The President s Cancer Panel 2008-2009 report, Reducing Environmental Cancer Risk: What We Can Do Now, has been highly criticized by the American Chemistry Council. Not surprised you say? What else would a person expect from a chemical group? Well, there s a real hooker here. The American Cancer Society is also critical of the report, which collects seemingly every cancer-scare hypothesis that s been floated over the past 30 to 40 years and suggests that we really ought to be concerned about them. And all this is done while totally ignoring all the chemicals we consume in natural foods.
As Elizabeth Whelan and Henry Miller write, The 240 page document produced by the panel which consists entirely of two scientists lacking expertise in cancer epidemiology is a rehash of myths and misapprehensions about the causes of cancer. The report concluded that grievous harm results from exposure to chemicals and that there is a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposure [to chemicals] to cancer.
First, let s look at some recent data on cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that U.S. cancer death rates are falling, with big decreases in major killers such as colon and lung cancer. Death rates for all cancer types fell by 2 percent a year from 2001 to 2006 among men and 1.5 percent per year from 2002 to 2006 in women. The drops in mortality rates have meant 767,000 people who would have died prematurely from cancer over the past 20 years did not. Hardly data that would indicate that deaths from chemicals are on an upward trend.
Now let s look at some specifics from the report itself.
From the report, page iii, Pesticides (insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides) approved for use by the EPA contain nearly 900 active ingredients, many of which are toxic.
The report adds, Only a few hundred of the more than 80,000 chemicals in the United States have been tested for safety. Many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated. Notice, there is no mention of the potential carcinogens in natural foods; all the bad ones are from synthetics.
Here s what isn t mentioned. Bruce Ames and his colleagues have shown that many of our foods contain pesticides created naturally by plants for self-protection. We ingest at least 10,000 times more, by weight, of natural pesticides than of synthetic pesticide residues. These natural toxic chemicals vary enormously in chemical structure, appear to be present in all plants, and serve to protect plants against fungi, insects, and animal predators.
When we eat cabbage we ingest 49 different natural pesticides and metabolites. Oregano has 100,000 times as much natural pesticide present as there is in synthetic pesticide residue.
Before you drink another cup of coffee, there are some facts you should know. A cup of coffee contains more than 2,000 chemicals. Only 27 have been tested for carcinogenicity, and 19 of these tested positive at least once. There are more rodent carcinogens by weight in a single cup of coffee than there are potentially carcinogenic synthetic pesticide residues in the average US diet in a year, and this doesn t count the 1,970 or so chemicals yet to be tested.
There are more than 1,000 chemicals in strawberries.
Chemists have identified some 6,000 compounds in soft drinks.
Wine contains more than 2,000 compounds that are derived from the grapes themselves and from changes the grapes undergo during fermentation.
A very large body of knowledge about food and food chemicals has almost been forgotten or is ignored. A monograph by Irvin Liener contain some three thousand literature references on thousand of chemicals isolated form common vegetables that have been shown to have the potential to cause negative effects on human and animal health.
The list goes on and on, but by now you hopefully get the point. There is probably no food that doesn t contain potentially harmful natural chemicals. But this information is bypassed in the report. After all, synthetic is bad; let s ignore natural.
From the report, page iii, The entire US population is exposed on a daily basis to numerous agricultural chemicals, some of which also are used in residential and commercial landscaping ¦ Many of these chemicals have known or suspected carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting properties.
Once again the report neglects to mention natural chemicals. More than 300 plants in 16 common families contain estrogens that may bond with the receptors of humans or wildlife. Naturally occurring estrogens abound in many cereals, legumes, fruits and tubers. (J. G. Edwards, 21st Century, 52, Fall 1996
) If you want to scare someone you could probably develop more frightening endocrine disruption scenarios based on healthy human diets containing cereals, fruits, and vegetables. In effect, endocrine disrupters are all around us, and we eat some of them every day in natural foods.
From the report, page 77: Perchlorate is a rocket fuel component and by-product of rocket and missile testing. It has spread from numerous manufacturing sites into drinking water systems; it also can accumulate in leafy food crops and fruit irrigated by perchlorate-contaminated water.
After mentioning that perchlorate accumulates in the thyroid gland and can block iodide transfer into the thyroid resulting in iodine deficiency and that it can be found in all types of powdered baby formula, the report does state that no research to date has indicated that perchlorate causes human cancer.
Here s what the report fails to mention about perchlorate. While assessing the blame for perchorate on big, bad industry, the document fails to mention that Mother Nature is also responsible for perchlorate since it has been found in precipitation, the oceans, and at locations as diverse as Greenland, Hawaii and Alaska. There is a natural flux of atmospheric perchlorate to the earth and a natural perchlorate level. So perchlorate is both a synthetic and natural chemical.
As a synthetic it is a subject of concern for many folks. Now that it has been shown to also be a product of Mother Nature, hopefully folks who got upset with it as a synthetic will be mollified even though other natural food products affect the thyroid gland much more than perchlorate. Regardless, none of this information can be found in the report.
What s Next?
The report places blame on an unstructured regulatory body, weak laws, even weaker enforcement and a mindset amongst regulators that chemicals are safe unless proven harmful. The implication is that pollution is the major cause of cancer. What about the major known causes of cancer tobacco, obesity, alcohol, infections, sunlight? What about all those chemicals in natural foods? Let s ignore all this.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) put out a press release titled President s Cancer Panel Findings Affirm Lautenberg s Call for Chemical Safety Reform. Look for hearings to follow soon. The truth is that few chemicals are as toxic as the report says, which will only fuel the Obama s administration s activists ill-advised, unscientific vendetta toward chemicals.
Synthetic chemicals are good whipping-boys to use when you want to excite the public and media, but it s best not to pick on everyday foods mankind has been eating for long periods of time, even though they are loaded with chemicals.
Jack Dini is a scientist and science writer living in Livermore, Calif.