TV REVIEW : Food, Kids: A Chemical Danger?


Bill Moyers never says it during his investigation for “Frontline” into chemical hazards affecting the American food chain, but the implied message of “In Our Children’s Food” (at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15, and 8 p.m. on KVCR-TV Channel 24; Wednesday at 9 p.m. on KOCE-TV Channel 50) is clear. Hie thee to your organic grocer.

The problem is that not all of us are fortunate enough to have an organic grocer nearby. Only a few grocery chains have even begun to give over a fraction of their produce space to fruits and vegetables farmed by alternative, nontoxic methods. And as one organic farmer admits in the report, “Chemical is still number one.”

The reasons why it is are myriad, from farmers’ thin profit margins and needs for the high productivity rate that chemical farming allows, to the bottlenecks impeding both Environmental Protection Agency and congressional attempts to determine the safety level of every agricultural chemical.

Moyers courses through the bureaucratic tangle wood with ease (he even uses chemical company refusals to talk to him to a kind of advantage). It is a new, long-awaited National Academy of Sciences study, “Pesticides in the Diets of Infants and Children,” that Moyers finds can’t survive the governmental gauntlet. Because means of measuring tolerance to chemicals in food are set at adult levels, a growing body of opinion is calling for a second standard that would take into account kids’ much lower tolerance levels.


But the likelihood of speedy delivery of a new standard appears bleak: According to Moyers, since 1965, the EPA has approved only 19 of 620 agricultural chemicals submitted by industry. The oldest substances on the market, and potentially some of the most toxic, are paradoxically the most difficult to ban, due to compromise legislation.

The bitter fruit of government inaction appears in such places as the farm community of McFarland, Calif., where clusters of deformed children have raised repeated, though unproven concerns of chemicals passing from mothers to babies in the womb.

Moyers is wrong on at least one count, however: Twice, he states that Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” was the first book to raise concerns about food-based chemicals’ effect on humans. In fact, Murray Bookchin’s brilliant “Our Synthetic Environment” predated Carson in a thorough critique of DDT and other toxic substances.