Friday, September 09, 2005

A toxic shock

'Babies being poisoned in the womb', declares the Daily Mail, reporting on research published by Greenpeace and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Blood was taken from the umbilical cords of 27 newborn babies and 42 new mothers in the Netherlands. Chemical analysis found at least some of the 35 substances tested for in every sample taken, with some samples containing as many as 17 of the chemicals.

Helen Perivier, toxics campaigner for Greenpeace International, said: 'It is shocking that such chemicals are in the human body at any stage of our life, let alone at the very start, when the child is most vulnerable. Governments need to act and require industries to substitute these contaminating chemicals with safer alternatives.'

The only thing that is shocking is that this cynical piece of 'advocacy research' has been accepted so widely as good coin - and that these campaigning groups, which are supposedly interested in the public good, are pursuing their goals through creating unnecessary anxiety for new parents.

These chemicals are far from being confirmed as deadly toxins. For most, there is some evidence that in high concentrations they might cause some harm in animals. But the concentrations measured here are tiny - generally in parts per billion or less. The old adage applies: 'It's the dose that makes the poison.' Cyanide in tiny concentrations could be harmless, while water in large enough quantities can kill.

Moreover, the reports studiously ignore all the other toxins and carcinogens that mother could be passing to baby - which are found naturally in fruit and veg. Plants produce a bewildering variety of different substances to ward off pests and disease. If we are going to ban these cleaning products, perhaps we should ban potatoes and carrots at the same time.

A more sensible view is to accept that we can easily deal with tiny amounts of substances that might be hazardous in large quantities. As Professor Andrew Shennan, consultant obstetrician and a spokesman for children's charity Tommy's, told BBC News: 'It's not something to be alarmed about. These substances have probably been around for years and years. We are designed to live in hostile environments.'

Read on...

Post-script: I'm not the only one who thinks this research stinks, as the following report in the Observer notes:

Poison experts attack 'hysteria' over chemicals

Britain's leading poison experts united last week to denounce pressure groups for mounting a 'hysterical, scaremongering' campaign about dangerous chemicals in the environment.

They accused the groups - in particular WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund - of acting irresponsibly by publishing reports claiming most people have blood swimming with toxic compounds.

Read on...

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A diet of intervention

My new article on spiked: the UK government is planning strict new rules on school meals, and sending out wallcharts on what are healthy weights for young people. Our screwed relationship with food continues apace...

Fat chance of making kids healthier