PESTICIDES AND CANCER -- CAN THE EPA BE WRONG?
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., Jan. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Do you sometimes wonder if scientists eventually will prove that everything causes cancer? Bruce Ames does, and he is the biochemist and molecular biologist who created a widely used test that indicates whether a substance might cause cancer. In the January issue of Progressive Farmer magazine, Ames talks about cancer research that heavily relies on rat tests and explains why he thinks the EPA and other environmental groups are on the wrong track, especially where pesticides are concerned. About 20 years ago, Ames gained fame when he developed a simple test using cultured bacteria. Now known as the Ames test, it is still used by researchers. The premise was that if a chemical caused the genetic material in the bacteria to mutate, then it might also cause cancer. Later, researchers selected chemicals which, based on the Ames test, appeared to be carcinogenic, and they gave high doses of those substances to rats. Scientists then studied the results to predict whether those same substances could possibly cause cancer in humans. Back in the 1970s, Ames and other researchers were startled to find that nearly half of the synthetic materials they tested on rats were carcinogenic -- that is, they had the potential to cause cancer. As it turns out, the same is true of many natural substances: organic compounds in fruits, vegetables and herbs; burnt material on grilled hamburgers and toast; and the chemicals that result when coffee beans are roasted and brewed. "My calculations (indicate that) we get more carcinogens in a cup of coffee than potential carcinogens in the pesticide residues we eat in a year," Ames told Progressive Farmer. We should not be concerned about drinking a cup of coffee, Ames said. Yet, the EPA will try to protect the public from a level of pesticide residue that's 1,000 times less dangerous than the chemicals in one cup of coffee. "It's completely nutty," he said. Time and science have shown Ames that a chemical which causes mutations doesn't necessarily cause cancer. He and fellow researcher Lois Swirsky Gold also argue that compounds which cause cancer at high doses in rats might not be a threat to humans. The size of the dose, they say, is important. So just because a rat that consumes the chemical equivalent of several thousand cups of coffee per day might get cancer, it does not necessarily follow that one or two cups per day will cause cancer in humans. While Ames remains concerned about what does cause cancer, he told Progressive Farmer that we have lost all perspective, waging war against suspected carcinogens whose risk to humans is trivial. He says we'd get much more cancer prevention for our money through programs that encourage people to exercise more, eat less saturated fat and more fruits and vegetables, and stop smoking. Increasingly, scientists are finding that fruits and vegetables containing vitamins C and E, folic acid and beta carotene help prevent cancer, he said. Only 9 percent of the U.S. population eats the recommended five servings of these foods per day. "We eat about 0.09 milligrams of synthetic pesticide residue per day," Ames told Progressive Farmer. "But we eat 1,500 milligrams of natural pesticides in plants and about 2,000 milligrams of burnt material per day from cooking our food. It's clear that the amounts of synthetic chemicals we're getting...are really tiny compared to everything else." While he describes as "well-meaning people" such environmental groups as the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Foundation for Economic Trends, Ames says groups like these have fostered fear of synthetic chemicals. He labels as pure hysteria the NRDC's claim that pesticides cause a million cases of cancer per year. Ames agrees with a statement by a Food and Drug Administration official who said that probably not a single case of cancer has been caused by pesticide residue in the U.S. food supply. (Ames is quick to make an exception for farmers and others who might be exposed to high concentrations of chemicals. Special tests for those groups are in order, he said.) Not everyone in the scientific community agrees with Ames. Bernard Weinstein, director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, says Ames downplays the ability of small amounts of chemicals to remain and accumulate in the body. Weinstein said he expects rat tests to accurately predict that some pesticides are carcinogenic in humans. Despite the controversy, Ames remains optimistic. "Life expectancies get longer every year," he said. "We're the healthiest we've ever been in human history because of modern science. And cancer rates overall aren't going up." Progressive Farmer is published by Southern Progress Corporation, which also publishes Southern Living, Southern Accents and Cooking Light magazines, as well as Oxmoor House books. The Birmingham, Ala.-based company is the largest regional publisher of magazines and books in the country. -0- 1/6/93 /CONTACT: Valerie Frazer of Southern Progress Corporation, 205-877-6270/
CO: Progressive Farmer; Southern Progress Corporation ST: Alabama IN: PUB SU:
BN-BR -- AT005 -- 2191 01/06/93 12:17 EST
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|Date:||Jan 6, 1993|
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