between this everyday complexity and human health.”
“In the scientific pursuit of the clarification of the many-sided (pleiotropic) relationships between dietary patterns, foods and food components and human health, and the concomitant assessment and management of benefits and risks, it should be noted first that science is not in the business of delineating what is and what is not misleading. The term â€˜misleadingâ€™ is legal in nature and not scientific…So, treating ‘deception’ as equal with the uncertainty that is inherent in the scientific quest for knowledge and insight is a serious category-mistake deeply embedded in the NHCR.”