By Don “Doc” Sanders
I believe in fair play. When our government gets it right, I speak positively. And when they get it wrong, I don’t mince words. In the latter case, I’m sometimes accused of being a right wing, commie-hating, Archie Bunker-wannabe, redneck zealot.
Before the accusations fly, please hear me out on what I think of the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest take on dioxins — chemical compounds that have polluted the environment.
Without a doubt, pollution has been a problem for health and the environment. But I believe too many Americans become overly paranoid when someone mentions the presence of chemicals in the environment. In many cases, dioxin contamination is not the product of industrial pollution. Dioxins, which result from combustion, are produced every time there is a grass fire, every time lightning strikes, every time a volcano erupts and every time someone burns leaves in his backyard.
There is no question that in 1984 dioxins and other chemicals, like polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), posed health risks. Dioxins ingested by food animals accumulate in their body fat and get passed on to humans, possibly putting them at risk of cancer.
But since the ‘80s, a lot has been done to control dioxins. Ninety-two percent of industrial dioxins have been eliminated. Yet, the EPA has found itself stuck in 1984, struggling for years to write a new risk assessment for dioxins.
The EPA has proposed a legal dioxin limit in food of 0.7 picograms — that is 0.000000000007 grams (yes, that’s 11 zeros after the decimal point). Considering there are 454 grams to a pound, that’s an extremely minute amount. To give you a clearer picture, 0.7 picograms is like taking an eyedropper and squeezing out seven droplets into Grand Lake St. Marys.
If 0.7 picograms (pg) is the EPA’s new safety level, even a snack would be considered a health risk. To stay within that limit, we’ll have to stop eating. Obviously, the EPA has gone overboard on this one, proposing a standard that is below background levels — that is, naturally occurring levels of dioxin. We will have to keep things cleaner than how the environment would be if agriculture didn’t exist.
The EPA’s proposal is particularly absurd when you consider that the European Union has established 1-3 pg as a safe level in human food. Yes, the European Union. You may remember from previous columns that I have derided the EU for being paranoid regarding biotechnology, animal welfare, UFOs and antibiotics used on food supply animals.
Even the World Health Organization (WHO) says that 1-4 pg is safe. Obviously, the EPA’s proposed level is too low.
Various ag industry groups have attempted to have a dialog with the EPA, but with no success. The EPA refuses to discuss it. If the EPA formally decrees that dioxins are carcinogenic, the federal mandate will be to eliminate dioxins. But how realistic is that? Think about it: Every crop and every animal are at risk of exposure, because most dioxins fall from the sky — from smoke that originates from grass fires, backyard burning, lightning and volcanoes.
Let’s think about the long-term implications of this. An EPA limit of 0.7 pg will create trade issues, because the rest of the world is operating on dioxin limits that are three or more times higher than the EPA’s proposed restriction. Even the whackos in the EU say dioxins aren’t an issue below 1 picogram. We will be the laughingstock of world trade. No one will want to trade with us.
If dioxins are no longer the problem they were in 1984, why is the EPA proposing regulations? I’m still scratching my head.
I’ll leave you with this puzzler: EPA’s solution for “contaminated” crops. They suggest using biotechnology to develop crops that absorb less dioxin from the environment. The EPA also recommends that farmers wait for a rainstorm before harvesting crops, to allow the rain to wash off the contamination. That shows how in touch the EPA is with farming — and reality!
Doc is a regular columnist for Ohio’s Country Journal and a well respected Ohio veterinarian. Doc is a board-certified theriogenologist, a specialist in animal reproduction, and one of 330 theriogenologists in the world. Over the years, Doc has been a relatively prolific author. He has written more than 50 technical papers on various aspects of diagnosis, herd management, diseases and herd investigations.