Posted in science

The Food Babe Is At It Again

I wrote about anti-science Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe a few weeks ago when she pissed me off for being as scientifically literate as a bag of crabs.

Some quick background for those of you not familiar with the topic: Food Babe (FB) is a prominent health activist/lifestyle guru thingy person who reads ingredients on stuff, picks out something she doesn’t understand, then orders her army of pitch fork wielding internet goons to the in-boxes and front doors of various super prominent food corporations to get them to remove scary ingredient.

Got it? Great, let’s kick on!

This month it’s Kellogs and General Mills who are on the receiving end of a online petition to have BHT removed from cereals. BHT stands for butylated hydroxy toluene and sounds mega scary. Here’s a picture of it for you:


Oh nose! Those delocalised electrons are looking totally pissed off!

Hari cites a whole bunch of research about why BHT is all horrible and stuff; and superficially, she has a case. A 1989 paper links BHT with increased tumor promotion in mouse lung and a 2004 paper links it with estrogenic activity. But here’s where things begin to go badly wrong for Hari; in the two examples she mentions, the first was conducted using different dosages and modes of administration to anything reflecting human consumption; and the second study bravely “tested the hypothesis that commercial composites … exhibit estrogenic activity in vitro [my emphasis]”.

third study (sorry if this is getting a bit boring) concludes ‘The role of BHT in the development of hepatocellular tumours requires further elucidation’ i.e concludes fairly inconclusively.

Science and evidence is a curious thing: it’s about looking at all the evidence, even the data that flatly contradicts your opinion. So is the evidence that FB lists the whole picture, a balanced appraisal of the peer reviewed data?

Ahahahahhaahahaha. You’re funny!

A crank like Food Babe cherry picks data. Check this: The National Toxicology Program found no evidence that BHT causes cancer in rats and the European Food Safety Authority even have clear recommendations about safe daily dosages.

Other studies conclude:

BHT has been associated with hepatocellular and pulmonary adenomas in animals, but was not considered carcinogenic and actually was associated with a decreased incidence of neoplasms. BHT has been shown to have tumor promotion effects, to be anticarcinogenic, and to have no effect on other carcinogenic agents, depending on the target organ, exposure parameters, the carcinogen, and the animal tested [my emphasis]

And this study even looked at BHT as a possible cancer prevention strategy.

I’m not done.

FB can’t even be bothered to read the ingredients on her own products (last line, second word; image via Mark Aaron Alsip):

As Mr BHT says:


And as Dr Joe Schwarcz says:

The Food Babe is a wart on the face of science. She has no understanding of toxicology, chemistry…or any other scientific discipline. She presents herself as a champion who is going to save us from evil industry. Unfortunately her arguments have traction with the mostly scientifically uneducated public and industry gives in to her nonsense.

There may well be a logical reason to remove BHT – there may be more cost effective alternatives available, for example – but just because you don’t like the sound of something and because you’re dishonestly presenting the data, doesn’t give you the right to bully anyone and go at it again.

Disagree? Agree? Go to Twitter to tell me.


I write dumb things about food

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