- The Washington Times - Friday, April 26, 2002

French fry lovers and potato chip crunchers need not worry much that their favorite snack foods are "dangerous" the blaring, alarm-sounding news reports about their supposedly cancer-causing qualities notwithstanding. Like so much of what passes for news these days, the report this week that eating chips, fries and other starchy foods cooked in oil may contribute to cancer is probably more hype than fact.

The Swedish study linking these foods with cancer in humans is both tenuous and tentative. It has not been peer-reviewed and certainly suffers from perhaps the biggest single flaw that plagues studies like these: extrapolating from lab rats force-fed massive quantities of a given substance and normal rates of consumption of the same substance by human beings.

In the first place, an overdose of anything can kill you even too much tap water can make you ill. But the more important point is that rats and humans are profoundly different creatures, physiologically and otherwise. What causes a problem in rats may not be any problem at all for humans and vice versa. Rat-human extrapolations have been discredited in uncounted previous instances of junk science peddling and this fatal potato chip business may be no different.

The real danger here is that the often-overzealous U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may take the Swedish study and run with it possibly banning or regulating all sorts of foods that Americans hold near and dear, and which are in all likelihood quite harmless to the human body, aside from their tendency to increase the waistline. After all, people have been happily consuming fries, chips and all manner of similar snacks for decades with no apparent ill-effect. If fried snack foods are so dangerously, horribly carcinogenic, how come we haven't seen a massive uptick (or even a statistically noticeable one) in snack-induced cancers?

Clearly, this business should not be approached half-cocked as the FDA has done so often in the past. Let's wait and see what the peer-reviewed science and studies based on humans, not lab rats has to say before we set out to ban our favorite tasty treats.

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