A lot of fuss has been made about the suggestion of a post-Brexit allowing such things as chlorine chicken onto UK shop shelves. The issue is indicative of the perils of international trade deals potential to override democratic control.
The issue also exemplifies the separation of truth and perception. There is a kind of mob-rule going on, where the mainstream media perpetuate a myth and truth isn’t arrived at. People say ‘people don’t trust experts anymore’, but this is partly because experts are misrepresented by the media. Clickbait, a catchy headline to get people to a page is more important than good content.
As a scientist, the misrepresentation of science in general irritates me. The popular media refrain of ‘Science says’ is nonsense, Science doesn’t say anything. Science is a means of answering questions through undertaking experiments to establish if there is a relationship between things or not. Often the conversation goes something like this:
Media: Is Chlorine Chicken safe?
Science: Define safe
M: Is it safe to eat?
S: Define safe to eat, what is the question you are asking?
M: If someone eats chlorine chicken will they suffer poorer health straight away?
S: Ah ok, you want to know if chlorine chicken is has similar effects as a poison?
S: Okay we’ll look into it…
Okay, No, chlorine chicken is not like a poison.
M: Thankyou, so the answer is that Chlorine Chicken is safe .
S: Yes, if you define safe as not being poisonous.
The media then announce to the world that chlorine chicken has been scientifically proved to be completely safe.
Society: Really, science says that chlorine chicken is completely safe? what about long-term effects of such a diet. We don’t agree, we have lost trust in science.
Science: Hang on media, we didn’t say that it was completely safe, all we established was that it wasn’t a poison, using your very narrow definition of safe, there may be long term effects on health of introducing chlorine chicken into human diets, there is indeed some evidence that this is the case and…
Media: Sorry Science, that wasn’t what we asked and we haven’t time to discuss it, you’ve done your job and we’re too busy writing articles attacking people who are against chlorine chicken.
Scientists: Face… Palm.
So trade deals can then be set up, with their own judicial systems, that don’t allow actual safety to be an excuse for not being able to freely trade dangerous food or machinery, because they ticked the box of scientific testing, even if that testing was fairly meaningless.
This is why CETA, TTIP and potential UK post-Brexit “free trade” deals are a concern. The great Brexit irony of taking back control only to give away more control than was lost through membership of the EU.
Rather than society decide it’s own rules, that power is given up to corporations, who are only concerned with making money. The people in the corporations may have moral scruples, but these are very easily side-tracked in the fast pace of business, which is why we have regulations in the first place. Regulations so we don’t all have to spend money on our own research over whether a product is safe or not, with regulations that need only be done once, scientifically, through resolving exhaustive lists of questions.
Chlorine chicken is the pertinent example, it should not be brushed aside, because resolving the issue allows everything else to be more easily resolved. It doesn’t effect me because I’m never going to eat it.