Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2002 / 22 Kislev, 5763

Drs. Michael A. Glueck & Robert J. Cihak

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Consumer Reports

Thanksgiving dinner hazard? | In order to let you, our good readers, enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, we're revealing some facts of life about your holiday meal to help you keep any late-breaking food scares in perspective.

With food, as with almost everything else in life, it's the dose -- always the dose -- that counts. Arsenic in the water, anthrax in the air, or the chemicals in your Thanksgiving dinner -- tiny traces don't kill you -- even though some people, for reasons of their own, would have you believe that they would.

But the scientific experts have it right. A Holiday Dinner Menu published by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) lists some of the pesticide chemicals - 99.99% of them natural - found in our wonderful holiday meals. These, like all other chemicals - and food itself - cause disease only if TAKEN TO EXCESS.

Let's look at the ACSH dinner:

Your cream of mushroom soup contains hydrazines.

In your fresh relish tray the carrots contain aniline and caffeic acid. The cherry tomatoes have benzaldehyde, caffeic acid, hydrogen peroxide and quercetin glycosides; and the celery has caffeic acid, furan derivatives, and psoralens.

Your tossed lettuce and arugula green salad with basil-mustard vinaigrette has some allyl isothiocyanate, caffeic acid, estragole, and methyl eugenol.

Happily hover over all those heterocyclic amines in your roast turkey.

In your favorite bread stuffing (with onions, celery, black pepper and mushrooms) savor the acrylamide, ethyl alcohol, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, furan derivatives, furfural, dihydrazines, d-limonene, psoralens, quercetin glycosides, and safrole.

And don't forget the furan derivatives in everyone's favorite, cranberry sauce.

Conclude your sumptuous meal by drinking ethyl alcohol and ethyl carbamate in the red and white wines; a cup of delicious brewed coffee with floating benzo(a)pyrene, benzaldehyde, benzene, benzofuran, caffeic acid, catechol, 1,2,5,6-dibenz(a)anthracene, ethyl benzene, furan, furfural, hydrogen peroxide, hydroquinone, d-limonene and 4-methylcatechol.

For a special touch enjoy Jasmine Tea featuring benzyl acetate.

Who'd ever thought carcinogens could taste so good? Actually, the amounts are so tiny that you can't taste or smell them. And, in these tiny amounts, they won't hurt you the least bit.

So why the endless furor over harmless, trace pesticide chemicals? Especially when, as Bruce Ames, Ph.D., and Lois Swirsky Gold, Ph.D., both UC Berkeley scientists, point out, "No human diet can be free of naturally occurring chemicals that are rodent carcinogens. Of the chemicals that people eat, 99.99% are natural."

So how did we get so spooked about our safe food supply? The phenomenon goes back to the Progressive Era and the early pure food and drug laws. But it really got going in 1958, when Congress tried to keep cancer-causing chemicals out of processed foods and passed the so-called Delaney amendment to the 1938 Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act. This law, as so often happens when Congress seeks to protect us against the facts of life, sought to ban any processed food that contained any detectable amount of chemical that caused cancer when given to lab rats.

Lab rats that, let it be noted, are specially bred to be susceptible to cancer, and are then fed huge quantities and concentrations of chemicals until they almost drown in them or come down with cancer.

Since 1958, also, scientists have deployed increasingly sensitive tests to identify chemicals in foods. And because these new tests found all sorts of chemicals in all sorts of foods, they provided new ammunition for special interest and politically-motivated scare campaigns. A decade ago, propagandists with sophisticated PR tactics took in even the usually sensible Consumers Union with a scare about alar used on apples. This scared some mothers enough to cause them to pull healthy shiny apples out of their children's lunch bags. Yet, as in almost all recent cases, no significant threat ever existed.

Others are still at it, trying to scare you about "pesticides" in your food. We've never heard them mention that Mother Nature puts 10,000 times more pesticides into your food than farmers and other human activities do. That's 1,000,000 percent more than from human activity.

If the 1958 law "were applied to the carcinogens that occur naturally in our foods, we would have to ban much of our holiday dinner - and the rest of the foods we eat all year," notes Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of American Council on Science and Health (ACSH).

Should you overeat there is always the other problem of all those chemicals in the antacids you will take. But that's another story for another day!

That said, we hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner as much as we intend to. And remember to keep your wits about you when future scares come your way.


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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical- legal issues. Robert J. Cihak, M.D., is past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. Both JWR contributors are Harvard trained diagnostic radiologists. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2002