I’d like my shampoo gluten-free, please

The Voice of Young Science, an early career researchers group, pens an open letter to supermarket CEOs calling them out on their misleading marketing ploys. And, yes, there is such a thing as gluten-free shampoo though there seems to be 0.21% reasons for it.

Supermarkets cash in on unfounded fears about food and health.

We have all found ourselves standing in a supermarket aisle, staring at packets and cans, struggling to choose between different versions of the same thing: Do I choose the product that is “free from artificial sweetener” or has “no MSG”? What about the one that “contains no GM” or is “paraben-free”?

But these are false choices: supermarkets are misinforming their customers about health risks. There is no scientific evidence to support rumours about adverse health effects from the flavour enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG), or from foods containing material from plants that were genetically modified, or from the sweetener aspartame, or from parabens, which are used to preserve toiletries.

Frustrated by this cynical marketing, a group of junior researchers that I coordinate (the Voice of Young Science network) wrote an open letter calling on supermarkets to stop misleading customers and review their negative claim policies.

We had asked the supermarkets to give their reasons for marketing products as “free from”. Without exception, the supermarkets that responded provided no evidence for any negative health effects. Instead, they told us their policies are a response to customer concerns. For example Marks & Spencer responded: “The reason why we decided as a business to remove GM ingredients from our foods was due to our customer concerns.”

Perhaps supermarkets don’t realise the scale of the effect they have on customer opinion. When it comes to public misunderstanding of GM, for example, supermarkets have contributed to widespread public distrust. GM-free supermarket products imply that GM is “weird science”, even though the European Commission has found no evidence of higher risk of negative health outcomes from GM food compared with conventional food in any of the research it has funded.

This campaign is in conjunction with Sense about Science, a U.K. organization. Here is their news release.

Is this the right approach? Supermarkets don’t design the labeling. Manufacturers are responding to an increased concern about certain chemicals. Yes, those concerns are not backed by science but people feel they want this choice and are willing to pay more for “[whatever]-free” this or that. I’m not sure this is going to work. The manufacturers are all about marketing and presentation. This costs them nothing and may increase sales for people who feel they are “playing it safe”.

On a similar note, imagine my surprise when I found my Costco shampoo AND conditioner were “gluten free”. WHO EATS HAIR PRODUCTS?

I don’t think the gluten is what will do me in.

Kirkland brand

Kirkland brand – contains many “key” words.

It turns out there is little validity to a skin allergy from wheat products. Wheat allergies in general are rare. Even people with celiac disease need to digest the allergen to have an effect. The marketing is serving to scare people about things they really should not be scared of.

Here is a piece I wrote about “dangerous” chemicals.

Skeptoid: Gluten Free Diets.

  6 comments for “I’d like my shampoo gluten-free, please

  1. May 9, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Now try finding a gluten free sandwich in an average town. Or a gluten free menu in a motorway service station.

  2. May 9, 2013 at 8:01 PM

    I want my furniture gluten-free, and also free from MSG. Oh! and no GM gasoline!

  3. May 9, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    There’s a specialty/imported foods grocery store I like to shop at where the butcher shop/exotic meats section is right across the aisle from health foods and herbal remedies. I was there one week where a wag from the butcher shop had put a hand-written sign next to a gluten-free/sugar-free/no-trans-fat cookies display reading, “All our meats are 100% gluten-free! :)” with an arrow pointing to the butcher shop.

    I admit that I giggled when I saw it, and I’m not sure how much we should accommodate people who might think that animal tissues include gluten. But it was gone the next time I visited the store.

  4. One Eyed Jack
    May 9, 2013 at 10:06 PM

    This doesn’t surprise me. Gluten is going the way of many other health buzz words. People who don’t understand it latch on to the fad and lump it into a category where anything associated with it is bad.

  5. May 10, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    They should be lightly killed over an open fire. Coeliac disease is pretty common, and acutely unfunny.

  6. Rand
    May 12, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Why would they want the product to be gluten free? Gluten is All Natural ™ after all…

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