How Safe . . . and for whom?

Richard Tren | 14 Nov 2008
Campaign for Fighting Diseases
Securing the safety of our children, family and co-workers is, apparently, increasingly important in many countries around the world. Governments continually pass legislation to restrict certain behaviours as well as products that could potentially cause harm. But are we going too far in wanting to remove all potential risks from our daily lives ... and can our obsession with increasing safety actually cause harm?

In attempting to pass strict new regulations of pesticides, the European Commission and some in the European Parliament may be attempting to create a safer world. It seems however that in selling regulations supposedly designed to protect people, evidence of harm is not required; the mere presence of a man-made chemical is sufficient. Dan Jorgensen, a Danish MEP who firmly supports the new regulations, and others would do well to read the worlds of two world renowned scientists, Bruce Ames and Lois Gold. Their work assessing the risks posed by man-made chemicals is enlightening and should be made widely available in Brussels.

Ames and Gold show that most cancers are caused by smoking, dietary imbalances, chronic infections (which is more of a problem in developing countries) and hormonal factors influenced by lifestyle. Around half the chemicals ever tested are known to be carcinogenic, but because we typically ingest them in low doses, they do not pose a threat. The synthetic chemicals that we are exposed to are not important when it comes to human cancer. Almost all of the carcinogens that we are exposed to are not from synthetic chemicals, but from natural chemicals found in food such as broccoli, carrots, potatoes, coffee, lime ... and on and on and on.

When regulators attempt to make our lives safer by regulating synthetic chemicals, they end up costing industry, taxpayers and consumers billions of Euros. Where are the benefits when the main risks from cancer don't come from the chemicals but from our lifestyle? Furthermore insofar as the regulations increase the cost of food (as the new EU regulations would), they reduce our consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, which could worsen cancer rates, especially for the poor.

As has been described here and elsewhere, these regulations are likely to make the use of chemicals in farming and public health programs harder to use and more scarce. Perhaps before any EU Commissioner or Parliamentarian promotes the regulations, they should be made to spend a month living and surviving on a small holder subsistence farm in a malarial part of Africa. Perhaps then they would get a better understanding of the value of modern chemicals and the real dangers posed by a world in without pesticides.