Let’s Hear It for Sound Science and Common Sense

By Frank Garner

Florida Grower, October 1, 1999
Copyright 1999 Meister Publishing Company

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Out there in the popular press, where agriculture frequently gets punched in the nose by environmental activists and anti-pesticide crusaders, fortunately there are also voices that balance all the political and emotional rhetoric with some much-needed sanity and science.

Two of these voices belong to Bruce Ames and Michael Fumento.

Ames is a scientist. Fumento is a journalist and author of numerous articles, editorials, and such books as Science Under Siege: Balancing Technology and the Environment.

Recently, Fumento became affiliated with the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., where Dennis Avery, who directs the institute’s Center for Global Food Issues is also one of the nation’s leading spokemen for agriculture. Avery, who has spoken at Florida agricultural meetings in the past, is another voice in behalf of the technology which supports high-yield farming — including pesticides.

A few years ago, Fumento wrote an article (please read "Leaders and Success: Bruce Ames" and "The Politics of Cancer") about Ames, a professor of biology at the University of California, Berkeley, who developed the Ames Mutagenicity Test to determine which chemicals cause certain bacteria to mutate. The test also helps identify chemicals that cause cancer.

Ames, Avery, and Fumento all say you should worry far more about what you eat than what’s been sprayed on it.

So, when this former member of the National Cancer Institute Board of Directors and of the National Academy of Sciences announced conclusions from his research, people took notice, but the anti-pesticide people didn’t like what he was saying.

He found that natural chemicals in food are just as carcinogenic as synthetic pesticides — both can cause cancer in laboratory animals when fed to them at extremely high doses.

He enunciated the "radical" notion that synthetic chemicals in food don’t cause cance — they are no different in their effect than natural pesticides produced by plants to ward off insects or animals.

The reason, he said, that cancer is increasing in the population is that people are living longer. Although certain external factors — such as smoking and exposure to the sun — are involved, he said. "cancer is a degenerative disease of old age."

Fumento concurs with many of Ames’ views in his articles and books. Along with Avery and others, they stress the safety and healthfulness of America’s domestic produce and call for use of common sense and sound science in evaluating health risks.

Today, as the EPA implements the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), concerns have expanded from a fear of even the most insignificant levels of carcinogens, which was delineated in the Delaney Clause, to an obsession with pesticide toxicity coming from every direction. How much of this is really necessary?

"We spend an enormous amount of the GNP chasing trivia," said Ames several years ago. "If you eliminate synthetic pesticides, you make fruits and vegetables more expensive. People will then eat less of them and more will die of cancer."


Read Michael Fumento’s work on pesticides.