Pesticides in oranges; arguments in the media
re: pesticides & child cancer
Copyright Ó Cropwatch April .2006.
Copyright Ó Cropwatch Sept.2005
Feedback from Prof. Nick Price (07.04.06): “As a newcomer to your site I was interested in the Newsletter adaptation of the Independent’s piece on pesticides in oranges, since it relates to my own area of science. Regrettably it was not an ideal vehicle to promote your objective credentials; both names of the UK Committees were wrong and the interpretation of the data sadly lacking. This data comes from the 2005 Report of the UK Pesticide Residues Committee (not the “Pesticides and Residues” Committee nor the “Pesticide Action Committee” neither of which exist), which can be found at, http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/prc_home.asp Your report states that “every single orange tested was contaminated with pesticides”. Not so; samples for pesticide analysis are aggregates of a number of fruits which are pooled and representative samples taken. True that a figure was reported for every sample (20 from the EU and 16 from outside the EU), but these figures included the “limit of detection” figure in some cases. Indeed only 2 samples tested contained any pesticide above the MRL, one of diazinon and one dimethoate, both in Egyptian oranges. In addition the use of the emotive terms such as “gender bender” and “possible carcinogen” are unhelpful. The data on the endocrine disruption potential of dimethoate is still equivocal, see, http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC33349
Diazinon is not listed as a potential carcinogen nor is there sufficient weight of evidence to indicate significant endocrine disruption potential, see http://www.pesticideinfo.org/Detail_Chemical.jsp?Rec_Id=PC35079
Professor N. R. Price.”
Cropwatch replies: Err…guilty as charged! Keyboard/transcription errors were not picked up wrt the correct name of the Pesticide Residues Committee. The relevant portions of the report on pesticide levels in oranges can be viewed at http://www.pesticides.gov.uk/uploadedfiles/web_assets/prc/prc_2005_q2_report.pdf and a summary of the findings was reported at Larry West's Environmental Issues feature "Dangerous Pesticides found in all Oranges Tested" at http://environment.about.com/b/a/22874.htm - the story also appearing in similar vein (penned by G. Lean) the next day in the Independent on Sunday 19th Dec 2005 p29, as reported by Cropwatch. Neither Larry West or G. Lean have responded to Cropwatch’s enquiries about their particular interpretation of the results. We put our hands in the air and admit we relied on these two sources as being substantially correct. However, there is now a lively discussion in the media on relevant pesticide limits and health effects between rivalling academics, writers, & from corporate scientists … see below.
Further Developments in the Media.
Here is a summary of part of the on-going debate in the media re: pesticide residues and cancer together with a few interjected points from Cropwatch. Curtis (2006) reports in The Guardian on Howard & Newby’s paper on “Environmental Influences in Cancer Aetiology” published in Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine (Howard & Newby 2006). The authors conclude that cancer rates are increasing in the Western world and attempt to stimulate debate on possible causes, data for the review being obtained from PubMed, Medline and from cancer registries & major charities & from governmental statistical records – & 316 references to consulted published work are cited. The authors are also reported as saying (Curtis 2006) that low levels of pesticides & chemicals from plastics previously assumed safe (parts per billion or parts per trillion) could affect both the development of babies in the womb and developing young children, and that parents should consider feeding them organic food. The authors called for more research in this area, on the basis that 1-5% of malignant disease is already caused by environmental factors and this may be an underestimation.
Recent research undertaken by Chensheng Lu of Emory University (Dell’amore 2006) showed that “children who switched their diets for only a few days to organic foods dramatically and immediately lowered the amount of toxic pesticides in their bodies.” Lu’s study which appeared in the Environmental Health Perspectives Journal and subsequently presented to a panel at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in St. Louis, involved substituting organic foods into the diets of 23 elementary school children in the Seattle area for 5 consecutive days during a 15-day study period and found that after eating these foods, pesticides in their bodies plummeted to undetectable levels -- even after following the diet for only five days.
All the children involved in the study had “metabolites -- or evidence of pesticides -- in their urine at the study's start” and as soon ”as they began eating organic foods, the concentration of metabolites dropped to essentially zero” but once “they returned to their conventional diet, the pesticides levels bounced back up.” Lu commented that he was “confident that the pesticide reductions can be attributed to the kids' diet, because the particular class of pesticides studied (organophosphorus pesticides..) are not found in households.” Cropwatch comments: this latter statement may not be entirely correct since organophosphates may be found as ingredients of shampoos formulated to treat pediculosis.
A preventative approach to protect children & other vulnerable groups from environmental chemicals was also expressed by Georgina Downs (Downs 2006), but as you might imagine, other writers to the Guardian letters page with affiliations/interests in the pesticides business have aggressively attacked Howard & Newby’s conclusions.
Neil Kift (2006), a pesticides adviser to the NFU, attempted to deflect the debate by questioning the (safety of) pesticides used during organic production and the current levels of use of organo-chlorines & their environmental levels. Cropwatch comments: strange; to our certain knowledge papers have been previously presented in France showing that even pesticides banned decades ago turn up as background levels in ‘organic’ essential oils. Perhaps Kift is unaware of the black market in illicit pesticidal chemicals in under-developed parts of the world?). Kift further talked of ‘a politically biased action (???) on the basis of incomplete evidence which delivered little real benefit’. Cropwatch comments: Au contraire, mon ami! Corporate scientists will be out lobbying in droves, trying to persuade us to ignore the Howard & Newby’s paper. Given the recent revelations in a different area - about adverse reactions to pharmaceutical drugs and the stitching-up of various drugs safety advisory committees in the past several years - maybe this is one of the best reasons to keep researching the area!
Anne Buckenham (Buckenham 2006) - Director of Policy, Crop Protection Association UK, sought to assure us that the regulatory approval process for pesticides ensures that they can be used safely (the results apparently being scrutinised by government regulators and independent scientists). Cropwatch supporters’ experiences don’t fill us with much confidence, since it is mainly an expensive one, where the supplicant provides scientific evidence, information & education with a massive accompanying fee, in the hope that regulators will make an appropriate decision. Further, Cropwatch understands that there is actually a lack of truly independent scientists as such, and so-called independents in the pesticides area have, in many instances, previously been employed by, or been involved in work funded by major biocide manufacturers – which sounds dangerously similar to the ‘old pals act’. You might also be interested to know that The Journal of the American Medical Association editors said recently "The journal could no longer find enough independent experts... in any given field, you cannot find an expert who has not been paid off in some way by the industry. So the journal settled for a new standard: Their reviewers can have received no more than $10,000 from companies whose work they judge." [For the full story on corruption in academic science see http://www.thenation.com/doc/20020805/newman20020725 but bear in mind this is just one of many recent articles on the subject].
Finally Anthony Trevawas (Trevawas 2006) Prof. of Plant Biochem, Univ. of Edinburgh and a known pro-GM food and anti-organic food propagandist - see article at http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/ - did himself no good at all in our view by making a curious point about the exposure of humans to natural plant pesticides and their potential ability to damage us, claiming that eating organic will not reduce our pesticide exposure. Although we know some plants & wood-rotting fungi etc. do indeed produce a limited range of chloro-organics, we have presumably become largely tolerant to most of the natural non-halogenated pesticides after millions of years of plant eating, so that when eating a normal diet they don’t necessarily bio-accumulate in our bodies, and/or occur in worrying amounts in human breast milk…which is not so with many synthetic pesticides.
What might also have been missed here, is that Menegaux et al. (2006) have also recently published a study on childhood acute leukaemia & pesticide exposure via home & garden use, after interviewing 280 mothers of children diagnosed with leukaemia compared with a control group of 288 healthy children. In reported interview, Florence Menegaux indicated that exposure to insecticides when in the womb or when young may double the risk of developing childhood leukaemia, especially with regard to the treatment of pediculosis with insecticidal shampoos (the authors claim the latter situation has never been properly investigated). The published article gives references to eighteen further papers mainly concerning childhood cancer and pesticide exposure.
The Story Lurches Onwards…
Adam Wishart (2006) who has apparently written a book about a son’s journey into the history & science of cancer, issued a ‘parental response’ to the Howard & Newby’s paper in the Guardian, complaining that in his 3.5 year research for his book, no mainstream scientific organisation subscribed to this (low levels of pesticides) theory (so..?). Wishart further complains that the paper is not (yet?) mentioned in PubMed, and that the charity Cancer Prevention & Education Society funded the paper (so…?), and that Theresa Hale, a member of the board of trustees has a website proclaiming herself “one of the world’s leading health visionaries.” Cropwatch has checked this point – and its true - see http://www.haleclinic.com/teresa_hale. There’s even a colour picture of Theresa Hale there, and if we may say so, jolly scrumptious Ms. Hale looks, too! Well done everybody! But lets face it - none of this reflects particularly badly on Howard & Newby, and finally we get an analogy for Howard & Newby’s paper (sourly described by Wishart as “brilliant propaganda”) with Rachel Carson’s 1962 book, Silent Spring, which apparently “emerged in order to explain the lung cancer epidemic of the last century – in fact, tobacco was to blame.” Cropwatch comments: Damn, we must have missed that bit! We thought the book was about DDT!
The story is carried further, in an interesting exploration by Leo Hickman, via an article called “Is organic worth it.” (Hickman, 2006). There are some jolly nice pictures of radishes and other vegetables you wont find in a pie n’ mash shop, but the article starts off by asking are we (by eating increasing amounts of organic food) being conned? Why do some scientists & government bodies say organic food is no healthier than non-organic food whilst other sources refute this? What is the truth about the pesticide debate? Howard goes on to explore the Georgina Downs’ concepts of seemingly differing applied toxin standards, say between shellfish poisoning (proven) and pesticide toxicity (debateable), and of David Michaels ideas about ‘manufacturing uncertainty’, where impossible levels of proof are demanded in a ploy sometimes used by opponents of ecologically sound policies, in an argument in which they actively manufacture ‘uncertainty’ in the way that they set about to energetically question the cogency of scientific decisions on which evidence for the hypothesis stands. In this case, this practice distorts, and further, completely goes against the accepted principle of making decisions that affect public safety and health using the “best evidence available”. But turning the argument around on its axis, how much proof do you need to defend an argument not to investigate further the dangers of pesticidal use?
Hickman describes Prof. Howard centering on the importance of the "forthcoming" Royal Commission on Environmental Protection’s (RCEP) report on pesticide spray and the effect on human health (Cropwatch comment - already out (22Sept 2005) and available at http://www.rcep.org.uk/pesticides/Crop%20Spraying%20web.pdf )
– not least to farm workers and 1-1.5 million people who live adjacent to sprayed fields (RCEP report expected summer 2006). Hickman points out that in some US states, a 2.5-mile buffer zone exists between sprayed fields and schools (whereas none exists here – welcome to Britain!). Hickman further covers Prof. Howard’s communication to the Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) not the least regarding a 5-metre buffer zone to help protect residents with properties backing directly onto farmers spraying activities and covers their cautious replies which basically dismiss the importance of health effects. Prof. Ayres of the ACP is quoted as pointing out that modern pesticides are quicker in action and are cleared quicker from the environment than the DDT’s of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring – which is not a consideration applied even-handedly to eco-toxicity of natural aromatic ingredients in Cropwatch’s experience – thus proving to our satisfaction anyway, the Georgina Downs point above, about one standard for pesticides and another for everything else. We admit we really haven’t done justice to Leo Hickman’s article in this short piece – which can be viewed at http://money.guardian.co.uk/ethicalmoney/story/0..1743892.00.html
On the attack, Howard & Newby feature in a subsequent Guardian letters page (Howard & Newby 2006b) rounding on Wishart’s criticism on the lack of scientific support for the view that low levels of pesticides could affect a developing child’s health, by pointing out that the EPA recently set up a panel reviewing low-level chemical exposure, which concluded that the testing paradigm needs revision. They also pointed out amongst other things that their paper underwent the peer review process in a respected academic journal and that Wishart’s book will not have done (ouch!). They also make a point about the precautionary principle pointing out that uncertainty and inconsistency is par for the course in this area and inferring that waiting for proof of unattainable certainty is not acceptable.
A letter from Chris Tyler (Tyler 2006) also co-appears with the above letter; Tyler signs himself as associated with the controversial lobbying organisation, ‘Sense about Science’ – see www.gmwatch.org/profile1.asp?Prld=151&page+S for chilling profile of this outfit. The mail is a predictable re-iteration of corporate dogma of the sort that features phrases like “there is no discernable risk to consumers from modern pesticide use” and suggesting that if consumers vote with their feet over organic food then there is little point in having safety assessments of food. Perhaps if this latter point actually came about, it would be living proof of how little the public actually trusts scientists – but then, would you really be surprised by that considering the way they behave?
Watch this space – we’re sure its not over yet!
Point of information: Example of Data on Pesticides in Citrus Oils.
Organo-phosphate residues in Sicilian Lemon Oil. (figures in ppm)
Table 1. Organo-phosphates in Sicilian Lemon Oils. From Verzera et al. (2004).
Verzera A., Trozzi A., Dugo G., Di Bella G. & Cotroneo A. “Biological lemon & sweet orange essential oil composition” Flav. & Frag. J. 19, 544-548.
Abstract: The volatile fraction composition of sweet orange and lemon oils obtained using biological and traditional cultivation is reported. The oils came from Sicily and were industrially obtained. The aim of the research was to establish whether the use of pesticides in citrus cultivation could influence the essential oil composition. The volatile fraction was analysed by HRGC and HRGC-MS. The content of organophosphorus and organochlorine pesticides was determined by HRGC-FPD and HRGC-ECD. Differences in the oil composition resulted, especially in the content of carbonyl compounds; the results obtained, altogether, show that the biological oils are of higher quality in terms of their composition than traditional ones.
Buckenham A. (2006) Letters (“Myths & risks of pesticides”). Guardian 28th Mar 2006 p31.
Curtis P. (2006) “Scientists warn parents on pesticides & plastics.” Guardian March 21st 2006 p4.
Dell’amore C. (2006) UPI Press Report Washington Feb. 22 2006.
Downs G. (2006) Letters (“Myths & risks of pesticides”). Guardian 28th Mar 2006 p31.
Hickman L. (2006) “Is Organic worth it”. Guardian 31st Mar 2006 Supplement (G2). p6-9.
Howard V. & Newby J.A. (2006) “Environmental Influences in Cancer Aetiology” Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine 1-59, PrEview article available at www.t&f.co.uk/journals/titles/13590847.asp
Howard V. & Newby J.A. (2006b) Letters (“The politics & science of organic food production”) Guardian 4th April 2006 p29.
Kift N. (2006) Letters (“Myths & risks of pesticides”). Guardian 28th Mar 2006 p31.
Menegaux F., Baruchel A., Bertrand A., Lescoeur B., Leverger G.,
Wishart A. (2006) “Parents: don’t fall for this cancer/pesticide story.” Guardian 30th Mar. 2006, p35.
Trewas A. (2006) Letters (“Myths & risks of pesticides”). Guardian 28th Mar 2006 031.
Tyler C. (2006) Letters (“The politics & science of organic food production”) Guardian 4th April 2006 p29.
Leake J. (2006) “Pesticide Nun” The Ecologist April 36(3), 50-57.
An excellent article chronicling the remarkable one-person anti-pesticide campaign of Georgina Downs, who suffered a serious deterioration in health some years ago which she put down to the effects of pesticide spraying right next to her exposed rural abode in Chichester, Sussex. Pursuing the matter with the local HSE she found out that farmers spraying toxic chemicals several times per year were breaking no laws, and eventually decided that government policy was wrong. The article explains that the governments Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP) and the official regulator, the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD) relies on a mathematical model (rather than studies of disease outbreak in exposed communities) which makes false assumptions about the likely dose & incorrectly only relates to one pesticide at a time. Leake goes on to describe the way Downs convinced the ACP chairman Prof. David Coggan of her case, eventually presenting a disease data-base to the committee. The Royal Commission for Environmental Protection (RCEP) carried out its own investigation and drew similar conclusions.
But then politicians took over…. and the clever political manoeuvring commenced. So we don’t give the plot of the whole article away, please make sure you read it to see how things turn out (The Ecologist website is at http://www.theecologist.org/ – but we might be allowed to tell you that Downs has an application for a Judicial Review lodged in the High Court on the basis that the government has failed in its duty of due diligence to protect the public from the damaging toxic effects of pesticides.
Some Further Reading:
Brown T.P., Rumsby P.C., Capleton A.C., Rushton L & Levy L.S. “Pesticides & Parkinson’s Disease – Is there a link?|” Environmental Health Perspectives 114(2), 156-164.
Buckley J.D., Robison L.L., Swotinsky R., et al. (1989)
“Occupational exposures of parents of children with acute nonlymphocytic
leukaemia: a report from the
Clavel J., Goubin A., Auclerc M.F., et al. (2004) “Incidence
of childhood leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in
France: National Registry of
Childhood Leukaemia and Lymphoma, 1990-1999.” Eur J Cancer Prev
Daniels J.L., Olshan A.F. & Savitz D.A. (1997). “Pesticides and childhood cancers.” Environ. Health Perspect. 105,1068-77.
IARC. (1991) Monographs on the
evaluation of carcinogenic risk to humans, vol
Reynolds P., Von Behren J., Gunier R.B. et al. (2002)
“Childhood cancer and
agricultural pesticide use: an ecologic study in
California.” Environ Health
Zahm S.H., Ward M.H. (1998). “Pesticides and childhood cancer.” Environ Health Perspect 06 (Suppl 3), 893-908.