Chain of Thought

Greasing the Skids for a Butter Battle

Only a day after MH&L's report that plastic pallets were being cited as a possible source of butter contamination, a legal grease fire has started. Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company, LLC), operator of a rental service providing RFID-tag-equipped plastic pallets, has lawyered up to sue the National Wooden Pallet and Container Association (NWPCA) and its president and CEO Bruce Scholnick for what it claims are false, malicious and defamatory statements.

In its suit, iGPS claims that NWPCA, to protect the economic interests of the wooden pallet industry, has conspired to drive it out of business. It also states that the press release NWPCA put out a week ago to start this skirmish contained “intentionally false, misleading and defamatory statements singularly calculated to create the completely false impression that iGPS's pallets were the possible cause of an alleged contamination of butter in certain Texas stores.”

To be fair, the NWPCA press release never comes out and says iGPS pallets were the cause of the contamination, but it makes it awfully easy for any reader to connect the dots between two previously unrelated facts and join an effect to a cause.

Fact A: A University of Texas (UT) School of Public Health study showed high levels of polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in butter samples purchased from five grocery stores in the city of Dallas.

Fact B: According to an iGPS life cycle analysis, each of its pallets contains 3.4 lbs of decabromodiphenyl ether (decaBDE), one of several chemicals classified as a PBDE flame retardant.

Here's where NWPCA picks up a bright red crayon to join those two facts:

“While UT researchers speculated on possible causes of contamination such as the butter's paper wrapper, given the high levels of PBDE used in plastic pallets, they should be examined as the root source of transfer to the food. Investigators suggest the incident represents the worst documented case of PBDE contamination in food ever reported in the U.S.”

The NWPCA press release later states: “iGPS plastic pallets are used almost exclusively by the food industry.”

Forget the red crayon, that's a day-glow highlighter.

I called Bruce Scholnick to ask him if maybe putting out a press release connecting iGPS to an incident that nobody else connected this company to was a bit opportunistic.

“My point is not whether it was riding on a pallet of wood or plastic, but that deca-bromine has zero tolerance for food. FDA doesn't want it around food at all. iGPS pallets are loaded with deca-bromine. My point is, let them test their pallet to make certain it isn't leaching deca-bromine.”

Yeah, but the butter in question was riding a wooden pallet, not plastic.

“I never said the iGPS pallet was carrying the butter,” Mr. Scholnick continued.”

It will be interesting to see whether the iGPS suit against NWPCA has any impact on either side. Whether it does or not, this whole greasy mess is a great reminder for all of us: facts and truth are often two separate things. Connect the dots between them with care.

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