Murphy: The Seven Percent Delusion

A certain percentage of the American population are blissfully unaware, but that's bad news for agriculture. ( )

A 2017 report noted that an online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy revealed a startling statistic: Seven% of American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

As The Washington Post reported at the time, “If you do the math, that [statistic] works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.”

As ridiculous as that sounds (how could anyone not know that chocolate anything can’t be obtained by pulling on a cow’s udder?), that percentage pales in comparison to some other eye-opening examples of how uninformed the American public can be.

Some of the Dumb-O-Meter data is head-scratching, but fairly harmless. For example, based on Google search numbers and polling data reported in TIME magazine last year, nearly 7% of Americans either don’t believe, or are unsure, of the fact that the Earth isn’t flat.


Likewise, nearly 7% of Americans in a 2010 Marist national survey stated that America achieved independence from France, Russia or even Mexico — a list of countries other than Great Britain (nearly 20% didn’t have any idea whatsoever).

However, other equally unbelievable misconceptions have serious potential consequences.

For instance, when more than 40% of Americans told Gallup pollsters in 2015 they agreed with the statement, “God created human beings pretty much in their present form sometime in the last 10,000 years,” that misinformation undermines the credibility of all scientific research, much of which (medical treatments, climate change) is critical to our collective health and well-being.

Similarly, when nearly 10% of Americans told researchers from the Pew Research Center in a 2015 survey that vaccines are unsafe and can cause autism, it raised the specter of a resurgence of deadly diseases, such as measles, which had been virtually eliminated with universal vaccination.

Myths that Need to Go Away
In honor of our Seven Percent theme, here are seven misconceptions about food and nutrition that have negatively impacted production agriculture:

  1. Pink slime naysayers. Even the media contingent that’s supportive of the product known as lean finely textured beef describe it with such phrases as “salvaged scraps of beef that are exposed to ammonia to kill any bacteria.” Yikes. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
  2. Nut milks are better than dairy milk. Although almond and other nut milks have more calcium than dairy milk, it’s because calcium carbonate is added to the formulations. (And if you asked Americans if they’re comfortable with chemicals like calcium carbonate being added to foods, you can bet more than 7% would disagree). Plus, almond milk only has about one-eighth the amount of protein as cow’s milk and lacks dairy’s nutrient diversity.
  3. Gluten-free is the way to be. As a marketing tool, “gluten-free” is a gold mine. As an accurate measure of healthy choices, it’s overblown. The actual number of gluten-sensitive people is about the same as those who believe the chocolate-milk-from-brown-cows meme. And as food manufacturers continue to introduce a plethora of gluten-free products, it’s important to note that many of them are more refined and thus convert faster to glucose in the body. That tends to exacerbate some serious health issues, such as obesity, along with its attendant side effects.
  4. Ultra-lean beef is healthier. It’s understandable why supermarket operators have hopped onto the low-fat bandwagon: 90/10 ground beef often retails for a 30% to 40% premium, versus “standard” formulations. Here’s a cheaper way to obtain the same (alleged) benefits: Cook “regular” ground beef, then drain the fat out of the pan. Pocket the savings and enjoy the same nutritional profile.
  5. GMOs will kill you. I doubt if even 7% of Americans know that genetic engineering, as developed and applied to tropical wheat and rice varieties by the late Nobel laureate Norman Borlaug, was responsible for an exponential increase in global agricultural productivity. Kill you? No, GMOs saved the lives of more than a billion people in the last several decades.
  6. Eggs are unhealthy because they’re high in cholesterol. Eggs are a valuable source of complete protein, as well as such micronutrients as zinc, iron and vitamin D and antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. And the Mayo Clinic has officially stated that, “The effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal, compared with the effect of trans fats and saturated fats.”
  7. Margarine is better than butter. Butter and margarine have about the same caloric content, but some brands of margarines are unhealthier because they contain trans fats, which have adverse effects on cholesterol and heart health.

To review: The Earth is round, it’s been around longer than 10,000 years, and we defeated England in the Revolutionary War.

And GMOs aren’t deadly, buying super-lean beef is unnecessary and eggs and butter were just as beneficial for those 18th century rebels as they are for us modern American patriots.

Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.