Applied Trophology, Vol. 10, No. 5
(May 1966)

Food Chemicals Criticized

Contents in in this issue:

  • “Food Chemicals Criticized.”

The following is a transcription of the May 1966 issue of Dr. Royal Lee’s Applied Trophology newsletter, originally published by Standard Process Laboratories.


Food Chemicals Criticized

We now have a “cold war” between American and Russian nutritionists in regard to the value of adding chemical additives to the food supply. A.D. Ignat’yer and A.I. Shtenberg of the Institute of Nutrition of U.S.S.R.’s Academy of Medical Sciences recently increased the tempo of the battle when they claimed that the increasing use of additives was causing a decreasing health level of all Americans. “There is a progressive increase in the birthrate of monsters and stillborn children,” they said. “The mortality rate of children under a year increased in the U.S. from 1956 to 1958 by 0.6 percent.”

Although speaking on another subject we find that in testifying before the House Appropriations Committee, National Institute of Health Director Dr. J.A. Shannon had this to say:

“The effect, if I may put it bluntly, is that we are gradually weakening our genetic inheritance. By our humanitarian interference with the operation of natural selection, we are saving many lives, but we are also to some extent degrading the health of the nation.”

We doubt if he referred to the selection of natural foods. However, the end results are practically the same, as disease or health apparently comes from a combination of interacting genetic and environmental factors.

In further remarks regarding the health of our nation, Russian researchers refer to the increasing incidence of liver disease in the U.S.: “In the United States there are more than 10 percent of patients with such diseases, whereas in the U.S.S.R. liver diseases are encountered much less often…Such a difference, apparently, is connected with the great purity and naturalness of foodstuffs consumed by the population of the Soviet Union,” these Russian researchers stated. (Emphasis ours.)

A summary of Russian research on the nutritional hazards associated with the use of chemical additives was reported in Vestnik, the Journal of the Academy of Medical Sciences. It is warned that many of these substances, even in small quantities, when taken over a period of time can produce acute or chronic food poisoning, or even cancer. The researchers contend that many of these hazards result from the fact that so many additives are put in foods without any prior toxicological study.

Russian scientists also contend that over 200 of these chemical additives in American foods have never been studied, so that even the permitted “low” doses have no substantiating basis. This “tolerance dose” theory is supposedly based on the capacity of the average person to detoxify and remove such substances. Ignat’yer and Shtenberg claim that individual sensitivity to poisons is usually overlooked. They believe the marked increase in cirrhosis of the liver and the increase of 100 percent in hepatitis in the United States for the years 1955 to l957 (the years on which they based their study) were due to the extensive use of chemicals in the food, and pesticides, such as DDT, as residues in some foods.

Only recently, U.S. Government representatives, and also representatives of the chemical industry, contacted the Expert Committee on Food Additives of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the World Health Organization, trying to get them to relax international standards for chemicals in foods. Their efforts were of no avail, as the Committee had already classed as unacceptable some of the chemical preservatives and artificial colors now widely used in our present food supply.

The Committee continues its present policies and refused to liberalize its standards for use of chemicals in food. The U.S. food industry considers these policies as being “highly restrictive.”

Are these policies, in regard to the safety of human lives, too restrictive, or is the U.S. policy of individual chemical additive tolerances too liberal, taken in the light of the many other sources of these toxic substances? The Committee report, as issued, was a disappointment to some in the U.S. (mostly food processors), who had asked the World Health Organization Committee to open the door to a more liberal use of artificial preservatives.

The Committee was concerned about the use of BHT (as a preservative) in various American breakfast cereals and some other foods. In animal diet tests, butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) caused an increase in the weight of livers, although it did not cause cell damage. As a result of more recent tests, this antioxidant chemical (used to delay rancidity and preserve flavor) has been banned in baby foods in England, at the request of the British Industrial Biological Research Association. The amount allowed in other foods has also been reduced 50 percent, pending a final report. In a feeding test conducted for only seventy days, appearance of such adverse effects as inability to deliver live young, and failure of normal growth, resulted.

Like Russian scientists, the Committee suspected that some food additives could cause birth defects, or mutations, in humans. One chemical they did not consider safe was hexamethylenetetramine (used as a coating on fresh fruits and for some similar uses). These experts refused to establish a “safe” tolerance for this chemical. Yet, our FDA persists in saying that “no undue risk to the public health is involved.”

One color, Violet No. 1, recently listed “safe” by the FDA, drew a rating as possibly harmful from this international committee. They also stated that two other colors, beta-Carotene and beta-Apo-8′-carontenal, were not acceptable because of insufficient chemical information to pass on their safety. Both have been permanently listed by FDA for food use.

Red No. 4 was also put on the harmful list. This is one that the FDA finally rated as harmful when it was found harmful to dogs in long-term experiments. It was delisted after seven years’ use. The maraschino cherry industry and pink pill makers begged the FDA to rescind this delisting and allow the use of Red No. 4 again, as it is the only chemical the cherry processors have found to produce the bright red effect they desire. Last August, after a seven months’ ban and a three-month group animal feeding test by the drug industry, the FDA announced that this harmful chemical (dogs suffered internal injury and death in the long-term test) was again to be permitted to be foisted on uninformed consumers by their presumed protector. No wonder foreign scientists spurn many of our food and drug experiments. The cherry processors, like various other food processors, consider only esthetic sales appeal and shelf life, ignoring the cumulative and harmful effects of these nonnutritive, toxic additives.

The international committee of food experts was interested in metabolism and stressed the possible long-term danger of some additives and colors. They called attention to the fact that these chemical dyes are frequently changed within the body into “degradation products,” which are possibly more toxic than the original colors.

Other foreign scientists have also noted that this type of nutritional effect is exerted by certain other additives on the utilization, or metabolism, of nutrients after ingestion of food. Nonnutritive chemical additives do not always become just so much waste matter, as many consumers have been led to believe. We understand that few U.S. scientists have studied this circumstance because of its time-consuming aspects. Scientists of both the FDA and Agriculture Department should combine their efforts on this problem, as food additives exerting these effects include certain chlorinated pesticides and nitrites.

It has been stated that Americans can invent miraculous things but cannot resist the urge to use them before making sure they are wholesome, or even safe. The public needs better protection.

At the University of Arkansas, Dr. Douglas James and his assistant, James Turner, found in a recent experiment with adult quail that ingestion of sublethal levels of DDT apparently affect the central nervous system in a way that produces a decline in learning ability. They warned that their findings have “definite human implications,” as some of our food supply does contain pesticide residues. Dr. Biskind’s original report in 1950 that DDT is fat-soluble and is stored in the body fat as a cumulative poison has been corroborated by several later experiments.

Artificial (chemical) fertilizers based on the N.K.P. formula contain nitrates. A solution of 1 ppm. of nitrate in water has been found dangerous. Deaths have occurred from nitrate fertilizer solution leaching into farm well water. An incident in Minnesota, some time back, verifies this danger. Over 200 infants suffered a typical nitrite reaction from well water poisoned by similar leaching from commercially fertilized adjacent farmland. Fourteen of the babies died. The physiological difference in the infant intestinal tract has been found to be more favorable for rapid conversion from nitrates to nitrites. Nitrites are more readily absorbed in the intestine.

Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used together in preparing corned beef and as preservatives in lunch meals and sausages. Sodium nitrate (saltpeter) is used in larger amounts to “freshen” hamburger, as it restores the red color of fresh meat. Many states have legislated against its use for this purpose. In an experiment on adult rats, 3 cc. of an extract of a commercial sausage preservative, consisting of 4 percent nitrites and 8 percent nitrates in a glucose solution, were fed through a stomach tube directly into the stomach. Because of the rapid conversion of hemoglobin, the rats died in approximately 35 minutes. Previous research had determined that nitrite poisoning may cause a cyanosis through the reaction of oxidizing the hemoglobin to methemoglobin. The possible cyanosis effect seemingly much more prevalent in infants.

State Health Director Lester Breslow of California’s Health Department has just released an occupational disease report for 1963. The report showed agricultural workers had the highest rate of occupational disease of any of those listed. Their time lost record for sickness was almost twice as high as for the other occupations. The increased use of farm chemicals and insecticides was blamed for the change, as in past years agricultural workers were among the healthiest. Apparently, that situation no longer applies, and farming has become a hazardous occupation. The report refuted often heard propaganda of various government agencies and the chemical industry that “there is no evidence indicating that consumption of foods resulting from the use of new chemicals in crop production, or in processing of foods, has tended to create mysterious disease epidemics, or endangers public health.” (Emphasis ours.)

Agricultural departments (both federal and state) suggest following manufacturer’s directions in regard to farm chemicals to be safe. The chemical industry states, “Insecticides are safe if used according to directions.” The California report corroborates the fact that they can be “unsafe,” and that many people fail to follow explicit directions.

Crop-spraying pilots and crop dusters, all subject to the Federal Aviation Agency, are advised to follow Department of Agriculture rules in regard to reading labels and following directions. Some pilots claim the directions are poorly written and that sometimes

A recent example of misunderstood labeling came to light when Glenn Frederick, a University of Wisconsin graduate student in Department of Agricultural Journalism, interviewed farmers to gather data for his thesis. Fourteen farmers thought, for example, that “edible parts” were places where “insects have been feeding.” Ten farmers thought that “hazardous chemical” in a spray makes it “poison for insects but safe for people.” Only 66 out of the 100 interviewed knew that “toxic chemicals” could harm people as well as insects. In regard to the label warning “Avoid prolonged contact with the spray,” fourteen thought “prolonged contact” meant a “long pipe attached to the sprayer.” Thirty misinterpreted the warning, “Late application can cause residues on food and forage crops.” Seventy of the hundred knew that residues are chemicals that remain on the crops after spraying. The word “lactating” apparently was confusing, as only sixty-seven were correct in saying that it referred to dairy cows that are giving milk. Sixteen thought it meant “those about to have calves” and the other eleven thought it meant “those that are sickly.” Frederick found that if the directions say, “Do not treat lactating dairy animals,” the farmers with the wrong interpretation of lactating may do just the opposite, which could result in serious consequences in regard to the milk.

If this is a representative cross sample of errors made across the nation in the use of farm chemical sprays, potential users would have good cause to fear harm, even death. Mr. Frederick believes the facts revealed “may have serious implications for pesticide manufacturers and others concerned with pest killers.”

Just so those involved with policing these extraordinary consumer hazards do not get the idea that the farmers of Wisconsin and California and possibly some crop dusting pilots are “dumb bunnies,” we cite another instance. In England a doctor has warned the public regarding the danger to humans from chemical sprays used by fruit and vegetable growers. He mentioned the case of a strawberry field worker whose nervous system had been damaged. His investigation revealed the cause was phosphorous and mercury compounds and chlorinated hydrocarbons, applied haphazardly when the strawberries were about to be picked. In his comments on this case in the Lancet, Dr. A.M.G. Campbell stated, “Plainly many other growers fail to appreciate the toxicity of the chemicals they use and fail to comply with the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings.” As some wag has said, “Labels, instructions or directions are something to look at after the deed is done.”

Long-range consequences resulting from reactions of additive chemicals and farm chemicals on the health of the body are still relatively unknown. However, are not the increased draft rejections an indication that not all is well with the health of the nation? Government agencies must realize that quantity non-nutritious foods have failed and that if the health of the adult is preserved with high-quality nutritious foods, the healthy person can transmit strength and vitality to his children. As Mr. Lennington of the FDA stated back in 1956, “BCID” (before chemical industry domination), “The public should not be made the ‘Guinea Pigs.’”

Heather Wilkinson

Heather Wilkinson is the Archives Editor for Selene River Press.

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