Document Directory

08 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Pesticides found in supermarket vegetables
07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Radioactive discharge 'has not affected food'
07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 'Yoga has helped where traditional medicine failed'
07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride in water 'benefits health'
07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 'Hidden agenda' on fluoridation slammed
06 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride 'cuts tooth decay and fractures'
06 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride
05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Toxic fears over suntan lotions
05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Sun-care chemical proves toxic in lab tests
05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fruit sprayed with pesticide linked to food poisoning
05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl wheat 'is severely mutated'
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Sunscreens 'may be toxic'
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl radiation makes wheat mutate
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - One in three chicken pieces contain too much water
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 30% of frozen chickens 'exceed water level'
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - More fish than flesh in future diet
04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Taste of garlic can drive away cancers
02 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Scottish salmon farming has left the seas awash with toxic chemicals
28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Low fat milk could be dangerous
28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Skimmed milk 'has higher E.coli risk'
28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - 'Ignorance' of Greens berated by scientist
27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - E.coli kills farmer's daughter, two
27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Pork Sandwich 'May Have Caused Swine Fever Outbreak'
27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Skimmed milk may carry risk of bacteria
27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Stray meat snack may have caused swine fever outbreak
26 Sep 00 - Food Safety - First the good news...
22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Stricter food labelling sought
22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Power lines 'send cancer agents on the wind'
22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Tests back power line link to cancer
21 Sep 00 - Food Safety - New cancer link to power lines
20 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Less pesticide risk in tinned baby food than in fresh veg
20 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Pesticides found in third of foods

08 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Pesticides found in supermarket vegetables

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

Sunday Times ... Sunday 8 October 2000

Marks & Spencer has become a market leader - in pesticides. More than two-thirds of the fresh fruit and vegetables on sale in its stores contain residues of the chemicals , according to new government figures.

The research showed that some M&S products were almost always contaminated - every potato sampled had traces of the chemicals.

The figures are based on data collected by the government's working party on pesticide residues, which has just published its findings for foods bought in stores across Britain.

Most were below legal limits, but not all . One lettuce sample from Tesco contained five different pesticides, including three at levels exceeding the legal limit.

The research also found that:

All the celery from Somerfield contained residues , including carbendazim and vinclozolin which are suspected of being hormone disrupters. Another 77% of celery samples from Tesco and 80% from Asda contained pesticide residues.

Three samples of apples from Asda contained residues of chlorpyrifos - an organophosphate which is now severely restricted in America because of possible effects on child health.

Three-quarters of the strawberries from Sainsbury's contained residues.

The supermarket figures were extracted from the government research by Friends of the Earth (FoE) which also compared the figures with previous years. The research showed that, overall, more fresh fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets contains traces of pesticide than ever before. Somerfield had the highest at 70%, with M&S at 68% and Morrisons at 61% .

There is no evidence that low levels of such pesticides can harm people but scientists warn that being exposed to more and more of them - often in combination with others - is potentially dangerous.

The government's pesticides group tested more than 80,000 items and analysed their country of origin. It concluded that most of the chemicals were found on food imported from Europe - especially Spain , Holland , Belgium and France , where there was less public concern over food safety.

The results are bad news for M&S , which is attempting a wide-ranging relaunch. Food is included with promotional material describing the chain as "setting new standards in food safety, quality and scrumminess". However, the government research showed that the store's pears - along with those sold by many other chains - contain a controversial pesticide called chlormequat , which has been shown to damage the stomach linings of rats. A spokesman for the store said any traces of pesticides were far below harmful levels.

At Sainsbury's, four of the 200 products analysed had pesticide levels over the legal limits . A spokesman said this did not matter because legal limits were far below the level that could do harm.

"Sainsbury's suppliers use pesticides only where absolutely necessary. Suppliers are committed to natural farming methods such as biological controls, crop rotation and pest- resistant varieties to reduce the need for chemicals," he said.

Sandra Bell, real food campaigner for FoE, said: "Supermarkets should label products with pesticide residues even if they are well below the legal limit. We don't know everything about the effects of the pesticide cocktails in our food - but we know enough to be worried."

07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Radioactive discharge 'has not affected food'

By Andrea Babbington

Independent ... Saturday 7 October 2000

Food safety officials have confirmed that they undertook checks on milk and grass after a "higher than normal" radioactive discharge at a nuclear power station.

But the Food Standards Agency claimed the discharge, which occurred at Sizewell B near Southwold, Suffolk, last week, had had no effect on food .

(UK Corespondent's note: locally produced milk will almost certainly have a higher than acceptable radioactive iodine level, but this will be reduced by mixing it with uncontaminated milk. Radioactive iodine is concentrated in the body in the thyroid gland, children are most at risk. Concerned parents can obtain (non radioactive) potassium iodide tablets from chemists, which is harmless and saturates the thyroid, preventing the uptake of radioactive iodine.)

Environment Agency experts are also investigating the incident, which is said to have taken place during reactor refuelling and maintenance.

A Food Standards Agency spokesman said it decided on the checks after learning of a "higher than normal release of radioactive iodine from the plant" .

The spokesman said the main concern for public health was the possibility of the iodine entering the food chain by milk via cows grazing on contaminated pastures.

But he said that based on the results of the agency's tests, it appeared food had not been affected by the incident and there had been been no risk to public health through food."

The Food Standards Agency plans to continue to monitor radioactivity levels in the area as part of a routine monitoring programme.

An Environment Agency spokesman said it had been told of the discharge by Sizewell's operators, British Energy Generation.

07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 'Yoga has helped where traditional medicine failed'

Staff Reporter

Independent ... Saturday 7 October 2000

As an alternative to painkillers, physiotherapy or a consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon, patients of GPs in north-west London with back pain can now choose a course of yoga on the NHS instead.

The Yoga Therapy Centre, based in the Royal Homoeopathic hospital in London, has contracted to provide treatment to the Harrow and East Kingsbury Primary Care Group, covering 100,000 patients, and will run sessions at Edgware Community Hospital. Patients referred by their GPs will be entitled to a course of eight sessions paid for by the NHS.

John Mongston, 51, who has been going to the centre for two years, says that yoga classes have helped him more than any doctor could.

"I have got a couple of worn discs and I had been through the usual scenario of seeing doctors and physiotherapists but I didn't get anywhere. I come here once a week and I have found it very helpful. It has kept me more supple and stopped me stiffening up."

Mr Mongston, a carpet planner for a hotel chain, was a keen sportsman until his back problems restricted his activities. But, thanks to the yoga, he is now able to cycle, work out in the gym and go fell walking. "It has not been a cure but it has certainly helped me continue doing the things I like doing. Without yoga, I would have seized up."

Liz Taylor, his teacher, said yoga was a preventive measure as well as a treatment. "A lot of back pain is a structural problem owing to sitting badly for years. It retrains the muscle structure that has got into a bad setting. Relaxation is very important because back pain is very often associated with stress."

She added: "Yoga addresses problems at the deepest level. It gives you a different approach to life."

07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride in water 'benefits health'

Staff Reporter

BBC ... Saturday 7 October 2000

A major UK study has found that adding fluoride to water supplies does have significant health benefits.

The long-awaited research, by the NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), found that water fluoridation was linked to a reduction in tooth decay.

It also found no "clear evidence " that it was linked to any health problems - despite previous claims of a link to cancer , Downs Syndrome and the bone disease osteoarthritis .

The water companies themselves are keen to relinquish their statutory right to say whether water supplies should have fluoride added.

Water UK director of communciations, Barrie Clarke said: "This needs sorting out once and for all. Decisions on whether to fluoridate a water supply should rest entirely with the health authority."

However, the Department of Health, while welcoming the findings of the report, has stopped short of promising legislation.

And opponents of fluoridation claim the research is biased.

In a separate piece of research, US scientists have found that long-term exposure to fluoridation may reduce the risk of fractures of the hip and vertebrae in older women.

Fluoride reduces tooth decay

A 1999 White Paper on public health contained a pledge that if the CRD review confirmed the benefits of fluoridation, ministers would consider introducing a legal obligation on water companies to fluoridate water supplies - subject to agreement from the local population.

But Health Minister Lord Hunt said: "The findings show that water fluoridation improves dental health and the government will be encouraging health authorities with particular dental health problems to consider fluoridating their water.

"We will be having further discussions with the water companies and local authorities about water fluoridation."

Lord Hunt said further good quality research was required to strengthen the currently available evidence.

Study findings

The CRD study found that children living in fluoridated areas suffered an average of 15% less tooth decay compared to those living in non-fluoridated areas.

Children in fluoridated areas had a lower average number of decayed, missing and filled teeth, and a greater proportion were completely free of decay.

Jane Jones, Campaign for Pure Water, thinks this is mass medication without consent

The researchers also found that fluoridation did lead to an increased level of mottled teeth - a condition known as fluorosis .

The higher the concentration of fluoride in the water, the greater the number of people who suffered from the condition.

However, the researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, stress that fluorisis has no impact on health.

They found no clear evidence of other potential adverse affects.

Campaigners welcome report

The research was welcomed by the National Alliance for Equity in Dental Health.

It says young children living in the poorest, non-fluoridated communities continue to suffer unacceptably high levels of tooth decay.

Five-year-old children in non-fluoridated Manchester suffer three times more tooth decay and three times more extractions than those in Birmingham where the water has been fluoridated for almost 40 years.

The National Alliance issued a statement, in which it said: "The Alliance will now be pressing the government to act on its White Paper pledge to introduce new legislation to ensure that decisions about fluoridation are taken by local communities, not water companies."

At present, water companies have the final say about local fluoridation proposals due to a loophole in the 1985 Water (Fluoridation) Act.

Currently in the UK, only around 10% of the population benefit from a fluoridated water supply.

The BDA recommends that coverage in the UK should be extended to reach 25-30% of the population, and targeted to those areas where tooth decay rates are unacceptably high.

These areas include the West of Scotland, the North West and parts of the North East of England, parts of Wales, Inner London, and Northern Ireland.


Environmentalists oppose widespread water fluoridation on the grounds that it could damage the environment .

Jane Jones, director of the Campaign for Pure Water, told the BBC that the review had excluded many studies which indicated that fluoride damaged health .

She said: "Over 100 studies were submitted by parents of fluoride-poisoned children to the review and the criteria were narrowed and they were excluded - it is not good enough.

"This is mass medication without consent. People should call for a public inquiry."

A spokeswoman for the National Pure Water Association said the study had done little to prove the benefits of fluoridation.

She said: "The report shows that claimed reductions in tooth decay are infinitely less than the public has been told."

07 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 'Hidden agenda' on fluoridation slammed


PA News ... Saturday 7 October 2000

Scottish health minister Susan Deacon has been accused of having a "hidden agenda" after she welcomed a report which backed the fluoridation of water.

The independent report by researchers at York University found putting the chemical in water supplies cuts tooth decay and does not carry any risks to public health.

But Tory MSP Brian Monteith for Mid-Scotland and Fife said Ms Deacon has "a hidden agenda" on fluoridation and accused her of trying to "seduce" people into accepting the move.

Ms Deacon said: "This report gives us the clearest picture yet of the health effects of fluoridation. The report is clear that dental health improves where water is fluoridated.

"Over 200 individual studies of fluoridation have been reviewed in this study - the most comprehensive ever - and importantly the review found no evidence that fluoridation affects general health."

Ms Deacon said she would be issuing a major consultation document in the New Year which would ask the public for their views on how to improve Scotland's dismal dental record.

"I will be issuing in the New Year a wide-ranging document seeking views on the further measures that might be taken to improve oral health - including options for fluoridation of local public water supplies, fluoride tablets and fluoridated drinks," she said.

But Mr Monteith said: "Today's statement exposes Susan Deacon's 'hidden agenda' to fluoridate Scotland's public water supplies by trying to seduce us into accepting this as a panacea for dental health problems that are actually a personal and family responsibility.

"Over the next few weeks I will be asking a number of parliamentary questions in order to improve the information available to the public because international experience has shown that fluoridation has not only failed in many places, but has been withdrawn .

"This move to fluoridate also blows the cover for any ecologically green credentials that the Scottish Executive could claim to have."

06 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride 'cuts tooth decay and fractures'

By Celia Hall, Medical Editor

Telegraph ... Friday 6 October 2000

Adding fluoride to water cuts tooth decay in children and may help to strengthen older women's bones , researchers say today.

One study, carried out at York University, found on average a reduction of 15 per cent in decay in areas where water was fluoridated. It also found evidence of mottling of teeth, which people "would find aesthetically concerning". Lord Hunt, the health minister, welcomed the report and said he would encourage councils to fluoridate water.

A second study, at Oregon Health Services University in the United States, found that, of 9,000 women aged over 65, those who had lived in a fluoride area for 20 years had strong bones and a 31 per cent less chance of fracture .

The National Pure Water Association said the York report had ignored "100 scientific references" on the adverse effect of fluoride.

06 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fluoride

Julian Glover

Guardian ... Friday 6 October 2000

What is fluoride? Fluoride is a common chemical - in fact the 13th most common element on earth - and occurs naturally in almost all foods and water supplies. Levels of fluoride vary: some foods, such as tea and fish, contain quite high quantities and some water supplies have high natural concentrations.

What does it do to people?

In small quantities fluoride does not seem to harm people's health - though there have been claims that adding fluoride to people's diet is linked to increased risk of cancer , Downs Syndrome and the crippling bone disease osteoarthritis . In larger quantities scientists also believe that it can actually do good by making tooth enamel more resistant to attack by the acids formed by sugar.

Are they sure?

A report from the University of York has been published which promises to be "the final word" on the subject. It found that children given extra fluoride had around 2.5 fewer decayed, missing or filled teeth than everyone else. That's the good news. The bad is that the study found a "strong association" between taking extra fluoride and a disease called "dental fluorosis" , which causes permanently mottled teeth . But the study said there was no strong evidence that adding fluoride created any other adverse effects, such as cancer or an increased risk of bone fractures.

Interesting. But why is fluoride a big issue?

Because for many years dentists have campaigned for fluoride to be added to water supplies, in order to improve people's teeth. Fluoride is already added to water supplies in 60 countries worldwide. In the US 145 million people are exposed to treated water supplies. About 10% of the UK population drinks artificially fluoridated water, mainly in the Midlands and the North East.

How is this done?

Fluoride is added to the water supplies at the treatment plant via two chemicals (hexafluorosilicic acid or disodium hexafluorosilicate) which contain the element. In Britain, the cost is met by the NHS.

What has the response been?

Many people object to fluoridation, partly on health grounds but mainly because they believe that individuals should be left to decide whether or not they want to take fluoride, not have the substance fed to them in tap water without being consulted. This opposition is the reason that most British water is left untreated.

05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Toxic fears over suntan lotions

Press Association

Guardian ... Thursday 5 October 2000

A chemical used in 90% of suntan lotions worldwide might be toxic , according to new research by a team of Norwegian scientists.

And exposure to the sun could make the UVB filter octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) even more deadly , according to a report published in New Scientist magazine.

Tests conducted by the Norwegian radiation protection authority found that half of mouse cells died when they came into contact with a weak dose of OMC, at a much lower concentration than is used in most of the world's sunscreens.

Shining a lamp on the OMC-impregnated cells, to simulate sunshine, made the chemical twice as deadly.

NRPA biophysicist Terji Christensen warned sunbathers to use sunscreens with caution.

The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association said OMC had been "thoroughly tested for safety".

05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Sun-care chemical proves toxic in lab tests

By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent

Times ... Thursday 5 October 2000

The main chemical used in sun lotions to filter out ultraviolet light may be toxic, particularly when exposed to sunshine .

Octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), which is present in 90 per cent of sunscreen brands , was found to kill mouse cells even at low doses in a study by Norwegian scientists.

It is not certain that the effects on mice are repeated in human beings, although the findings reported in New Scientist magazine suggest that human cells could be damaged if a sunscreen containing OMC penetrates the outer layer of dead skin and comes into contact with living tissue.

Terje Christensen, a biophysicist from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, near Oslo, said her research showed that sunscreens should be treated with caution, and used only when it was impractical to stay indoors or to shield the skin from the sun with clothes.

The chemical is used as a filter for the more harmful UVB light. In Dr Christensen's study, mouse tissue grown in culture was treated with a solution of OMC at five parts per million - a much lower concentration than in sunscreens. Half the cells treated with OMC died, compared with fewer than 10 per cent in a control experiment.

When researchers shone a lamp for two hours to simulate midday sunshine, more cells died. Dr Christensen suggested that the reaction between OMC and sunlight created an effect that was twice as toxic as the chemical alone.

The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association, which represents sunscreen manufacturers in Britain, said that OMC "has been thoroughly tested for safety" and was approved by regulatory authorities in Europe and the US.

05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Fruit sprayed with pesticide linked to food poisoning

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Thursday 5 October 2000

Unwashed fresh fruit and vegetables sprayed with pesticide could be responsible for passing on food-poisoning bacteria , say Canadian researchers who found that dangerous bugs multiplied in the solutions sprayed on crops .

Simple rinsing of produce under a tap "does little to remove harmful bacteria" , said the scientist who led the research. He recommends a good scrubbing with soap and water.

Fears about such food-borne poisoning has recently led to a boom in domestic products that can thoroughly wash all sorts of vegetables and fruit - including hand-operated spin dryers to remove any trace of contaminants.

Such action is necessary because bacteria such as salmonella , listeria and E.coli 0157 can all thrive in the presence of some fungicides and insecticides that are officially approved for use on raw fruit , said Greg Blank and his colleagues at the University of Manitoba.

Dr Blank, of the university's department of food science, was intrigued by the growth in the number of cases of food poisoning attributed to fresh produce, New Scientist magazine reports today. So he set up an experiment to replicate the effect of a farmer using bacteria-contaminated water to mix his sprays.

The results were alarming : "Numbers [of bacteria] could increase one-thousandfold ," he reported. The bacteria thrived on about one-third of the pesticides approved for use.

However, the Canadian work was criticised by Ross Dyer, the technical manager of the Crop Protection Association in Britain. He said that any such problem would be caused by the contaminated water - and that, rather than the use of pesticides per se, was the weakness. "If the water supply is contaminated, it's that that's supplying the bacteria in the first place," he said.

But Dr Blank said: "You have to be careful where you buy. Some farmers use green, uncomposted manure to fertilise fields . You don't have to be a rocket scientist to realise that that's going to lead to contamination." E.coli 0157 , in particular, is passed on from animals' faeces and can cause kidney failure or even death in people.

Although Dr Blank has not concluded research to find out how long the bacteria survive in the food production chain, he is concerned enough that he treats all his vegetables with suspicion until they are thoroughly washed.

05 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl wheat 'is severely mutated'

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Independent ... Thursday 5 October 2000

Plants growing near to the stricken nuclear plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine have been found with six times the amount of genetic damage compared to normal flora.

Scientists believe the findings may indicate that ionising radiation may be far more damaging to the genetic make-up of plants than previously thought.

Olga Kovalchuk, of the Friedrich Miescher Institute in Basel, Switzerland, and the lead author of the study published in the journal Nature, said that wheat plants were deliberately grown in the most heavily contaminated areas of the 30-kilometre exclusion zone enforced around Chernobyl after the 1986 disaster.

Scientists compared the mutations in the DNA of the plants with wheat grown in a noncontaminated region outside the exclusion zone.

"Our findings raise the important issue of the genetic hazard of chronic radiation exposure. The results of our study suggest that chronic exposure to ionising radiation is more mutagenic than previously thought," said Ms Kovalchuk. It is not known whether the genetic damage had any lasting effect on the wheat.

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Sunscreens 'may be toxic'


BBC News ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

A chemical used in most sunscreens to protect against skin cancer could damage human cells , according to a study.

Research carried out in Norway found that octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC), which is used in 90% of sun creams to protect against ultra violet rays, could be harmful if it seeps into a person's blood stream.

The scientists based their findings on tests they carried out on mice.

They added small concentrations of the chemical to an ethyl alcohol solution containing mouse cells.

They found that while over 90% of the cells survived when put in this solution, half were killed when the OMC was added.

They then place the solution under a lamp for two hours to simulate the effects of the chemical in sunshine.

Under these conditions, the chemical was found to kill even more mouse cells.

The scientists, from the Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, suggest that this is because the chemical becomes twice as toxic when it comes into contact with light.

They add that the chemical could damage human cells if it penetrates the skin and warn the public only to use sunscreens that contain OMC when they have no other choice.

But the findings of the study have been dismissed by the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, which represents sunscreen manufacturers in Britain.

OMC has been approved for use as a sunscreen for many years and has been thoroughly tested for safety said a spokeswoman for the Cosmetic Toiletry & Perfumery Association, the findings could not be applied to people who use sunscreens normally.

She added that the chemical had been "thoroughly tested" and was approved by authorities in the UK and US.

"OMC is approved and listed in the Cosmetics Directive and is also approved in the Food and Drugs Administration Sunscreen Monograph in the USA as a safe and effective sunscreen.

"OMC has been approved for use as a sunscreen for many years and has been thoroughly tested for safety."

Advice Dr Charlotte Proby, a consultant dermatologist with the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said: "It is difficult to extrapolate from laboratory experiments in mice to humans out in the sun.

"Undoubtedly the best advice is to avoid the sun and cover up with clothing, and wear a hat and sun-glasses.

"However, using sunscreens to prevent sun damage to cells is likely to reduce the risk of skin cancer development, and is far better than not using any sun protection at all."

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Chernobyl radiation makes wheat mutate

By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

BBC News ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

Scientists say plants exposed to radiation near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant show "unusually high" mutation rates .

The plants' mutation rates were six times higher than normal, the result of some unknown effects of low-level chronic exposure to radiation.

The scientists say it is possible that other organisms, including humans, could be affected in the same way.

They are calling for more research into the genetic effects of chronic radiation exposure.

The work of the scientists, from Ukraine, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, is reported in the magazine Nature.

Huge difference

They planted identical crops of wheat, one in a heavily-contaminated plot inside the 30 km exclusion zone around the Chernobyl plant, and the other at a clean site just outside the zone.

In one generation, the space of 10 months, the wheat grown inside the zone showed a pace of genetic change more than six times higher than the other crop.

Dr Olga Kovalchuk, of the Friedrich Miescher Institute in the Swiss city of Basel, said the team had looked at mutations in microsatellite loci - the stretches of non-coded genetic material with no known function, sometimes called "junk DNA".

The study did not look at any mutating effect on genes. But Dr Kovalchuk said the team thought, because of the increase in mutations, that there could also be an increase in the rest of the genome.

Dr Yuri Dubrova, of the genetics department at the University of Leicester in the UK, said the plants grown on the contaminated plot had been exposed to relatively low rates of ionising radiation.

These, he said, "theoretically should not result in such a large increase in the mutation rate".

"The results of our study therefore point at as yet unknown effects of low-dose chronic exposure to ionising radiation, which make it substantially more mutagenic than previously thought.

"Future studies are clearly needed."


Dr Dubrova told BBC News Online: "I wish I knew whether our findings were applicable to other organisms, including humans.

"Probably you can't extrapolate them to human populations. But without more work we can't be sure.

"You certainly could not expect this sort of mutation rate after exposure at this low level, and it has to be explained.

"One possible explanation - and it is speculative - is that over a 10-month period the damage to the plant might be so small that the DNA repair system simply failed to recognise it."

Chernobyl's number four reactor was destroyed in an accident on 26 April 1986, and 31 people are officially listed as having died from the resulting radiation.

But unofficial estimates say the numbers killed by the indirect effects of the accident are anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000.

Long-term problem

Ukraine says it will close the plant for good on 15 December. Western countries have promised $1.5bn to pay for the shutdown and for the completion of two new reactors elsewhere in the country.

Earlier this year UK and Dutch experts said the restrictions in place on food grown around Chernobyl might have to remain in force for half a century , because the radiation was clearing so slowly.

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - One in three chicken pieces contain too much water

By Celia Hall

Telegraph ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

Nearly a third of fresh and frozen chicken breasts and thighs sold in British shops contain more water than allowed by European Union rules , says a survey by the Food Standards Agency.

In some cases they had 17 times more than the permitted amount . Some water absorption is inevitable in chilling and freezing processes when chickens are cooled in water. The EU says that between two per cent and seven per cent of water is allowed , depending on the method used.

The agency said today that the problem was complicated by the two approved methods for checking water levels. Results did not match. As a result shops might not be aware that their chicken contained too much water.

For the survey, 245 whole fresh chickens, 245 whole frozen chickens and 1,000 chicken parts were bought from a shops, supermarkets and cash and carry outlets across the country, between last December and January. Suzi Leather, the agency's deputy chairman, said: "Some levels found in chickens and chicken pieces are completely unacceptable . We will be pushing for changes in EU procedures as a matter of urgency."">

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Garlic 'may help fight two cancers'

By David Derbyshire, Medical Correspondent

Telegraph ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

Garlic can protect against two common cancers , according to new research.

People who eat the pungent cloves regularly face half the risk of stomach cancer and two thirds the risk of bowel cancer compared with people who avoid garlic. But there is little evidence that garlic supplements have a similar protective effect, the team from the University of North Carolina found.

The researchers, led by Dr Lenore Arab, professor of epidemiology and nutrition, examined all the published research on garlic and cancer. After reviewing 300 scientific papers, he pooled the results from the most rigorous 22 studies.

Dr Arab, who published the meta analysis in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The team looked at studies from Argentina, China, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the USA said: "There seems to be a strong, consistent, protective effect for people who are regular garlic consumers ."

Scientists suspect that a compound in garlic called allium has anti-bacterial effects against Helicobacter pylori , a bacterium found in the stomach which is linked to stomach cancer.

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - 30% of frozen chickens 'exceed water level'

James Meikle

Guardian ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

Nearly a third of frozen chickens on sale in Britain contain more than the EU limit on added water , the food standards agency said yesterday.

It also reported "completely unacceptable" water levels in chicken portions during checks conducted by government officials nine months ago.

They found offenders among both home -produced meat and imports , where previously frozen products sold as fresh contained as much as 37% added water .

Suzi Leather, the agency's deputy chairman, said: "The bottom line is that in too many cases, consumers are paying for water when they should be paying for chicken...

"The main problem is that the legislation in this field appears to be incomplete and inconsistent."

She added: "We will be pushing for changes in EU procedures as a matter of urgency."

Frozen chicken is allowed to contain up to 7% water depending on the method used for freezing, but 30% of those bought from supermarkets, cash and carries, butchers and other outlets, exceeded this limit .

Samples from Britain's largest producer, Grampian County Food Group , recorded readings as high as 16% extra water .

Several imports from France , including some on sale in Sainsbury's, also greatly exceeded permitted levels .

Out of 1,000 chicken parts analysed, 17% had added water content of between 2% and 17% . Producers represented by the British Poultry Meat Federation pointed out that the agency had only used one of the two available tests for frozen chicken, and there was a discrepancy with results from checks made by manufacturers.

Frozen chicken accounts for less than 10% of chicken consumed in the UK, while fresh whole chicken and portions account for another 40%. Most of the remainder is contained in prepared meals.

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - More fish than flesh in future diet

Paul Brown

Guardian ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

Fish farming will soon be feeding more people than cattle ranching , according to the think tank the Worldwatch Institute.

Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, climbing from 13m tonnes of fish produced in 1990 to 31m in 1998 and increasing at 11% a year.

Cattle ranching, which produces four-fifths of the world's beef, tripled production in the 40 years to 1990 but has run out of productive land , and the figure remains static.

The report says the real test for future production comes because cattle need seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef while fish need only two pounds to gain a pound in weight. It also requires more water to keep cattle alive than fish - even taking into account the need for fish tanks and ponds.

With overfishing of ocean stocks now commonplace, developing countries are turning to fish farming to satisfy their growing appetite for seafood.

Fish farming is expected to double in size over the next 10 years.

The report says that a world that is reaching the limits with both oceanic fisheries and rangelands while adding 80m people each year needs efficient new sources of animal protein. Furthermore, herbivorous species of fish such as carp, grown in China in paddies, offer an efficient way of expanding animal protein supplies.

The report adds that while fish farming is not a solution to the world food problem, it does offer a potential source of low-cost animal protein for lower income populations.

04 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Taste of garlic can drive away cancers

By Mark Henderson, Science Correspondent

Times ... Wednesday 4 October 2000

People who regularly eat raw or cooked garlic have half the risk of developing stomach cancer and two-thirds the risk of getting colorectal cancer as those who eat little or none, a study by American scientists has found.

Garlic food supplements taken as capsules are not effective , researchers from the University of North Carolina said. They did not know why the natural form was so much more beneficial.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, pulled more than 300 scientific papers together to develop a clearer picture of factors that affect cancer and heart disease. The data from 22 papers provided "overwhelming evidence" that garlic protects against both kinds of cancer .

"There seems to be a strong, consistent, protective effect for people who are regular garlic consumers," Lenore Arab, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the University of North Carolina, said.

"It doesn't matter if they are consuming garlic in China or the USA, the effect is still there."

The evidence was strong enough to show a concrete link only to colorectal and stomach cancer, but it may also protect against other types of tumours , scientists believe. Professor Arab said garlic supplements could be ineffective because active ingredients were destroyed in processing.

02 Oct 00 - Food Safety - Scottish salmon farming has left the seas awash with toxic chemicals

By Severin Carrell

Independent ... Monday 2 October 2000

Scottish salmon, the fish which has gone from being a luxury to the ubiquitous filler of sandwiches and supermarket fish counters, is in trouble.

Environmentalists have accused the salmon farming industry of poisoning shellfish stocks , thus creating toxic algal blooms around the coast which threaten the survival of wild salmon stocks . Fish farms have also been accused of using illegal toxic chemicals , leading to criminal inquiries by environmental regulators. Mass escapes of farmed fish have also led to claims that these will irrevocably damage the country's wild stocks .

As a result, two committees of the Scottish Parliament have begun a joint inquiry into allegations that salmon farming - a booming industry which employs 6,500 people in the Highlands and Islands and earns 260m a year - is wrecking the environment .

Salmon farming has become a multi-national industry over the past two decades and is now dominated by companies such as Norsk Hydro in Norway, and Marine Harvest in the Netherlands.

In 1980, Scottish fish farms produced roughly 800 tons of fish. The latest annual figures put wild salmon catches at 198 tons, compared with 127,000 tons of farmed salmon produced by 340 farms dotted around the coast of Scotland, from Campbeltown in Argyll to Sutherland on the North Sea.

Faced with such a sudden growth, some regulators believe the industry is in danger of upsetting Scotland's delicate marine environment . Balancing the environmental issues against the industry's economic value will be a key task for the parliamentary inquiry. At the same time, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) is preparing to tighten its already strict rules on the location of salmon farms, their use of restricted chemicals, and their discharge of waste into the seas.

Under a stricter system of regulations aiming to combat an increase in pollution incidents, the agency has threatened to revoke licences and relocate fish farms. Eventually, its officials believe, the parliamentary inquiry could oppose the industry's further expansion unless it improves its waste technologies and its environmental record .

But the green movement's charges have been dismissed by the industry as unsubstantiated or even malicious. Lord Jamie Lindsay, a Scottish Office environment minister under the last Tory government, who now heads the main industry association, Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS), agreed that the industry is now under intense pressure to improve. But he insists its record is generally very good.

"Sensitivity towards the environment demands the highest possible practices," he said. "We recognise that simply complying with legal minimum requirements isn't good enough. Our sustainability strategy is leading to a level of discipline and quality which will guarantee a sustainable future."

Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth Scotland believes recent events justify its criticisms. In July, one company was expelled from SQS and stripped of its "Tartan Quality Mark" after two former workers signed affidavits alleging that the company had illegally used two toxic chemicals - ivermectin and cypermethrin - to combat sea-lice . While legal in its correct formulation, the company allegedly used a cypermethrin product designed for horses .

Ten days ago, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) said it had found levels of ivermectin , a banned neuroinsecticide , four times above official "action levels" in three samples of farmed salmon out of the 30 fish tested.

Using for the first time the statutory powers introduced in 1998, Sepa and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries have launched a criminal inquiry into the new discovery, which could lead to prosecutions. One source said the regulators had a simple policy: "Using inappropriate chemicals and medicines has the potential to do real environmental damage... We will prosecute if we find enough evidence."

Kevin Dunion, the director of FoE Scotland, believes there are even more worrying statistics. The Salmon and Trout Association has reported 30 mass escapes of farmed salmon over the past three years, with at least 500,000 fish escaping this year . These larger, quicker-growing fish are interbreeding with wild stocks at a time when "wild" catches in Scotland have fallen by nearly 40 per cent from 1998 to 1999. Last year's 198-ton catch was the lowest on record .

FoE Scotland also supports concerns over fish farming's alleged links to algal blooms , which were raised by Alan Berry, a former shellfish farmer from Beauly, near Inverness, in his petition to the Scottish Parliament which led to the latest committee inquiry.

Fish farms are also being blamed for increasing levels of nitrogen in the ocean. In the past two years, Sepa has detected 26 effluent pollution leaks , often involving nitrogen-rich fish droppings , compared with only nine in the previous two years. Naturally-occurring algae feed on this nitrogen and grow into large toxic blooms that help to close down other fisheries. Experiments by the government's Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen have found that, in laboratory studies, legal chemicals such as azamethiphos and cypermet thrin can create an imbalance between plankton and algae populations, producing toxins such as diarrhetic shellfish poisoning or amnesic shellfish poisoning .

Neither of these theories has been proved and Sepa officials remain sceptical about their accuracy, but other studies suggest ammonia in droppings stimulates the growth of another toxin, paralytic shellfish poisoning. Last week, there were 65 separate bans on the harvesting and farming of queen scallops, scallops, mussels and oysters across the Western Isles and mainland coast. Most of the bans were close to fish farms.

While Mr Dunion stressed that these issues pose no real risk to consumers' health, Sepa and the Scottish executive now recognise that salmon farming does threaten the wider environment .

"The industry will soon be operating in a much less forgiving regulatory regime," he said. "Also, consumers want to buy a quality product from sea to plate which doesn't do much damage. I think salmon is becoming a degraded product for consumers and food writers."

Yet fish farmers such as Nick Joy, whose company - Loch Duart Ltd, in Sutherland, north-east Scotland - employs 26 people, insists such claims are false or exaggerated. Algal blooms and the decline in fish numbers have occurred naturally for decades, he said, for a wide range of unrelated and more complex factors.

He has a thriving mussel farm next to his fish cages and two neighbouring salmon rivers, which have reported the best catches since the 1950s. He employs one person full time to deal with nine separate regulatory agencies and their strict licensing conditions. Despite its regular testing regime, the VMD has uncovered contaminated samples of fish on only two occasions since 1995, which proves how false FoE Scotland's allegations are, he said.

He added: "I'm passionate about this industry, and I think we have a very good story to tell. It's far better that we end up with some sort of public inquiry to show what utter drivel these people are talking."

According to Lord Lindsay, the Scottish Parliament investigation will serve to focus minds on the most critical issue of all: finding a proper balance between protecting the environment and supporting a valuable rural industry.

"Our success to date should bode well for the future because the global demand for fisheries products by 2010 is going to be massive, and aqua-culture worldwide has to step in and take up that demand - because the oceans have no hope of doing so," he said. "Aqua-culture has an enormous contribution to make, and Scotland has proven in the past that it can compete on grounds of quality in that market."

28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Low fat milk could be dangerous

Staff Reporter

Guardian ... Thursday 28 September 2000

Drinking low fat milk could make people more vulnerable to food poisoning bacteria such as E coli , according to findings published yesterday.

Large dairies that supply supermarkets use modern equipment which eliminates dangerous bacteria, but most smaller dairies use machines built before skimmed milk became popular.

Anita Rampling, researcher at the public health laboratory service, said these dairies altered their machines to skim off the cream in such a way that the milk was no longer pasteurised properly .

She and a colleague, Melody Greenwood, reported in New Scientist magazine that two farms where the machinery had been modified were found to have inadequately treated milk .

Ms Rampling said: "These machines weren't designed to separate the milk during the pasteurisation process."

She believed the problem was compounded by the way milk was checked to ensure pasteurisation had worked. The test looked for phosphatase, an enzyme supposed to be destroyed during pasteurisation, but it tended to bind to the fat in milk, most of which went when the cream was skimmed off.

This meant that low fat milk could test negative for the enzyme, even if it was not pasteurised properly.

28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Skimmed milk 'has higher E.coli risk'

By Robert Uhlig, Technology Correspondent

Telegraph ... Thursday 28 September 2000

Skimmed milk is more likely to harbour bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli than full-fat milk , scientists disclosed yesterday.

Anita Rampling, of the Public Health Laboratory Service, said many smaller dairies used machines built before skimmed milk became popular. These dairies skimmed off the cream and failed to pasteurise the remaining milk properly.

Miss Rampling investigated two farms with a colleague where the machinery had been modified, but subsequently failed a test to detect inadequately treated milk . She said: "The flow-rate is speeded up, so the milk is not held at high temperature for long enough."

The problem was compounded by the way milk was tested after the pasteurisation process. The test looked for phosphatase, an enzyme supposed to be destroyed during the pasteurisation process.

However, the phosphatase tended to bind to the fat in milk, most of which was removed when the cream was skimmed off, so that low-fat milk could test negative for the enzyme even if it was not pasteurised properly.

A Food Standards Agency spokesman said: "There have been problems with on-farm pasteurisation in the past, but we are not aware of this particular problem." Ted Langridge, an independent food science consultant, said the law should be changed to ensure that all milk underwent a more rigorous test.

28 Sep 00 - Food Safety - 'Ignorance' of Greens berated by scientist

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

Telegraph ... Thursday 28 September 2000

An independent scientist revered by Green groups attacks them today for their stance on nuclear power and GM food.

James Lovelock, 81, who is best known for his Gaia theory and the many environmental prizes he has won, said: "Too many Greens are not just ignorant of science, they hate science."

Named after the Greek goddess of Earth by the novelist William Golding, Gaia theory says that creatures, rocks, air and water interact in subtle ways to ensure the environment remains stable. Gaia has exerted great influence on the Green movement, but in Homage to Gaia: The Life of an Independent Scientist, published today, Lovelock says that he has "never been wholly on the side of environmentalism".

He likens Greens to "some global over-anxious mother figure who is so concerned about small risks that she ignores the real dangers". He wished they "would grow up" and focus on the real problem: "How can we feed, house and clothe the abundant human race without destroying the habitats of other creatures?"

Unlike most Greens, Lovelock backs nuclear energy. "Some time in the next century, when the adverse effects of climate change begin to bite, people will look back in anger at those who now so foolishly continue to pollute by burning fossil fuel instead of accepting the beneficence of nuclear power.

"Is our distrust of nuclear power and genetically modified food soundly based?" he asks, saying that his disenchantment with the Green movement is similar to that of Patrick Moore, the veteran environmentalist who accused it of abandoning science. "He was a founder of Greenpeace, but like me has an Orwellian view of the environmental lobbies as they are today."

One reason why Lovelock regards the Green movement "with mixed vexation and affection" is its obsession with the chemical industry. "To many Greens, if a chemical like methyl iodide or carbon disulphide comes from some dark satanic mill, it is by nature evil, but if it comes from organically grown or natural seaweed, it must be good and healthy. To me, as a scientist, it does not matter where it comes from. I am poisoned if I eat too much of it."

27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - E.coli kills farmer's daughter, two

By Tara Womersley

Telegraph ... Wednesday 27 September 2000

A farmer's daughter has died of E.coli 0157 . Amy Jones, two, died in intensive care at Yorkhill Hospital for Sick Children in Glasgow.

Officials said it was an isolated case. Environmental health officers are understood to be carrying out tests at her parents' farm, at South Bogiehead, Alva. Early indications are that the source of the E.coli contamination is not food. Investigations are concentrating on water supplies .

Dr Arun Mukarjee, Consultant in Public Health at Grampian Health Board, said that there was no risk to other people. Amy is believed to have become ill on Sunday, Sept 17. She died on Thursday.

It is the third case of E.coli 0157 in the area in just over a year . Ryan Gray, eight, of Whitehills, had to be given kidney dialysis after contracting it at a Scout camp in New Deer in May.

Around 50 of the 300 at the Millennium Camp complained of feeling unwell. The source was traced to sheep droppings . In June 1999, 34 adults and children in Macduff contracted E.coli 0157 after eating home-made goat's milk cheese .

27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Pork Sandwich 'May Have Caused Swine Fever Outbreak'

From the Press Association

Guardian ... Wednesday 27 September 2000

The classical swine fever outbreak that threatened to cripple Britain's pig industry could have been caused by a discarded pork sandwich , it has emerged.

Ministry of Agriculture officials said they may never know the exact cause of the outbreak at a breeding centre in Norfolk, but it was from "some form of discarded pork product".

The confirmation of classical swine fever in August was the first outbreak of the highly infectious disease in Britain for 14 years.

Maff epidemiologist Hugh Morris said that thorough investigation of more likely sources such as pig, vehicle and people movements showed the only way the Far Eastern strain of the disease could have entered the pig herd was through consumption of a processed meat product .

A Maff spokeswoman said: "We believe we have found the source of the outbreak and that it had been down to some form of discarded pork product .

"The pig that first came down with this was in a field close to a public footpath. The most likely scenario is that it was caused by an infected pork product discarded by a passer-by . It could have been a pork pie or a Chinese sausage.

"It might have been a sandwich picked up by a seagull from a beach a few miles away and then dropped. We will never know where it came from but it's a possibility," she added.

Maff have said there were 14 cases of the disease across Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex in the past two months. A total of 35,000 pigs confirmed with the disease have been slaughtered and a further 15,687 pigs classed as being at a very high risk have also been put down . Essex was declared clear of the disease by officials last week.

The disclosure of the possible cause of the outbreak has "appalled" livestock farmers, according to the Country Landowners Association.

Deputy director of policy for the CLA Dr Alan Woods said: "It again underscores the message that people visiting the countryside may not understand the dangers that lie in the most innocent-seeming actions and which can lead to widespread animal slaughter and the disruption or even bankruptcy of farming businesses."

27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Skimmed milk may carry risk of bacteria

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Independent ... Wednesday 27 September 2000

Drinking low-fat rather than full-fat milk may seem like the healthy option - but it could lay you low with food-borne bacteria such as E.coli , the Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) has warned.

The risk comes from smaller dairies which use machines built before skimmed milk became popular. Anita Rampling of the PHLS told its annual meeting that while larger dairies which supply supermarkets do use modern equipment which eliminates potentially harmful bacteria, the older systems at smaller companies skim off the cream in a way that means the milk is not pasteurised properly .

In the pasteurisation process, milk is heated to 72.5C and then chilled rapidly to 4C. The heating destroys most of the bacteria, and the rapid cooling prevents those that remain from multiplying.

But New Scientist magazine reports today that Ms Rampling and her colleague Melody Greenwood investigated two farms where the machinery had been modified to produce low-fat milk. These subsequently failed a test which detects inadequately treated milk. Ms Rampling said: "The flow-rate is speeded up, so the milk is not held at high temperature for long enough. These machines weren't designed to separate the milk during the pasteurisation process."

She said the problem was compounded by the way milk was checked to ensure pasteurisation had worked. The test looked for phosphatase, an enzyme which should be destroyed during pasteurisation. However, phosphatase tends to bind to the fat in milk, most of which is lost when the cream is skimmed off - so low-fat milk could test negative for the enzyme even if it is not safe .

A Food Standards Agency spokeswoman said: "There have been problems with on-farm pasteurisation in the past. But we are not aware of this particular problem." Any dairies which did not pasteurise their milk properly could, ultimately, be shut down, she added.

27 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Stray meat snack may have caused swine fever outbreak

By Severin Carrell

Independent ... Wednesday 27 September 2000

The outbreak of swine fever in East Anglia which has caused destruction of more than 50,000 pigs has been traced to a sow which probably ate a discarded ham sandwich or pork pie .

Investigators with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries (Maff) are certain the outbreak, first in Britain for 14 years, was caused by an imported meat product which probably used pork from Asia.

Their discoveries rule out earlier claims from the European Commission that the source of the outbreak could have been imported Asian wild boars. The investigators said the outbreak was based on a random chain of events which still remains unclear.

A Maff spokesman said the pig involved could have snapped up discarded food brought over the farm by a seagull scavenging at a nearby waste tip, or a rambler using a nearby path could have have thrown away a half-eaten sandwich or pie.

"We believe it came from an imported meat product and that it can't have come from an animal movement," he said. "But what kind of pork product it was, or how it was eaten by the pig, we just don't know."

Scientists have isolated the strain of swine fever to a variety first seen in Europe when it was imported eight years ago to Switzerland from China. The strain had never appeared in the Netherlands or Low Countries.

The British outbreak, which began on 8 August, has also been traced to one sow, number 857Y, in a paddock at a farm near Quidenham in Norfolk. She littered 12 piglets, eight of which died within the first week with the remainder suckled by other sows, spreading the disease. The sow also infected other pigs.

The National Pig Association said yesterday's figures put the number of pigs slaughtered at 50,700 . Stock is still being slaughtered at 19 farms, with 13 affected by the disease. Pig transportation is banned across large areas of Norfolk and Suffolk. At the height of the crisis, which spread to Essex, 144 farms were affected.

Ian Campbell, an association spokesman, said it was unlikely the crisis would end before Christmas because it was still spreading. The major risk was that a third wave of infection could emerge, he said.

26 Sep 00 - Food Safety - First the good news...

Guardian ... Tuesday 26 September 2000

A reassuring new government report on the contamination of food by pesticides is not telling the whole story, says John Vidal

You can't see, taste or smell them, but the pesticide residues found in almost all meat, fruit, veg, milk and poultry are consistently one of the public's greatest environmental and health concerns . Now the Ministry of Agriculture has come up with an alternately reassuring and worrying report.

The good news is that Professor Ian Shaw, outgoing chair of the pesticides residues committee, believes that the short-term effects of the minute doses of poisons we consume with many foods are so low as to be of "no concern". His team took 2,300 random samples from shops and suppliers and analysed them for more than 85,000 pesticide/commodity combinations.

Less than 1.6% had residues above the minimum recommended levels, and less than 1% had residues of pesticides banned from the UK. The sampling was deliberately biased towards common foods and fruits that were most likely to be contaminated.

And the worrying news? There's plenty. A few thousand samples from the many hundreds of thousands of tons of food sold every year in Britain may be statistically slight, but 1% of samples translates into a great number of potential poisoning incidents.

To give an indication, official figures from the US - where sensitivity to pesticide residues is far higher and regulatory standards generally tighter - suggest that 74,000 children were involved in pesticide-related poisonings in 1994. Adjusting populations, this could mean that something like 20,000 children in Britain are being poisoned to some degree each year.

Secondly, testing pesticides for their impact on health is inexact and, critics say, flawed. Many of the thousands of pesticides routinely applied to food cannot be easily detected by government laboratories. Few have been tested on humans, and almost nothing is known about potential effects on the immune system. The US National Academy of Sciences has estimated that the data needed to conduct a thorough assessment of the health effects of pesticides is available for only 10% of the ingredients used.

The third and most worrying point is that toxicologists such as Shaw admit they haven't much of a clue about the long-term effects of residues. Many foods are laced with not just one pesticide, but many. How they interact and perhaps accumulate, and the effects they may have on humans, remains a mystery . The Food Standards Agency is setting up a working group to investigate the impact of cumulative exposure.

A further cause for concern is that children are most at risk . They have unique vulnerabilities because their excretory systems are not fully developed and they are not always able to fully remove pesticides from their bodies.

Another area for concern is the globalisation of the food industry. Britain is importing more and more food, often from countries without strictly monitored pesticide regulations and grown by farmers who may be untrained in agri-chemical use. Furthermore, pesticides banned from use in this country may still be legally used overseas.

It is not easy for the consumer. Cooking, washing and peeling food normally minimises the level of pesticide residues on foods, but not all, especially those grown with "systemic" pesticides - those that are absorbed into the plant. Some residues have been shown to concentrate, not diminish, through cooking and processing. Labelling is nonexistent.

Governments, and the increasingly allied chemical and food industries, are reassuring. The risks, they say repeatedly, are minimal, and standards are improving as farmers steadily decrease pesticide use with updated farming systems. Nevertheless, they advise people to wash all food thoroughly and to eat a wide variety of foods to reduce exposure.

Much baby food is now organic, using ingredients grown virtually without pesticides, and millions of adults who can afford it are following the same route with their own diets. Organically grown food can, of course, be contaminated with micro-organisms, and all foods may contain natural carcinogens, but in all cases washing food is considered the best short- and long-term precaution.">

24 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Pesticides linked to birth defects

Jason Burke

Guardian ... Sunday 24 September 2000

Exposure to pesticides can cause birth defects and childhood cancers, new research in America and Germany has found. It claims that women exposed to agricultural pesticides were more than twice as likely to have children born without one or more limbs.

German researchers studied nearly 1,200 children with leukaemia, 200 with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and more than 900 with other forms of cancer. They concluded that exposure to pesticides increased chances of developing the disease by around half . They also found that the use of insecticides in the home more than doubled the chance of cancers in children under 15.

The use of pesticides on farms was linked to the occurrence of childhood leukaemia with a 50 per cent increase in diagnoses recorded. Another study, conducted by researchers, mainly from the University of Washington in Seattle, studied 4,500 children born to mothers who worked on farms and found that they had a 2.6 times higher chance of a serious limb defect.

The findings follow a British Government report revealing that 43 per cent of fruit and vegetables in shops show traces of pesticides - a significant increase on last year . David Buffin, of the Pesticide Action Network, said: 'This research underlines the need to seriously reduce pesticide use as much and as soon as possible.'

Another study found that people regularly exposed to pesticides were more prone to mild cognitive dysfunction (MCD), particularly memory loss, in later life. Dutch researchers found that 18 per cent of 838 people exposed to pesticides developed MCD , compared with 5 per cent of the unexposed .

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food says that only 1.6 per cent of food tested actually shows traces that are above the legal limits which they call 'ultra-cautious'.

But Sandra Bell, Real Food Campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: 'Although [trace] levels of individual pesticides in food are usually low, this is no guarantee of safety.' She said that a 'cocktail effect' of different chemicals together was very worrying. 'We are exposed to a whole mixture of pesticides in our diet, and some people will be more vulnerable than others - especially babies and pregnant women. The Government and retailers must do more to make sure that the food we eat is free of toxic residues .'

Last week Professor Ian Shaw, chairman of the Government's pesticides watchdog, said that parents should feed their children tinned baby food rather than fresh vegetables if they wished to avoid pesticide residues.

Last night a ministry spokesperson said that it required data to prove that any pesticide was safe to the user before authorising it.

22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Stricter food labelling sought

Paul Brown

Guardian ... Friday 22 September 2000

The food standards agency is to press for changes in European food labelling rules, to prevent misleading claims , to tighten controls on genetically modified ingredients, and to provide better information for people with allergies.

The agency also wants a national code of conduct to prevent the promotion to children of foods that contain excess fat, sugar and salt, and are bad for them . These products are thought to be responsible for obesity and other health problems. It also wants a voluntary agreement with industry to make food labels easier to understand.

The new regime, agreed yesterday, follows nine months of consultation and consumer research. The agency is calling for compulsory EU listing of all ingredients that could cause allergic reactions, and wants to extend the listing to alcoholic drinks.

Misleading health claims - like low fat, fat free and 80% fat free - confuse consumers, according to surveys for the agency, and it will press for legally binding EU standards on nutrition claims and clear nutrition labelling. With one third of consumers still wanting to know if products contained GM ingredients, the agency is calling for clearer regulation on GM free labelling , and a requirement to label if animals have been fed GM products .

A spokesman for Tesco, the supermarket chain, said it was already working in the same direction as the the agency.

22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Power lines 'send cancer agents on the wind'

By David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent

Telegraph ... Friday 22 September 2000

People living downwind of overhead power cables are more likely to develop lung cancer, an expert said yesterday .

According to early results from a study of 10,000 people in the South-West, power lines could account for 3,000 premature deaths in Britain each year - more than from road accidents. A spokesman for the power industry rejected the findings. He said that it was "undesirable" that results from an unfinished study should be made public before other experts had the chance to scrutinise them.

The results come from Dr Alan Preece, an oncologist at the University of Bristol. They appear to support the theory that high-power cables change the nature of cancer-causing pollutant particles in the air, making them "stickier" and more likely to be inhaled into the lungs. The statistical significance of the early results has surprised Dr Preece, who described them as "robust".

He told the BBC: "We found an excess, particularly of lung cancer, in that group of people who had been living within 400 metres of a line at the time of diagnosis. You are more likely to get cancer there, but only if you live downwind, which is almost proof, or very strong supporting evidence, for the effect of the aerosols driven by the wind."

Dr Preece presented preliminary findings at a Bioelectromagnetics Society conference in Germany recently. Then he said that the average increase in cancer risk was about 29 per cent . The biggest risk factor for lung cancer is smoking, and it is not clear whether Dr Preece has fully taken smoking into the equation. Until the work is published there are also likely to be questions about his definition of "downwind".

Prof Dennis Henshaw, a colleague of Dr Preece at Bristol, said the findings supported his work into the ionising effect of power lines. He has shown that they produce "corona ions", molecules with an electrical charge. These attach themselves to particles from exhausts or crop spraying, giving them an electrical charge. When inhaled, they have more chance of being absorbed into the body , he believes. He said: "We have been surprised by the effects and we believe there is a genuine public health issue . There is a strong case for a moratorium on building housing near overhead power lines and new lines in residential areas should be buried."

Dr Michael Clark of the National Radiological Protection Board, the Government's independent watchdog, said: "Scientists find it difficult to comment on this because it has not been published but we support research into this area and we will review any new findings. The physical mechanism for the production of ions is not in dispute. However, it is a big leap to say that it has a measurable effect on health."

Dr John Swanson, an advisor to the Electricity Association, said it was "undesirable" that the findings had been released without details about how the study was carried out. Despite 300 million being spent on studying electromagnetic fields, "neither power lines nor the fields that they produce have been shown to be a cause of cancer". More than 23,000 British homes are built near high-voltage lines, a practice banned in Sweden and America.

22 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Tests back power line link to cancer

By Paul Lashmar

Independent ... Friday 22 September 2000

Claims that overhead power lines are a serious health risk have been supported by research published yesterday .

Scientists at Bristol University have found that people living within 500 metres downwind of high-voltage electricity power lines have a significantly increased risk of developing cancer . If the new findings apply nationally, it would suggest that power lines cause 3,000 premature deaths a year - a similar figure to the annual road accident toll.

The research was carried out for Powerwatch, an independent watchdog group set up to investigate the health effects of power lines. Dr Alan Preece, an epidemiologist atBristol University medical centre, analysed 10,000 cancer cases on the UK South-west Cancer Registry database, separating the addresses of victims by location, in particular by their proximity to power lines carrying 132 kilovolts or more.

The research team found a very significant increase in lung cancers and other cancers linked to pollutants up to 500 metres downwind of power lines , compared with those people living upwind of lines. They also found a high rate of skin cancers close to the lines.

"This is work that is very much in progress and efforts are being made to sort out any possible effects of confounders, such as smoking and social status," Dr Preece said. "Although the statistics look very strong." Emphasising his confidence, he added: "I'm amazed at how robust they appear to be."

The research appears to vindicate a theory developed by Professor Denis Henshaw, of the physics department at Bristol University. He believes power lines ionise the surrounding air , making wind-borne pollution much more dangerous .

"It splits the air up into positive and negative electrical charges, which are blown away from the power line by the wind," he says. "They attach themselves to particles of pollution in the air and put an electrical charge on to them. When you inhale these small particles, they have a much higher probability of sticking in the lung ."

A spokesman for the National Grid, the company that operates the power lines, said it was "sympathetic but unconvinced" by Dr Preece's claims. The company's scientific adviser, and spokesman for the UK Electricity Association, Dr John Swanson, said the industry had spent some $500m (360m) worldwide researching the effects of power lines.

21 Sep 00 - Food Safety - New cancer link to power lines

Paul Brown. environment correspondent

Guardian ... Thursday 21 September 2000

New evidence that high voltage power lines cause cancer by making particles of pollution stick to people's lungs has been uncovered by a team from Bristol University.

The team's research shows that car exhaust particles get an electrical charge from overhead power lines that makes them "sticky" - giving people living close to the lines two or three times the average daily dose of potentially damaging pollutants in their lungs.

David Henshaw of Bristol University said the discovery is the missing link that shows how power lines can cause cancer clusters - something the global electricity industry has spent millions of pounds researching without finding a conclusive answer.

His work is supported by Dr Alan Preece at the Bristol Medical School, whose independent research in the west country showed that people living up to 500 metres downwind of power lines have a 29% greater chance of contracting lung cancer . This finding matches the area where "sticky" particles from car exhausts drift downwind of power cables.

Both men believe that building new houses near power cables, or allowing new power lines near houses should be stopped until their research is investigated. A ban already exists in US and Sweden .

The scientists have been backed by William Hague, the Tory leader. Northallerton, in his constituency, has an unexplained cancer cluster next to a power line.

Work to find a link between power lines and cancer has been going on for 20 years, but scientists have been studying a different possible cause - the effect of the magnetic field created by the lines.

What Prof Henshaw's team found was not a direct effect on the body, but an indirect mechanical effect , which allowed the build up of pollutants in the lungs.

Measurements taken all over the UK and Europe showed that all power lines were surrounded by a corona of electrically charged ions. The older and rougher the lines, the greater the corona. Ions from the corona were carried downwind of the lines, attaching themselves to up to 15,000 particles per cubic metre of pollution floating past in the air.

The ions gave the particles an electrical charge and made them stick to surfaces. When they got into the capillaries in the lungs they were attracted to the surface and stuck.

Prof Henshaw said: "This would not happen if the lines were buried. We have the technology to do it , it is just more expensive."

Dr Preece, an epidemiologist in the oncology department at Bristol will tell Radio 4's Costing the Earth programme today that he looked at the incidence of cancer in the whole of the south-west of England to judge the relative risk for those living within 400 metres of power lines.

"We found an excess, particularly lung cancer , in that group of people, who had been living within 400 metres of a line at the time of diagnosis." He said the most surprising element was the cancers only occurred downwind.

Dr Preece would not discuss his findings in detail until they had been reviewed by other scientists but a report to the Bioelectromagnetics Society in Munich earlier this year said the excess was 29% - and that had taken into account the effects of smoking.

Mr Hague said that in his constituency he had eight cases of childhood leukaemia, liver cancer and other illnesses near a power line . After meeting Prof Henshaw, he said: "In respect to construction of new lines, National Grid should look carefully at new evidence before going ahead with more."

Dr John Swanson, scientific advisor to the National Grid, and advisor on electric and magnetic fields for the Electricity Association said he accepted that Prof Henshaw had shown that power cables affected airborne particles. "I do not believe he has shown that has a consequence for health."

"We have never said in a categorical way that power lines are safe , that simply would not be honest. What we say is that when you look at the totality of studies you come to the conclusion that the balance of evidence is that power lines do not have an effect on health."

20 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Less pesticide risk in tinned baby food than in fresh veg

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Guardian ... Wednesday 20 September 2000

Less pesticide risk in tinned baby food than in fresh veg, says watchdog

Parents should feed their children tinned baby food rather than fresh vegetables if they wished to avoid pesticide residues , Ian Shaw, chairman of the government's pesticides watchdog, said yesterday.

Samples of fresh food have showed a higher content of pesticides than tinned baby food in tests by public health laboratories. EU rules, said Professor Shaw, had acted as safeguards to harmonise standards to avoid risk to children.

Although there were pesticides in the uncooked ingredients of tinned food, processing and cooking broke them down, he said. He added that 26% of food samples tested in the UK last year contained pesticides, although only 1.6 per cent were higher than the legal limit. But pesticide levels in staple foods, like bread, potatoes and milk, were down, with the exception of frozen oven chips, made from stored potatoes sprayed with growth inhibiting chemicals. Of the samples of chips 73% had pesticides. With a rating of 43% , there were 10% more samples of fresh fruit and vegetables with pesticides this year.

Sandra Bell, campaigner for "real food" at Friends of the Earth, said it was unfortunate that Prof Shaw had to advise parents to feed their children tinned food. "The government encourages people, including pregnant women, to eat more fresh fruit and veg, so they should be doing more to ensure these are pesticide free."

In 2,300 samples, one pear and one green pepper contained enough pesticides to make a child ill . The pear came from Belgium where growers were phasing out the chemical, which had never been licensed for use in the UK. A child eating one third of the pepper would have had a mild stomach upset. But levels of pesticide in peppers had fallen after an education programme among farmers in Spain.

Prof Shaw, who is head of New Zealand's food safety programme, is retiring after six years as chairman of the pesticide residues committee. He said his greatest concern was vegetables and fruit carrying a pesticides cocktail that might have an accumulative effect. "About 8% of oranges have multiple pesticides, mostly organophosphates. All these chemicals act on the same way on the nervous system. Do they have additive effects?"

The multiple pesticide effect was worst in lettuces ; about 56% of the samples contained such residues. Of celery samples, 72% had pesticides .

20 Sep 00 - Food Safety - Pesticides found in third of foods

Staff Reporter

Times ... Wednesday 20 September 2000

Pesticide residues have been found in 27 per cent of a range of food samples, including children's food, and the levels exceeded legal limits in 1.6 per cent of samples .

The government study of samples collected in 1999 found an increase in residues in fresh fruit and vegetables .Forty-three per cent contained traces of pesticides. In 1998 the figure was 33 per cent.

The Working Party on Pesticide Residues found two cases which presented serious health concerns : a pear sample with chlormequat and a sweet pepper sample with methamidophos .

A Friends of the Earth spokeswoman said: "The public will be dismayed to learn that almost half the fresh fruit and veg they are eating contains pesticides . The Government encourages people - including pregnant women and babies - to eat more fresh fruit and veg, so they should be doing more to ensure that they are pesticide-free."

The Government has announced regulations further limiting residues in baby food. Suppliers do not, however, need to comply until 2002 .

Sir John Krebs, head of the Food Standards Agency, told Radio 4's PM: "Consumers... should not be scared by unnecessary anxieties about these residues. They are well within the safety limits."

Patrick Holden, the director of the Soil Association, told the same programme: "As long as 97 per cent of UK crops are routinely sprayed with pesticides, they will carry on turning up ."