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Excessive precaution is unnecessary and may be harmful

Rob Lyons
Columnist

Topics Politics

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Paula Baillie-Hamilton may have trawled through hundreds of research papers over the years, but the process has clearly dulled her critical faculties. She argues that synthetic chemicals are responsible for a multitude of different illnesses. But the evidence for this is either flawed epidemiology with small relative risks involved, or animal research that should not be directly extrapolated to humans.

Far from ‘killing you’, the twenty-first century is likely to see the highest average life expectancies in human history. The relative importance of diseases associated with allergy, and diseases of old age like heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s, are a direct product of the virtual elimination of infectious disease over the last sixty years or so – not the increasing use of synthetic chemicals, most of which we are exposed to in such tiny quantities that they are incapable of doing us harm.

Baillie-Hamilton’s blanket approach might actually do more harm than good. It is by no means impossible that a small number of chemicals we deal with regularly today will turn out to be detrimental, to one degree or another. Pesticides, for example, are incredibly useful but are also powerful. We may find with experience that we need to improve the way we handle them. But the ludicrous suggestion that synthetic chemicals are universally harmful may actually serve to mask those situations where there is a real problem with a particular chemical or how it is used.

Rob Lyons, UK

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Topics Politics

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