Cow and Gate -- and Some Toxins, Technically

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Who was quoted in a Sunday newspaper trying to reassure people by saying the following?

"The key thing to remember is that all the products are well within the set safety limits and they are absolutely safe."

A) The spokesperson for a pesticide trade association.
B) The spokesperson for a chemical company.
C) The spokesperson for an organic food company.
D) The spokesperson for a major multinational food company.

You would think the least likely answer here would be "C," the organic food spokesperson. The organic food industry relies on the unfounded notion that even low levels of animal carcinogens are not safe for human consumption -- that's why they think everyone should eat organic. But in fact, the quote above is the words of a spokeswoman for the British organic food company Cow and Gate.

It makes a bit more sense when you read the article "Organic baby food 'worst for toxins'." This is one of those rare circumstances when the organic food industry, normally in the forefront of anti-chemical fear-mongering, finds itself endorsing a basic tenet of toxicology: that it is the dose that makes the poison.

After saying the products are "absolutely safe," the spokeswoman added, "We strive to make sure levels of pesticides and chemicals are kept to an absolute minimum. The levels of PCBs and dioxins are as a result of pollution in the rest of the environment, which is out of our control." So to paraphrase, it essentially boils down to this: "Our organic food is safe; the toxins came from someone else, and we should go after the industries who put these deadly toxins in our food."

This approach reminds me of Ben and Jerry's response to the finding that their ice cream had some of the highest level of dioxins of any brand. Ben and Jerry's was on record at the time saying, "The only safe level of dioxin exposure is no exposure at all." Of course, that was before they knew it was in their ice cream.

Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.