Toxic substances are part of the daily menu

Toxic substances are part of the daily menu

By Pedro Cáceres

The discovery of dioxins in feed and in meat and eggs in Germany has generated a health emergency in the EU, where in recent years there have been alarms due to various contamination of the food chain. Once released, they remain in the environment and are incorporated into the food chain and into our body.

* The presence of dioxins in German farms 'is not an isolated case'
* 'Several scandals show the failure of pollutant control'
* In 1930, one million tons of chemicals were produced per year. Now 400
* 80% of diseases have to do with a contaminated and wrong diet

The discovery of dioxins in feed and in meat and eggs in Germany has generated a health emergency in the EU, where in recent years there have been alarms due to various contamination of the food chain. The main substance in the current crisis is an old and well-known poison. In 2004, the candidate for the presidency of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko was poisoned. When he got out of the hospital, everyone could see his terribly disfigured face. They had tried to kill him with dioxins, the same substance that has appeared in chickens, eggs and pigs in Germany causing the health alarm in the EU and forcing the closure of thousands of farms.

Dioxins are one of the worst man-made toxins

The alarm is not for less. They were a component of Agent Orange, the defoliant that the US used in the Vietnam War and that today continues to cause the birth of thousands of children with malformations in that country.

The question is how such a substance could get to farms. Once released, they remain in the environment and are incorporated into the food chain and into our body.

The official explanation is that what happened in Germany is an isolated fraud. Prosecutors are investigating whether the Harles and Jentzsch company distributed industrial fats that were not suitable for food use to manufacturers of feedstuffs.

The tip of the iceberg

But the opinion of nutrition experts and toxicologists is that it is not the specific action of some pirates, but a general evil. The professor of Public Health at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​Miquel Porta, affirms: "It is not an isolated case. Numerous studies have documented that contamination with dioxins and other persistent organic compounds is common in feed and food".

‘Contamination with dioxins and other organic compounds is common in feed and food’ - Miquel Porta

Dolores Romano, coordinator of the Chemical Risk area of ​​the Sindical Institute of Work Environment and Health (ISTAS), a foundation promoted by CCOO, has the same opinion. "We have already had several scandals that show the failure of the chemical pollutant management and control system. Once a dangerous chemical is manufactured or generated as an emission, it ends up reaching the environment, the food chain and people. There is an inability of the system to avoid and prevent this. "

Even tougher is María Dolores Raigón, professor at the University School of Agricultural Technical Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Valencia. "Alerts like this one in Germany are the tip of the iceberg. If we delved into the intensive techniques of production of fresh and processed foods, we would be surprised at how little it transcends and how high exposure we find ourselves."

For Carlos de Prada, president of the Fund for the Defense of Environmental Health, what is happening is "tremendous", since the alarm for dioxins in feed has jumped several times in recent years in various countries.

‘There is a whole illegal traffic of substances destined for livestock’ - Carlos de Prada

"As the mad cow case made us see, where we discovered that we were feeding cattle with shredded remains of dead sheep, we suffer from a phenomenon of denaturing production. There are hormones that are applied to livestock and preventive drugs and antibiotics so that do not get sick and all an illegal traffic of substances destined to the cattle ".

Market abuses

According to Ángeles Parra, president of the Asociación Vida Sana, which has been defending environmental health and organic food for 35 years, "these things happen every two by three in the conventional food sector where controls are few and badly done. If there were more controls and if these were stricter, only God knows what we would find. One fact: according to the WHO, 80% of the diseases of civilization have to do with a highly contaminated and erroneous diet ".

Ángeles Parra adds: "The capitalist world is a world in which economic activity has very lax moral rules. In this context, over and over again, both in the food sector and in other sectors, companies carry out cut-back strategies costs that have dire consequences on consumer health and environmental aspects ".

For Dr. Romano, it is necessary to have a better inspection and control system that prevents industrial waste from ending up in animal feed and hence into human feed, but it is also essential that we stop producing hazardous waste such as dioxins, using products alternatives that are already on the market and prohibiting emission sources: "Waste incineration is the first source of dioxin generation and therefore incineration should be prohibited, as burning in landfills has been prohibited in its day," he says. .

Priority issue

The truth is that the presence of chemical contaminants in food is a priority issue for the EU, which supports the work of a research group called CASCADE. It brings together 200 scientists from nine countries who have studied the presence of toxins in food since 2004.

‘The entire scientific and political world recognizes that these super-toxins must be replaced, but no measures are taken’ - Dolores Romano

One of its main objects of scrutiny are so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs), among which are dioxins. POPs are man-made substances with a long life cycle. They combine two properties to their toxic potential that make them more harmful: they do not decompose and are not eliminated from the body. It is the bioaccumulative effect: the older a person is, the more their exposure to POPs increases. As they also accumulate in fats, the dose increases depending on the fat ingested. Other toxics such as heavy metals are also bioaccumulative, with lethal health effects and whose presence in foods such as fish is increasing.

The worst known POPs are included in the Stockholm Convention, an international agreement approved in 2004 by which countries pledged to stop manufacturing a list of 13 substances that has later been expanded to include the entire family of dioxins and others. compounds, mostly insecticides and pesticides, that had been used normally before their lethal effect was discovered.

Wet paper

But that agreement is dead paper. "The entire scientific and political world, social and business organizations recognize that these super-toxins must be replaced, but measures are not taken to do so," says Dolores Romano.

And meanwhile, they are still present in the environment. Six years ago, the then Minister of the Environment, Cristina Narbona, collaborated with an awareness campaign of the WWF association and offered to take blood tests with members of her team. Of the 103 substances from seven chemical families that were analyzed, 52 were in the blood of senior Ministry officials. These included dioxins and chemicals found in pesticides, cleaning products, and plastics.

‘There have been no studies of the effects of two compounds or the cocktail of several’ - Nicolás Olea

That singular gesture of denunciation fell on deaf ears. "The National Plan for the Implementation of the Stockholm Convention has practically stopped for years," says Miquel Porta. "A few days ago, a group of scientists and 40 social organizations asked Zapatero to re-launch the plan to fight POPs, which he has been on a dead end since Cristina Narbona's dismissal," he adds.

For Carlos de Prada, we are surrounded by chemicals designed by the industry for all kinds of applications, but hardly any studies have been carried out on the effect they cause on our health. The individual effect of each of them is not studied, much less the combined effect they have on our body, despite the fact that there is evidence that the danger increases when they interact. It is the "cocktail of toxins" that surrounds us, according to De Prada.

In the same sense, the professor of Internal Medicine at the Hospital de Granada Nicolás Olea, who is part of the European researchers of the CASCADE group, has warned on other occasions that until now "the individual toxicity of each chemical substance has been analyzed separately, but there have been no studies of the effects of two compounds or the cocktail of several. "

Cocktail of substances

That cocktail keeps growing. It is estimated that in 1930, man produced one million tons of chemicals a year. Now we are producing 400 million tons and we do not stop putting new substances into circulation.

No one knows how many man-made chemicals circulate

As incredible as it may seem, no one has regulated all that. Until now, the industry has released molecules without having to give explanations and without studying their effects on nature and health. In fact, no one knows how many man-made chemicals circulate. To such an extent that it is only three years ago that the EU launched a directive called REACH to control chemicals that are manufactured in the EU. The preliminary phase has just finished and has given a list of 140,000 molecules. "The outlook is discouraging. We don't know what it is or what it is used for," explains Dolores Romano.

Carlos de Prada points out some compounds that are at the center of criticism for their potential carcinogenic effects and on the endocrine system. Among them are parabens (which are used in cosmetics and cleaning), brominated compounds, used as a flame retardant in fabrics and household appliances, and phthalates, used to soften plastics.

Packaging and additives

Some preservatives, antioxidants and other additives have had to be removed as inappropriate.

The worrying thing is that many of those questionable substances are in the grocery stores. They are used to wrap food or as a food additive. Thus, Dolores Romano points out, the styrene used in food trays; bisphenol A used in the coating of cans and prepackaged food containers and phthalates, present in PVC food packaging, are endocrine disruptors that damage health.

And the danger is also in the food itself. Some of the preservatives, antioxidants, colorants, flavors and other additives that appear as an E- followed by a number on the labels have had to be withdrawn as they were found to be unsuitable for human consumption.

Among them is the sweetener cyclamate (E-952) banned in the US for being carcinogenic. Other conflicting additives are the six dyes (E-104, E-110, E-124, E-102, E-122 and E-129) that according to a study published in the medical journal The Lancet are associated with hyperactivity syndrome in children. Its effect increases in the presence of the preservative sodium benzoate (E-211), corroborating the thesis of the toxic cocktail defended by De Prada.

Olga Cuevas, director of the Roger de Llúria Health Professional Training Institute, regrets the use of these types of products: "We do not need any additives from the industry because we have access to fresh and natural food. They are adding them to sell more, to have better appearance and because when a food is preserved for a long time it loses its organoleptic qualities ".

Against this background, what can be done when shopping? Experts suggest several ways: buy fresh products, products with the least packaging possible and consume organic and eco-certified foods whose production standards endorsed by official controls ensure that artificial chemistry has not been involved in the process.

Pedro Caceres - Madrid - Spain - January 2011 -

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