January 26, 2011

The Case of Plastic in the Microwave

It's been a busy and strange last couple months where I've been doing a lot more reading than posting, but this topic didn't arise from anything I've read. It instead was brought up when I was working in a youths with disabilities program and it was lunch time.

Now, as one would expect, younger-ish males don't make up the majority of the workplace demographic where I work, so I felt a little out of place with the four 50ish ladies but they are friendly enough. It was around lunch time and because the program was away from the residence, our lunches were in microwavable containers, which caused a bit of an unanticipated stir, as I was told that, 'Warming up food in the microwave in plastic containers causes toxins to come out of the plastic and into the food causing the food to be really bad for you.' Now I'm sure that they were just trying to pass on some helpful and healthy advice that they had gotten in the past, but there was a problem.

Unfortunately, this put me in a slightly awkward position, as often happens when someone has a little knowledge, but not nearly enough knowledge. I knew that I had heard or looked at the issue of microwaving plastics in the past, and was 99% sure what they were telling me was a myth, but I couldn't remember any of the specifics.

That said, I thought about passively nodding, but I was confident enough that I didn't think that, that was a good option. I instead told them that I was pretty sure that microwaving microwavable plastics being harmful was a myth and despite their instance that it was, I stated that I was still pretty sure it was a myth.

As is often the case both of us were partly correct, but I was a little more on the correct side.  It took all of about 20 seconds to look up the information on the claim that microwave plastics are unsafe to microwave, and there were numerous good sources of information.

For instance the Harvard Medical School explained that, the people that were giving me the warming were right about a potentially dangerous chemical being leached into food, especially fatty foods. Diethylhexyl adipate can come out of the plastic and into food from the process of microwaving.

So if a dangerous chemical can be put into the food through microwave use, then why is it a myth? Well it's a myth because of the level of Diethylhexyl adipate that is leached into the food, as a life time of microwaving food would result in 100-1000 times less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to do harm to labiratory animals.

The article also points out the FDA knows about the problem of chemical leaching and all products intended for microwave use have to be tested and approved. Does the same process happen in Canada? The Canadian Cancer Society points out that it does, noting that, "The Consumer Product Safety Bureau of Health will investigate any concerns about the safety of this type of product and will ask manufacturers to remove any substances that pose a health risk." While it doesn't have the pre-sale testing, there is a mechanism for testing and removing anything that would be dangerous, like if the myth was true.

Yet, that doesn't stop sites like this, or people from spreading the meme that they have heard.

By the way I love the disclaimer that that site has, "Disclaimer: The information on this site should not be taken as medical advice. Opinions expressed are those of individual authors, unless otherwise stated."

Ohhh...your article on never using any plastic in the microwave wasn't medical advice, it was just someone talking about Bisphenol A, which has already been banned in Canada and has nothing to do with specifically with microwave containers which were the whole premise of the discussion in the first place.

Anyway, this just goes to further the understanding that if you hear something that seems like important news, like microwaving plastic is bad for your health, yet your hearing it first from someone you work with or something you got from an email it would probably be better to look it up and make sure their right.

I found out this the hard way after taking Vimax, Sinrex, Extenze, Vigrxplus and Prosolution because their emails looked so professionally done.

Thanks for reading,

January 19, 2011

An Exploration of Speciesism Continued

In my last post I gave a brief overview of speciesism and showed how we are all speciesists. This post will pick up where the last one left off. People treat different species differently, which is fine to an extent, but it can also go too far in either direction. 

1. The first direction that goes to far is the life is equal approach.Taking a page out of difference feminism some might argue the principle of different but equal. Meaning different species deserve to be treated equally well, but that equality obviously doesn't mean they should be treated the same. Yet, this principle would be strong enough to put one animals death, be it coral or an amoeba on equivalent terms with any other animals death (cat, dog or human), and it is unclear to me if it would extend further to carrots or potatoes, but I don't see an reason why it wouldn't if the value is strictly something being living.

While this is a position that can be maintained, at a great cost, it doesn't seem either realistic or ideal. There is a qualitative difference between a chimpanzee and an amoeba, and between a human and any other species. While all life should be valued all life isn't equal and no one, despite their best effort, treats life as it is.  

For instance, take parasites. I don't know of one person who values their life equally to the lives of harmful parasites within their body. Ticks aren't invited and welcomed to peoples body, and neither are intestinal flukes, pin worms or tapeworms. Once infected with such creatures their right to life doesn't ever come up, nor should it, but it would if people really wanted to be non-speciesists.

There also wouldn't be any wind power if the lives of birds and  bats were weighed equivalently with that of humans, as thousands and thousands of birds and bats are killed each year by the silent green killer. The American Bird Conservancy notes that, 

"Recent U.S. studies indicate that bird mortality at wind turbine projects varies from less than one bird/turbine/year to as high as 7.5 birds/per turbine/year. This means that between 10,000 and 40,000 birds may be killed each year at wind farms across the country - about 80% of which are songbirds, and 10% may be birds of prey. While not a large figure, local or regional impacts may be significant, and the rate of increase in turbine construction has conservationists concerned that new generators be built to standards that minimize the potential for bird kills. Bats are also subject to high mortality at wind farms frequently at considerably higher rates than birds."

Could you imagine if wind turbines caused that many human deaths? People would be up in arms, heck even if turbines caused that many deaths in cats or dogs people might take a different stance on wind power.

2. There is another direction that goes to far the other way and doesn't value animal lives, except in how they affect humans.

Immanuel Kant and his theory of ethics is one where animals have no moral value, except in how they can change human behavior, i.e. People shouldn't kick cats because it might get them into the habit of kicking young adults.

Penn and Tell in season 2 of Bullshit! also echo this type of moral reasoning when they say that they, "Would personally strangle every chimpanzee to save one street junkie with aids." I know what your all thinking, isn't there a less labor intensive way to do that, I mean wouldn't your hands get sore?

While the elimination of a species like that seems immoral it seems less so when a little logic is applied. Almost all people would agree that one human life is more valuable then the life of a Chimpanzee, so if they had to kill one Chimpanzee to save a human life, it would be bye bye Chimp. Yet, this question starts to really get interesting when a second chimp is added to the equation.

I don't think that the second Chimpanzee would effect anyone's choice of what to do, if you wouldn't do it in the first place then the second chimp wouldn't have an effect and a person willing to kill one chimp would pass a threshold where a second chimp wouldn't affect the choice very much. What the second chimp really does is create a slippery slope, where if you are willing to kill 2 chimps then why not 3, 30, or 300.

Like the Milgrim Shock Experiment when people are willing to go a certain distance, they end up going the rest of the way.

Yet, I don't think that many people would be willing to eliminate a species to save one human life and human actions support that belief. Lots of different types of animals kill people and no one is seriously trying to eradicate those human killing species from existence. While Penn and Teller would strangle every Chimpanzee, they should also be getting rid of every Lion, Bee, and even possibly peanut, as they kill many more than one junkie with aids a year.

There has to be a middle ground between the two beliefs that really accounts for both how people act and how people think about animals, but finding that ethical middle means wading through a ton of problems to which there is no clear answer.

The first problem that really stands out is something that has been expressed by both Jarred Diamond and Richard Dawkins previously. People value even perceived humanity over reasonable expectation of pain, or consciousness.

Dawkins express this by saying, "Such is the breathtaking speciesism of our Christian-inspired attitudes, that the abortion of a single human zygote (most of them are destined to be spontaneously aborted anyway) can arouse more moral solicitude and righteous indignation than the vivisection."

While Diamond says with less venom that, "...it's considered acceptable to exhibit caged apes in zoos, but it's not acceptable to do the same with humans. I wonder how the public will feel when the identifying label on the chimp cage in the zoo reads 'Homo troglogytes'"(page 29 of The Third Chimpanzee).

The perception of being human or even close to human is what seems to have ethical value, not the ability to feel pain or be conscious. As Sam Harris would say, there are many peaks and valleys in morality. The perception of humanness is a valley we have yet to fully climb, while other summits are still just being looked at.

Thanks for reading,
-the moral skeptic