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Ministry of Spin downplays dioxin danger

7 October, 2004

Ministry of Spin downplays dioxin danger

Green MP, Sue Kedgley is concerned that the Ministry of Health is continuing the 30-year campaign to downplay and minimise the health risks of dioxin, following misleading and uncorrected comments attributed to its leading advisor on dioxin and wrong information on its 0800 advice line.

Ms Kedgley is demanding to know why the massive communications campaign run by the Ministry of Health on dioxin poisoning from the Dow factory in New Plymouth has failed to correct comments minimising the risk to breast-fed babies.

Deborah Read, chair of the technical group that advises the Ministry on dioxin, was reported in New Plymouth's Daily News as reassuring parents that: 'Small amounts of dioxin could be passed on to babies through breast milk, but children excreted that dioxin very quickly'.

"The truth is that it takes up to 15 years for children to expel dioxin from their bodies," said Ms Kedgley, the Green Health spokesperson. "The poison remains active in the body for the most important part of their physical and mental development."

A written question from Ms Kedgley to the Associate Health Minister returned the answer that Dr Read had been "slightly misquoted" in the newspaper article.

"There's nothing 'slight' about advising mothers who had been exposed to dioxin that it was, effectively, perfectly safe to breast-feed babies because the dioxin was excreted very quickly," said Ms Kedgley. "Either Dr Read gave the wrong advice or the reporter totally misunderstood her.

"In either case, the Ministry had a duty to correct the impression that had been given to the people of New Plymouth, and it failed to do so. Remember, this is a Ministry that boasted of its two-week preparation of a 'communications' campaign to launch the dioxin blood-level study."

Ms Kedgley also questioned the veracity of information being supplied by the Ministry's 0800 helpline.

"In answer to questions on the risk of dioxin being passed to a baby in breast milk, the Ministry's 'expert' claimed that there was no evidence of elevated levels of dioxin being passed on through breastfeeding, and that even if there was the risk of cancer is negligible."

"The glaring finding of this week's Health Select Committee's report into Agent Orange is that for thirty years, successive governments and agencies suppressed and distorted the truth about the dioxin poisoning of Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange.

"We know that a similar campaign of misinformation and disinformation was waged on the people of Paritutu and the concern remains that government officials are still actively trying to downplay the very real dangers posed by exposure to dioxin."


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