CHILDREN are being exposed to a carcinogenic cocktail in their daily meals with side dishes of arsenic, PCBs and pesticides, according to an analysis by environmental scientists.
The study, by the association Générations Futures, found that a 10-year-old could be exposed to 81 different chemicals, with scores linked to possible cancers and hormonal changes, as a result of what he ate.
Lunchtime's tuna salad was found to contain arsenic, cadmium, mercury and PCBs. Salmon had 15 different pesticides, while green beans imported from Asia and north Africa were found to have non-regulation pesticides.
Based on a menu recommended by the health ministry, the researchers made up a typical day's meals for a youngster, with five items of fruit and veg, three milk products and 1.5 litres of water. Then they had the foodstuffs inspected by laboratory analysts.
Breakfast alone –milky tea, sliced white bread, butter, jam and a fruit juice – was shown to contain 28 chemical residues, including 21 suspected carcinogens, three known carcinogens and 19 that could cause hormonal changes.
The scientists said the spreadable butter alone contained 15 pollutants and the whole milk, sold in briques, had seven.
Générations Futures spokesman François Veillerette said that, even though in virtually all the cases the chemicals found were "below the legal limits, our tests still showed that consumers were swallowing daily an amazing cocktail of chemical molecules".
He said health authorities should be moving quickly to reduce consumers' exposure to these substances because the contamination risk had "probably been under-estimated".
Mr Veillerette said their report had been done in association with the health group Environnement Santé and ecologists from the WWF, who wanted to warn people of the chemicals on their plates, which in their own way were as bad as tobacco and alcohol.
"The growth of childhood cancers over the past 30 years in Europe shows that we should be looking to our own environment for the source of this upsurge."
Diet specialist Laurent Chevallier, the man who first pointed the finger at now-banned bisphenol A in babies' milk bottles, took part in the study and said: "We should get ready for a health crisis. Big businesses are profiting from badly framed legislation, especially with regard to additives.
"No one has done long-term studies on the effects of the pollutants, pesticides and other additives. We know not to mix certain medicines; but it must be the same here."
Dr Chevallier added: "In 25 years, cancers have doubled, with a constant increase in children; diabetes is up 40 per cent in 10 years, and allergies have multiplied by five in 20 years. Many of these chronic illnesses can trace their origins to hormonal changes."