When we published the article Chemicals and Cancer last quarter, I didn't realize just how timely it was going to be. About that time a newly published “President’s Cancer Report” came out with this quote from "Sandra Steingraber, biologist and author of the book Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment.”
“I believe it is time for a new human experiment. The old experiment is that we have sprayed pesticides which are inherent poisons . . . throughout our shared environment. They're in our amniotic fluid . . .They're in our mothers’ milk. What is the burden of cancer that we can attribute to these poisons in our agricultural system? We won't really know the answer until we do the other experiment, which is to take the poisons out of our food chain, embrace a different kind of agriculture, and see what happens.”This kind of stuff scares the beejeebers out of people, but according the American Council on Science and Health, “the report has underwhelmed most mainstream cancer experts.” “Even members of Congress who usually are eager to show they are fighting to protect the public have been mostly silent. Cancer experts say for the most part that we already know what causes most cases of cancer and it's not pollution or chemicals lurking in our water bottles.” Originally I hadn’t intended to make this a two part series, but this kind of junk science requires a response because this impacts who we are and what wo do.
First off, this panel consists of two people, Dr. LaSalle Leffall of Howard University and Dr. Margaret Kripke, professor emeritus at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, both of whom are entirely “lacking expertise in cancer epidemiology”. Not much of a panel, especially when they produce a 200-page document on the causes of cancer. Yet, in spite of this, their report concludes that "grievous harm" results from exposure to chemicals and that there is "a growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures [to chemicals] to cancer”. “This is a scientific travesty” according to Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, President of the American Council on Science and Health.
Let’s start out with the idea that we need to “take the poisons out of our food chain, embrace a different agriculture, and see what happens”. Dennis Avery of the Hudson Institute clearly outlines the problem with this kind of thinking by stating;
“Unfortunately, Dr. Steingraber’s ignorance of biochemistry and agriculture is breathtaking. We’ve actually been running a long-term experiment on chemical-free farming for about 5,000 years: It’s called Africa. Africans don’t produce much food, and the little food they produce comes at a fearful price in human stoop labor, horrifying soil erosion, and increasing displacement of wildlife by low-yield crops.
Africans get cancer at an alarming rate even so—though many die too young for the old age cancers. In Kenya…the life expectancy is 20 years shorter than America’s 78 years. Cancer has recently made the “Top Ten Killers” list, but Kenyans worry more about the epidemics of malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis. Don’t look for any new science in this new President’s Report. There isn’t any.
The report includes much talk of the precautionary principle, and how we might begin to find these “hidden” cancer sources. It’s just the same old fears and alarms that have circulated since Rachel Carson. Indeed, Dr. Steingraber has been called “the new Rachel Carson.” That’s no compliment; Rachel’s rant against DDT has cost more than 50 million needless malaria deaths.”We already know what happens; people die! With little concern for the real costs to society, this report rehashes all of the tired old clichés promoted by the green movement, i.e. all chemicals are dangerous because we “don’t know what the long term consequences may be, therefore, any exposure is too much exposure." That is irrational because everything in the universe is made up of chemicals, including us. The amount of naturally occurring chemicals that test carcinogenic is amazing, and usually at a higher level of carcinogenicity than synthetic chemicals. “Safe, natural foods are replete with toxins.”
I have to restate that this is all based on rodent testing, and even though the Environmental Protection Agency still uses this as their determining factor as to what is carcinogenic, the rest of the scientific world has come to the conclusion that rodent testing alone isn’t the best science in these determinations. The report also fails to recognize that dose has a relationship to risk. “The dose makes the poison.”
Dr. Elizabeth Whelan and Dr. Henry I. Miller of the American Council on Science and Health state that;
“If the authors had only bothered to consult a standard textbook on cancer epidemiology, they would have learned that lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption and overexposure to sunlight--not chemicals in air, water and food--are the underlying causes of most preventable human cancers.”Dr. Graham Colditz of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis noted that more than 20 percent of Americans still smoke despite nearly 50 years of cancer warnings. And no state has even come close to banning smoking, although limits are going into place to restrict smoking in public. "We know that alcohol causes 4 percent (of cancers) and we deal with that to too little extent, as well," said Colditz, an expert in the epidemiology of cancer. Red meat is a known cause of colon cancer, he adds. "We don't run out and ban all beef just because beef is a cause of colon cancer."
What in effect they are promoting is the Precautionary Principle. The Precautionary Principle demands that we prove everything is safe before we can use it. This is scientifically impossible! It is called proving a negative. You can only prove what something does; you cannot prove what it doesn’t do. Whelan and Miller go on to say;
“This prestigious-sounding panel offers advice that owes more to celebrity-babble on Oprah than to sound science: Eat organic foods, filter your water, use only ceramic or glass, rather than plastic, in the microwave. However, according to the National Cancer Institute's statistics, smoking accounts for 29% to 31% of cancer deaths, diet for 20% to 50%, infectious disease for 10% to 20%, ionizing and ultraviolet light for 5% to 7%, occupational exposure (from high dose exposures to vinyl chloride, benzene, etc.) for 2% to 4% and pollution (such as radon gas) for 1% to 5%.”What is this junk science cancer report is really all about? I do find it interesting that the Cancer Prevention Coalition was encouraging people to support the Safe Chemicals Act which would amend the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act which would require manufacturers to prove what cannot be proven - the safety of chemicals before they are marketed.
This would in fact impose the Precautionary Principle on American industry. If this had been in place when Edison was alive we wouldn’t have electricity in our homes today. We have to remember that the Precautionary Principle is a tool used by the activist to deny action or activity they oppose. It is rarely or never used to examine the converse. In other words, would more harm be caused by not doing something? The Precautionary Principle is an ideology masquerading as a principle, and has no basis in science.
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