I wanted to react to Bob McGregor's thoughts on "relative risk"
and the excerpt from /The New Scientist/. That is, on how there
are all kinds of toxins present everywhere, so why should we be
worrying about the ones that appear in the tens of thousands of
synthesized chemicals, when some of those appear right in foods,
or foods have "naturally occuring carcinogens" etc.
There is something specious in this argument--which is one of the
favorite arguments of folks like Jay Vroom and others in the
pesticide and chemical industries and their university/industrial
research partners. It seems to appear in its most crystalline and
lucid forms when they wish to suffocate systems thinking (about
food, chemicals, agriculture, health, social justice, etc.) in a
miasm of reductionism.
First of all, the "toxins" that appear naturally in foods do so
on a whole systems basis. Nutritional scientists have isolated
and named things like "vitamins" as beneficial compounds in
foods. However, whole foods are whole systems, and are introduced
into our bodies on a whole systems basis. When part of a diverse
and seasonally and culturally appropriate diet, this is one
complex mutha of a system at work--whole webs of life ("food" and
"body") interweaving. Think of the history encoded into every
cell of, say, a human body--all of the choices and inclinations
that have played out over the aeons to eventually comprise, yes,
you, gentle reader. :^)
It's only recently that humans have begun to fractionate and
distil and split whole foods into components, such as the
industrial food system has. "Recently" as in, less than a flea's
sneeze in evolutionary time. And not to mention, begun to tinker
with the genetic text itself, to write a more acceptable story
than the one that has written itself.
By contrast to this whole-systems food approach, where toxins
exist in balance with life-supportive, nourishing compounds, and
are consumed in a diverse, regional, seasonal food system, the
toxins that appear in pesticides are isolated or synthesized for
their ability to disrupt life processes. They are then applied to
foods precisely because of these properties. Many of them have
strong electrical charges that can wreak havoc at the cellular
level, which is why they are such effective technologies of death
for "pests." And why they are potentially so good at crashing
webs of life at any level of land ecology or body ecology.
Particularly when they accumulate and interact.
In addition, our bodies have evolved in conjunction with food
sources, and with naturally occurring compounds. Yes, there have
been significant shifts in the human food pool in the past 10,000
years, and agriculturalization has played a big part in that.
(When you think about it, we haven't yet gotten around to doing a
decent post ante technology assessment of how fire changes the
food we eat, and how that impacts on human body ecology, but I
digress.) Human bodies have co-evolved with other life forms for
how many gazillion years now, on this planet, yet it is only in
the past fifty years that these tens of thousands of chemicals
have been synthetically created or isolated, and catapulted into
the life-stream of the planet.