Chiropractors are known as doctors who specialize in the spine, but that isn’t stopping some from offering advice on the dangers of pesticides and genetically modified food.
Unlike websites for dental practices, which focus on teeth, chiropractor websites cover much more ground than spine and joint health. Most sites have blogs or articles on health and wellness with advice on subjects such as diet, exercise and foot health.
Article I in the Canadian Chiropractors Association’s code of ethics says members should “recognize the limitations of his or her expertise.”
Despite this, dozens of chiropractors are advising Canadians on food safety, toxicology and how food is produced. Many are critical of modern agriculture and “factory farming.”
For example, the website for Academy Chiropractic in Winnipeg has the following information on agricultural pesticides: “The growing consensus among scientists is that small doses of pesticides and other chemicals can cause lasting damage to human health, especially during fetal development and early childhood.”
B.J. Hardick, a chiropractor in London, Ont., writes his own articles about the threat of pesticides and GM food on his website at www.hardickchiropractic.com/.
One of his favourite targets is GM soybeans.
“Not only is the soybean washed in chemicals that increase toxicity, it is not in its natural state and therefore not recognized as a food by your body,” he writes.
“We are seeing an epidemic rise in asthma and allergies, and many experts would agree that this is related to the human dietary system having to encounter never-before-seen kinds of proteins we are expecting it to digest.”
Hardick’s nutritional advice is more radical than most, but many Canadian chiropractors make similar statements on their websites and through social media: pesticides, GMOs and modern agriculture cause cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Many say to prevent these and other horrible diseases, eat organic.
Joel Friedman, director of policy and research for the College of Chiropractors of Ontario, said it’s normal for chiropractors to advise patients on diet and nutrition.
“Generally, it would be some adjunctive therapy … ancillary to their main therapy of adjustment and manipulation of the spine and joints,” he said. “Definitely, they provide holistic lifestyle advice, as well as nutrition.”
Friedman said he wasn’t concerned that Ontario chiropractors are telling patients to avoid food produced with pesticides or GMOs.
“We would look at everything on a case by case basis, but I would say generally they could provide that sort of nutritional advice.”
Dan Mazier, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers, said relying on a chiropractor for food knowledge is like asking a mechanic for information on foot health.
“What I can’t get over is what does a chiropractor know about food?” Mazier said after visiting chiropractors’ websites.
“Especially the … technical parts of food. I don’t know where their discipline comes into that,” he said.
“I don’t understand why someone would be seeking advice (on food) from a chiropractor.”
About 20 chiropractors in Toronto and Winnipeg belong to Maximized Living, a health and wellness franchise based in Florida. Maximized Living’s partners and other chiropractors frequently take their theories on food and nutrition beyond their office walls.
They give presentations in the community on illness prevention, and the speeches are often promoted as Cancer Killers: The Cause is the Cure.
An online video of Michigan chiropractor Jeff Senechal, which can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=crKCrNSVQuY, provides an example of the message.
In the video, Senechal identified GM food, pesticides, soybeans and vaccines as agents that cause cancer.
Senechal said science has shown that GM food is linked to leukemia. He also referred to a controversial and retracted French study as evidence that GMOs cause tumours.
Darryl Kashton, president of the Chiropractors’ Association of Sask-atchewan, said the association has no position on organic food.
He said chiropractors talk to their clients about food and promote healthy lifestyles because they have the necessary training and expertise.
“In chiropractic college, we do have a good number of nutrition classes and it’s part of our core curriculum.”
However, he said any advice on diet and food should be grounded in solid science.
“We are both an association and a regulatory provider. We are advocating for chiropractors (and) we are kind of public protection as well,” said Kashton, who practices in Regina.
“What a chiropractor is saying (should be) based on fact and science. If there is backing for what they’re saying, I think that’s defendable. If they are saying things … (and) there isn’t scientific research to validate their claims, that part of it is certainly concerning.”
The Canadian Nutrition Society, which promotes nutrition science and best practices, does not have a position on organic food.
David Ma, the society’s president-elect and a University of Guelph professor, said it’s acceptable for medical professionals to provide advice on nutrition, but the information should be thoughtful and researched.
“(You) don’t necessarily have to be an expert in the area, but you need to be responsible,” he said.
“Get all the information, all the facts…. There’s always going to be some personal opinion … but you hope it’s based on a foundation of evidence.”
Ma said conventional versus organic food is a matter of trade offs. He said the nutritional value of organic and conventional food is basically the same, but there are other considerations. Conventional crop yields are higher because of herbicides and insecticides, but pesticides aren’t risk free.
“Are these pesticides potentially linked to harm? The data isn’t strong either way.”
Ma said medical professionals should present the whole story and rely on scientific evidence when discussing organic and conventional food.
“If you’re only providing a narrow slice of the pie, it becomes biased very quickly,” he said.
“As a research organization, we really pride ourselves in terms of being evidence-based.”
Kashton said the Saskatchewan association would take action if a patient was dissatisfied with advice they received from a chiropractor or concerned about the accuracy of information on a website.
However, the association waits for a complaint before taking action.
“Anybody can make a complaint to our association,” he said. “We’ve got a very complete process…. You file a complaint and we’ll very thoroughly investigate it.”
Mazier said it’s perplexing that Canadians are taking advice about GM food and pesticides from chiropractors, but it’s representative of a broader challenge for farmers. Millions of urban residents have no idea where to get reliable information on food, and producer groups are well positioned to fill the void.
“It’s part of our challenge, at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and at KAP… we want to be the source … (to) go for the right information.”
The Manitoba Chiropractors Association, the Canadian Chiropractors Association and the Canadian Medical Association didn’t provide comment for this story by press time.