We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
In Stephanie Mencimer’s zeal to write a flip story denigrating Fresh Fields and its “yuppie” customers (“You Aren’t What You Eat,” 1/21), she rehashes industry-sponsored disinformation about Alar, endocrine disrupters, and organic produce. Her one-sided article is little more than a wet kiss to chemical manufacturers.
Let’s start with Mencimer’s take on Alar, a chemical formerly sprayed on apples to regulate their growth and enhance their color. It was first registered for use in 1963, before the federal pesticide law was strengthened to require health and safety testing. If current pesticide laws had been in place in the early ’60s, Alar never would have been allowed on the market.
The Environmental Protection Agency first proposed banning it in 1985 but backed off because of industry pressure. After extensive review, the agency finally decided in late 1989 to ban the chemical because it found that “long-term exposure to Alar posed unacceptable risks to public health.” Specifically, the agency found that Alar and its breakdown product during heating, unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazide, are animal and “probable human” carcinogens. The chemical posed a particular threat to children, who, pound for pound, ingest more apples and processed apple products than adults.
Regardless, Mencimer maintains that “sunlight posed a far greater cancer risk [than Alar, and] Alar has never been proved to cause cancer in humans.” Excuse me? No respectable epidemiologist would contrast the cancer risk from the sun with that of a pesticide, because it makes no sense. And, although it’s true that we don’t conduct cancer experiments on human subjects and therefore cannot prove beyond doubt that Alar causes cancer in humans, animal laboratory tests are a legitimate way to assess human cancer risks. Every public health agency around the world, from the EPA to its European counterparts to the World Health Organization, uses high-dose animal testing.
Mencimer then levels her sights at what she calls the “kooky” theory of “endocrine disrupters” posited in the book Our Stolen Future. The book suggests that synthetic chemicals may be interfering with human and animal endocrine systems—systems that regulate hormones and reproduction—and causing serious health problems. The book was based on the conclusions of more than 4,000 studies conducted by several hundred scientists. The majority of the studies were peer-reviewed and published in major scientific journals.
Scientists are taking a serious look at this “kooky” theory. Last August, for example, the National Academy of Sciences released a long-awaited report on the effects of endocrine disrupters. It concluded that wildlife around the world is suffering from reproductive abnormalities, immune dysfunction, and cancer that may be due to synthetic environmental toxins that mimic or block natural hormones. Furthermore, the academy found some evidence that these chemicals may be harming humans as well. It recommended new human studies from birth through adulthood.
Nevertheless, Mencimer writes, “Like the Alar scare, the Hormone Horror theory has been widely discredited.#” By whom? The two main naysayers in her story are Michael Fumento and Dennis Avery. Both work for the Hudson Institute, which she fails to identify. Washington City Paper readers may be interested to know that the Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute is funded by major corporations with a stake in continued pesticide use, including Ag Processing, American Cyanamid, Blue Diamond Growers, Cargill, Ciba-Geigy, ConAgra, DowElanco, Du Pont, Monsanto, National Agricultural Chemicals Association, and Sunkist Growers.
Mencimer provides a platform for these two industry apologists, but she does not quote a single health, environment, or labor expert. Furthermore, she ridicules “paranoid” consumers who want to protect themselves and their children from pesticides, many of which have never been properly studied for their potential toxicity. By doing so, she ignores an enormous body of scientific evidence that pesticides and other chemicals can have serious, long-term negative health effects, especially for children.
Washington Communications Director
Natural Resources Defense Council