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Pesticides and Food



Alternatives to high pesticide use


Information and labelling is the key for consumer action on pesticides. This will permit the ‘informed consumer’ to choose which foods are purchased containing which pesticides if any. The right to know (or the right to be told that no one knows the effects of, or can monitor, or has monitored, the pesticides used on a food crop) would seem to most people to be a basic human right.

Some agrochemical industry spokespersons and scientists are already arguing that the risk from pesticide residues in food is trivial and some scientists argue that valuable resources should not be wasted on monitoring and researching carcinogenic risks from pesticides further.

Scientists disagree about pesticide health and safety but such disagreements tend to remain unpublicized. Asbestos and lead spring readily to mind as examples, closely followed by radiation, greenhouse gases and food poisoning.

The other remarkable thing about some of those scientists who believe the hazards posed by pesticide residues to be exaggerated is that they do so on grounds which will greatly, increase public doubt and scepticism. For instance, some scientists have assured us for many years that they fully understood how toxins in food worked, how many toxins there were in food and what effect they would have on humans. They assured us that they could test for carcinogens and mutagens.

Surprisingly the public is now being told that many foods contain natural carcinogens that were there all the time and that these carcinogens present a much greater hazard than any synthetic carcinogens developed for use as pesticides by industry. Something does not quite fit here. Either industry could test crops and identify carcinogens in the past or it could not. The claims about the recent discovery of natural carcinogens in crops appear to destroy a good deal of the credibility of ‘science’ being able to identify and assess the past existence of carcinogens, natural or otherwise in our food. Perhaps a simpler explanation would be that the food and agriculture industries knew about natural carcinogens in food but did not wish to inform the public about the matter for fear of food scares and chemophobia.

It is difficult to understand how keeping people in ignorance will establish or maintain public confidence in industry or governments on any issue. Indeed, many believe that such a policy has exactly the opposite effect and its past use is rebounding badly on those who used it.

Now we are being told by some scientists that the toxicological methods used in the past to assess the long-term hazards of chemicals to humans has created ‘phantom hazards’ which require expensive clean-up solutions, that the ‘resultant stringent regulation’ led to ‘public anxiety and chemophobia’ and that ‘real hazards’ are not receiving adequate attention. No information is given about what the ‘real hazards’ are or how the risks from them have been quantified.

How exactly can such an approach be interpreted? If the scientists got pesticide regulation woefully wrong in the past, on what basis should the public now have greater confidence in them? If the models for risk assessment in the past were deficient, on what basis should we accept their new risk assessment models? We are told that 27 rodent carcinogens naturally present in food have been found out of 52 tested chemicals naturally occurring in food. These 27 carcinogens have been found in 57 different foods including apples, bananas, carrots, celery, coffee, lettuce, orange juice, peas, potatoes and tomatoes. We are also told that they are present in quantities thousands of times greater than synthetic pesticides.

The wisest policy must surely be to cease to take uninformed or ill-informed decisions about the possible health ill-effects of the synthetic chemicals that we use. We should remove or reduce our exposure to carcinogens, allergens, immunotoxic and neurotoxic agents as much as we can. This means surely that we should not be adding more synthetic carcinogens to our food than is absolutely necessary, despite the existence of natural carcinogens in the food already.


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