Also known as the Delaney Clause, it stated if a synthetic chemical could be shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, the chemical must be banned. It also suggested if the exact same chemical was natural, it was safe. While this was immediately attacked as a baffling and unscientific approach to carcinogenicity, many lawyers were looking forward to decades of litigation.
As our understanding of the suite of diseases we call cancer has increased, so have the lawsuits. Consumer advocacy groups have made a fortune claiming products like coffee, red dye #2, movie theater popcorn, and Chinese food are harmful because they contain a chemical that caused cancer in rats. Yet no one has been saved by the scaremongering that chemophobia brings.
Rats Aren’t Humans
The Delaney Clause was attacked by the science community for two important reasons, both of which still stoke public skepticism when someone claims the need to ban a chemical “at the drop of a rat.”
First, rats are not little people; they are a completely different species used only in exploratory studies. They can eliminate hazards in humans but cannot show them—ever. And don’t forget, humans share 50 percent of their DNA with bananas, but bananas aren’t used to create bans, so it makes as little sense to use rats.
Second, there were very few known carcinogens in 1958, and IARC, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, would not even come into existence until 1965. Today, California’s Proposition 65 has 900 chemicals alone that statisticians think might lead to cancer. As a result, there are warning labels on everything from coffee pots to corkboards in, of all places, hospital cancer wards.