Minister Manto, Please protect us!

10 December 2002 - Today, groundWork again calls on Minister of Health, Dr Manto Tshabalala Msimang to take the necessary steps to make our homes safer.

We note that Dr Msimang has recently announced her intentions to make it compulsory for alcoholic drinks to carry health warnings, similar to those used on tobacco products. We urge Dr Msimang not to stop there, but to go further and make it a requirement that there are health warnings on other products which are daily consumed or used by young children and pregnant women.

Tartrazine, MSG, aspartame, saccharin, sulphites and nitrites are just some of the toxic substances freely added to South African foods, whilst their use is either banned or restricted in other countries because of their proven toxicity.

Some of the health effects linked to the ingestion of foods containing the above-mentioned additives are: hyperactivity, ADD (attention deficit disorder), asthmatic attacks, thyroid tumours, chromosomal damage, cancers, epilpetic seizures, Alzheimers and Parkinsons diseases, and even death. For example, in the USA the use of sulphites (a preservative) has been outlawed from most fruits and vegetables following at least a dozen fatalities linked to sulphites. All of the deaths occurred amongst asthmatics. In South Africa sulphites are still added to dried fruits, fruit squashes, dehydrated vegetables amongst other foodstuffs.

Also in the USA, cooldrinks containing the artificial sweetener saccharin carry health warnings stating: "Use of this product may be hazrdous to your health. This product contains saccahrin which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."

Yet in South Africa saccharin is used in many foodstuffs including, diet drinks, pototo chips (fruit and chutney flavours), fruit squashes to name but a few.

Similarly, there are many cosmetic products and household cleaners containing substances which are toxic to humans, in particular young children, which are sold without any kind of health warning. For example, Baygon has been linked to childhood leukamia in Scotland, some air fresheners contain cancer causing chemicals, and a chemical found in most bubble baths has been linked to cataract formation and possible blindness.

Even worse is the fact that in South Africa babies' toys and teethers ("dummies") are permitted to contain phthalates which are reproductive toxins, banned from children's products in other countries.

"Our Minister of Health espouses a doctrine of preventative care, and yet is doing nothing to protect the South African public from a wide-range of very serious health problems, some of which are fatal", says Linda Ambler of the environmental watchdog organisation groundWork.

We accordingly call on her to pass regulations that will make our foods, cosmetics and household cleaners safer for use. We are calling for the following:

1. The elimination of toxic chemicals from our foodstuffs, cosmetics and household products.

2. Health warnings on all household products and foodstuffs containing potentially toxic chemicals, with special warnings for pregnant women and young children.

3. The compulsory listing of all ingredients in all foodstuffs, household chemicals and cosmetics.