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Letter from Joshua Lederberg to Gaylord Nelson

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  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


STANFORD UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER STANFORD, CALIFORNIA 94305 . (415) 321-1200 STANFORD UNNERSlTY thOOL OF hfEDIClNE March 6, 1973 Honorable Gaylord Nelson United States Senate Washington, D.C. 20510 Dear Senator Nelson, Thank you for your letter of February 28th and for the enclosed letter dated February 22nd from Gerald F. Meyer of the FDA. I very much appreciate the close interest you have evidently taken in the potato problem, and I am sure that this will be perceived by and have a favorable effect on the critical judgments of the responsible officials. I think I should, however, point out that there is a basic philosophical difference in the way in which we approach the question of hazard with a commodity like a blighted potato in contrast to a synthetic food additive or drug. That is to say, the burden of proof seems to lie on the critic who indeed has not yet proven that a hazardous substance is present in diseased potatoes. On the other hand, very reasonable questions have been raised by Dr. Renwick and others and were this situation to have reached the current state of sensitivity in almost any other area, it is certain we would be demanding the opposite: namely that the purveyor undertake the prior testing necessary to demonstrate that his product was a safe one. I can hardly take an absolute position on this and I am certainly not recommending that potatoes be withheld from the market. That there should be any question about the possibility of Dr. Renwick obtaining financial support for testing his hypothesis, for example by a potato avoidance trial as mentioned in Meyer's letter, does illustrate a potential source of hypocrisy in dealing with this question. If further investigations are not vigorously promoted we will, of course, never have definite knowledge as to whether a hazardous substance is present in blighted potatoes or not. Our ignorance does not necessarily lead to bliss however. I would advocate that besides the ve

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