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This Blog Post is Not Chemical-Free 07 Dec 2008

Posted by Jessa in Science.
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As a scientist, one of the things that really annoys me is the misappropriation of scientific terms.  The twisted definitions are most frequently used by advertisers to dupe the unsuspecting public into believing that their product is somehow better than the other stuff out there.

One of these words is “chemical”.  So much effort has been poured into making the word “chemical” synonymous with “poison” that companies are now advertising their products as “100% chemical-free”.  Seriously.

And they are getting away with it.  After receiving complaints about a Miracle-Gro ad that states that its product is “100% chemical-free”,  the agency that regulates advertising in the UK did nothing, stating:

“When there is a colloquial understanding of a word, we can take this into account when reaching our decision. In this case, we believe that most viewers are likely to understand the term ‘organic’ as meaning no man-made chemicals have been used to manufacture, or are present in this product. For this reason, we believe that most viewers are unlikely to be misled by the claim.”

So what they’re saying is that it’s okay to lie in an advertisement because most of the public doesn’t know the actual definition of “chemical”.

Bullshit.  Scientific terms don’t get re-defined by majority vote.  If people are too uninformed or gullible to realize that all matter is made up entirely of chemicals (and therefore no product is any less than 100% “chemical”), that’s their problem.  They need to be educated.

To that end, I’m glad to see that the Royal Society of Chemistry is working to take back the word “chemical”.  They’re offering £1 million (~$2.3 million) to the first person who can present an actual chemical-free product to them.

I predict that their money is safe.

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Comments»

1. omcdurham - 08 Dec 2008

Chemical-free? Anyone seen the periodic chart lately? Of elements? Chemical elements? Atoms bond to form molecules, molecules bond to form compounds, compounds have names: chemical names! It’s nature, dammit! Sodium plus Chlorine equals table salt. You put it on your food! Known as SODIUM CHLORIDE, it’s the most abundant chemical compound in the world, next to WATER, the combination of Oxygen and Hydrogen.
Man may manipulate and engineer certain chemicals to “better” our lives, and nobody will buy stuff labeled “manipulated and engineered”, but one cannot simply label a product as “chemical free.”
Another thing that irks me is the term “organic.” This just means that a thing or being contains the element Carbon in its chemical makeup. This means, by definition, gasoline is “organic.”
Let’s be honest in our language that we have chosen to use. Food (or fertilizers, or soaps, or carpeting, etc,) cannot not be “organic, or chemical free. “Organic produce” has been around since vegetation on the Earth has been around. Whole Foods just needed a way to better market it and charge too much.


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