Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Mums who sell junk food? Arrest them

In London last night, mayor Ken Livingstone outlined his radical agenda for punishing parents who dare to eat 'unethical food'.

"If I was running the schools, you’d have had all that crap out of the schools right away. They’d have had good healthy food. And you’d arrest the mums passing junk food through the school fence"

This was not some crank caller to a radio phone-in, but London mayor Ken Livingstone speaking last night at the Hay Festival event ‘The Ethical Food Debate’ at London’s Garrick Theatre. Even more disturbingly, he was wildly applauded. This could only laughably be described as a ‘debate’, since all four panellists – and most of the audience – were quite in agreement about the need to protect the environment, eat organic, avoid chemicals and reduce ‘food miles’.

Despite the title, the debate wasn’t particularly about food. Led by Sheila Dillon, presenter of BBC Radio 4’s The Food Programme, it was really all about education, markets, transport, obesity and GM crops – and what policies would be needed to foist the prejudices of the gathered company on to the population at large, who apparently must be saved from themselves.

While Ken was saving the kids, Keith Abel – co-founder of organic food delivery company Abel & Cole – thought it was the Third World that needed rescuing from agribusiness. ‘There are currently around one-and-a-half billion subsistence farmers in the world, who are being told by the chemical industry that they need to either adopt their GM crops or start covering them in artificial fertilisers so they can all move into shanty towns and live as prostitutes.’ So if you think that Third World farmers might actually be keen to modernise their farming methods, and in the process make their lives a bit easier and more fruitful, think again. According to Abel, modernisation is a risky business and agribusiness companies are the moral equivalent of people-traffickers.

Abel argued that kids here at home need protecting, too. ‘I’ve got two little monkeys of primary-school age.… I think there are a number of very straightforward things we can do to prevent these vulnerable little beings being taught the wrong way.’ Specifically, he called for junk food advertising aimed at young children to be banned.

Meanwhile, Jenny Jones, Green Party councillor and former deputy mayor, argued that the main challenges are how to reduce London’s ‘ecological footprint’ and also reduce food poverty. She claimed that six per cent of Londoners go to bed hungry. That may be true, but perhaps they might be better served by better pay and benefits rather than Jones running a mission to provide them with organic vegetables, locally sourced.

The fourth member of the panel, former Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, didn’t seem to be terribly well-informed or insightful. Her main policy suggestion was that the government should ‘do something’. But then, being ill-informed didn’t seem to be much of a barrier to participating in this debate.

Livingstone, for example, showed that he was a dab hand at elevating personal prejudice into established scientific fact. His opening statement, on why he thought food was an ethical issue, was a list of deeply dubious ‘facts’ that encapsulated every green scare of our time. There was his claim that ‘the smallest amount of artificial or toxic substances can cause all sorts of problems, not just cancers but everything else’; his comments that pollution was much worse today because ‘I grew up in the postwar world where it was heavy, dirty old soot you could wash away – now it’s particulates and nitrous oxoids [sic] which are just getting worse and worse’; and his assertion that all this ‘goes a long way to explaining the huge increase in kids in asthma and eczema and hayfever’.

In truth, very small amounts of chemicals are harmless. Even deadly poisons in the quantities in which pesticide residues occur – parts per million – would cause no injury. But pesticides are not deadly poisons; they are selected because they are harmful to pests rather than humans. We consume far more naturally-occurring poisons than pesticides or other manmade chemicals. As Bruce Ames and Lois Swirsky Gold note elsewhere on spiked ‘The natural chemicals that are known rodent carcinogens in a single cup of coffee are about equal in weight to a year’s worth of ingested synthetic pesticide residues that are rodent carcinogens.’ (1) And London’s air used to be thick with particulates at levels more than 10 times greater than today before first smokeless fuels and then alternative forms of heating were introduced. During the Great Smog of 1953 they were 1,000 times their normal levels today (2).

Livingstone also claimed that the ‘tipping point for irreversible climate change is most probably four or five years away at most’, which apparently means we need to crack down on agribusiness now, because agribusiness is a ‘disproportionate’ generator of carbon emissions and ‘food miles’.

Normally, I don’t like to criticise people for their backgrounds; after all, they can’t help it, and I prefer to challenge their ideas. But when audience members like Rosie and Henrietta joined with Thomasina to tell us how ‘we’ – the decent right-thinking middle classes – could protect the poor, the blacks and the children, it was more than I could stomach. Panellists and audience members seemed to believe that the masses are too stupid to treat junk-food advertising with a pinch of salt, and too feckless to feed their children properly. The proper approach to food, as exemplified by Livingstone, is to wrap yourself up in ethical knots about which food has the least-worst balance of food miles and pesticides while still being ‘fairtrade’ and avoiding supermarkets.

Fortunately, I am a man of direct action. So after the insufferable non-debate finished, my partner and I adjourned to a nearby pizza chain for mass-produced convenience food, the ingredients of which may well have been produced in pesticide-soaked fields and flown thousands of miles to my plate.


A myth that deceived Britain's out-of-touch Leftist elite

Nursing Standard magazine has revealed how Caroline Flint, the Public Health Minister, told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference that pregnant teenagers now smoke to try to reduce the size of their babies, in order to make delivery less painful. This has sparked up an earnest debate, with Ms Flint saying that young women must be educated to learn that “smoking is not the answer, pain relief is” (she might try teaching that to the “natural birth” zealots among Britain’s midwives).

Ms Flint admitted she had heard these horror stories only “anecdotally”. Anybody with an ear in the real world would surely have known straightaway that such tales are an urban myth. Presumably these girls who smoke to shrink their babies are the same ones who get pregnant from toilet seats and forcefeed their toddlers chips through a teat.

Worse, this story is, literally, a joke. My wife reports that, ever since health warnings about having a fag while having a baby began, pregnant women whom she knows have been joking with each other about taking up smoking to make childbirth less painful. No doubt you have to be there, in full hormonal bloom, to see how funny it is. Call it labour-ward humour.

This is a sign of how far out-of-touch ministers and health experts are with those whom they patronise as “ordinary people”. Behind all their touchy-feely talk of “inclusion”, these social engineers retain a deeply contemptuous view of young working-class women as the fag-end of society.

The chief executive of the National Childbirth Trust responded to Ms Flint’s claim by saying, presumably with a straight face: “We are bringing up our young women very fearful of labour.” Those who retain a sense of humour on this subject can fill in your own punchline.


Treatment 'to neutralise all flu'

Scientists say they are developing an entirely new way of providing instant protection against flu. In preliminary tests, it was found to protect animals against various strains of the virus - and may also protect against future pandemic strains.

University of Warwick researchers used a flu virus naturally stripped of some genetic material to compete with other invading flu viruses. This slowed the rate of infection so much the body could fight it off. In effect, the invading virus became its own vaccine by triggering an immune response sufficiently powerful to neutralise it before it could gain a strong enough foothold.

The Warwick team plan to develop the treatment as a nasal spray. Experts warned much more testing was required. However, they said the development of the vaccine was timely, amid concerns the H5N1 bird flu strain circulating in south east Asia could mutate into a pandemic strain which would put millions of lives at risk.

Existing vaccination methods depend on stimulating the body's immune system, so that white blood cells produce antibodies that attach to the surface of the virus and start the process of killing it. This works well for many diseases, such as smallpox, polio and measles, but is much less effective with flu, as the coat of the flu virus is continually changing. Vaccination against one strain of flu is totally ineffective against another.

Professor Nigel Dimmock has spent more than two decades developing the new approach. The "protecting virus" with which he worked had naturally lost around 80% of the genetic material of one of its eight RNA constituent segments. This deletion makes the virus harmless and prevents it from reproducing by itself within a cell, so that it cannot spread like a normal influenza virus. However, if it is joined in the cell by another influenza virus, it retains its harmless nature but starts to reproduce - and at a much faster rate than the new influenza virus. This fast reproduction rate - spurred by the new flu infection - means that the new invading influenza is effectively crowded out. This vastly slows the progress of the new infection, prevents flu symptoms, and gives the body time to develop an immune response to the harmful new invader.

The Warwick team believes its research indicates the protecting virus would have the same effect regardless of the strain of flu infection. This is because the coat of the virus is irrelevant to the protection process - the effect works on the virus genes inside the cell. In addition it protects instantly, whereas protection generated by conventional flu vaccination takes two to three weeks to become fully effective. Experiments so far show that a single dose of protecting virus can be given six weeks before, and 24 hours after an infection with flu virus and be effective.



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.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? [/sarcasm].


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