By Elizabeth M. Whelan           (3/15/1989)

     From The Wall Street Journal, 14 March 1989, p. A24:4
[published one day after I printed pp. 2 & 3 of the April AtE issue,
             where I took a similar stand. Sysop.] 

   Mrs. Whelan heads  the American Council  on Science and Health
(1995 Broadway, New  York, NY 10023-5860), a  New York group that
gets about  10% of its  funding from pesticide  producers such as
Uniroyal Chemicals Co., the makers of Alar.

          [Kindly uploaded by Freeman 10602PANC]

   Nutritional terrorists  tossed one  of their  biggest grenades
yet with  last month's  Natural Resources  Defense Council (NRDC)
study   claiming  that   pesticide   residues  on   fresh  fruits
(especially apples) and vegetables  put our children at increased
risk of cancer.
   The media  recognized a  hot story  when they  saw one  -- and
killer  applesauce  was  the  topic of  the  day  on  numerous TV
programs,  a few  of which  [``Today'' and  ``Donahue''] featured
guest Meryl  Streep recommending  that we  wash our  asparagus in
detergent  to  reduce  the  level  of  ``poisons''.   The message
accepted almost completely and uncritically  by the media is also
being packaged now in public  service announcements endorsed by a
spectrum of luminaries, including pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton
and Writer Julie Nixon Eisenhower.
   What remain  unclear, however,  are the  report's credibility;
how  the conclusions  related to  scientific consensus  about the
causes of cancer; the definition  of the word ``carcinogen''; and
the health effects of  implementing the report's recommendations:
reducing or eliminating pesticide use.
   o Credibility.   The NRDC,  founded in  1970, is  a litigation
group, not a scientific organization, partially funded by several
ultra-liberal foundations.  Among its dubious achievements is the
banning, a  few years ago  [1984], of the  useful, safe pesticide
EDB.  (NRDC's MO is that it  threatens to sue the government, and
the regulatory agency obediently regulates.)
   In  issuing this  most recent  condemnation of  pesticides the
NRDC bypassed  the essential  protocol of  the scientific method:
peer review.  Simply put, it  is highly unlikely that this report
indicating pesticide residues as cancer-causing agents would ever
have been published  in, for example, the  New England Journal of
Medicine, as its  conclusions are at total  variance with what we
know about the causes of human cancer.
   For example,  a report  earlier this  month from  the National
Academy of Sciences recommended  that we increase our consumption
of fruits and vegetables, and noted: ``A number of ... pesticides
.. cause cancer  in laboratory animals.   The committee found no
evicence to suggest that any of these compunds individually makes
a major  contributions to the  risk of cancer  in humans.''  This
assesment,  in  my  view,  should  have  been  even  stronger  in
defending the safety of pesticides.
   Profound  questions  arise here  about  the  responsibility of
newspaper  editors  and  producers  of  talk  and  news  shows in
distinguishing between legitimate scientific  work and science by
press release.
   o Scientific consensus.  In the preface to its study, the NRDC
claims  that it  is  and organization  ``dedicated  to protecting
public health.''  Yet I know  of no leading cancer epidemiologist
in  the  U.S. who  believes  that apples,  tomatoes,  potatoes or
carrots contribute to this nation's cancer toll.
   Cancer  epidemiology  is  a  scientific  discipline  that  has
identified  known  causes  of  human  cancer  including cigarette
smoking,   alcohol  abuse   (particularly  in   conjunction  with
smoking),  overexposure  to  sunlight,  certain  occupational and
medicinal agents,  high-dose exposure to  radiation, and specific
sexual and reproductive behavior.   Putting consumption of fruits
and  vegetables  in the  same  list  as smoking  is  a scientific
   Pesticides have been used in substantial amounts for nearly 50
years, and there is no  evidence from analyses of cancer patterns
that pesticide residues are responsible for any cancers in adults
or children.
   The Environmental Protection Agency  sets tolerance levels for
pesticide residues in food.  These tolerance levels are extremely
low, more than  sufficient to protect the  health of children and
adults.  Further, a recent FDA  study showed that most fruits and
vegetables consumed in  this country have  no detectable level of
residues, and that those that do are well below the legal levels.
   o ``Carcinogen.''  The NRDC report is liberally sprinkled with
the  word  ``carcinogen''.   A  ``60  Minutes''  segment  on  the
report's findings featured a  U.S. Representative, Gerry Sikorski
(D.,  Minn.),  who  talked of  children  dying  in  cancer wards.
Cancer is the second  leading cause of death  -- who would not be
terrified of carcinogens?
   But the  word ``carcinogen''  as used  in the  report is based
exclusively  on  animal   experiments.   Animal  experiments  are
critical  to  biomedical  research,   but  it  is  scientifically
imprudent  to assume  that  a chemical  that  at very  high doses
causes  lung tumors  in  mice is  a  hazard to  humans  at barely
measurable amounts.
   If we were to make a  national commitment to purge our food of
``carcinogens''  --  again  defined as  substances  that  in some
circumstances increase the  risk of cancer  in laboratory animals
-- we would first have to  ask where these nasty little chemicals
are found.  A  growing number of  scientists believe that perhaps
99%  of  the  carcinogens  we eat  are  found  in  natural foods.
Chemicals in table pepper  (safrole), mushrooms (hydrazines), tea
(tannins) and bread (ethyl  carbamate) cause cancer in laboratory
animals.  But the  NRDC turns its litigious  head away from these
natural chemicals,  and instead  focuses on  Alar (daminozide), a
man-made plant growth  regulator that causes  cancer in mice, but
only  at  levels  four  million  times  greater  than  any  human
   We --  and our children  -- eat thousands  of carcinogens each
day, almost entirely compliments of  Mother Nature.  But there is
no evidence that the trace levels  of these chemicals to which we
are exposed have any negative effect on our health.
   o Health effects  of the report's  recommendations.  Nature is
not benign to  those who abandon  science and technology.  ``Back
to  Nature'' meameans  coexisting with  vermin  and insects  and the
diseases  they  transmit.  Insects  can,  for  example, penetrate
grains, introducing a type of  microbial damage that can make you
sick.   So,   not  using   agricultural  chemicals   or  severely
restricting  their  use carries  a  risk of  its  own.  Americans
should  think twice  before  dismantling the  agricultural system
that has  given us the  safest, most  plentiful, inexpensive food
supply in the world.
   But probably the gravest threat  posed by an indictment of our
food  supply  is the  attention  in  takes from  the  real health
challenges America  faces today.  The  mother who  throws out her
applesauce this morning may well  be the same mother who neglects
to buckle up her child in a car this afternoon.

      [The following is not part of the original article.]

Daminozide (Alar) is  not a carcinogen but  one of its break-down
products (UMDH)  is.  The  NRDC's carcinogen-potency  figures for
UMDH, which  are ten times  greater than  current estimates, come
from an EPA study  that was discredited years  ago.  The EPA does
favor a ban on Alar.  (Source: Barbara Rosewicz, ``Pesticide Risk
From Apples: Who's Right?'', Wall  Street Journal, 10 March 1989,
p. B1:6)


Bruce N. Ames, et al. ``Ranking Possible Cancinogenic Hazards'',
   Science 236 (17 April 1987), pp. 271-280.
Edith Efron, The Apocalyptics (New York: Simon and Schuster,
   1984), particlularly Part IV: ``Regulatory'' Science.

The following  titles from  the American  Council on  Science and
Health,  1995 Broadway,  (18th  Floor) New  York,  NY 10023-5860,
(212) 362-7044, unless noted otherwise, are $2 each:

Alan C. Fisher and Wendy Worth, Cancer In the United States: Is
   There An Epidemic?  (June 1988)
Leonard T. Flynn, Pesticides: Helpful or Harmful?  (September
   1988) ($3)
William R. Havender, Of Mice And Men: The Benefits and
   Limitations of Animal Cancer Tests (March 1984)
William R. Havender, Leonard T. Flynn Does Nature Know Best?
   Natural Carcinogens in American Food (July 1987)

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