Leading experts are questioning the findings of a Fonterra-sponsored study of nitrates in drinking water.
One critic said the investigation is an attempt by the cooperative to deflect criticism about its role in supporting an industry that is a major contributor to increasing amounts of nitrate in drinking water.
Environmentalist Dr. Mike Joy said the study represented the same strategy employed by tobacco companies, where alternative research was presented to divert attention from the harmful effects of smoking.
“The international organization against cancer has said that nitrate in drinking water is associated with colorectal cancer. There are a lot of articles that confirm it. And then you get something strange, I will not call it research because it is not, it has not It’s been peer-reviewed. It’s been reviewed by the funder. And that’s it. “
The controversial study was funded 60 percent by Fonterra and 40 percent by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and explored whether the link established between nitrates in drinking water and bowel cancer was valid.
He said those who found a link to cancer had not considered the role of food in nullifying the impact of nitrates.
Lead author Peter Cressey of ESR said this called into question whether there was a link.
“I think there is great emotion in telling people who live in the countryside that their water could be causing cancer. This is a personal opinion, but if you are going to instill fear in people, I think you must be reasonably sure of what is saying “.
Cressey said that while the impetus behind the study came from Fonterra, he was responsible for deciding on its parameters.
“Its [Fonterra’s] the interest was practically the same as mine. A lot of heat was generated here, let’s say from a limited information base. Before making a pronouncement on whether something is going to cause cancer or not, it must be examined by a wider range of abilities than that. “
Epidemiologist Dr. Tim Chambers said the study missed the mark.
There is currently not enough evidence on the nullifying effect that antioxidants in food might have on nitrates in our drinking water, he said.
“A review-type study like the one they have done here was never able to provide evidence that nitrate is highly unlikely to cause colorectal cancer.”
The fact that the study did not look at unregistered private drinking water wells, where the highest levels of nitrate were found, meant that it did not add much that was useful to the debate, he said.
“We know that there are around 800,000 people who are above the milligram per liter of nitrate nitrogen, which is the level that was seen in association with colorectal cancer in the Danish study. So what we really have to do is target our energy, our research energy to understand what happens to these higher nitrate levels. “
RNZ wanted to interview someone at Fonterra about why the study was carried out, but no one was available.
In a statement, he said he wanted to better understand the science and validity of studies suggesting that nitrates in drinking water could cause bowel cancer.
Cressey insisted that his study had been peer-reviewed by both the Ministry of Primary Industries and ESR colleagues and that it would be submitted for further peer review once it was submitted to a scientific journal.