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I fear that Brett Anderson’s “Too Much at Steak” (9/3) column may mislead Washingtonians as to the safety, current and historically, of their food. Specifically, the dangers from Agent Orange use in earlier years and the dangers from “mad-cow” disease and its possible human equivalent, new variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD), are overstated.
Agent Orange, the seemingly horrific pesticide Mr. Lyman used on his farm, has been the subject of continuing study at the National Academy of Sciences. Many activists have linked it to illness in Vietnam veterans, but NAS studies have found no basis for that link.
The panic for fear of mad-cow disease was also unfounded. There has not been a single case reported in the United States, and it has all but disappeared in Britain. Today’s main harbingers, Portuguese cows, are under wraps. The more frightening problem linked to mad-cow disease, nvCJD, has also never been seen on this side of the Atlantic. Not to mention that the epidemic has not reached the hundreds of thousands often predicted by earlier commentators—at present, fatalities are at just over 40. And much recent research has seriously questioned the link between “mad-cow” beef and nvCJD.
Although the article makes for compelling reading, your paper could be more cautious in its presentation of scientific certainties—or the lack thereof.