Our poison every day. A global epidemic

Our poison every day. A global epidemic

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By Paco Puche

Based on this question (which can be answered positively from now on: yes, there is a close relationship) when we invoke “our daily bread” we will have to add “ecological”, without poisons.

I couldn't live in peace if I was silent

Rachel Carson [3]


With this name we designate chemical poisons that serve to kill. Its own etymology expresses it very clearly: "pesti" comes from the Latin pestis that designates plagues or contagious diseases, and "cida", also from the Latin caedere, means to kill. Due to having this expressive name, the manufacturers have made us refer to it as phytosanitary products, and its application in the field is commonly designated with the medical terms of “cure” and “treat”.

Although in the form of mineral compounds or plants, pesticides have been used since ancient times, but it is in the First World War when the bases of their mass production were laid, which is linked in many cases to chemical warfare whose paternity corresponds to the German Fritz Haber (1868-1934). This researcher discovered the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen, the basis for the manufacture of nitrogen fertilizers but also for the production of explosives. At the same time he developed chlorine gas, used as a weapon in the Great War, and from there phosgene that continues to be widely used in the pesticide industry (it is one of the components of sevin, the insecticide that was the origin of the Bhopal disaster in 1984, in which 20,000 people died and half a million were injured). These Haber works on chlorinated gases paved the way for the industrial production of synthetic insecticides, the organochlorine family, of which the most famous is DDT-diclodiphenyltrichloroethane.

A few stories of late bans

DDT was first used in 1943 as an insecticide and was nearly banned in 2001 [4]. In those 60 years, about two million tons were dumped everywhere: in fields, cities and homes. The first major complaint about its effects was made by Rachel Carson in 1962, which shows that "the myth of its safety is based on the fact that in wartime it was used in thousands of combatants to fight lice", and that it has very little acute toxicity in mammals. But its long-term effects are terrible: "it acts as an endocrine disruptor, induces cancers, congenital malformations and fertility problems ..." [5]. And, as the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) confirms in 2005, “the characteristics of these chemicals (DDT, and eleven other pesticides and industrial pollutants) is that they are highly toxic; they are stable and persistent and last for decades before degrading; they evaporate and travel long distances through air and water, and accumulate in the adipose tissue of humans and wild species ”. Its discoverer was awarded the Nobel Prize.

This proliferation of DDT in the world means that, given its characteristics, it still persists in many living beings with the consequent damage. In the US, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in a 2009 report, reported that it had tested 2,400 volunteers for the presence in urine and blood of 212 chemical molecules and they had all been found in almost all those tested. Bisphenol A was at the top but there were traces of many pesticides including DDT, already banned in that country since 1973.

Another case is that of lindane, an insecticide that began to be used in 1938 and was banned in Europe in 2006, 68 years of use mixed with food, with characteristics similar to DDT-toxic, persistent, etc.

Regarding the situation in Europe, the Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has carried out a review to restrict or prohibit the use of substances when they are likely to constitute a serious risk to health or the environment, and of about a thousand substances active companies authorized in 1990 has now increased to only three hundred. There are still many.

The WHO, in 1990, warned us that each year 220,000 people die in the world as a result of acute pesticide poisoning, between one and two million unintentional poisonings due to the spraying of the same and another two million attempts to suicides. Likewise, five hundred million, mainly peasants or field workers, are victims of "less serious" poisonings. [6]

Why has it taken so long to detect the toxicity of these and other biocides?

The multinationals of the industry rule

To put ourselves in season, we preview the power of corporations in this chapter. Only six companies (Syngenta, Bayer, BASF, Dow, Monsanto and DuPont) have control of 60% of the seed market, 76% of agricultural inputs -pesticides and fertilizers- and 100% of transgenics. Regarding the food and beverage processing industry, 10 transnational companies control 26% of the global grocery market, among the first places are Nestlé, KraftFoods and PepsiCo. It is not surprising that they have enormous power to begin with.

But there is something else. These are the mechanisms by which the public food evaluation agencies of different countries (AESAN., FDA, EFSA, etc.) proceed to authorize a product. The burden of proof is on the users. It must be shown that a given product is harmful to health or the environment, and that can only be done by counting deaths, a posteriori. Neither do the public evaluating entities do it, they do not have the means, so they have to rely a priori with the toxicological results and field tests [7] that companies provide when they request authorization to launch a product on the market. In other words, it is the industries that provide the studies on which the public evaluators have to base themselves to give or not their authorization to the product presented for this purpose. And part of the content provided by these companies is secret, they are covered by a confidentiality clause, only known by a score of experts who are the ones who decide. These reports, therefore, are not public and their quality cannot be verified by anyone outside the process. Our health in the hands of the industry that is supposed to be more interested in the health of consumers than in their bottom line, that is, the presumption of innocence as long as we do not prove the opposite.

But not only that, the penetration of the industry among researchers and the university is alarming. A study published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association in 2003 shows that studies published on the Internet by Medline (a good database) between 1980 and 2002 showed that "approximately a quarter of researchers [8] they have a relationship with the industry and two-thirds of the university institutions have interests in nascent companies that finance research at the same universities ”.

James Huff, who was a director of a very prestigious entity, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) under the WHO, in charge of classifying carcinogenic substances by their degree of toxicity, declared in 2010: “I examined the composition of the groups of experts who wrote the monographs (on carcinogens) from 1995 to 2002 and the result was that the influence of the industry was largely dominant ”[9]. Even so, the fact that a substance is classified as a type I carcinogen (maximum safety of toxicity in humans) does not mean that the food agencies of the countries automatically prohibit it, what happens is that it is subjected to strong pressure in that sense.

Pesticides and cancers

The works of Séralini [10] and his team, published in 2012, have highlighted the famous Roudup, which is the most widely used pesticide today and which, especially, is applied to transgenic corn resistant to this herbicide. According to this work: “for the first time in the world, a transgenic and a pesticide have been studied for their impact on health in the longer term than health agencies, governments and industry have done until now. The results are alarming ”, declared the researcher to Agence France Press.

As farmers are closer to pesticides than the rest of the population, it is interesting to know what happens to them in relation to cancer. A significant result of a meta-analysis [11] from 1992, which collects the results of 28 epidemiological studies, reveals that in general, farmers die less from cancer and cardiovascular diseases than the general population, showing that this life in the open and being physically active is healthier, but “they have a significantly higher risk of developing cancer of the lips, skin, brain, prostate, stomach or lymphatic system”. And these tumors more frequent among farmers are those that are also increasing in the general population of developed countries
Following this track, we find that each year 2.5 million tons of pesticides are applied to crops (1997 data) and only between 0.1% and 0.3% come into contact with undesirable organisms, the rest migrate to the environment and contaminate soil, water and air in the ecosystem, from where it affects public health. This is not neutral.
The so-called “Paris Appeal”, an international declaration on the health dangers of chemical contamination, launched in May 2004 at UNESCO, in a colloquium with eminent independent scientists, said: “convinced of the urgency and gravity of the situation We declare that the development of many current diseases is due to the degradation of the environment; chemical contamination constitutes a serious threat to children and human survival; as our health, that of our children and that of future generations is in danger, what is in danger is the human species itself ”[12]. The obvious conclusion is that cancer is a human-made environmental disease [13].
And cancer is increasing every year. In Europe, the incidence rate of childhood cancer increased from 1% to 3% per year in the course of the last three decades [14], and this has nothing to do with tobacco consumption, nor with the increase in life expectancy, nor with early detection, these conventional arguments that serve to cast a smokescreen on this epidemic. Likewise, the French toxicologist André Cicolella states that “between a woman born in 1953 and another born in 1913, the risk of breast cancer has multiplied by three and that of lung cancer has multiplied by five. In men, in the same periods, the risk of prostate cancer has multiplied by twelve and that of the lung has been the same ”[15]
Cancer is a disease of "civilization", especially present from the end of the 19th century; in prehistoric and neolithic societies there is no evidence of this disease. Global chemical poisoning, as we have seen, has everything to do with this plague.
From farm to fork through the food industry
The multinational chemical industry is not only present in the field, it is also present in the agri-food industry itself, dominated by large companies as we have seen (Nestlé, Danone, PepsiCo ...) and large distributors (Wal-Mart, Carrefour, etc. ).
We are talking about the food additives from synthetic chemistry that accompany most of the food we eat, with the exception of fruits, vegetables and other seasonal foods from organic production. These additives to food, which are the delight of manufacturers because they greatly reduce costs, fulfill many functions. They are, as the European Directive that regulates them says, "preservatives", "antioxidants", "acidifiers or correctors", "emulsifiers", "flavor enhancers" (such as glutamate), "gelatinizers", "thickeners", "sweeteners (like aspartame) ”, and several others. And most have their ADI calculated, their acceptable daily intake, that is, let's remember, the amount that consumers can ingest on a daily basis throughout their lives without falling ill. Therefore, at higher doses they are poisons, they are not harmless. More poisons in the diet this other way.

We will give some examples of the fate of these additives. In the case of aspartame, there are recently published scientific papers [16] that consider it a powerful carcinogen, and yet it is not currently banned in the US or Europe. The lobby for this product has been and is very powerful. As for saccharin, it was banned in Canada in 1977 but is still allowed in other countries; in this matter the WHO, through its agency on cancer IARC, changed it from "possible carcinogenic to humans" to the category of "unclassifiable" in 1999, which justifies its current authorization. Cyclamate, which was banned in the US in 1970, is still allowed in Europe. In any Spanish supermarket we can find all three products, of course, without problems.
The cocktail effect

If, as we have seen, conventional consumption supplies us with different amounts of poisons, all of them below the ADI, the minimum admissible intake, the result is that we end up accumulating remains of hundreds of poisons in our bodies, as we have already seen in various studies made. But as the philosophy of the IDA is that at those doses they cannot harm us, because nothing happens. But the evaluators have not gone into detail, the calculation of the ADI of each authorized chemical substance has been done (in that way) product by product. What happens to the interaction of these doses of poisons in our body when they meet? It's the cocktail effect.

Ulla Hass, a Danish toxicologist, a pioneer in studies of these combined effects, explains it like this: “We have to learn new mathematics when it comes to toxicology of mixtures because what the results say is that 0 + 0 + 0 + is a 60 % of malformations ”(he was referring to his experiments with animal fetuses exposed to mixtures).

And as we still know little about these synergistic effects, it is necessary to apply the precautionary principle: in the event of uncertainty, public evaluating bodies should be in favor of health, not industries, the burden of proof falls on them.

The ADI is also based on the 16th century concept of Paracelsus that "only the dose makes the poison" - single dose facit venenum - that is, safe minimum doses for life are possible. As asbestos or thalidomide has shown, tiny doses can have serious effects. The only safe dose is zero, that is, the ban.

The thalidomide case, which is still in court in our country today, is very illustrative. It was marketed in 1957 in fifty countries and was prescribed as a tranquilizer and for morning sickness in pregnant women. In five years the drug deformed 8,000 children. Some of the exposed babies had been spared even though their mothers had taken the pill for a long time, but others whose mother only took the drug once suffered excruciating mutilations. The reason is that the teratogenic effect depends on the time the drug is taken and not on the dose.

The IDA, which appeared in toxicology in the late 1950s, although completely outdated, has become an intangible dogma, according to Erik Millstone, one of the best European specialists in food safety regulatory systems. We have already seen it: it does not take into account cocktail effects and ignores the consequences of doses of substances below that minimum called ADI [17].

A sample in baby food

"The balance is overwhelming," said the French newspaper Le Monde on December 1, 2010, in an article entitled "Chemical residues in children's dishes", which glossed the research carried out by a French association that made analyze the daily diet of a ten-year-old child, which included three meals according to official recommendations. Indeed, there was reason to be scared, because “one hundred and twenty-eight residues, eighty-one chemical substances appeared in the sample, forty-two of which are classified as possible or probable carcinogens and five substances that are classified as safe carcinogens, as well as thirty and seven substances capable of acting as endocrine disruptors… ”[18]

The alternative

We have no choice but the production, distribution and consumption of guaranteed organic food and proximity so as not to contaminate with the kilometer routes that our food travels today [19]. For this, a tenacious complaint against the multinationals that dominate food in the world is an indispensable and strategic condition.

Fighting against Monsanto or Nestlé is fighting for our health and that of our children, it is the fight for life and for sovereignty.

Video: GMF Talk: Michael Dobbs (June 2022).


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