With the U.S. House of Representatives’ passage of the Agriculture Act of 2014 (commonly known as the Farm Bill) yesterday, conventional farming allies and chemical agribusiness dealt a dangerous blow to children’s health protections and offered up yet another reason for consumers everywhere to support organic. The behind-closed-door amendment to the Farm Bill that appeared in neither the pre-conference House or Senate-passed versions of the Bill available to the public, orders the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ignore its ruling that levels of fluoride left in food treated with the toxic fumigant sulfuryl fluoride are unsafe for consumers everywhere, especially children and infants.
Looking at the Numbers
Under the Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA), a law designed to provide stronger protections for infants and children from pesticides, EPA must consider the aggregate dose that children receive from pesticide residues along with the other “nonpesticidal” sources. In the case of sulfuryl fluoride, a fumigant used in closed structures such as barns, storage buildings, commercial warehouses, ships in port, and railroad cars and thus also found on their stored contents like grains and other crops, this is an important consideration because other sources of fluoride abound in the form of fluoridated water and dental products and from its natural presence in the environment.
Before 2004, the allowed tolerances for fluoride on certain foodstuffs was set at 7 parts per million (ppm), but in January 2004 after intensive lobbying by Dow Agrosciences, EPA approved the use of sulfuryl fluoride as a fumigant on raw food. Shortly thereafter, in July 2005 that approval was extended to all processed foods. To account for this new use, EPA moved to adjust the allowable dosage of fluoride for infants to a number five times higher than that set for adults.
Unwilling to stand by and let EPA set allowances at the behest of industry without considering that actual health impacts it was required to consider under the FQPA, Beyond Pesticides along with Fluoride Action Network and Environmental Working Group, filed a petition to the EPA in June 2006. The petition called for a “stay,” or immediate suspension, of all food uses of sulfuryl fluoride pending a full evidentiary hearing on the safety of the proposed allowances.
In 2011, EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs could not dismiss the numbers. EPA proposed the withdrawal of sulfuryl fluoride tolerance because applications of sulfuryl fluoride when taken together or “in the aggregate” with the other sources of fluoride found that levels exceeded the safe reference doses —especially in the case of infants and children.
The Numbers Haven’t Changed
With the latest Farm Bill provision, EPA cannot assess the total risk from fluoride exposure as it is supposed to do by law. Thus even though the level of safe tolerances remains unchanged, the Farm Bill now orders EPA to close its eyes to the other known sources of fluoride that make their way into children and infants mouths everywhere. In effect, this means that 70 ppm fluoride will be found in more than 99% of all processed foods, 125 ppm in wheat flour (which goes into cookies, cakes, bread and pizza) and a massive 900 ppm in powdered eggs. One third of the eggs sold in the U.S. come in powdered form and the accompanying 900 ppm is only a tad below the 1000 ppm—the level at which parents are told to keep away from children under six, use only pea-sized amount, and not to swallow.
Too Much Fluoride is Still Unsafe
If you think that fluoride is safe at these levels (and even under these levels), think again. Actually, in the case of fluoride, “thinking” is one of the major risks.
In a recent Harvard meta-analysis, which shows that out of 27 studies investigating the IQ in Chinese children living in areas with high natural levels of fluoride in the water, 26 showed a lowering of IQ with an average drop of 7 IQ points. The lowest level at which this occurred was 1.8 ppm, and even lower (0.88 ppm) when combined with borderline iodine deficiency.
Philippe Grandjean, one of the authors of the Harvard analysis puts these findings into perspective in his book, Only One Chance, explaining that a shift down of 5 IQ points doubles the number of mentally handicapped in the population and halve the number of exceptionally gifted in the population. This can have serious social consequences and also deliver a blow to the future of our competiveness in the global economy.
“These findings offer no adequate margin of safety to protect all our children from impaired intellectual development from the combined exposure to sulfuryl fluoride residues and other sources of fluoride. The thought that we are taking these risks to satisfy Dow’s thirst for profit is both intolerable socially, and highly shortsighted from an economic perspective,” says Professor Paul Connett,Ph.D., who heads up the Fluoride Action Network. “Our kids are already getting far too much fluoride as evidenced by the fact that 41 percent of all American children aged 12 through 15 have some form of dental fluorosis a tell-tale sign that they have experienced the early signs of fluoride poisoning,” he adds, citing 2010 Center for Disease Control (CDC) data.
But brain-power is not the only thing at risk. Fluoride is persistent and bioaccumulates in the human body, posing the risk of a number of health problems to the public, including arthritis, hip fractures, bone cancer, kidney damage, infertility, and brain disorders.
Alternatives and Organic
Though conventional farming and the chemical agribusiness would have American consumers, and their elected officials, believe that there are no alternatives to sulfuryl fluoride, but for an equally as problematic fumigant, methyl bromide, the fact is that only the U.S. and Australia apply this fumigant directly to food. “The rest of the world has shown that sulfuryl fluoride is not necessary for the safe storage and handling of our food supply, given the availability of other methods –including temperature manipulation (heating and cooling), atmospheric controls (low oxygen and fumigation with carbon dioxide), biological controls (pheromones), and less toxic chemical controls (diatomaceous earth), all successfully used in organic production,” notes Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides.
One solution that once again places the burden on parents and consumers to take matters of food safety into their own hands is to buy organic. Sulfuryl fluoride is a prohibited from use in and around organic food, as is methyl bromide. Supporting organic and keeping organic strong against constant attempts to weaken its standards provides families the only option to show legislators, regulators, and industry alike that protecting the health of children and all consumers matters.
For more information on the history of organic agriculture and why it is the best choice for your health and the environment, please see Beyond Pesticides’ Organic Food Program Page.