Perils on your plate

BEWARE the perils on your plate this Christmas. Turkey, veg, stuffing and more besides are full of natural substances that give lab rats cancer, warn a group of New York scientists in a spoof Christmas menu which they have designed to ridicule scare stories about pesticide residues in food and posted on the Internet. But anti-pesticide campaigners have dismissed the menu as a cheap stunt.

According to the menu, roast turkey and beef contain natural heterocyclic amines, substances which trigger DNA mutations and cause cancer in rodents. Rats also develop cancer when fed with the dyestuff aniline, which occurs naturally in carrots.

But if you're feeling particularly brave, eat stuffing. There's a whole range of nature's nasties in the bread, onions, celery, black pepper and mushrooms that cause cancer or DNA mutations in rodents. The stuffing ingredients include acetaldehyde, a toxic breakdown product of alcoholic drinks, benzo[a]pyrene, a pot-ent carcinogen found in cigarette smoke, and ethyl carbamate, a natural pesticide.

"We try to get across that just because something is synthetic, it's not inherently any more dangerous than something Mother Nature puts there herself," says Ruth Kava, director of nutrition at the American Council on Science and Health.

The New York-based council, set up in 1978 by scientists disturbed by media scare stories about pesticides, claims to be independent of its 300 diverse sources of funding and backs health campaigns it believes are based on sound science. It lost tobacco industry funding, for example, when it denounced smoking.

Kava says that on balance, the council thinks that health scares about pesticides in food are unjustified on scientific grounds. "It's an issue of dose and exposure," says Kava. "If you consume something that's a big hazard, such as benzene, but have small exposure, say 1 part per billion of benzene in your food every three months, there's not a very big risk," she says.


Contact: Claire Bowles
New Scientist

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