Our Daily Food Poison

If I gave you an apple with traces of Ddt, would you eat it?

I recently started reading the book ‘Our Daily Poison’ by French award-winning journalist Marie Monique Robin. The book is an in-depth investigation of the poisonous chemicals into everyday food products and the system in charge of regulation.

I learned that many currently marketed pesticides (or that only recently has been banned) contain the same chemicals that had been originally developed and employed as chemical weapons during World War I and II, leaving millions to die. This is the case of 2,4,5-t the toxin in agent orange used to defoliate plantations in Vietnam, also involved in Seveso’s disaster (Italy) in 1976; or Zyklon B, banned in 1988 and present in the gas that Nazis used to kill Jews.

If some chemicals have been banned recently, as in the case of the previous examples, many others are currently employed. Farmers are spraying on our soils extremely toxic poisons that end up in our food chain, and severely contaminate the environment. Workers do often get sick themselves, and particular concern goes to the Third World where less regulation, less information and corporate power make pesticide poisoning so frequent to be considered an epidemic.

Robin also explain the history and questionable use of the Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and the Maximum Residue Limit (MRL) that should ensure the “safe” level of pesticides in food. However, there is plenty of guess work involved in calculating these limits. Fritz Haber, the infamous scientist whose studies informed the creation of these guidelines, concluded himself that the exposition to minimal doses in the long run has the same mortal effect of a brief exposition at a high dose. A member of the UN agency responsible for setting the acceptable daily limits in food, admitted that the numbers are “theoretical”.

The science behind the use of pesticides, and the safety of consuming traces of them, has been largely produced by groups that have major conflict of interests. Going through the archives of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the journalist exposes a corrupt safety system prejudiced by corporate control more incline to protect trade secrets than human health. Revolving doors between the chemical industry with the regulatory agencies, allowed unreasonably unsafe chemicals to be employed in cultivating food.

The typology of adopted language is crucial for mental representation, meaning and interpretation. Changes in the use of terms support the wrong idea that pesticides pose a minor risk for human health since only traces are left in food. It is similar to what behavioral economists refer to as framing, that relates to the perception of a phenomenon, in this case by presenting information in a specific way. Pesticides today are more likely referred to as “phyto-pharmaceuticals” the original scientific term that indicate plant protection products. That sounds more abstract, and… safer.

The spectrum of covered topics, the comprehensive narration of facts, the historical explanation of the roots of the issues mark the high value of this volume. The book also exists in a documentary version, you can watch the trailer below.