Sudan 1: a Pot Noodle of a panic

spiked editor Mick Hume's Notebook in The Times (London).

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
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  • Of all the panics over food safety in recent years, the ‘food cancer scare’ about the illegal dye, Sudan 1, is the most ridiculously overdone.

If you ate a supermarket full of the blacklisted products, there is no evidence that it would give you cancer. Compared with the BSE scare over eating beef, this is a Pot Noodle of a health panic. Yet it has become ‘Britain’s biggest food scare’, with 400 products recalled and destroyed at an estimated cost of £100 million.

Apparently one rogue batch of chilli powder containing the banned red colouring was used in some Worcester sauce, which was then used in processed foods. The amount of Sudan 1 in any affected product would be measured in micrograms (millionths of a gram); officials concede that it is ‘almost untraceable’.

Sudan 1 has not even been proved to be carcinogenic in human beings: it is merely suspected of being so. True, some laboratory rats developed tumours after being fed relatively large amounts daily for two years. But you or I would have to eat thousands of portions of contaminated sausages, pies, soup and crisps a day to ingest a comparable dose. The rule in toxicology is that the dose makes the poison; Bruce Ames, a molecular biologist at the University of California, points out that half of all chemicals tested on rats, whether natural or synthetic, cause cancer because of the very high doses involved. By contrast the amount of Sudan 1 in the processed foods is so tiny that Alan Boobis, of Imperial College London, reckons eating some would involve a health risk roughly equivalent to smoking a single cigarette – in your entire lifetime.

Yet this overblown scare was started by the Food Standards Agency, an official body packed with specialists who know the real (non) risks posed by untraceable traces of Sudan 1. They could surely have responded quietly and calmly. Instead, using the media they turned it into a major panic, presumably in the belief that such a display of zealotry in the name of precaution would restore public confidence. The result has been the opposite – a clear case of a cure being worse than the disease, and all for a mere £100 million.

The fear of food and mistrust of modern food production that provokes such needless panics is a growing cancer that we should worry about. Our diet is better and healthier than ever in history. If you want to see poisonous food additives, take a look at the excrement, strychnine, lead, copper and other delicacies fed to our Victorian forebears, who might have considered a taste of tainted chilli powder to be an exotic treat.

  • Suppose you did eat your way through a supermarket full of processed food, should you get locked up for being too fat?

It happened to Chris Leppard, a 23-year old from Hastings who weighs 31 stone. A rare genetic disorder means that he cannot tell when he is full, so he keeps on eating. His family deny that he has mental health problems. Yet after Mr Leppard appeared in a BBC documentary, social workers and police arrived at his home and dragged him off in tears to be detained against his will in a mental hospital. East Sussex social services says that such orders are imposed ‘in the interests of that person’s health or safety or to protect other people’.

We live in a weirdly illiberal time where it is no longer acceptable to make jokes about fat people, but is considered perfectly reasonable to lock them up for ‘health and safety’ reasons. Smokers, drinkers and others with bad habits, beware. ‘First they came for the grossly obese, and I did not speak out, because I was not a fat bastard . . .’

  • Otis Ferry, supposed hero of the pro-hunting lobby, said during the weekend’s show of resistance to the ban: ‘We feel persecuted. We know these people, the urban population, hate us deeply.’

Some of us certainly despise such self-righteous self-pity, and could do without Master Ferry’s ‘For Fox Sake Vote Conservative’ sloganeering.

But I reserve my real contempt for those who claim the hunting ban as a victory for the Left. The Left that I came from wanted to change the world, not to outlaw pastimes and methods of pest control. My old friend Karl Marx railed against ‘rural idiocy’, yet his collaborator Friedrich Engels saw no contradiction in describing hunting as ‘the most magnificent physical pleasure I know’. I do not think that the co-author of the Communist Manifesto voted Conservative.

Mick Hume is editor of spiked
This article is republished from The Times (London)

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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