Consumers fear plasticizers, pesticides and preservatives in food
Almost daily there are worrying reports in the media: Eggs are contaminated with dioxins and lettuce. In addition, there are rotten meat scandals and the discussion about plasticizers in food packaging. Many consumers are unsettled and ask themselves: "What can I still eat?" In an interview with the news agency "dpa", experts explain what is hidden behind the dreaded ingredients and what consumers should be aware of.
Food is contaminated with pesticides, plasticizers and other substances
There is no such thing as 100 percent “pure” food. Almost every food contains substances - from rainwater, production or production - that can be potentially dangerous in certain quantities. "You can also poison yourself with spices or licorice," Professor Andreas Hensel, President of the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, told the news agency. But the human body is able to process these toxins. "We cannot live non-toxic, but you can actually eat everything that tastes, that's the beauty of it. " Nevertheless, there are many substances that unsettle consumers - often rightly so.
This can be seen from the example of plasticizers. So-called diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) is most often used, for example, in plastic packaging and in screw-on glass lids made of rubber to make the plastic supple. The particular problem with plasticizers is that they do not form a chemical compound in the plastic and can therefore escape again over time. More and more studies are coming to the conclusion that DEHP is extremely hazardous to health. The plasticizer is suspected of causing respiratory diseases such as asthma, diabetes mellitus and infertility. While DEHP is already banned in baby items and children's toys, the substance can still be used in food packaging. "Plasticizers like to go where there is fat," Christiane Huxdorff, an expert in sustainable agriculture at the environmental protection organization Greenpeace, told the news agency.
A pesticide alone is not the most dangerous substance in food. Pesticides are also substances that are extremely harmful to health. They often have a slow and delayed effect on the body by disrupting cell division, promoting cancer, damaging the genome, negatively influencing the immune system and triggering allergies, Greenpeace informs on its website. A cocktail of various pesticides that are sprayed onto the fruit and vegetables when fertilizing the fields is particularly dangerous. Frank Waskow of the Consumer Advice Center North Rhine-Westphalia agrees. "In our view, pesticide residues are not the highest risk in the food sector," said the news agency expert. In the past few years, the permissible maximum values for individual pesticides had hardly been exceeded. Those multiple residues are much more problematic. "In the case of pesticides in particular, only the individual active ingredient is looked at," explains Huxdorff. "It is not assessed how several pesticides work together."
Greenpeace found residues of 15 different pesticides on grapes. "There really is still a need for action," explains Huxdorff. Chinese medicinal herbs that are available in Germany have recently been put under the microscope by the environmental protection organization. Here, too, high levels of pesticide contamination were found. According to Huxdorff, the total limit values for drinking water could be considered as serve as a positive example.
Food preservatives worry consumers Many consumers are also afraid of food preservatives. Some people consistently avoid products with ingredients that begin with an “E”. "That is why the trend is that manufacturers ban chemical preservatives from their products," says Waskow. "Preservatives have been tested toxicologically and are harmless to health," adds the expert. However, the additives can cause health problems for allergy sufferers, for example. Huxdorff advises that children pay special attention to what they eat in order to avoid intolerance. But that also applies to adults. The use of food additives has been regulated by the legislator with appropriate limit values or maximum amounts. These are usually set so low that health damage only threatens if they are exceeded massively.
"Legally stipulated limit values do not describe the boundary between toxic and non-toxic," says Hensel. "They are politically made trade standards, which of course take health aspects into account." Consumption partially assumed that all foods were contaminated and dangerous, only because sometimes a limit value for undesirable substances in food was exceeded.
How consumers can avoid unwanted additives and residues in food However, the question arises as to why undesirable substances have to be contained in foods at all. For example, preservatives can also protect against health hazards such as food poisoning, but ultimately consumers are not asked which substances they want to include when eating a food. In addition, only natural and harmless agents could be used, as in some organic products.
"The more processing steps are necessary for a food and the more complex it is to produce, the more auxiliaries were used," explains Huxdorff. This means that a self-prepared meal contains fewer preservatives than the ready-made meal for the microwave. If you want to avoid plasticizers in food, shouldn't buy plastic-wrapped products, cheese, sausage, and meat products can be bought at the counter, for example, and vegetables don't have to be wrapped in plastic, like peppers or broccoli, for example.
In addition, no pesticides may be used for fruits and vegetables from controlled organic farming. Products from certain growing associations are grown according to strict guidelines, so that the consumer can be largely assured that the food does not contain any residues.
"The stinginess is cool mentality prevents high-quality products," reports Huxdorff. She advises consumers to buy regional, seasonal products from organic farming instead of just paying attention to the price.
However, the word “organic” does not always mean that no pesticides have been used. A Greenpeace study of organic food found that 13 percent of the products still contained minor traces of pesticides. (ag)
Image: lichtkunst.73 / pixelio.de