Between July and September 2010, non-organic food items making up the typical daily intake of a 10 year-old were bought in various supermarkets and tested for chemical residues. Analysis of the "Menus Toxiques" showed the make-up of chemical substances in our children’s daily diet, and the chemical cocktail to which they are exposed from food alone.
The findings showed 128 trace elements representing 81 different chemical substances. These substances included 36 different pesticides and 47 suspected carcinogens.
Given that one in every two men and one in every three women in France will develop cancer during their lifetime, the first step in this new campaign was an effort to establish exposure, via food intake, to substances suspected to be cancer-causing.
The campaign’s aim is to raise citizen and public authority awareness of the important role played by environmental risk factors among the causes of cancer. It is also intended to encourage action leading to necessary policy changes.
The release of the findings at a press conference prompted huge media coverage, including a one-page article in France’s leading newspaper Le Monde as well as coverage in the major dailies, television and trade press. Articles also appeared in medical publications with large readership among doctors and health professionals.
Générations Futures say that since starting to work on food and chemical contamination, notably pesticides, they have received a stream of questions about "real" levels of exposure via food: "How many different substances are we exposed to each day?", "Which types of chemicals?", "Are the minimum levels set by the authorities respected?", and "How many suspected carcinogens and EDCs are we exposed to on a daily basis?"
Surveys show that:
• 80% of people in France are worried about pesticide residues in fruits, vegetables and cereals
• 80% are anxious about pollutants in fish and meat
• Almost half of all French people believe that public authorities of the European Union do not take sufficient action to protect consumers from this risk.
Even though for each substance taken on its own the acceptable levels were respected, the food products contained a large number of different molecules which are suspected to have cancer-causing properties and/or could disturb the endocrine (hormone) system. In view of the results, the message is that we should ask those responsible to find a way to substantially reduce our exposure, notably through food intake, to suspected carcinogens and to EDCs.
This objective is attainable. For a number of the substances, substitutes already exist. Pesticides and additives can be eliminated through organic agriculture and food production.
A joint Générations Futures and HEAL Cyberaction was also launched. Within two weeks, more than 5,000 supporters have sent letters to the French government asking for
1. A real environmental risk factor section to be included in the 2nd Cancer Plan in France
2. The precautionary principles to be put into practice, especially in relation to possible carcinogens (CMR3) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
3. Firm action to be put in place for the immediate substitution of substances known to be carcinogenic and not simply a reduction in their emissions.
The campaign launch was part of HEAL’s wider Environment and Cancer Week which took place in Brussels, aiming to raise awareness of the links between environmental pollution and cancer causation (Visit HEAL’s Environment and Cancer page for more information).
Written on 17 December 2010.