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From: Bill Koehnlein <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: A Campaign of Reassuring Falsehoods
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Date: Thu, 24 Jun 1999 16:24:14 -0400 (EDT)
Subject:  Rachel #656: A Campaign of Reassuring Falsehoods
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=======================Electronic Edition========================
.                                                               .
.           RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH WEEKLY #656           .
.                      ---June 24, 1999---                      .
.                          HEADLINES:                           .
.              A CAMPAIGN OF REASSURING FALSEHOODS              .
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Evidently the permanent government in the U.S. now sees dioxin in
the food supply as a threat to itself because it has begun a new
campaign of reassuring falsehoods, this time in the WALL STREET
JOURNAL. We use the term "permanent government" as it was
described by Lewis Lapham, editor of HARPER'S MAGAZINE:

"The permanent government, a secular oligarchy... comprises the
Fortune 500 companies and their attendant lobbyists, the big
media and entertainment syndicates, the civil and military
services, the larger research universities and law firms. It is
this government that hires the country's politicians and sets the
terms and conditions under which the country's citizens can
exercise their right --God-given but increasingly expensive --to
life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Obedient to the rule
of men, not laws, the permanent government oversees the
production of wealth, builds cities, manufactures goods, raises
capital, fixes prices, shapes the landscape, and reserves the
right to assume debt, poison rivers, cheat the customers, receive
the gifts of federal subsidy, and speak to the American people in
the language of low motive and base emotion."[1]

Lapham distinguishes the "permanent government," which is not
elected, from the "provisional government," which is:

"The provisional government is the spiritual democracy that comes
and goes on the trend of a political season and oversees the
production of pageants.... Positing a rule of laws instead of
men, the provisional government must live within the cage of
high-minded principle, addressing its remarks to the imaginary
figure known as the informed citizen or the thinking man, a
superior being who detests superficial reasoning and quack
remedies, never looks at PLAYBOY, remembers the lessons of
history, trusts Bill Moyers, worries about political repression
in Liberia, reads (and knows himself improved by) the op-ed page
of the WALL STREET JOURNAL," Lapham writes.

          *          *           *

Starting in March, Belgian health authorities discovered dioxin
and PCBs in poultry, eggs, beef, pork, milk, butter and even in
mayonnaise. Dioxin and PCBs are members of a family of 219 toxic
chemicals that can damage the immune system and the hormones of
humans and other animals. They can also cause cancer, according
to the World Health Organization. [See REHW #636, #653.] The
toxicity of dioxins and PCBs are reported in "toxic equivalents"
-- a toxicity reporting system that takes into account the
particular mixture of dioxins and PCBs that is being measured.

In late April, the Dutch Ministry of Health notified the Belgians
that they had measured dioxin in two chickens at 958 and 775
parts per trillion toxic equivalents. In Belgium, the allowable
limit for dioxin in chicken is 5 ppt toxic equivalents, and in
the U.S. the limit is one ppt.[2]

Still Belgian authorities said nothing publicly. Then in early
June word got out that Belgian foodstuffs were widely
contaminated and the European Union and the U.S. clapped a
quarantine on foods from Belgium. Other countries around the
world immediately followed suit: May- lasia, Myanmar, Uruguay,
Thailand, Australia, Brazil, Rus- sia, and China, among others.
Suddenly tons of food were pulled from shops throughout Belgium
and incinerated, leaving shelves bare. Within two weeks, the
incident had cost Belgian farmers, grocers and food exporters an
esti- mated $500 million -- a lot of money in a small country.

The problem was traced to 8 liters of oil containing PCBs
contaminated with 50 to 80 milligrams of dioxin. The British NEW
SCIENTIST says "one theory is" that the toxic oil was taken from
an electrical transformer and dumped illegally into a public
recycling container for used frying oil.[3] The contaminated oil
ended up in an 88-ton (80 metric tonne) batch of fat produced by
Verkest, a company located near Ghent, Belgium. The fat was sold
to 12 manufacturers of animal feed, who then produced 1760 tons
(1600 metric tonnes) of contaminated animal feed. Starting in
January, 1999, the feed was sold mainly in Belgium but also in
France and the Netherlands.

According to CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS, at a public hearing
June 9, a Dutch official said the problem had been solved in his
country -- all of the contaminated foods had been eaten. No one
is sure how many people were affected because no one is yet sure
how widely the contaminated feed was distributed. "Either a few
people got a large dose, or many people got a small dose," said
Wim Traag from the Dutch State Institute for Quality Control of
Agricultural Products.

The NEW SCIENTIST quoted Martin van der Berg from the University
of Utrecht who calculated that adults who ate chicken and eggs
contaminated at 900 ppt would take in 100 times the amount
considered "safe" by the World Health Organization.

A 3-year-old child eating a single egg contaminated at 900 ppt
toxic equivalents would increase his or her total body burden of
dioxin equivalents by 20%, van der Berge calculated. He said this
would probably not be enough to cause cancer in humans "but could
affect neural and cognitive development, the immune system, and
thyroid and steroid hormones, especially in unborn and young
children," the NEW SCIENTIST reported.

Two weeks into the crisis, on June 13, the Belgian government
suffered a massive defeat in elections. The next day the WALL
STREET JOURNAL announced the debacle this way: "The center-left
coalition of Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene suffered a
devastating defeat in national elections Sunday, punished for its
handling of a food contamination scandal...." Mr. Dehaene
promptly resigned.

Clearly, the political hazards of a dioxin-contaminated food
supply were not lost on the permanent government in the U.S. Less
than a week after the initial revelations about dioxin in Belgian
foods, the WALL STREET JOURNAL began a campaign of

On June 7, the JOURNAL had one of its staff reporters, Stephen D.
Moore, try to reassure its readers under the headline, "Dioxins'
Risk to Humans is Difficult to Appraise."[4]

The opening paragraph of the story did not mention that dioxins
are toxic; it said dioxins are created by many industrial
processes but also "in compost heaps." How could anyone develop a
healthy respect for a chemical that originates in a pile of lawn
clippings? No one fears the familiar. Very effective propaganda.

In the second paragraph, the JOURNAL introduced the idea that
dioxins are toxic: "While there are dozens of different dioxins
and furans, a closely related family of molecules, only about a
half-dozen are toxic." Not true, but effective propaganda

Then the real point of Mr. Moore's work unfolds: a re-telling of
the story of the 1976 accident at a Hoffman-LaRoche pesticide
factory in Seveso, Italy, which spewed dioxin into the
surrounding community. "At Seveso, a cloud of chemicals
containing dioxin was released into the air and eventually
contaminated an area of 15 square kilometers with a population of
37,000 people," the JOURNAL said.

And what happened to these 37,000 people? The JOURNAL now quotes
Roche, the company that caused the accident: 447 citizens of
Seveso "developed skin injuries that healed within a few weeks."
And, "Another 193 people, mainly children, developed cases of
chloracne, a condition characterized by dark skin blotches, that
take months or even years to disappear." And that's the extent of
it. In the next sentence, the JOURNAL assures us that dioxin
caused no permanent injuries at Seveso: "The Italian government
has conducted studies of longer-term effects from the Seveso
accident. At least so far, there's no evidence of any significant
increase of miscarriages or cancer among local residents." Very
reassuring, but completely untrue.

Actually, the Italian government's chief researcher, Pier Alberto
Bertazzi, has published a series of studies in peer-reviewed
journals, beginning in 1993, showing that many people exposed to
dioxins at Seveso have suffered a variety of serious long-term
effects including increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease,
and cancer, including cancers of the stomach and rectum,
leukemias (cancer of the blood-forming cells), Hodgkin's disease,
and soft tissue sarcomas.[5]-8

Now the JOURNAL returns to the theme that dioxins are natural:
"Dioxins also can come from natural sources. One contamination
case in the U.S. a few years ago resulted from the use of clay as
a binder in chicken feed. American regulators eventually traced
the contaminated clay to a quarry in the state of Arkansas and
established that the source of the dioxins was prehistoric." [See
REHW #555.] In actual fact, American regulators did no such thing
-- they never did figure out where that dioxin came from -- but
this is unvarnished propaganda, and effective as such. \tab
Evidently not satisfied with this series of misrepresentations,
the WALL STREET JOURNAL on June 21 turned over its editorial page
to Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council on Science
and Health, a scheme-tank supported by the chemical industry. Ms.
Whelan is, frankly, one of the crudest and most shameless
dissemblers of our time. She launched her career as lapdog of the
permanent government by falsifying the history of Alar, the
cancer-causing farm chemical that used to be found in apple juice
intended for babies in the U.S., before the apple industry came
to its senses and swore off the poison in 1989. [See REHW

In the WALL STREET JOURNAL June 21, Ms. Whelan assured her
readers that "there was no evidence" of "health-threatening toxic
materials" in Belgian food. Oh? This is because, she says, "no
one has ever died or become chronically ill due to environmental
exposure [to dioxin]." Oh? The problem in Belgium is Belgium's
"unnnecessarily stringent laws," Ms. Whelan asserts.

The dioxin problem in Belgium was imaginary, Ms. Whelan assures
us. It "can be explained as an example of hysterical contagion,"
Ms. Whelan asserts. She then waxes academic, quoting a college
professor who says mass hysterias have been recorded throughout
European history. On this basis, Ms. Whelan concludes that the
fear of dioxin in Belgium is just like the Alar episode in the
U.S. in 1989 -- a make-believe problem.

It is interesting to us that the permanent government has to rely
on such crude misrepresentations to reassure its loyal followers
in the business community (those who read the op-ed page of the
WALL STREET JOURNAL and know themselves improved by it). To us it
means that the anti-dioxin campaign being conducted by
grass-roots activists in the U.S. [see REHW #479] is having a
good effect. No doubt the permanent government has reason to be
nervous: they have contaminated the U.S. food supply with
dangerous levels of dioxins and, as the Bible says, the truth
will set people free. [See REHW #414, #463, #636.]

[1] Lewis H. Lapham, "Lights, Camera, Democracy!" HARPER'S
MAGAZINE August 1996, pgs. 33-38, quoted with permission.

[2] Bette Hileman, "Belgium has a problem: Dioxin-tainted food,"
CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS June 14, 1999, pg. 9.

[3] Debora MacKenzie, "Recipe for disaster," NEW SCIENTIST No.
2190 (June 12, 1999), pg. 4.

[4] Craig R. Whitney, "Food Scandal Adds to Belgium's Image of
Disarray," NEW YORK TIMES June 9, 1999, pg. A4.

[5] Pier Alberto Bertazzi and others, "Cancer Incidence in a
Population Accidentally Exposed to
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-PARA-dioxin," EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 4
(September, 1993), pgs. 398-406.

[6] P.A. Bertazzi, "The Seveso studies on early and long-term
effects of dioxin exposure: a review," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
PERSPECTIVES Vol. 106 Supplement 2 (April 1998), pgs. 625-633.

[7] P.A. Bertazzi and others, "Dioxin exposure and cancer risk: a
15-year mortality study after the 'Seveso accident,'"
EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 8, No. 6 (November 1997), pgs. 646-652.

[8] A.C. Pesatori and others, "Dioxin exposure and non-malignant
health effects: a mortality study," OCCUPATIONAL AND
ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE Vol. 55, No. 2 (February 1998), pgs.

Descriptor terms:  dioxin; food safety; belgium;

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