Texas consumer group urges more science in advocacy campaigns

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WASHINGTON—The Texas Consumer Association (TCA) is raising concerns about consumer advocacy campaigns against certain chemicals and plastic products, saying such efforts are short-sighted and not based on science. 

In a new report, Assessing Consumer Product Safety: How Science Can Be Sidelined in Product Formulations, the TCA looks at three case studies highlighting campaigns against bisphenol A, phthalates, and parabens, detailing the growing rift between what peer-reviewed science says is safe and the messages from campaigns targeting them. The study calls on federal regulators, interest groups and consumers themselves to base decisions about chemicals and products on science and not scare tactics and hearsay. 

“Our research shows that there is a growing gap between what chemicals scientists and government agencies say are safe versus what’s in headlines. Consumers today are more attentive than ever, but it can still be difficult to separate fact from fiction,” said TCA President Sandra Haverlah. “When small but vocal groups are able to effectively take the wheel and trump scientific analysis, it introduces the potential for real harm for consumers.”

Manufacturers can find themselves trapped between a rock and a hard place, the report and Haverlah noted, having to choose between using a chemical being lambasted in the media but considered safe by scientists and regulators versus an untested, potentially harmful alternative that would not be subject to consumer avoidance.

Polycarbonate ingredient BPA “paints a very strong picture of this problem,” Haverlah said on a call with reporters. There has been conflicting information “which has resulted in a war that is counterproductive for consumers.” 

“Consumer perceptions and buying habits are known to be significantly shaped by headlines from activist organizations, regardless of their legitimacy. Despite approval from the FDA, manufacturers continue to weigh the value of voluntarily deselecting BPA for alternative compounds, not based on health concerns, but instead on the financial effect,” the TCA report says. 

Haverlah said the report was sparked not by a Texas-specific problem but what she and the TCA see as a nation-wide epidemic of decisions being “based on scary headlines alone.” In a year where Congress seems to be edging closer to a new federal chemical regulation law, the report also calls on federal regulators to base decisions on science rather than interest group “noise.“ 

“Advocating for the replacement of a certain chemical based solely on fear opens the door to alternative substances that may pose an even greater risk. Even very similar chemicals are not created equal, and often little is known about the effects a replacement might have in every application under every condition,” the TCA study concludes. “Instituting quick replacements in response to unscientific outcry spells needless uncertainty and potential danger for the public.”