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The Silent Threat

The Silent Threat

Prof. Alfred Poulos



In March this year, Friends of the Earth Melbourne hosted Prof. Alfred Poulos to speak about health impacts of pesticides. Alfred has a PhD in biochemistry and was Chief Medical Scientist at the Adelaide Women and Children's Hospital for many years.

Alfred is in the final stages of a new book, The Secret Life of Chemicals. His 2005 book The Silent Threat is an excellent read for anyone concerned about chemicals, additives and food.

Eight topics are covered in The Silent Threat: pesticides, growth promoting agents (antibiotics and hormones), fertilisers, additives, food packaging, water and chemicals generated during food processing. Each chapter conclude with the headings 'What Does This Mean?' and 'Summaries', which provide an easily digestible summary of all of the topics discussed.

The author only presents information based on published science in peer-reviewed journals and not based on "unpublished" sources. This cautious scientific approach comes across as more conservative, yet more credible than similar books of this type.

As Alfred points out, many chemicals are present in our foodstuffs. It is near-impossible to attempt to document all the potential health impacts but The Silent Threat is a very credible attempt to try and comes to terms with the most problematic.

Of most interest to me was the section on the susceptibility of children to pesticides due to their small size, immaturity of their organs and the lack of ability of children less than 18 months of age to prevent toxins from entering their brains. Children are also more susceptible to steroid hormones which are often used in meat production. It was also good to better understand that susceptibility to pesticides may also be determined by impairment of liver function.

The main health concerns with plasticisers (e.g. packaging) are with phthalates and di-2-ethylhexyl adiphate (DEHA), both of which have been shown to migrate to food. Some plasticisers also behave like naturally-occurring sex hormones (e.g. BPA linings in cans) and exposure to some plastics has been linked with testicular cancer. Plastic packaging is attracted to fats in foods, so plastic packaging on cheese and meats is probably not such a good idea. Trans fats (formed during processing of fats) can increase blood cholesterol levels and increase risk of diabetes and some cancers.

For anyone interested in food and what chemicals could be in the food you eat, I'd suggest getting hold of a copy of The Silent Threat and keep a look out for Alfred's new book, The Secret Life of Chemicals.

Published in Chain Reaction #133, September 2018. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia.

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