Category Archives: health

Natural mosquito repellents for summer

Summer is here at last, with the promise of leisurely evenings spent outdoors under the stars, eating grilled meats and catching up with friends. The yearly mosquito scourge hasn’t arrived in France as the weather has been unseasonally cool, but it’s time to start thinking about natural remedies and protection that do not involve DEET.

DEET (N,N-diéthyl-3-méthylbenzamide) is a registered pesticide classified in the US as “slightly toxic”. It is a member of the toluene chemical family, an organic solvent used in rubber and paint removers. Between 9 % and 56 % of DEET is absorbed through the skin, mostly within two hours following application. Neurological problems have been linked to DEET exposure and research in rats has revealed that high levels of DEET can kill neurons in areas of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration .

Here’s a list of alternatives available in France. Most can be purchased online:

Anti-Pique by Abiessence.

In this unpressurized atomizer, a blend of essential oils of lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, peppermint, geranium, lemongrass, sage and cinnamon provides lasting protection from mosquitoes. Spray generously at 20 cm from the skin and massage lightly. Re-apply several times a day.

Abiessence, La Source. 33-4-77646488

Mousticare from Végébom.

Composed of purified geraniol extracted from citronella, this spray can be used both on clothing and curtains, tents, strollers and cars. The manufacturer says it is effective for six weeks, and requires re-application after each wash.

MoustiCare, Végébom. 33-1-45004629

Outdoor lotion with citronella, from Druide.

Certified by Ecocert, this citronella-based lotion from Quebec’-based natural cosemetics firm Druide is safe to use on children from two years and upwards. It contains citronella, terpenes, aloes, betacarotene and tea tree oil.

Lait Hyrdatant Citronelle by Druide. Available at biocosmeo.

Répulsif insectes volantes from Gravier.

At night, try putting this mixture of lavender and cloves and geranium and citronelle into a diffuser for some bug-free beauty rest.

Répulsif insectes volantes, Gravier. 33-4-72443868

via Quelle santé magazine


Health risk of cellphone jammers in French cinemas

Inside the Pagode, one of the loveliest cinemas in Paris

Inside the Pagode, one of the loveliest cinemas in Paris

Cellphone jammers are illegal in most countries (the military excepted) but in France, since 2004, it is legal to use jammers in cinemas and theatres.

A cellphone jammer is a device that emits signals in the same frequency range that cellphones use, effectively blocking their transmissions by creating strong interference. In Europe those frequencies are gsm 900MHZ and gsm 1900 MHz.

Someone using a cellphone in the range of a jammer will lose signal, but have no way of knowing a jammer was the reason. The phone will simply indicate poor reception strength. A “jammed” environment in a cinema is basically the equivalent of putting people in a more concentrated electromagnetic radiation incubator, so it’s worth asking how safe this is, especially for young children.

Jammers can be useful for security; say a presidential motorcade, to keep terrorists from detonating a bomb by cellphone. The potential health risk associated with these “jammed” environments has been raised by the case of Belgian soldiers operating in Afghanistan who started showing symptoms of electrohypersensitivity last August – nausea, headaches etc. The suspected cause is the jammer installed in their armoured vehicles – Lockheed Martin’s Symphony IED jammer system – which protects them from cellphone detonated explosions.
While the Belgian Defense Ministry insists that the level of radiation was within acceptable norms, an investigation has been opened and two of the soldiers in the 11th Engineer Battalion in Burcht have been removed from service by doctors.

Meanwhile, in France, the “Grenelle des Ondes” wrapped up a month-long consultation which was so weak-kneed that the NGO’s quit the proceedings before the end, declaring the exercise a farce. No conclusions were reached on the thorny question of cellphone basetowers; proposals were put forward to ban cellphones from elementary school grounds, for telephone operators to offer child-friendly cellphone plans that only allow text-messaging and start selling phones that can only be used with an earpiece.

Via RTL Info Belgique

New EU law on organic agriculture is a step backwards for France

France will lose its familiar green Agriculture Biologique (AB) label next year. New rules came into effect on Jan 1, 2009 aimed at harmonizing standards among the 27 European Union nations on organic agriculture. While the text seeks to simplify and impose common standards, the net effect for countries like France is to considerably lower the barrier for organic agriculture. According to a poll conducted by the CSA/Agence Bio in 2008, 85 percent of French people know the AB label and use it as a reference for consumer decisions.

Under the EU law, national labels will disappear in July 2010 to be replaced by a mandatory European logo, which is currently the object of a contest open to EU art or design students.

On the positive side, new products like wine, plants, seeds, yeast and aquaculture will be classified under the new label. The new legislation upholds the fundamental principles of organic agriculture: ie a ban on the use of chemical pesticides, respect for animal welfare, a ban on the deliberate introduction of GM crops.

However, a doorway has been opened to accidental GM contamination from neighbouring fields, on the condition that the traces of GM crops are less than 0.9 % of the total weight of the product. Furthermore, contrary to previous French legislation, pig and poultry farmers no longer have to produce at least 40 percent of their animal feed on site. Finally, the new legislation has fewer restrictions on antibiotic treatments (three annual treatments are now permitted. Poultry can now be sold at 70 days compared with the former minimum of 81 days and anti-parasite treatments are now allowed.

French organic producers, for their part, intend to roll out their own, more demanding set of criteria starting from January 2010 in order to maintain their high standards. Standards aside, it is worth noting that France – Europe’s top pesticide user – is a big laggard when it comes to organic agriculture in terms of surface area planted. Only 2 percent of land in France is farmed organically, compared with the European average of 4-5 percent. Best performers among the 27 are Austria (13 percent), Estonia, Latvia and Italy (9 percent) and Greece (8 percent).

Safety in cookware: PTFE vs nano-ceramic coatings?

Belgian cookware manufacturer Beka has come out with a handsome line of products called Beka Eco-Logic which replaces the traditional Teflon anti-stick coatings containing PTFE chemicals with a ceramic coating which they call Bekadur Ceramica.

Like many of the more recent PTFE-free offerings, such as Green Pan, these pans are covered with a durable nano-coating in ceramic. These ceramic coatings are water-based and can resist much higher temperatures than traditional coatings. Debate over the potential health risks of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) – best known by the DuPont brand name Teflon – has raged for years, so at first glance this seems like a no-brainer for any green-minded kitchen.

According to the most conservative scenario, PTFE starts to deteriorate after the temperature of cookware reaches about 260 °C (500 °F), and decomposes above 350 °C (660 °F). This can cause flu-like symptoms in humans.

But the debate on potential health risks of nano-technologies is only just beginning.
The main issue, as stated by ETC in “A Tiny Primer on Nano-Scale Technologies” is “Governments, industry and scientific institutions have allowed nanotech products to come to market in the absence of public debate and regulatory oversight.”

There are very few toxicological studies on engineered nanoparticles “but it appears that nanoparticles as a class are more toxic than larger versions of the same compound because of their mobility and increased reactivity.” This is important because nanoparticles can move easily into the body and slip past the body’s immune system. At 70 nanometres, nanoparticles can burrow deep into lung tissue; a 50 nm particle can slip into cells. Particles as small as 30 nm can cross the blood-brain barrier.

The bottom line is: we just don’t know. And how reassuring is that?

If it isn’t organic, skip the whole grain

When I was growing up, my mother had to bake her own bread because whole grain bread was not available. So I grew up with the sturdy conviction that any bread which was brown and grainy was more healthful than white bread. As I moved to organic food in recent years, I discovered that while whole grain bread contains more vitamins, minerals and fibre, the big downside is that whole grains also contain a lot more pesticides than white bread made from refined and bleached white flour. In fact, in France, non-organic wheat is not only sprayed up to nine times during the growing period, it is also treated with chemicals during storage. Pesticide residues tend to accumulate in the husk, which accounts for the fact that a wholewheat flour which is not organic has a heavier pesticide content than a white flour

So although I live in France, where the prospect of wonderful bread is alive on every street corner, purchasing grainy, organic breads on a daily basis actually represents more of a challenge.

For residents of rural areas, it actually makes more sense to bake your own bread – hence the big jump in sales of bread machines in recent years. Organic flours are available at the organic cooperatives and most big supermarket brands have rolled out their own versions over the past 18 months or so. Conservation times are shorter: conventional flour lasts nine months and organic flour six.

In Paris, my favourite supplier of organic whole-grain bread is Véronique Mauclerc, 11 rue Poncelet, 75017 (closed Monday). Her bread is outstanding from every point of view; there are over 60 varieties using every cereal imaginable; all are organic except for her baguette, the flour is stone-milled by George Trottin in the Sarthe.

Véronique Maclercs wood-fired oven, one of the four such ovens left in Paris

Véronique Maclerc's wood-fired oven, one of the four such ovens left in Paris

Otherwise, there are the often iffy and brick-like loaves for sale at my local biocoop, Moisan (a chain with bakeries all over Paris; their bread is often okay but it is rarely oven-fresh), Eric Kayser (over-marketed, over-salty and over-priced) and the grandaddy of all the above, the venerable Poilane.

For home bakers looking for high-quality organic flours, there’s another issue which continues to plague the chat forums and blogs in France: the fact that there isn’t enough supply of organic wheat to meet demand in France, so that much of what you purchase is actually sourced all over Eastern Europe. This raises the question of whether the organic agriculture norms are the same in all countries.

Furthermore, pro-GM flacks and lobbyists will sometimes lurk on these fora in the guise of “farmers” to push their narrative that organic food and feed is more heavily contaminated with mycotoxins than conventional and genetically modified foods, on grounds that organic production does not use chemical fungicides, and are hence more likely to be infected.

Mycotoxins are toxic metabolites produced by fungi. Mycotoxin poisoning has been known since the beginning of agriculture and has taken a large toll on humans and farm animals consuming contaminated crops. It is is a worldwide problem associated with maize, rice, tree nuts and peanuts along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

But the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that, “studies have not shown that consuming organic products leads to a greater risk of mycotoxin contamination.”

Highest-risk fruit and vegetables for pesticide contamination

March 20-30 marked the 4th annual edition of “Semaine Sans Pesticides – a kind of national awareness week to remind people of the seriousness of the issue in France. Just as the market stalls fill up with tempting displays of strawberries and aspargus, it’s worth remembering that France is the world’s third biggest user of pesticides, and the number one in Europe, with a staggering 76,000 tons sprayed in 2008.

According to the latest figures, 7.2 percent of fruit and vegetables in France contain pesticide residues which are over the maximum authorized limits fixed by the European Commission. High-risk vegetables are peppers, chilies, tomatoes, lettuce, leeks and spinach. Among fruits – 8.5 percent have over the limit concentrations of pesticides – the ones to avoid are strawberries, mandarins and grapes.

“The longer the storage time is, the more the contaminated products migrate from the skin to the fruit,” François Veillerette, president of the anti-pesticide NGO MDRGF, told Le Monde in an article last week. Apples, for instance, can be contaminated up to 5 mm under the skin.

Useful tips for minimizing your pesticide exposure include steaming instead of boiling vegetables; also, it’s best to discard the core and external leaves of lettuce and cabbage

via Le Monde

French Academy of Medicine declares cellphone basetowers “safe”

Following a French court’s recent landmark decision to order the dismantling of a cellphone base tower on the basis of health risks to residents nearby, French telephone operators lost no time lobbying the government to reaffirm the inviolability of the right to erect cellphone towers anywhere and everywhere on French territory. The next step in this saga was a report issued by the French Academy of Medicine on March 4, declaring that there is no health risk associated with being in proximity to cellphone base towers.

According to the report, exposure to the electromagnetic fields of these basetowers is between 100 and 100,000 time less than what you would receive from being exposed through making a call on a cellphone for 30 seconds. However, on March 11, the French satirical weekly Le Canard enchaîné reported that the ruling of the Academy of Medicine was the result of pressure exerted by Bouygues Telecom on the Prime Minister François Fillon. It noted that the Academy of Medicine responded with unusual alacrity to the February 4 ruling by the Versailles appeal court, convening just one working group (instead of the habitual commission) which met only once to reach its decision.

Man reading Le Canard Enchainé

Man reading Le Canard Enchainé

Meanwhile, the government will hold a “Grenelle des Antennes” on March 26 attended by telephone operators, local politicians, associations and health professionals. Given that the government has come out firmly on the side of “cellphone base towers are totally safe”, one wonders what the point of this Grenelle could be?

Notice that the Academy pointed out that the intensity of electromagnetic fields coming from cellphone base towers is 100 to 100,000 time less than that of using a cellphone yourself. So why isn’t the “Grenelle” looking at cellphones?

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is not currently an accepted diagnosis. In Sweden it is an officially recognized functional impairment, but it is not regarded as a disease. Last month, Libération ran a story profiling a 39 year-old German who is so electro-sensitive that he cannot live anywhere but in a so-called “white zone” which is free from any wireless or cellphone fields. Matthias Moser, and along with hundreds of thousands of others who suffer from symptoms such as nausea, migraines, weakness and anxiety whenever they are in electromagnetic fields. This means, basically, that they are completely marginalized from society and have to take refuge in the few remaining “white zones” left in France.

Ear after 4-minute cell phone call

Ear after 4-minute cell phone call

There is currently a European pilot White Zone Health Zone eco-village project underway in the southeast of France. The plan is to build eco-villages for people suffering from EHS in a location which is 10 kilometres from a town and guaranteed totally free from High-Frequency Radiation. It will be protected by an access road with security gates and an EMF detector that forbids entry to any person or vehicle that does not meet the regulations.