Dioxins: A Call for Reason

With the EPA set to issue new standards for dioxin limits, a lot of articles about this are circulating. I’ve lost count of how many I’ve read in the last two days alone. Corporate Ag is throwing a fit, bloggers are having a field day, and I’m left kind of scratching my head. Why? Because, I am confused. Most articles, including some government articles, state that diet is 95% of human exposure to dioxin.

That’s not what’s confusing, of course. What is confusing is the recommendations that have been extrapolated from this. I’m hoping someone with more knowledge about microbiology and chemistry can help me here.

Clearly, the first recommendation that comes up is to avoid animal fats, and eat a more plant-based diet. Now, while I think American’s eat too much meat, this just confuses me. Animals store dioxins in their fats, and I do get that it might be concentrated as it moves up the food chain; but, we are animals. Won’t humans also store dioxin from contaminated plants in their fat? Is there something about us that means we don’t process or store dioxin from plants, instead needing an intermediary step, such as an animal, to make that happen? Or is it just that it’s more concentrated?

The next recommendation is to eat more fish and dairy. Except, of course, they’re cited by the Federal government (yes the same one that I just linked as saying to eat more of these foods), according to Micheal Gregor of NutritionFacts.org as the next biggest culprits of human contamination. Do you see my confusion here? And, according to Illinois Department of Health, animals that grazed had lower levels of dioxin contamination than fish or other seafood. In fact, their biggest recommendations seem to be skinning and grilling your fish washing your produce, and moving away from the fire when burning personal waste.

Another article states that eating locally-sourced foods can increase or decrease your exposure to dioxin, and qualifies it with “if you’re not eating from the commercial food system.” I can’t find the article right now, but I’ll dig for it again. The point was that it made it sound like commercial foods are safer, which just strikes me as illogical. I’ll stick with plant-based foods for the example. Dioxins are apparently most readily spread via water and air, both of which land them on and in soil. Seeds are planted in the soil, plants uptake the dioxin. The plants are harvested and eaten. Commercial or small-farm, this works pretty much the same way. In fact, all food is local to somewhere, no matter how it’s produced. Am I missing a reason why land farmed by Big Ag would somehow be inherently safer? Actually, wouldn’t it seem it would be less safe, since there’s a shot that dioxin-containing chemicals were used on the plants at some point (either now or in the past), and dioxins are fairly persistent?  I truly don’t understand his assertion. And, the EPA itself states that most exposure comes from our commercial food system (hence, Big Ag’s freak out).

Someone help me out here.

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3 responses to “Dioxins: A Call for Reason

  • Joseph Kouyoumjian

    So our entire food system sucks. You can’t escape it. Want to eat organic? Too bad – “Big Organic” co-opted the category long ago and does things now that are just as bad as conventional. Now can’t even eat locally grown food and escape this stuff. Now they have “organic” factory farms and CAFOs!

    I love eggs – sometimes I eat a dozen in a week. I am fit and my cholesterol is low. I hike a lot and have an active lifestyle. It works for me as source of fat and protein.

    Here we go again with the food industry. Just watch: they will get the government to backpedal on the reports and proposed regulations. In the end there will be no changes to anything.

  • shwankie

    It is very frustrating, and Big Ag is already pushing for the EPA to “ease” back their warning.

    Mostly, I am just wondering if anyone actually knows what the best course for avoiding dioxins actually is. Vegetarians are definitely taking this as a a huge point in their favor, and for all I know, they may be correct. But, I suspect there’s a lo more to it than that. Vegans and vegetarians definitely still have dioxin in their systems (there’s a study about this, I just didn’t bookmark it yesterday), and if you don’t know where the food is produced and the dioxin levels in that area, how would anyone know if the fruit and veggies are low in dioxin? Washing them only helps so much. On the other hand, if an animal is grazed in a low-dioxin area, it seems it may have little dioxin in it’s fats.

    I just don’t think it’s as simple as people want it to be. I’ve got nothing against vegetarians–heck, I was one for 6 years–but, I just actually can’t find enough consistent data to figure out if this really is the “wake up call” that many veggie bloggers and journalists are hailing it as.

  • Stacie

    Sometimes I wonder if common sense has become extinct. Heaven forbid we all think for ourselves and discover what you, Shawn, have stumbled upon. Heaven forbid we ask intelligent questions and demand thoughtful answers.

    “Big Ag” is supposedly safer because they say they are. If we accept the premise that they know everything, and we know nothing, then we don’t have to think for ourselves. Sometimes the cynical side of me wonders if that’s actually happened.

    The dioxin debate has been around for years, though. (Several years ago there was an uproar over supposed dioxin in tampons.) It seems to me, whatever that’s worth, that we can’t do anything about the dioxins we’ve already put into the environment. We should, however, be working on ways to keep from putting any more out there. In the meantime, we gotta keep eating, eh?

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