Thirsty Work

When I first saw the headline “EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration” I did one of those eye-bulging, cartoonish double takes. Surely I had misread? Or misunderstood? I checked the date: nope, not April the 1st. Surely no one sane could claim that water doesn’t prevent dehydration? After all, that’s the very definition of ‘dehydration’. From Oxford online dictionary

dehydrate
Pronunciation:/diːhʌɪˈdreɪt, diːˈhʌɪdreɪt/
verb
[with object] (often as adjective dehydrated)
cause (a person or their body) to lose a large amount of water:
his body temperature was high and he had become dehydrated
[no object] lose a large amount of water from the body:
the nurses made sure I didn’t dehydrate
remove water from (food) in order to preserve and store it:
dehydrated mashed potatoes


I was not the only one smacked in the gob by the apparent lunacy of the EU. Here’s what MEP Roger Helmer had to say:

This is stupidity writ large. The Euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are worrying about the obvious qualities of water. If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project, then this is it.

Then I thought for a little longer. Who would wish to make that claim? And, since it is so obvious, why would anyone make the claim? I began to get an inkling of the thinking behind the EU’s extraordinary statement. The statement upon which the EU was required to rule was:

Regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance.

The EU responded thusly:

The panel considers that the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim.

OK, the whole point of having regulations is to ensure that the public are adequately informed as to the properties of whatever it is that they are ingesting. The claim was for a ‘disease risk reduction’, and the panel found–in my opinion rightly–that dehydration is not a disease, and they therefore rejected the claim. They were not claiming that water does not have any effect on dehydration, which the press seem to believe. Had they accepted the claim, almost any product that contains any water at all could merrily use it on their packaging.

The EU bureaucracy may well be deserving of ridicule for having such nitpicking regulations and ponderous processes that it had to mobilise no fewer than 21 scientists and three years to arrive at its ruling, but it does not deserve the derision that has been heaped upon it for the ruling itself.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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One Response to Thirsty Work

  1. Con-Tester says:

    On the whole, journalists consistently seem to be especially lethargic and incautious when it comes to reporting on scientific matters. As in this case, what to a journalist may seem like a trifling detail re a scientific question can make all the difference between a fact and a farce.

    But when you consider that a journalism degree is not a science degree but an arts degree, it makes perfect sense that journalists fuck up so often on science stories such as this one. The exceptions are bleakly rare.

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