Many people are becoming concerned about the quality of our food. From genetically modified foods, to the use of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones and now radiation, our food has been altered in many ways. There is yet one more important item in the equation - plastic.

Yes, one of our most practical inventions has serious questions about its safety. Plastics of various kinds are man made products, many containing Phthalates, a synthetic chemical used to soften materials such as food packaging and wrap, toys, shoes, coating on wires and cables, vinyl tile, artificial leather, tarps, dishwasher baskets, flea collars, insect repellents, skin emollients, hair sprays, nail polish and perfumes, to mention a few.

A recent study has more emphatically made the link between these plastics and premature breast development in Puerto Rican girls under the age of two, a condition known as "Precocious Thelarche." Almost 1% of girls suffer from this disease, 18 times the incidence found in a similar study in Minnesota. 35 out of 41 affected baby girls had phthalates in their blood, versus 7 our of 35 for the control group.

Some phthalates, once in the bloodstream mimic the female sex hormone estrogen, and others interfere with a male sex hormone, which could cause birth defects and altered sexual development such as precocious thelarche.

Children in the US consume, on average, 5.8 milligrams per day of DEHP (a softening agent found in most polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products, the most widely used phthlate). This comes mostly from food and water stored in plastic containers or plastic wrap, or from plastic toys and teethers made soft with DEHP. Also, phthlates are fat-soluble, which means they concentrate in fatty foods such as butter, cheese and margarine.

Other forms of phthalates are also found in perfume, nail polish and hair sprays, all of which can be absorbed through the lungs, as well as in plastics, adhesives, dyes and food wraps. One study found that high levels were found in women between the ages of 20 and 40, which may pose danger to the male fetus reproductive system, especially in the first trimester of pregnany.

The National Toxicology Program confirmed the danger of DEHP, and expressed concern with that critically ill babies may be harmed because hospitals dispense blood and liquid foods from DEHP-softened vinyl bags and tubing. The Consumers Union found DEHP in in Dowbrands Saran Wrap and Reynolds Wrap, but not in plastic wrap by America's Choice, Duane Reade, Foodtown, Glad Crystal Clear Polyethylene and White Rose.

Items for babies are also of concern, especially teethers and baby bottles made from polycarbonate, a clear and rigid plastic.

A consensus amongst concerned groups is that food should be wrapped in polyethylene, which does not have plasticizers, with a gap always being left between the wrap and the food. Never should food be microwaved in plastic containers, especially fatty foods.

In the past four years, Austria, Japan, Greece, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Germany have all banned PVC toys containing phthalates for children under three years of age. However, the USA shows no sign of implementing similar regulations. It seems that the Chemical Industry is going to fight any regulation of the use of these plastics until the weight of evidence becomes irrefutable, which means by then it will be too late for many people.