Live and let dioxin: Big Ag is worried about scaring us off meat and milk
It doesn’t take much for the food industry to freak out over potential government action, but this latest corporate outcry is especially galling and self-serving. This month, after more than 20 years of “assessment,” the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to finally release limits for safe exposure to dioxins, nasty industrial pollutants that cause cancer, among other health harms [PDF]. You may have heard of dioxin as the military herbicide Agent Orange used in Vietnam, where it earned its distinction as “the most toxic compound synthesized by man.”
Unfortunately for the food industry, dioxins accumulate in the fatty tissues of animals that Americans consume. According to the Food and Drug Administration:
Although dioxins are environmental contaminants, most dioxin exposure occurs through the diet, with over 95% coming through dietary intake of animal fats.
The feds have further identified the highest levels in fish, followed by eggs, and then cheese, as Michael Greger explains in his scary “Dioxins in the Food Supply” video. Although some dioxins have been banned for decades, they persist in the environment, sort of like nature’s way of punishing humanity in perpetuity for its arrogance and stupidity. (Thankfully, levels have been declining.)
Here is how a meat industry-friendly media outlet describes the problem:
Pretty scary stuff, and even scarier when you realize everyone eats a certain amount of dioxin every day. That’s because dioxins are found in meat and dairy products, and most other foods. Animals absorb dioxin, which occurs naturally in the environment and moves through the food chain via the food animals consume, especially forages. Consumed at high levels, dioxins are linked to various human ailments including reproductive problems and cancer.
So, might industry want to help the feds warn Americans about this persistent, extremely toxic chemical in the food supply? Of course not. Instead, they’ve formed (what else?) a lobbying group, complete with the Orwellian name: The Food Industry Dioxin Working Group (members listed below). The group worked very hard on this letter [PDF] to the White House complaining, that as a result of EPA’s impending action:
… consumers may try to avoid any foods “identified” as containing or likely to contain any dioxin. The implications of this action are chilling. EPA is proposing to create a situation in which most U.S. agricultural products could arbitrarily be classified as unfit for consumption.
Further, Steve Kopperud, coordinator for the Food Industry Dioxin Working Group is afraid the media will have a field day with the EPA limits. And then what might happen? “You will have a whole lot of folks running in circles saying there’s nothing safe to eat, it will scare the crap out of people.”
Maybe, but if all those scared people running in circles don’t get cancer, isn’t that more important?
Members of the The Food Industry Dioxin Working Group:
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Feed Industry Association
American Frozen Food Institute
American Meat Institute
Corn Refiners Association
International Dairy Foods Association
National Chicken Council
National Grain & Feed Association
National Meat Association
National Milk Producers Federation
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Pork Producers Council
National Renderers Association
National Turkey Federation
Pet Food Institute
United Egg Producers
This post is cross-posted from Michele Simon’s blog, Appetite for Profit.
Get Grist in your inbox