Monday, September 25, 2006

Rebel mothers interviewed

Julie Critchlow, housewife turned Antichrist, is standing outside Chubby's sandwich bar drawing angrily on a cigarette and glaring at the secondary school opposite. Her children - Rachel, 15, and Steven, 11 - are coming home for lunch so she is buying crisps and pop. Although Chubby's is less than 200 yards from her front door, Critchlow has brought the car. Still, it's an improvement of sorts. This time last week she was in the graveyard over the road, with fellow "sinner ladies" Sam Walker and Marie Hamshaw, posting burgers and chips through the school fence to a throng of mutinous sugar-deprived schoolchildren. Pictures of the scene - which looked like some grotesque Little Britain sketch - were splashed across the newspapers and Critchlow was called "the worst mum in Britain".

The trouble began at the start of term when Rawmarsh community school in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, banned pupils from leaving the premises during their lunch break. Even more incendiary, the school then started peddling a Jamie Oliver-inspired school dinner menu of "healthy" fare, such as ratatouille pancakes and salad. Unlike the grateful urchins who feature on Jamie's School Dinners (Oliver's fiercely popular television crusade for better food in schools), the Rawmarsh children came home complaining of overpriced baked potatoes, yucky tomatoes and not enough chips. Some of the mothers began delivering them fast food in the lunch hour, first to their own children, then to 60 or more of their friends. The school freaked out and tried to ban the mums. The mums screamed bloody murder. The police were called and, last Monday, a very uneasy peace was reached.

To an outsider, Rawmarsh sounds like hell; a place where fat stupid mothers fight for the right to raise fat stupid children. Did these women care nothing for St Jamie, terrifying obesity rates or early onset diabetes? Did they not read the daily horror statistics? Only last week it was revealed that children who eat a packet of crisps a day end up drinking more than five litres of cooking oil a year. A first glance at the town suggests that the answer to all that is "nope". Rawmarsh is Jamie's worst nightmare; shop shelves lined with cherry colas, toddlers eating Monster Munch in the street and the locals either bandy-legged twigs or, more often, fat - really, really fat in some cases. Some aren't even ashamed of it: one fat man has taken his shirt off to eat a battered sausage in the afternoon sun.

Surprisingly, Critchlow, 43, having refused all other interview requests, invites me to join Walker, 39, and Hamshaw, 44, in her front room. As the place fills with fag smoke and cackling laughter, it seems impossible to imagine three women more at odds with the current trend for health obsessed parenting. Critchlow's favourite adjective is disgusting. This is how she describes the food that the school is now serving and "totally disgusting" is what she calls John Lambert, the headmaster. "None of this would have happened if he hadn't locked these kids up," she says. "I don't have a problem with the school not selling them fatty food. My problem is that some of these kids are 16 and they're not allowed to choose what they eat for lunch." "Next they'll be going through our cupboards telling us what we can feed them at home," says Hamshaw, who has two children, aged 13 and 16, at the school. "But we know how to give our children a proper meal better than any school."

Er, weren't you taking them chips every day for lunch? "That is such a lie," says Critchlow. "We were taking all sorts - baked potatoes, salads, tuna sandwiches. You try getting teenage girls to eat a hamburger every day. Most of them won't touch the things." "There were a few chips," admits Walker, mother of an 11-year-old and 16-year-old, "but any nutritionist will say that a little bit of fat now and then isn't the end of the world." "But Lambert labelled us junk food pushers," says Hamshaw, "We're not stupid, though. I saw Supersize Me. No one in their right mind would feed their children fast food every day."

In fact, they say, the school's food laws are promoting bad habits. "All kids are fussy eaters," continues Hamshaw. "If they don't like something they won't eat it, so lots of the kids take one look at what's on offer at lunch and then eat crisps. "Every mother knows that it's an art to get your kids to eat good food, like I know my Gary won't eat greens but will eat carrots. This `we know best', one-size-fits-all attitude they've got at the school definitely means he ends up eating more rubbish. "But Jamie Oliver has come in his shiny armour and people think everything he says is right," says Walker, "like calling parents names if they let their kids have a can of Coke. Life isn't that simple though, Jamie. It's always a compromise." "You have to be clever," says Critchlow. "Kids have got their own minds and sometimes all you can do is try and persuade them to do the right thing."

Who could have expected such wisdom? While the mums don't have an A-level between them, when it comes to child rearing they've got more than 60 years' experience. "I don't want to sound hysterical," says Hamshaw, "but Adolf Hitler tried putting kids into summer camps to create perfect children and he faced the same problem this government is going to face - there is no such thing as a perfect child. You can't make carbon-copy kids who all love tomatoes. Schools should stick to educating children, not trying to raise them."

The school is not backing down, saying that for the children's safety they must stay in at lunch (unless collected by parents). The headmaster, uncharacteristically taciturn, declined to speak to me but released a statement to say he has now met the mums and progress was being made.

Sonia Sharp, of Rotherham council, insisted that the food at the school is very nice and cheaper than anything else on offer, and pointed out that uptake of school meals has risen from 350 to 600. She conceded that this might have something to do with the fact that the school has now got a captive audience.

More than food, what grates upon the Rawmarsh mums is the feeling that their choices as parents are being undermined by their government. "This country is turning into big brother," sighs Hamshaw, "and it's not like we need a nanny state. We nanny our kids quite enough on our own." The women nod gravely and light more cigarettes. "This battle," says Critchlow, "has only just begun."


Another regulatory failure seen in British drug trial disaster

A "reckless" mistake apparently overlooked by government regulators lay behind the drug trial disaster that saw six young volunteers badly injured by an experimental medicine. Confidential documents obtained by The Sunday Times and Channel 4's Dispatches programme reveal the drug was administered on average 15 times more quickly to the volunteers than to monkeys in earlier safety studies. The possibility that such a crude error led to the disaster is likely to raise questions over whether the government's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) scrutinises trials adequately and protects the public from the risks of new medicines.

After the "Elephant Man" trials at Northwick Park hospital, London, in March, which left two men fighting for their lives and all six in intensive care, the agency said the reactions resulted from an "unexpected biological effect". However, experts say the drug, TGN1412 - one of a new generation of "magic bullet" treatments targeting the immune system - was infused so quickly into the volunteers that the potential for life-threatening problems was foreseeable. "When you give an antibody . . . the quicker you put it in, the more likely you are to get an infusion reaction," said Professor Terry Hamblin of Southampton University, a leading authority on monoclonal antibodies, the family of drugs to which the trial medicine belonged.

The volunteers were given TGN1412 in only three to six minutes. "To quickly infuse it over three to six minutes in six individuals I think is . . . reckless," said Hamblin. Ryan Wilson, 20, a former apprentice plumber, who suffered total organ failure, was the most seriously injured. He was given the drug in just four minutes. The monkeys, by contrast, received the antibody by a one-hour "slow infusion".

Hamblin's judgment is backed by other experts, including Dr David Glover, formerly chief medical officer of Cambridge Antibody Technology. He concludes: "The drug was given too quickly."

The speed at which the monkeys received TGN1412 was set out in the application to the MHRA for permission to carry out the trial. This was submitted by Parexel International, a contract research company, on behalf of TeGenero, a tiny German drug developer. But the paperwork did not explicitly detail how quickly the volunteers would be given the drug, although this could be calculated from the information given.

Professor Kent Woods, the agency's chief executive, said this weekend the results of the monkey trial had reassured his staff that the human project should be allowed to go ahead. "They did not show toxicity and the dose was 500 times higher on a weight-for-weight basis than that first used at Northwick Park," said Woods. "That is the key issue."

There was another apparent oversight in the agency's scrutiny. Parexel's paperwork did not include data on test-tube experiments designed to show the drug's effect on human cells. One specialist said she was "pretty astonished" this was left out, although it is unlikely the data could have predicted the disaster. This omission was only revealed after an appeal by The Sunday Times and Dispatches under the Freedom of Information Act for the reinstatement of paragraphs cut from documents released by the MHRA.

While the agency suggests in its assessment of the trial that the problems could not have been foreseen, experts say the reactions to TGN1412 - pain, vomiting and organ failure - have long been linked to first doses of monoclonal antibodies, and in previous incidents infusion time has been a critical factor.

Parexel declined to comment, and in Thursday's Dispatches the company's chairman, Josef von Rickenbach, takes refuge in a hotel lavatory.

Wilson has severe injuries. He has had his toes and sections of his feet amputated. Parts of his fingers have dropped off; others have died and are hard as wood to the touch where the blood supply was cut off as his body reacted to the drug. He is the worst afflicted of the victims from the tests on March 13, but all suffered life-threatening injuries. For development of new medicines, it was the worst calamity since the 1960s Thalidomide disaster.


"Organic": Nobody can tell the difference

Australia's peak consumer watchdog has called for urgent government action to stop what it claims is a multi-milliondollar organic food rort [racket]. The Australian Consumers' Association has accused the Federal Government of "dragging its feet" while consumers are being misled. The organic food industry is worth an estimated $450 million a year in Australia, and is one of the fastest-growing food sectors worldwide. Association spokeswoman Indira Naidoo said consumers were being ripped off. "There is no government regulation about what defines organic food," she said. "Consumers, in most cases, aren't getting what they pay for."

In many cases, they were paying two or three times as much as the cost of "ordinary" produce. "We are calling for a national government guideline that defines what standards organic food should meet. "Given the amount of organic products being consumed and the number of people being misled by incorrect labelling, we think it's an urgent priority. "We feel the Government has been dragging its feet on this issue. It's very misleading. It's definitely a rort."

Organic food labelling is controlled by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The self-regulatory system has seven private organic certifying groups in Australia plus several overseas groups. They are all accredited by AQIS, but there are variations on what is accepted as organic. There are also products on the market claiming to be organic that aren't associated with any certifying body. But Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu disputed the claim consumers were being misled. "I would challenge the ACA very strongly on that," he said. "The vast majority of organic food is reputable. If there's fraud, it's negligible. "I would say to consumers: If food is not accredited, we cannot guarantee it is produced according to our standard. Stay away from products that don't have certifying logos."

Standards Australia is developing a standard for organic food, but the ACA said this needed to be supported by tougher government guidelines. "While an Australian Standard is a step in the right direction, it isn't necessarily mandatory," Ms Naidoo said. "We would like to see it referenced in the Food Standards Code to give it the force of law. "It's very important people know what they are consuming is legitimately labelled organic."

However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said the Food Standards Code was not the right place to define "organic". "The Food Standards Code is about ensuring food safety and not so much for descriptions," she said. "We are working with Standards Australia to define organic food, and we feel that is being addressed appropriately."



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.


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