Chemical common sense – Letter to Decanter

Update: Decanter has published my response in the November 2013 issue. Let’s hope this puts an end to it.

I’ve just sent off another letter to Decanter magazine. Seems some chap in the US didn’t like my balanced response to the non-issue of pesticide residues in wine. Here’s what he reckons (Decanter, September 2013):

Chemical reaction

How could you let Gary Bowering get away with his letter on pesticide residues in wine (July 2013) unrefuted? There have been hardly any studies related to the synergistic effects from multiple chemicals that would prove that they are harmless. In addition, he says that because the residues are below legal limits, they are therefore safe. The legal limits are not in any way a true threshold for safety, as the chemical industry has too much power to self regulate, and most chemicals are never tested by independent agencies. Please don’t let these shills for agribusiness go unchallenged.

Jason Carey AIWS, Oakland, California.

My letter in response:

Chemical common sense

Internationally-accepted studies on synergistic effects of pesticide residues in the body indicate this is not a concern. 

The safety level is the amount of a chemical that the most vulnerable of the population could consume every day of their life from birth to death and still show no effect. The residue limit is usually 1/100th of the safety level, and sometimes even lower.

No industry, let alone business, has the power or resources to control the UN, World Health Organisation and every food safety regulator on the planet. A little research will show how regulations are set, monitored and enforced.

The area that most lacks research is chemicals generally regarded as safe, which include most chemicals registered for use on organic production. However, as with any other chemical that shows no evidence of effect when used properly, there is no reason to conduct such research.

I have never worked for any chemical industry. My letter was no shill for anything other than good science and common sense.  Indeed, for some years I was on the other side of the fence with the national regulator, the New Zealand Food Safety Authority. Rest assured that we ate the same food and drank the same wine as everyone else. I still do.

Gary Bowering MRSNZ, Wellington, New Zealand

I could have written a lot more, especially around the “prove that they are harmless” bit. You can, of course, never prove anything is harmless. In fact, you can only prove that everything is harmful, including people. Following this false logic to it’s inevitable conclusion, where people must be protected from harm, everything should be banned, including people.

I was also going to note that there aren’t many studies on the ‘cocktail effect’ of pesticide residues for the same reason there are few studies on the time-travel abilities of the common goldfish. Better though to leave humour out. Some people just don’t get it. (In case you didn’t, it’s because there are more important areas to put research resources.)

It’s also interesting to note that in the very same issue of Decanter there was a story that mentioned that wine itself has well over 150 chemicals. Imagine how some people must fret when they have wine with food, since that it is made of many hundreds more chemicals, not to mention what they must believe happens when they all meet up with those that make up the body itself. Anything must be possible. Perhaps that explains spontaneous human combustion? (It doesn’t.)

Those of us with common sense will stick to worrying more about what wine to serve with each course than the non-issue of pesticide residues in wine. Or food for that matter.

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