RE: Fairy Stories -Reply -Reply
Bob MacGregor (RDMACGREGOR@gov.pe.ca)
Tue, 08 Sep 1998 12:10:46 -0400
Generally, science doesn't "prove" things; it disproves them. The
source of bias, then, is usually in the questions that are asked (as
several respondents pointed out). Assessing the relative
toxicity/safety of manmade chemicals is not a simple matter. Since no
commercial enterprise wants to wait a (human) generation to introduce a
new product, the tests are inevitably a combination of acute toxicity and
various proxies for longer-term effects (like the Ames test). In pretty
much all cases, these tests are done on organisms other than humans.
Of course, the scale of the testing is limited.
Also, when/if the product is approved for use, we all become the guinea
pigs for large, epidemiological testing on the target organism of most
interest to us.
Assuming that all man-made products are harmful is no more biased
than assuming that all products of nature are benign. Both are
likely false -- sometimes dangerously so. Better, in my view, is to test
both categories scientifically, then compare the relative risks before
making a decision about what is OK and what is not OK. Unfortunately,
economics complicates this decision.
Not only do companies have a big interest in pushing their proprietary
wares, they also might be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the
USDA regulators that their chemical fix increases apparent yeilds more
than it decreases human health and or lifespan. Immediately you get
into a pretty emotional area. No one is comfortable with, implicitly or
explicitly, trading off the value of life for some short-term economic
advantage to corporations or general consumers.
Further, a risk of one in a million may seem small until a
loved-one turns out to be that one in a million. Then the trade-off for
lower prices in the supermarket seems like a bad bargain.
I'm trying not to go around in a circle and argue against myself here. I
think we are stuck with FDA and USDA vigilance over what the
economic interests of the corporations push; our collective voices can
help encourage -- sometimes can force -- these regulators to mandate,
and stick to, the highest standards of proof before approving these
As the USDA gets a better grip on the Organics issue, will we start to
see similar safety testing of a greater variety of natural products used in
organic farming? That is, will the desire for an environmentally benign,
non-toxic, farming system carry through to verify that potentially harmful
natural products are subjected to the same standard of proof that the
synthetics are? If faith in the benign nature of nature is justified, this
approach should not be feared -- after all, it would just confirm what the
organic movement has been saying all along, ie, that this way is a safer
way to do things.
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