Letters: Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Too-Scary Parables

To the editor: Your article “Perils on Your Plate” (Jan 26, 2005) reminded me of all the “scare” stories that tv news stations use to get us to tune in. Following one of those segments, my mom often remarks sarcastically, “It’s a wonder I ever survived,” in response to concerns of E. coli, salmonella, mad cow, or whatever the bad thing of the day is.
Don’t get me wrong: There are legitimate environmental concerns. Right here in Texas we have concrete factories releasing chemicals into the air at well beyond the legal limit. Many homes still have lead-based paint, and asbestos is a barrier to renovating many of our buildings safely. But there is a limit to the amount of hysteria that should be cultivated in our society. There are plenty of social and political concerns that should take priority over what may or may not be in the food we eat.
Farmers applying pesticides wear protective gear because they are applying highly concentrated chemicals many days out of the year. Without proper precautions they would get much more exposure than any of us do by the time the crops are rained on, harvested, and washed before cooking. The chemicals may still exist in the food we eat, but often in tiny amounts. Just because it shows up in a test doesn’t mean it is enough to do us harm.
The farming and food preparation techniques discussed in this article were created in an effort to be able to supply food to a growing population that is increasingly demanding lower prices. Farmers aren’t the bad guys; they are merely doing what is necessary to satisfy the demands placed on them. If we want foods grown without pesticides and manufactured fertilizer, then we need to accept the fact that yields will be far lower and prices will be much higher. In a world that already can’t feed its population, this doesn’t seem like a good course to take.
It is impossible to avoid exposure to every potentially toxic chemical or infectious bacteria in the world. It always has been. But our bodies were designed to adapt and build up resistance — that is the basis of vaccines which are credited with wiping out diseases that used to cause epidemics. Getting sick is often necessary in order to develop antibodies and strengthen our immune system so it can better cope with illnesses in the future. There is a scary trend in our society now where we’re actually circumventing this immune system development through the proliferation of anti-bacterial products like soap, hand lotion, and even children’s toys. But bacteria adapts, too. In time, this may come back to bite us in the form of stronger, more aggressive bacteria that our bodies aren’t equipped to deal with.
While much of what you have pointed to is dangerous, bad, mean, nasty, and unpleasant, it hardly means the sky is falling. By all means, cover these issues. We should fight to reduce mercury levels in the air, we should educate people about trans-fats, but let’s not pretend that these are the greatest problems facing human life on our planet. Your article offers no solutions, no hope, and contains no call to action. That leaves fear-mongering, something that may get readers to tune in but does little to change the world we live in. Congratulations, we live in a dangerous world! How many of your readers didn’t already know that?

Michael Reilly and Shane Selman, Fort Worth

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