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In 1913, three short years before President Woodrow Wilson would appoint him to the Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis wrote a piece for the magazine Harpers Weekly titled "What Publicity Can Do". In it, the legal scholar noted that, “sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” He thought that if the public simply knew about corruption or the risks associated with certain industries, that these social pathogens would be erased.
It was a similar reasoning that led the citizens of California in 1986 to pass the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act (better known as Proposition 65). The law doesn’t pull products off the shelves, but it does require that manufacturers provide a “clear and reasonable warning” before exposing the public to substances that could cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.
Idea - Individuals - Products—and - People - Risks
The idea is that concerned individuals can choose to eschew such products—and if enough people decide that the risks are not worth a given product’s benefits, it might disappear from shelves altogether, replaced by safer alternatives. The list of labeled substances includes marijuana smoke (but eating marijuana is fine, by California standards), acrylamide (which appears in toast, potato chips, and fries), and as of this week, glyphosate—a popular herbicide (or weed killer) better known as Round-Up. This decision comes despite the fact that several health organizations have said that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer.
In May of last year, the United Nations released a joint report from the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization which said that glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans. It was followed a few months later by...
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