Sadly, even when the media gets it right on health issues, they often only get it partly right. Consider the recent fuss over the study linking the artificial sweetener aspartame, better known as NutraSweet, to brain cancer.
But it seems that NutraSweet hasnt been Olneys only target. The three products that have traditionally brought the weirdos out of the woodwork in this country are artificial sweeteners, fluoride (added to water supplies to prevent tooth decay), and monosodium glutamate (MSG). So far as I know, Olney has had nothing to do with fluoride hysteria, but MSG is a different matter.
Since the late 1960s, Olney has also railed against this popular additive to Chinese and other foods. Indeed, in 1975 he and an activist group called Consumer Action for Improved Food and Drugs, declared that MSG combined with, yes, NutraSweet it would cause brain damage in children.
Olney was quoted as an "expert" in a 1991 60 Minutes segment, reported by Ed Bradley, that sought — unsuccessfully — to incite a national panic over MSG. This show was two years after Bradley kicked off the Alar panic.
Yet, the World Health Organization and the European Communitys Scientific Committee for Food had already both concluded there was no research to indicated MSG was a health hazard. Since then, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Drugs came to the same conclusion. Just within the past couple of months, an FDA panel found MSG to be harmless, save for the possibility that it could worsen symptoms in some persons suffering severe asthma.
None of this is to say that certain foods cant cause certain bad reactions in some individuals, including NutraSweet or MSG. (Tens of millions of Americans have bad reactions to sugar. Theyre called diabetics.)
Indeed, there have been people who have gone into shock and died after eating a single peanut.
Three years ago, I developed a slight case of hives after eating a Hostess apple pie, though Id been eating them all my adult life. Go figure. But you dont see me going out and forming the Fruit Pie Consumer Safety Network.
Then again, if I develop a brain tumor in the next year or two, I know what national bakery Im going to sue!