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While the chorus of do-gooders who govern us try to convince us that we are fortunate to be living longer and longer and that it is therefore perfectly justified to work longer in order to be entitled to a pension, the data on the evolution of health in general is a challenge.

While life expectancy has increased over the past few decades, the percentage of healthy people has not increased in parallel. On the contrary. For example, in the Netherlands, life expectancy without chronic disease decreased from 51.4 years in 1985 to 48.1 years in 2012 for men and from 48.8 years in 1985 to 40.5 years in 2012 for women.

These revealing figures are not exclusive to our Dutch neighbors:

  • A worldwide increase in the incidence of cancer is observed. In Flanders, this cancer incidence has been increasing until recently (2004 for men, 2014 for women; the latest figures are from 2015).
  • Overweight and obesity have risen sharply over the past 20 years in most OECD countries, not only among adults but also among children. Among children in Belgium, this increase was observed between 2000–2001 and 2013–2014.
  • According to estimates by the International Diabetes Federation, 8% of the Belgian population suffers from diabetes, mainly (about 90%) from type 2 diabetes.
  • In Flanders, as in many parts of the world, the incidence and prevalence of male fertility problems have increased. A 2018 review identified an overall 57% decrease in average sperm concentration over the past 35 years. The decline is measured all over the world.
  • Last but not least, for more than a decade, cognitive abilities have been declining in some Western countries, whereas they had been increasing in previous decades. In addition, the prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders has increased in recent decades: autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

All these findings do not come from rabid environmental or anti-capitalist activists but are part of a report published in 2019 by the very official Belgian Higher Health Council (HSC). For our readers, it is worth mentioning that the HSC is a federal body responsible for providing scientific advice on public health to the Ministers of Public Health and Environment, their administrations and some agencies. The HSC therefore does not only establish findings, but also indicates to policy makers the path to follow in terms of public health based on the most recent scientific knowledge.

This is where the 2019 HHS Board of Health report proves to be of unprecedented interest. In a departure from the « caution » that is commonplace in academic circles and public institutions, the expert scientists of the HSC do not hesitate to recommend fundamental changes in environmental health. They state in advance that  » we have overwhelming evidence that pollutants, man-made chemicals, and physical factors related to current lifestyle and environmental conditions are important causal factors responsible for many of the diseases of civilization . » They then note that the evaluation of the toxicological properties of a chemical for humans is time-consuming and costly, so that barely 1% of chemicals have been studied so far…

They conclude that it is impossible to properly assess the toxic or endocrine disrupting potential of each of the thousands of chemicals and propose that prevention should be based on knowledge and not only on evidence, as is the case today.

They make two strong recommendations:

  1. The burden of proof shifts for agents that show hazardous properties in simple tests; intensive exposure to such an agent is considered acceptable only if it can be shown to be extremely unlikely to cause harm;
  2. The implementation of physical-chemical environmental hygiene can lead to, but should not be equated with, the banning of a product or technology. In other cases, this same implementation could result in a modified version of the ALARA (as low as reasonably possible ) approach. In this modified version, exposures should not only be as low as possible but also as late as possible, as short as possible, and as few as possible, given the importance of early life exposures and low dose effects.

These recommendations challenge current practices, admittedly in diplomatic terms, but very clearly; their impact on policy should be significant, if not decisive.

Is it a coincidence that no one I know of has mentioned this HSC report, which dates from May 2019, i.e. before the European, federal and regional elections? Not a single press article, not a comment, not a political reaction… I admit that I only learned about it last October thanks to the vigilance of a friend, Wendy de Hemptinne, a scientist who is attentive to official publications on electromagnetic pollution. For the first time, the CSS report clearly mentions, even if in a lapidary way, the electromagnetic pollution and the biological and health impacts of exposure to very low frequency electromagnetic fields and microwave radiation at thermal levels, i.e. largely below the legal limit values.

Even if the official authorities, the political actors and the journalists in court do not show great enthusiasm towards a strong message, which questions the current practices in terms of prevention, it is quite clear that we have, as citizens, a tool of first choice to make ourselves heard in front of the industrial lobbies and those who relay them. The environmental and naturalist associations and the citizens’ committees must make the recommendations of the Superior Council of Health known and refer to them permanently.

The Grappe will not hesitate to call upon these recommendations in its fight for the banning of synthetic pesticides and the adoption of stricter limit values for electromagnetic pollution. Since specialists in neurodevelopment, such as Professor Philippe Grandjean, are calling for a ban on all insecticides whose mechanism of action is detrimental to the brain development of young children, the recommendations of the HSC should be applied without delay to outlaw all products concerned.

The same is true for SDHI fungicides: the latest study published on them last November confirms that they pose a potential public health problem that it is irresponsible not to take seriously. Here, it is the precautionary principle that is required, since the data published to date are few and do not prove, strictly speaking, the danger. However, these data are sufficient to put the ball back in the court of the industrialists; it is up to them to prove the absence of risk in the face of scientifically relevant allegations made by the researchers who challenge them.

Finally, at a time when wireless telecom operators are advocating for the generalization of 5G, with the more or less enthusiastic support of political leaders, and for a relaxation of legal constraints on exposure to microwave electromagnetic fields, the CSS report comes at the right time to block their way.

As I write this, there is still no light on the horizon that would allow us to believe that a federal government is being established in our country. What if we called on the possible future parties of government to take up the report of the Superior Council of Health? This would perhaps be a salutary diversion, to the benefit of all citizens, North and South.

Paul Lannoye, President of the Grappe

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