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Hypochondriacs here in Aspen?

Aspen Times Staff Report

After almost 50 years of evaluating the health safety of food, Dr. Bernard Wagner is still amazed by how fearful Americans are about alleged cancer-causing agents in the country’s food supply.

On Thursday, Wagner will speak on, “Health and the Environment: Why Are We Scared?” as part of the Given Institute’s summer public lecture series. The free lecture will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Given Institute, located at 100 E. Francis St., Aspen, with cake and ice cream served from 3:30-5 p.m. in celebration of the Given Institute’s 30th anniversary.

“I think it’s partly a psychological problem,” said Wagner. “The United States has the safest food supply in the world, but we’re still scared. The public just doesn’t understand the science behind the studies they hear about.”

He began his career as a consultant for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1956, evaluating the safety of natural flavors in root beer. Since then, Wagner has consulted for the FDA, EPA and NASA, has served on the Committee on Toxicology for the National Academy of Sciences, and consulted for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.

A longtime visitor to Aspen, Wagner said there are an “enormous amount of hypochondriacs in Aspen” who are committed to an overblown regimen of vitamins and nutritional supplements.

Wagner believes the media is part of the problem. “The 6 o’clock news always has some so-called medical breakthrough by some advocacy group about some cancer-causing agent. They might tell you there are PCBs in the water, but they don’t tell you how much – and it’s the amount of the dose that makes something poisonous.”

As part of his work, Wagner said he’s “been attacked by every advocacy group you can imagine,” adding that he’ll be happy to take questions as part of his talk.

Wagner will talk briefly about why humans have an “amazing ability” to safely process a wide variety of chemical through their liver, kidney and gastrointestinal tract. He’ll also use laymen’s terms to explain how scientists rigorously assess the toxicity of chemicals, and how they determine whether a chemical poses a risk to humans.

Wagner will offer tips on how to correctly evaluate information disseminated through the media “on the latest toxic risk to arouse public fear and anxiety.”


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