Lead in Your Grocery Bag? Corporate America’s Latest Scare Tactic Ad Campaign

Posted by — December 23, 2010 12:01 am

Article by:  Amy Westervelt

Yesterday, in newspapers throughout California, a nonprofit innocently named the Center for Consumer Freedom, ran a full page ad emblazoned with the ominous headline: “Your Family’s Grocery List Shouldn’t Include Lead and Bacteria.” Under those words is a picture of a reusable bag, wrapped in yellow caution tape, and some explanatory paragraphs warning consumers about the lead- and bacteria-tainted reusable bags from China.

This is such a giant pile of crap it’s hard to even begin to wade through, but I’ll attempt it. For starters, you should know that the Center for Consumer Freedom is a front organization for a lobbying firm, Berman & Co., which is funded by the tobacco industry as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains. I would swear on my grandmother’s grave that they’re now in bed with the plastics industry as well, but given the fact that the most recent tax forms available from CCF are from 2008 and they are super secretive about who funds them, I can’t prove it. Consider this an insinuation, along the lines of insinuating that reusable bags are contaminated.

Now let’s think about the context in which this ad has appeared. In the last month alone, at least four California cities have passed a plastic bag ban; Marin has added a bag tax to its legislation; Los Angeles County passed a county-wide ban; and Governor Schwarzenegger took a statewide ban, which was previously defeated by massive amounts of lobbying dollars, back to the legislature. Most people expect the statewide ban to pass. Even if it doesn’t, cities and counties have made it clear that they will take matters into their own hands in the absence of state legislation. This is clearly a panic response to the momentum behind plastic bag legislation.

Finally there’s the little issue of facts. The group says that “most” reusable bags come from China, a brilliant way to get out of having to defend that particular claim. It goes on to claim that “studies” have shown that these bags “may contain excessive levels of lead,” and “there’s a good chance they have dangerous levels of bacteria, too.” Wow, that’s some scientific claim! In addition to the general vagueness of its claims, the “report” CCF points to was in fact funded by the group itself and not peer-reviewed.

In its announcement of the report, the group notes that this is all “according to a report in the Tampa Tribune.” In other words, some poor sucker on deadline got duped by a slick lobbying firm posing as a nonprofit with a report that includes some rather scandalous findings about these reusable bags we’re seeing crop up everywhere. It makes a good headline, right?

This same group used this same tactic to try to convince Americans that they were being robbed of their “right to smoke” by legislation banning smoking in bars and restaurants in some states. Even if some percentage of reusable bags do come from China and are infested with lead and bacteria, there are plenty of tested, safe, American-made reusable bags available. In fact, the Center for Environmental Health, the folks who find lead in practically everything, says they have tested numerous bags, including the ones on sale at Whole Foods, and have not found traces of either lead or bacteria. But if there truly is an onslaught of defective bags making their way here from China, perhaps some of the country’s plastic bag manufacturers should think about getting into the reusable bag business to counteract it.

Daniella Russo, executive director of the Plastic Pollution Coalition notes, “This is just a silly ploy. The real issue is that plastic bags contribute to plastic pollution around the globe, and that the actual cost of plastic bags has been externalized to such an extent that taxpayers carry the burden for this product. It’s costly to clean up and costly to manufacture, but the true cost is hidden from us. In actual fact, plastic bags are neither cheap nor safe, which is why hundreds of countries have banned them.”

Article originally posted on The Faster Times.

About the Author
Amy Westervelt writes about travel and environmental issues. She is the Managing Editor of Earth Island Journal and a columnist for SolveClimate. Amy also has written guides for Fodor’s and Great Destinations, and her magazine work has been published in Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, San Francisco Chronicle, Spa and Allure, among others. In 2007, Amy won a Folio Eddie for her feature on the potential of algae-based biofuels, which was published in Sustainable Industries magazine. When she’s not hustling to cover environment or travel stories, Amy’s hiding out in Oakland.

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