Reviewed by Rebecca Bell
Environmental Education Specialist
If we are what we eat, we may be in a lot of trouble. Our Daily Poison is a documentary film that examines the regulation, or lack thereof, of the chemicals on and in our food. Paracelsus said it’s the dose that makes the poison. Pasteur researched the dangers of bacteria. Perhaps we should research the dangers of food chemicals.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that over the past 30 years, the incidence of cancer has doubled, with an increase of 2 percent per year of brain tumors and leukemia in children. WHO notes a similar trend in neurological disease, auto–immune diseases, and reproductive dysfunctions. These increases are most pronounced in developed countries. The film postulates that the 100,000 chemicals that have invaded our food supply and general environment are responsible for this massive increase in disease. The director interviews scientists, including the FDA and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), chemical manufacturers, business leaders, and front–line users.
As with any issue, there are multiple viewpoints and tradeoffs involved. The DVD is divided into seven sections: Sick Farmers, Acceptable Daily Intake, Maximum Residual Levels, Aspartame, Endocrine Disruption, The Cocktail Effect, and Cancer and Nutrition. The film can be played straight through, or better, used one section at a time to give students the time to understand and digest the information and diverse viewpoints. In the first segment, the journalist filmed interviews with farmers who stopped using a particular herbicide because they developed short and long–term health effects from inhaling the fumes as the herbicide was spread. Most had a neurological disorder of some sort, with one farmer describing how he would suddenly drop into a deep coma. He was later diagnosed with brain lesions. The film gives background on the Green Revolution following World War II and how the use of chemicals was touted as the answer to problems with insects, fungi, and weeds. While the danger of these chemicals has never been denied by the companies that manufacture them, the commercials from the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s are sure to include the caveat of using the chemicals with caution. Data from studies ties the use of herbicide with the health issues of the farmers. In a series of personal interviews one farmer was told to “Shut up about it (the health effects). You are just more sensitive than others.” Then the phone calls started through the farming community. The speaker for a pesticide manufacturer notes that “There is no proof to confirm."
The film investigates the proof, examining the extent of the studies done with chemicals used in fields. It is discovered that about 900 of more than 100,000 chemicals have been tested at all, some more than others. Only 20–30 pesticides have any data about their health impacts. The research is not in the public domain. The results are sent by the company to the federal government. This segment segues into a discussion of LD50 (the amount of a chemical that kills half of the test animals) which makes me nervous when I hear the term applied to the food I eat.
Aspartame, now in 6000 food products, is given its own segment. A neurologist describes a noticeable increase in brain tumors and malignancy three years after its introduction. Studies in the 70’s show that both MSG and aspartame destroy nerve cells. How did it get approved? This is where the NSES Standards on “Science as a Human Endeavor” come in, specifically with respect to politics. The film describes the intricate politics involving a high US government official who appointed the head of the manufacturer, a company in his district, as head of the FDA .
The film serves as a good model of scientific methodology, the interpretation of results based on personal perspective, and the role of peer review and independent studies in science. Media and government play a prominent role as well. And if government testing sounds kind of boring, you haven’t seen the film yet. It is interesting that the film was made in Europe. In some of the segments, subtitles translate the words of French farmers or German scientists. By the end of the film, I wondered if this film would be “allowed” to be made and released in the U.S. The segments range from 8–11 minutes. All are appropriate for high school and college students. Evaluate the segment on endocrine disruption to pre–screen the conversation for adherence to your school system’s family life policy. Excellent lessons on these issues, topics such as LD50, and other environmental health issues for all grade levels can be obtained from the National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEHS) website www.niehs.nih.gov/health/scied/ and the Society of Toxicology www.toxicology.org/ai/eo/education.asp
Review posted on 10/26/2012