Naming and Praising Awards – July 2003
A SIRC Naming and Praising Award goes to Tim Radford, the Guardian's Science Editor, for his piece Are barbecues seriously bad for your health?, July 31, 2003.
The story was covered by a number of other news sources. The BBC lead with the headline Barbeque cancer warning, ABC were more concerned that the results of the research might undermine 'the Aussie way of life' and the Sun excelled itself with BBQs are as 'bad as fags'.
The research, carried out by the French environmental group Robin des Bois [Robin of the Woods], tested the fumes emitted by barbequing four steaks, four turkey breasts and eight sausages over a two hour period. They found that the level of dioxins in the barbeque smoke far exceeded the levels 'permissable at the outlet of a commercial incinerator chimney'.
Tim Radford suggests that, based on the results of previous research, Robin des Bois' findings are hardly suprising and that while health risks are associated with high levels of dioxins
a dioxin-free world would be quite hard to achieve. They pour from rubbish-burning incinerators, garden bonfires, forest fires and the family fire place.
So should we be worried about the health implications of the barbeque? Only 'if we eat too much', says Tim Radford.
We must also remember that for all prehistory and almost all recorded human history, humans cooked over open fires of wood, charcoal or dung. Most humans still do. In spite of this, human numbers have gone from 1 billion to more than 6 billion in the past 200 years.
So the message is: go easy on the charred fillet and sooty sausage, but also save that pinch of salt for the health warnings.
31 July 2003