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After doubts had been raised by several scientists about the use of M.S.G. in baby food, a letter went out from Gerber Products Company to its shareholders defending its use on the basis that the tests were animal tests and might not be relevant to human babies. Although it is true that some dangers that show up in animal testing do not show up in humans and vice versa, animal testing is still our most widely accepted way to get the best prediction of safety for humans. Moreoever, the scientists, although not sure that the tests were relevant to humans, were also not sure that they were not. The letter from Gerber to its shareholders, which omitted some of the significant facts revealed in the tests while belittling others, is cited by the report as an example of the evidence that industry should not do its own policing. Potential hazards from chemicals in the environment are staggering. They are of three kinds and our knowledge of them is only limited. Some chemicals have the ability to cause birth deformities such as those produced by thalidomide, which affect individuals in the current generation but are not passed on to the next. Other chemicals can cause cancer. And, most disturbing of all, is the possibility that some chemicals can cause mutations that will be irrevocably engraved upon the genetic code and passed.,, on from generation to generation. Some of the mutagenic changes are so subtle “a ten-point change in the I.Q. perhaps,” says F.D.A. biochemist, Dr. Marvin Legator that they might go completely undetected 18 The Texas Observer for several generations. A strict application of the Delaney Clause would allow for no toleration level for some substances. Rachel Carson in The Silent Spring challenged the concept of any tolerance for a poison that is retained by living organisms and accrues as it passes along the food chain. THE CHEMICALS that most concern scientists as potential mutagens include chemosterilants and other pesticides, food additives, cosmetics, air pollutants, herbicides, known carcinogens, industrial chemicals, drugs, vaccines, and contraceptives. Our food tastes are less and less of our own choosing. They are tailored for us by food industry advertising. Even babies are being conditioned by the addition to baby food of more sugar, more salt; more starch. Pediatricians, who used to include sugar in the formula for the baby bottle, now leave it out. But this medical advance is largely nullified by the addition of more sugar to baby food. The taste thus developed makes the mother’s and the doctor’s later fight against excessive candy a losing battle. Salt is added to baby foods in amounts enormously higher than found in mothers’ milk. An infant thus develops an appetite for heavily salted foods which must fo r satisfied, to the hazard of his health, for the rest of his life. The F.D.A. places a low priority on sanitation and does not regard such matters as insect fragments, rodent hairs, worms, flies, bird excreta, as very important. Only about 40 per cent of food-producing plants are inspected by the F.D.A.; in some instances these plants are inspected only once every six years. One recommendation of the Nader report is that names of plants made public. By a conservative estimate we have two to ten million cases of food poisoning every year. Decisions on pesticide tolerance, the use of food additives, exemptions of certain chemicals from food regulations, establishment of food standards are determined in closed-door conferences between F.D.A. officials and industry representatives. Consumers are excluded. Those conferences are confidential, partly on the excuse that trade secrets might be revealed. Meanwhile, consumers are treated by the industry to an overwhelming flood of advertising-dominated and distorted information and have not received authoritative countervailing material on nutrition. “The meager consumer information program undertaken by the F.D.A. is nothing like the massive agency effort to ‘educate industry,’ ” the study says. “The F .D.A . should require across-the-board percentage labeling,” Turner holds, “to show the percentage of the most valuable ingredient in a food, such as 10% orange juice in orange drink, 30% meat in frankfurters.” The Department of Agriculture, which sets standards for meat products, requires that beef strogonoff consist of at least 45% meat. “Lipton’s,” the report charges, “with government acquiescence … packages .stroganoff ingredients in three sub-packages; one contains noodles, one garnish, the third beef, sour cream, and soy protein meal. Forty-fiveper cent of the third package is beef.” The idea of labeling is that the purchaser should be able to tell what he is buying by reading the label. This is now virtually impossible. “Nearly two-thirds of all chemicals now placed in our foods,” Turner states, “do not appear on labels.” A good example of labeling may be seen, however, on cat and dog food. Almost the only heartening comment in the book is that so many on all levels in the F.D.A. aided the Nader study group “eagerly.” However, much of the F.D.A. personnel was found to be in a state of frustration and despair. The Chemical Feast is an antidote for the glut of misinformation we have been fed. Although not all the material in it is new, its valid and urgent pertinence recommend it. It is sufficiently detailed for all but the specialist, is easy to read, and presents a view we must examine if we want to survive. We have a new F.D.A. Commissioner, Dr. Charles C. Edwards. Through him there could be a chance for desperately needed reform. Yet the prospects are in doubt. One of Commissioner Edwards’ first official remarks after he came into office was that the F.D.A. “should work more closely with industry.”
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