Country food is still safe


This letter is a response to the article titled “Montreal tests show harmful effects of contaminants,” which appeared in the May 17 issue of Nunatsiaq News. The purpose of this letter is two-fold: First, to respond to the misinformation presented in the article, which has caused unfounded fear and worry among residents in Nunavik. Second, to set the record straight regarding the scientific facts on contaminants found in country foods in Nunavik.

It is true that many chemicals, including Tributyltin (TBT), found in the Arctic environment can be harmful to animal and human health. When given at very high doses, some of these chemicals have been shown to cause genetic and reproductive abnormalities in rats in toxicity tests carried out in a laboratory environment.

However, the levels of TBT and many other chemicals such as PCB and mercury in the environment of the Canadian Arctic are very low. The levels present in various country foods are extremely low, and in many cases undetectable. In short, the levels found are nowhere near the doses that are required to “produce” these harmful effects in laboratory rats reported in the article.

In the article, Bernard Robaire admitted that adverse reproductive effects were only observed in rats given 10 to 1,000 times the average environmental level found. The doses used make these experiments irrelevant and unrealistic in relation to the trace levels of contaminants found in country foods.

A large number of studies by numerous research groups have been conducted on contaminants for several decades. Harmful health effects on humans from eating country foods contaminated with chemicals have not been seen in Nunavik. Also, not a single case of genetic and reproductive abnormalities in animals and fish caused by exposure to chemical contaminants was found in Nunavik.

Country foods are highly nutritious. They are high in protein, minerals and vitamins. They do not contain chemicals that are often added by manufacturers to store-bought or processed foods such as growth hormones, antibiotics and preservatives. The risk from contaminants found in country foods has often been exaggerated by the media. A diet of country foods is still the best diet for people in the North. The nutritional benefits definitely outweigh the risk due to the traces of contaminants found in country foods in Nunavik.

The article has seriously damaged the reputation of country foods in Nunavik and has been successful in instilling unfounded fear to residents of Nunavik. I trust that the preceding has clarified the facts and will help re-instill confidence in consuming country foods.

Michael Kwan
Analytic Toxicologist
Makivik Corporation

Editor’s note: The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program’s 1997 report quotes data showing that maternal-blood levels of contaminants such as PCB, DDT and chlordane in Nunavik women were higher than in most parts of the circumpolar world. Here’s a quotation from p. 175 of the report:

A study of Inuit boys in Canada showed that their birth weight was lower if the mother had high levels of PCBs in her breast milk. Moreover, ear infections and other infectious diseases were much more common among one-year-old Inuit boys who have been exposed to high levels of PCBs in their womb, which might indicate that their immune systems were weaker than those of other children.

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