Scientific and medical researchers now believe there is evidence that environmental toxins—particularly those used in agricultural production—can produce physical and emotional problems.
A recent study by the University Pathology Consortium—a nonprofit group composed of the medical schools of six prominent American universities—suggests that toxins in food and the environment can be directly linked to depression.
That finding, said Phil Lempert, a national grocery-marketing expert, has some significant implications for consumers, supermarkets and natural foods markets.
"Consumers and consumer advocates will increasingly make an issue out of the connection between what people eat and drink and the environment in which they exist," Lempert said in a recent newsletter.
"It is critical for retailers and manufacturers to understand these issues so they can anticipate consumer moods and make the changes that need to be made."
The UPC research is the first to directly link certain types of depression to exposure to toxins found in food and the environment.The research raised questions about mercury, lead and aluminum contamination, and the use of amalgam fillings in dentistry. It also pointed to toxins in pesticides that have been linked to health problems ranging from asthma to liver and kidney damage.
Health experts are worried about long-term effects from consuming nonorganic foods, which are routinely subjected to weed- and insect-killing chemicals.
The Federal Quality Foods Production Act, which was passed in 1996 and is still being implemented, placed emphasis on minimizing the impact of food toxins from pesticides on infants and children.
Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician who was an administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency at the time the act was passed, said in a 1996 seminar that concern over food toxins is greater for children because of the cumulative effects of toxic buildup, and the fact that a child's developing organs are more sensitive to toxins.
According to research on depression, the disease is evident in some form in an estimated 17.5 million Americans, including an estimated one in 10 children.
Lempert notes that research on food toxins and health is coming into the mainstream, as opposed "to being on the fringe."
He said it "...will be perceived as critically important in evaluating the role of the environment in the quality of life, and the choices consumers are able to make."
Dan Luzadder is an Evergreen, Colo.-based freelance writer.