CIVIL DEFENSE PERSPECTIVES

July 1995 (vol. 11, #5) 1601 N Tucson Blvd #9, Tucson AZ 85716 c 1995 Physicians for Civil Defense

IS FOOD SAFE?

In supporting the perpetuation of the federal regulatory regime, columnists such as Molly Ivins worry: the smallest trace of carcinogens in our food will accumulate in our bodies, eventually building up to a level that will cause cancer. Therefore, the expense of federal regulations should be no object. It's their money (industry's money), but our lives.

Ms. Ivins has, of course, no concept of where industry gets its money. But even if she has an infinite supply of money to buy food regardless of the cost, Ms. Ivins has more to worry about than she probably realizes.

Judging from federal expenditures and media coverage, the main hazards are man-made carcinogens; fat; and labels that may say ``fresh'' when the food has really been frozen or cooked (presumably before it spoiled).

To avoid carcinogens in food is impossible, Ms. Ivins. According to Bruce Ames, roughly half of all substances are carcinogenic under certain laboratory conditions. Because food contains so many substances, some are bound to be carcinogenic. And yet, eating the proper amount of the right kind of carcinogens (at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day) appears to lower the risk of cancer.

Since it is unable to control Mother Nature, the FDA focuses on controlling mothers and other human beings. One target is the use of man-made substances, such as food additives and pesticides. Not one cancer fatality has yet been linked to pesticide residues on food. Still, someday one might be, and that is all the rationale that the FDA needs.

The control agenda has been especially well accomplished with regard to labels. This problem has been solved by the combined efforts of the Dept. of HHS, the FDA, and the USDA. You may have received by mail a four-color poster explaining the new food label and providing 24-hour, toll-free numbers for further information about it. Call the USDA at (800)535-4555, or the FDA 24-hour hotline at (800)FDA-4010. (Samples: ``The new labels are easy to read and understand.'' And ``if you eat raw oysters, press `1'.'') The labels will help you regulate your intake of fat and other ingredients.

There is some good information available on the hotline, especially about raw oysters, if you don't mind having a textbook read aloud to you. The obvious (and true) conclusion from a few minutes listening is that the most important food-borne hazard is microorganisms.

The other critically important food-related problem is insufficient quantity, causing starvation.

The USDA estimates that 6.5 to 81 million episodes of food-related illnesses occur each year, and about 7,000 deaths. Most (about 97%) result from improper preparation or storage by food-handlers or consumers.

A particularly serious form of food-borne infection, first recognized in 1982, is caused by a strain of the common colon bacillus, E. Coli O157:H7. At least 20,000 cases and 250 deaths occur from this cause annually in the U.S. Most patients recover from the bloody diarrhea within a week, but between 5 and 10% develop anemia and kidney failure. Children are especially susceptible. The bacteria may live in the intestines of healthy cattle and contaminate the meat during slaughter. In the process of grinding, bacteria on the surface may be mixed throughout the meat. Outbreaks have been associated most commonly with eating undercooked hamburger, but dry-cured salami, unpasteurized milk, and raw vegetables or apple cider possibly contaminated with cattle manure have also been implicated.

More meat inspectors would not solve the problem. No violations in meat storage or grinding procedures were found.

There is a cheap, effective, and safe solution. And in this case, the FDA is not responsible for obstructing it.

Parasites and dangerous bacteria are readily killed by irradiating food with high-level gamma rays (which do not make the food radioactive). The process has been approved for use with pork and poultry and many fruits and vegetables. An especially useful application is with spices, which often contain such high levels of bacteria that most of the contaminants in the entire dish come from the pinch of seasoning. (Treatment with ethylene oxide and propylene oxide has been banned.) Beef and seafood can also be irradiated.

Although WHO, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and 37 nations approve this technology, it is not being used in the U.S. According to columnist Bill Kramer, the chief culprits are large food producers. They don't want to publicize the existence of problems, such as a Salmonella epidemic that affects about 60% of all poultry products. (Ms. Ivins, are you interested in targeting some corporate bad guys?) Nor do they want to face the wrath of antinuclear activists.

Irradiated foods now available only to American astronauts are not only more healthful, but they also keep much longer. Thus, radiation would help to increase the available food supply. But the regulators and educators continue to focus on methods that would help apocalyptic prophet Paul Ehrlich win his latest wager with Julian Simon. They favor meausures that tend to decrease the food supply, perhaps drastically: the banning of pesticides.

Without pesticides, American farmers would be defenseless against more than 10,000 species of insects, 1,500 plant diseases, 1,800 kinds of weeds, and 1,500 types of microscopic soil worms. In an extensively documented report prepared for state legislators, the American Legislative Exchange Council showed that agricultural use of these essential chemicals posed insignificant or nonexistent risks to human beings. The small amount of pesticide residue present at harvest is reduced to negligible or nondetectable levels before consumption by natural degradation and food preparation before and after marketing (The State Factor, July, 1992, 910 17th St, NW, 5th Floor, Washington, DC 20002, (202)466-3800).

Is food safe? Thanks to modern technology, it has never been safer. But the risks of microbes and famine must not be forgotten. Unfortunately, the zeal of government regulators for food safety is largely misdirected and counterproductive.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: American Council on Science and Health, Avoiding Foodborne Illness, 1995 Broadway, 2nd floor, New York, NY 10023-5860. Also see index to Access to Energy, PO Box 1250, Cave Junction, OR 97523.) News clippings on food irradiation available, (520)325-2680.

 

Fruits and Vegetables May Prevent Stroke

The Framingham Study, conducted on a cohort of 832 men over a period of 20 years, suggests that fruits and vegetables may protect against strokes of all types in men. For each increment of three servings per day, the incidence of stroke decreased by about 22%. The effect persisted even when adjusted for the presence of hyperten-sion, smoking, fat intake, cholesterol level, and alcohol (Gillman, et al., JAMA 273:1113-1117, 1995).

An accompanying news article is entitled: ``Ames agrees with Mom's Advice: Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables.'' Leading toxicologist Bruce Ames espouses the view that 99.9% of the toxic chemicals people are exposed to come from natural sources, such as the plants they eat. Nonetheless, he believes that pesticides help reduce cancer rates because they cut the cost of those plants (fruits and vegetables), thereby increasing their consumption (JAMA 273:1077-8).

 

Trade-Offs

For environmental reasons, California and Northeast states have passed laws requiring that 2% of model year 1998 cars be ``zero emission,'' that is, electric cars. However, such cars are far from environmentally pure. A 1998 model electric car is estimated to release 60 times more lead per kilometer traveled than a comparable car burning leaded gasoline. Producing and recycling the batteries would also discharge substantial amounts of lead (Science 268:993-995).

 

Entitlements

Some people think that ``entitlements'' bring taxpayer-funded checks from the government. But in the new One-World environmental parlance, each country may have an ``entitlement'' to emit a certain amount of carbon dioxide.

The reasoning: ``Even the use of fuelwood is not, as often held, environmentally benign; true, the practice merely returns to the atmosphere carbon dioxide that was there at an earlier stage, but that is irrelevant if the atmosphere already contains too much for comfort.''

And how will emissions standards be enforced, once hammered out? By comprehensive monitoring. Such a ``global warming regime will be effective only if predicated on some degree of global government....[I]t will not be the first time -remember nuclear weapons-that this conclusion has been inescapable'' (Nature 374:483, 1995).

 

Fear

Newspaper columnists may fear carcinogens in foods. But a majority, or near majority, of Americans have a greater fear: their own government. In 1976, long before the Oklahoma City bombing and the growth of conservative talk shows, the Chicago Tribune printed the results of a Louis Harris poll that found 32% of the people regarded big government as the ``biggest threat to the country.'' Harris noted that ``the number who feel this way has risen 11 points over the past three years.''

Since then, the number has increased further. Today, the percen-tage is from 7 to 20 points higher than Harris found.

``The giant state is what people fear, and both the state and the fear keep getting bigger,'' stated one of our readers, Fredric C. Olds of Illinois. Mr. Olds cited a 1995 study by Gallup, which asked: ``Do you think the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens?'' About 39% responded affirmatively. When the word ``immediate'' was removed, 52% said yes.

 

Used Clothing Sales Banned

According to Ray Evans of the Western Mining Center of Australia, the Basel Convention, an international environmental treaty ratified during the Bush Administration, requires that ``hazardous waste'' be disposed of in the country that generated it. Greenpeace fears that used clothing might contain minute amounts of environmental contaminants, and should therefore be banned from trade. The same agreement would keep computer scrap out of India and other Third World countries, which find it a useful for creating new jobs and income (Scoop, 6/19/95, National Center for Public Policy Research, 300 Eye St. NE Suite 3, Washing-ton, DC 20002, Tel.: (202)543-1286, E-mail: [email protected]).

 

Does Suntan Lotion Cause Melanoma?

If people expose themselves to sunlight using sunscreens that prevent sunburn, which is produced by UV-B, they will increase their exposure to melanoma-inducing UV-A (S. Fred Singer, Science and Environmental Policy Project).

Thus, a study might show that suntan lotion was correlated with melanoma. By today's nonreasoning (correlation = cause-effect), Coppertone should be banned.

R.B. Setlow concludes that the best protection against sunlight-induced cancers is to wear clothing or stay indoors (Mutation Research 307:365-374, 1994).

The Antarctic is thus a great place to be if you want to avoid skin cancer, the ozone hole notwithstanding. You are also quite unlikely to drown there, as Jim Hogan pointed out in Omni.

 

American Soldiers Drown or Freeze Unnecessarily

In 1995, four Ranger trainees drowned in the Yellow River Swamp because they had no breath-inflatable flotation gear or ultra-lightweight breath-inflated boats. Such equipment was used by thousands of jungle infantrymen in World War II to transport 81-mm mortars across rivers without the help of engineers or helicopters. Cresson Kearny, who developed and tested the gear, hopes to get the U.S. military to supply it once again to our fighting men, along with waterproof compasses.

Additionally, Mr. Kearny wants the military to supply superinsulating, aluminized 2-oz blankets to prevent deaths from hypothermia. Hunters and motorists can obtain an ``Emergency Blanket'' from WalMart for $1.96. As far as Mr. Kearny can determine, the U.S. military has none.

Mr. Kearny, the author of Jungle Snafus...and Remedies, will speak on the subject of expedient life-saving equipment at the August 4-6 Doctors for Disaster Preparedness meeting in Grants Pass, Oregon. For information, call (520)325-2680.