The Chemical feast By Dellar Rushing James S. Turner. The Chemical Feast, the findings of Ralph Nader’s Study Group on the Food and Drug Administration, introduction by Ralph Nader. New York: Grossman Publishers, cloth, $6.95, paper $.95, both 267 pages. Houston Not since Upton Sinclair took on the filth and fraud in our food has anyone turned up so much of it. Supervised by Ralph Nader, 16 graduate students mostly in law and medicine spent two summers with the Food and Drug Administration. The resulting report, written by James S. Turner, project director, makes the simple old ills of 1900 seem safe compared to the carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens we feed on now. Twenty-year-old men now living in 36 foreign countries will live longer on the average than those in America. The lifetime of 20-year-old women in 21 nations’ will surpass that of 20-year-old women in America. Contrary to the general impression, we do not live longer than persons in other “advanced” countries, nor than we did ten years ago. Black American men actually die younger than they did in 1959. In 1950 the United States had the fifth lowest infant mortality rate in the world; by 1967 we had dropped to 13th. By 1968 we had dropped further and placed 14th. In the past decade life expectancy has increased dramatically in other nations but not here. The Christian Science Monitor has said of our inferior infant mortality rate that it is “largely due to malnutrition, in some parts of this country [found to be] one in ten as high as much of Asia’s.” The F.D.A. does not acknowledge the relationship between deteriorating American health and the limited availability of safe and wholesome food. The F.D.A. repeatedly asserts that the American food supply is the best in the world. It has spent close to $200,000 since early 1968, compiled 26,000 pages of testimony, and used thousands of F.D.A. man-hours to prove that there are no problems of malnutrition in America that make advisable the use of vitamin or mineral food supplements, such as those sold by the health food industry. Yet the Departinent of Agriculture, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, and nutrition studies in a number of middle-class neighborhoods have shown otherwise. Dellar Rushing is a free lance writer from Houston who formerly worked on several Texas papers. A Review The Chemical Feast maintains that the F.D.A. has viewed the $125 billion food industry as almost entirely reliable in its self-regulation and instead of applying the law, has kept busy protecting industry from criticism, and by hot pursuit of a few, small, innocuous victims. OF THE SEVERAL measures passed from 1906 on to protect our food, the “Delaney Clause,” enacted in 1958, is the one most effective in providing some real safeguards. This law provides that chemicals shall be excluded from food if they cause cancer when ingested by man or animals; that chemicals are not subject to any restrictions if generally regarded as safe to be safe shall be subject to intensive testing by manufacturers and excluded from food until proven safe. But the Delaney Clause is now under attack on Capitol Hill by those who would weaken it. To administer the Delaney Clause, the F.D.A. set up a G.R.A.S. list. But The Chemical Feast shows that although there are approximately 700 chemicals on the list, it is virtually impossible to tell who, if anyone, has tested many of them. In fact, Deputy Commissioner Rankin once ruled, and apparently this still stands, that “.. . the manufacturer is entitled to reach his own conclusions. . .” F.D.A. policy and practice has long been to hold hundreds of private meetings each year with representatives of industry label revisions in order to bring them into compliance and to discuss cooperative efforts that would insure that provisions of the law were not violated. \(Imagine, the report remarks, if the Justice Department held regular meetings with the mafia advising that it knew of gambling at certain addresses which, if not stopped, might lead One perversion of the law is the theory of the necessity of risk. “The primary purpose of food additives is to increase industry profits. Coloring, tenderizing, extending the shelf life of food … should not be tolerated at the expense of the health of consumers.” In fact, Dr. Jean Mayer, nutrition adviser to President Nixon, has commented that we could get along perfectly well without any chemical additives. But industry spokesmen insist that the consumer is and must be willing to accept risks in order to gain the benefits of its products. The F.D.A. goes along with this. Consumers are seldom consulted. WHO DECIDES what risk consumers should take is a question not often asked. When it was found that cyclamate causes bladder cancer in rats and causes brain damage in infant mice, the issue debated was: Do we want these items in the food supply? Sometimes scientists take the position that they should decide. Aside from possible conflicts of interest \(such as being employed by an interested industry or by a government agency is only trained to determine certain facts and this training does not necessarily qualify him to develop public policy based on these facts. If consumers do not wish to consume certain chemicals, that wish should be considered. The law provides no legal basis for the F.D.A. to balance risks to be taken by the consumer against what industry might deem “benefits.” “Citizens must decide,” the author contends, “whether risks are worth taking.” By causing laws to be passed citizens, through their representative bodies, have decided that any potential risk of cancer from ingesting an additive which causes cancer in humans or animals requires that it be excluded from the food supply. This law, however, has been all but repealed by F.D.A. interpretation and non-enforcement. In 1965, the F.D.A. announced that the food coloring called Red 4, widely used in food and drugs, should be eliminated from food in six months. The Food and Agricultural Organization-World Health committee on color had said that it was “harmful . . . and should not be used in food.” But before the ban could take effect the maraschino cherry producers convinced-the F.D.A. that they should be allowed to retain this dangerous chemical in their product. Industry argument was that few persons actually eat the cherries and that even when they do it is a small thing and therefore the danger was minor. But the belief that just a little of a carcinogen doesn’t count is like the belief that just a little pregnancy doesn’t count. The notion that there is a low-level dosage below which cancer-causing chemicals are safe has been derided as “pure bunk” by scientists inside and out of the F.D.A. The Nader group found that when a company argues for the safety of a food additive it says that it did not harm the animals on which it was tested. But when the animals are harmed, the argument is Nov. 13, 1970 17
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