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#656 - A Campaign of Reassuring Falsehoods, 23-Jun-1999

Evidently the permanent government in the U.S. now sees dioxin in the
food supply as a threat to itself because it has begun a new campaign
of reassuring falsehoods, this time in the WALL STREET JOURNAL. We use
the term "permanent government" as it was described by Lewis Lapham,

"The permanent government, a secular oligarchy... comprises the Fortune
500 companies and their attendant lobbyists, the big media and
entertainment syndicates, the civil and military services, the larger
research universities and law firms. It is this government that hires
the country's politicians and sets the terms and conditions under which
the country's citizens can exercise their right --God-given but
increasingly expensive --to life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness. Obedient to the rule of men, not laws, the permanent
government oversees the production of wealth, builds cities,
manufactures goods, raises capital, fixes prices, shapes the landscape,
and reserves the right to assume debt, poison rivers, cheat the
customers, receive the gifts of federal subsidy, and speak to the
American people in the language of low motive and base emotion."[1]

Lapham distinguishes the "permanent government," which is not elected,
from the "provisional government," which is:

"The provisional government is the spiritual democracy that comes and
goes on the trend of a political season and oversees the production of
pageants.... Positing a rule of laws instead of men, the provisional
government must live within the cage of high-minded principle,
addressing its remarks to the imaginary figure known as the informed
citizen or the thinking man, a superior being who detests superficial
reasoning and quack remedies, never looks at PLAYBOY, remembers the
lessons of history, trusts Bill Moyers, worries about political
repression in Liberia, reads (and knows himself improved by) the op-ed
page of the WALL STREET JOURNAL," Lapham writes.

* * *

Starting in March, Belgian health authorities discovered dioxin and
PCBs in poultry, eggs, beef, pork, milk, butter and even in mayonnaise.
Dioxin and PCBs are members of a family of 219 toxic chemicals that can
damage the immune system and the hormones of humans and other animals.
They can also cause cancer, according to the World Health Organization.
[See REHW #636, #653.] The toxicity of dioxins and PCBs are reported
in "toxic equivalents" -- a toxicity reporting system that takes into
account the particular mixture of dioxins and PCBs that is being

In late April, the Dutch Ministry of Health notified the Belgians that
they had measured dioxin in two chickens at 958 and 775 parts per
trillion toxic equivalents. In Belgium, the allowable limit for dioxin
in chicken is 5 ppt toxic equivalents, and in the U.S. the limit is one

Still Belgian authorities said nothing publicly. Then in early June
word got out that Belgian foodstuffs were widely contaminated and the
European Union and the U.S. clapped a quarantine on foods from Belgium.
Other countries around the world immediately followed suit: May- lasia,
Myanmar, Uruguay, Thailand, Australia, Brazil, Rus- sia, and China,
among others. Suddenly tons of food were pulled from shops throughout
Belgium and incinerated, leaving shelves bare. Within two weeks, the
incident had cost Belgian farmers, grocers and food exporters an esti-
mated $500 million -- a lot of money in a small country.

The problem was traced to 8 liters of oil containing PCBs contaminated
with 50 to 80 milligrams of dioxin. The British NEW SCIENTIST says "one
theory is" that the toxic oil was taken from an electrical transformer
and dumped illegally into a public recycling container for used frying
oil.[3] The contaminated oil ended up in an 88-ton (80 metric tonne)
batch of fat produced by Verkest, a company located near Ghent,
Belgium. The fat was sold to 12 manufacturers of animal feed, who then
produced 1760 tons (1600 metric tonnes) of contaminated animal feed.
Starting in January, 1999, the feed was sold mainly in Belgium but also
in France and the Netherlands.

According to CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS, at a public hearing June 9, a
Dutch official said the problem had been solved in his country -- all
of the contaminated foods had been eaten. No one is sure how many
people were affected because no one is yet sure how widely the
contaminated feed was distributed. "Either a few people got a large
dose, or many people got a small dose," said Wim Traag from the Dutch
State Institute for Quality Control of Agricultural Products.

The NEW SCIENTIST quoted Martin van der Berg from the University of
Utrecht who calculated that adults who ate chicken and eggs
contaminated at 900 ppt would take in 100 times the amount
considered "safe" by the World Health Organization.

A 3-year-old child eating a single egg contaminated at 900 ppt toxic
equivalents would increase his or her total body burden of dioxin
equivalents by 20%, van der Berge calculated. He said this would
probably not be enough to cause cancer in humans "but could affect
neural and cognitive development, the immune system, and thyroid and
steroid hormones, especially in unborn and young children," the NEW
SCIENTIST reported.

Two weeks into the crisis, on June 13, the Belgian government suffered
a massive defeat in elections. The next day the WALL STREET JOURNAL
announced the debacle this way: "The center-left coalition of Prime
Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene suffered a devastating defeat in national
elections Sunday, punished for its handling of a food contamination
scandal...." Mr. Dehaene promptly resigned.

Clearly, the political hazards of a dioxin-contaminated food supply
were not lost on the permanent government in the U.S. Less than a week
after the initial revelations about dioxin in Belgian foods, the WALL
STREET JOURNAL began a campaign of disinformation.

On June 7, the JOURNAL had one of its staff reporters, Stephen D.
Moore, try to reassure its readers under the headline, "Dioxins' Risk
to Humans is Difficult to Appraise."[4]

The opening paragraph of the story did not mention that dioxins are
toxic; it said dioxins are created by many industrial processes but
also "in compost heaps." How could anyone develop a healthy respect for
a chemical that originates in a pile of lawn clippings? No one fears
the familiar. Very effective propaganda.

In the second paragraph, the JOURNAL introduced the idea that dioxins
are toxic: "While there are dozens of different dioxins and furans, a
closely related family of molecules, only about a half-dozen are
toxic." Not true, but effective propaganda nevertheless.

Then the real point of Mr. Moore's work unfolds: a re-telling of the
story of the 1976 accident at a Hoffman-LaRoche pesticide factory in
Seveso, Italy, which spewed dioxin into the surrounding community. "At
Seveso, a cloud of chemicals containing dioxin was released into the
air and eventually contaminated an area of 15 square kilometers with a
population of 37,000 people," the JOURNAL said.

And what happened to these 37,000 people? The JOURNAL now quotes Roche,
the company that caused the accident: 447 citizens of Seveso "developed
skin injuries that healed within a few weeks." And, "Another 193
people, mainly children, developed cases of chloracne, a condition
characterized by dark skin blotches, that take months or even years to
disappear." And that's the extent of it. In the next sentence, the
JOURNAL assures us that dioxin caused no permanent injuries at
Seveso: "The Italian government has conducted studies of longer-term
effects from the Seveso accident. At least so far, there's no evidence
of any significant increase of miscarriages or cancer among local
residents." Very reassuring, but completely untrue.

Actually, the Italian government's chief researcher, Pier Alberto
Bertazzi, has published a series of studies in peer-reviewed journals,
beginning in 1993, showing that many people exposed to dioxins at
Seveso have suffered a variety of serious long-term effects including
increased incidence of diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, including
cancers of the stomach and rectum, leukemias (cancer of the blood-
forming cells), Hodgkin's disease, and soft tissue sarcomas.[5]-8

Now the JOURNAL returns to the theme that dioxins are natural: "Dioxins
also can come from natural sources. One contamination case in the U.S.
a few years ago resulted from the use of clay as a binder in chicken
feed. American regulators eventually traced the contaminated clay to a
quarry in the state of Arkansas and established that the source of the
dioxins was prehistoric." [See REHW #555.] In actual fact, American
regulators did no such thing -- they never did figure out where that
dioxin came from -- but this is unvarnished propaganda, and effective
as such. ab Evidently not satisfied with this series of
misrepresentations, the WALL STREET JOURNAL on June 21 turned over its
editorial page to Elizabeth Whelan, president of the American Council
on Science and Health, a scheme-tank supported by the chemical
industry. Ms. Whelan is, frankly, one of the crudest and most shameless
dissemblers of our time. She launched her career as lapdog of the
permanent government by falsifying the history of Alar, the cancer-
causing farm chemical that used to be found in apple juice intended for
babies in the U.S., before the apple industry came to its senses and
swore off the poison in 1989. [See REHW #530-535.]

In the WALL STREET JOURNAL June 21, Ms. Whelan assured her readers
that "there was no evidence" of "health-threatening toxic materials" in
Belgian food. Oh? This is because, she says, "no one has ever died or
become chronically ill due to environmental exposure [to dioxin]." Oh?
The problem in Belgium is Belgium's "unnnecessarily stringent laws,"
Ms. Whelan asserts.

The dioxin problem in Belgium was imaginary, Ms. Whelan assures us.
It "can be explained as an example of hysterical contagion," Ms. Whelan
asserts. She then waxes academic, quoting a college professor who says
mass hysterias have been recorded throughout European history. On this
basis, Ms. Whelan concludes that the fear of dioxin in Belgium is just
like the Alar episode in the U.S. in 1989 -- a make-believe problem.

It is interesting to us that the permanent government has to rely on
such crude misrepresentations to reassure its loyal followers in the
business community (those who read the op-ed page of the WALL STREET
JOURNAL and know themselves improved by it). To us it means that the
anti-dioxin campaign being conducted by grass-roots activists in the
U.S. [see REHW #479] is having a good effect. No doubt the permanent
government has reason to be nervous: they have contaminated the U.S.
food supply with dangerous levels of dioxins and, as the Bible says,
the truth will set people free. [See REHW #414, #463, #636.]

--Peter Montague(National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO)


[1] Lewis H. Lapham, "Lights, Camera, Democracy!" HARPER'S MAGAZINE
August 1996, pgs. 33-38, quoted with permission.

[2] Bette Hileman, "Belgium has a problem: Dioxin-tainted food,"
CHEMICAL & ENGINEERING NEWS June 14, 1999, pg. 9.

[3] Debora MacKenzie, "Recipe for disaster," NEW SCIENTIST No. 2190
(June 12, 1999), pg. 4.

[4] Craig R. Whitney, "Food Scandal Adds to Belgium's Image of
Disarray," NEW YORK TIMES June 9, 1999, pg. A4.

[5] Pier Alberto Bertazzi and others, "Cancer Incidence in a Population
Accidentally Exposed to 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-PARA-dioxin,"
EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 4 (September, 1993), pgs. 398-406.

[6] P.A. Bertazzi, "The Seveso studies on early and long-term effects
of dioxin exposure: a review," ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH PERSPECTIVES Vol.
106 Supplement 2 (April 1998), pgs. 625-633.

[7] P.A. Bertazzi and others, "Dioxin exposure and cancer risk: a 15-
year mortality study after the 'Seveso accident,'" EPIDEMIOLOGY Vol. 8,
No. 6 (November 1997), pgs. 646-652.

[8] A.C. Pesatori and others, "Dioxin exposure and non-malignant health
Vol. 55, No. 2 (February 1998), pgs. 126-131.

Descriptor terms: dioxin; food safety; belgium;