Sunday, December 03, 2006


Faddists vote, after all

Buying a pork chop labeled "organic" is relatively straightforward: it comes from a pig that ate only organic food, roamed outdoors from time to time and was left free of antibiotics. But what makes a fish organic? That is a question troubling the Agriculture Department, which decides such things. The answer could determine whether Americans will be able to add fish to the growing list of organic foods they are buying, and whether fish farmers will be able to tap into that trend and the profits that go with it.

Organic foods, which many people believe to be more healthful (though others scoff), are grown on farms that shun chemicals and synthetic fertilizers and that meet certain government standards for safeguarding the environment and animals. An organic tomato must flourish without conventional pesticides; an organic chicken cannot be fed antibiotics. Food marketers can use terms like "natural" and "free range" with some wiggle room, but only the Agriculture Department can sanction the "organic" label.

To the dismay of some fishermen - including many in the Alaskan salmon industry - this means that wild fish, whose living conditions are not controlled, are not likely to make the grade. And that has led to a lot of bafflement, since wild fish tend to swim in pristine waters and are favored by fish lovers. "If you can't call a wild Alaska salmon true and organic," asked Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, "what can you call organic?" Instead, it appears that only farm-raised salmon may pass muster, as may a good number of other farm-raised fish - much to the delight of fish farmers.

But a proposed guideline at the Agriculture Department for calling certain farmed fish "organic" is controversial on all sides. Environmentalists argue that many farm-raised fish live in cramped nets in conditions that can pollute the water, and that calling them organic is a perversion of the label. Those who catch and sell wild fish say that their products should be called organic and worry that if they are not, fish farmers will gain a huge leg up.

Even among people who favor the designation of farmed fish as organic, there are disputes over which types of fish should be included. Trying to define what makes a fish organic "is a strange concept," said George H. Leonard, science manager for the Seafood Watch Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which offers a consumer guide to picking seafood. "I think the more you look at it, particularly for particular kinds of fish, it gets even stranger."

The issue comes down largely to what a fish eats, and whether the fish can be fed an organic diet. There is broad agreement that the organic label is no problem for fish that are primarily vegetarians, like catfish and tilapia, because organic feed is available (though expensive). Fish that are carnivores - salmon, for instance - are a different matter because they eat other fish, which cannot now be labeled organic. The Agriculture Department panel that recommended adding farmed fish to the organic roster was willing to work around the issue, and offered various ways that fish-eating fish could qualify.


A green bill of health?

Natural England's claim that 'contact with nature' can improve mental and physical wellbeing is both silly and sinister.

Natural England – a conservation umbrella group that includes English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service – has launched a health campaign that aims to ‘encourage’ doctors and other health professionals ‘to make more use of the natural environment as part of the total healthcare they give to their patients’ (1).

According to William Bird, a Berkshire GP and Natural England’s health adviser, ‘increasing evidence suggests that both physical and mental health are improved through contact with nature’. A campaign factsheet claims that ‘aggression and domestic violence is [sic] less likely in low-income families with views or access to natural green space’, and ‘crime rates are lower in tower blocks with more natural green space than identical tower blocks with no surrounding vegetation’ (no references provided). Dr Bird is worried that ‘people are having less contact with nature than at any other time in the past’ and insists that ‘this has to change!’.

Natural England’s campaign, which is endorsed by Britain’s deputy chief medical officer and the BBC and supported by a budget of £500million of taxpayers’ money, offers a curious combination of the silly and the sinister. On the one hand, the notion that a breath of fresh air and the sight of a few trees can cure the ills of both the individual and society has the aura of whacky green fundamentalism. On the other hand, Dr Bird’s schoolmasterish tone and his offer of a natural cure for a wide range of social problems clearly appeals to the authoritarian instincts behind New Labour’s public health policies.

While Natural England presents itself as the acme of fashionable environmentalism, its roots lie in the tradition of ‘nature therapy’ that flourished in Germany from the turn of the twentieth century and reached its peak in the Nazi Third Reich. Nature therapy combined hostility towards scientific medicine with enthusiasm for homeopathy and hydrotherapy and was closely linked with movements promoting eugenics and racial superiority. ‘Air, light, a healthy diet and exercise were recognised as the basis of good health.’ (2)

Though in its early days this movement drew support from across the political spectrum, in the 1930s it was incorporated by the Nazis, and the Reich Labour Service (Reicharbeitsdienst) became a means of mass conscription of the unemployed into conservationist – and health-enhancing – rural labour (3). Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal government in the USA followed the German example, with the Civilian Conservation Corps.

By the time that Brigadier Armstrong formed the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) in 1959, the movement had abandoned its coercive and eugenic features and had become a benign voluntary organisation devoted to practical conservation work (though in 1970 it acquired a deeply reactionary patron – the Duke of Edinburgh) (4). In the course of the 1990s, however, when Dr Bird became closely involved, BTCV moved back towards its nature therapy roots, promoting the countryside in terms of its supposed beneficial effects on contemporary health problems. With support from central and local government, and health authorities, BTCV has sponsored a network of ‘Green Gym’ projects, linking exercise to conservation (5).

The nature therapy revival has also attracted major corporate sponsorship. BTCV enjoys the support of Rio Tinto, formerly known as Rio Tinto Zinc, one of the world’s most rapacious – and environment-despoiling – mining corporations, and Barclays Bank PLC (from which a generation of students withdrew their accounts because of its involvement in imperialist exploitation in Africa). It seems that an association with environmentalism and health promotion provides a positive public relations front for capitalist enterprises with dubious reputations.

Natural England’s health campaign emphasises the healing power of nature, in particular in relation to children and those with mental illness. It claims that nature can tackle the obesity epidemic, prevent bullying, reduce ADHD and improve concentration, self-discipline and self-esteem (it is striking that modern nature therapy only deals with fashionable conditions). In common with current public health policies – such as the school meals crusade – Natural England focuses on the sections of society least capable of resisting the advance of intrusive and authoritarian health policies.

Let’s hope that the growing revolt against Jamie’s school dinners soon extends to the ‘back to the country’ fantasies of Natural England.



Journal abstract below

A Genome-Wide Association Study Identifies IL23R as an Inflammatory Bowel Disease Gene

Richard H. Duerr et al

The inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are common, chronic disorders that cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal bleeding. To identify genetic factors that might contribute to these disorders, we performed a genome-wide association study. We found a highly significant association between Crohn's disease and the IL23R gene on chromosome 1p31, which encodes a subunit of the receptor for the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-23. An uncommon coding variant (rs11209026, c.1142G>A, p.Arg381Gln) confers strong protection against Crohn's disease, and additional noncoding IL23R variants are independently associated. Replication studies confirmed IL23R associations in independent cohorts of patients with Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. These results and previous studies on the proinflammatory role of IL-23 prioritize this signaling pathway as a therapeutic target in inflammatory bowel disease.



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? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


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