Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Because of total calorie restriction plus fewer illegal drugs, presumably. Rare evidence that calorie restriction prolongs life in humans as well as in white rats

State prison inmates, particularly blacks, are living longer on average than people on the outside, the government said Sunday. Inmates in state prisons are dying at an average yearly rate of 250 per 100,000, according to the latest figures reported to the Justice Department by state prison officials. By comparison, the overall population of people between age 15 and 64 is dying at a rate of 308 a year. For black inmates, the rate was 57 percent lower than among the overall black population — 206 versus 484. But white and Hispanic prisoners both had death rates slightly above their counterparts in the overall population.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics said 12,129 state prisoners died between 2001 through 2004. Eight percent were murdered or killed themselves, 2 percent died of alcohol, drugs or accidental injuries, and 1 percent of the deaths could not be explained, the report said. The rest of the deaths — 89 percent — were due to medical reasons. Of those, two-thirds of inmates had the medical problem they died of before they were admitted to prison.

Medical problems that were most common among both men and women in state prisons were heart disease, lung and liver cancer, liver diseases and AIDS-related causes. But the death rate among men was 72 percent higher than among women. Nearly one-quarter of the women who died had breast, ovarian, cervical or uterine cancer. Four percent of the men who died had prostate or testicular cancer. More than half the inmates 65 or older who died in state prisons were at least 55 when they were admitted to prison.

State prison officials reported that 94 percent of their inmates who died from an illness had been evaluated by a medical professional for that illness, and 93 percent got medication for it. Eighty-nine percent of these inmates had gotten X-rays, MRI exams, blood tests and other diagnostic work, state prison officials told the bureau.


Food industry choking on red tape

Rules and regulations are strangling innovation and are overdue for a purge

The Australian food industry at first glance appears to be thriving. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics recently highlighted that its value-added contribution to the economy had increased by more than $3 billion between 1995-96 and 2004-05 to be worth around $20 billion in that year. However, when you take a closer look at this key sector, there are some major concerns.

Firstly, the sector's R&D spending has declined relative to other manufacturing sectors in the past few years. Its growth rate is lower than other major manufacturing sectors such as machinery and equipment and publishing. Furthermore, the share it contributes to GDP has been shrinking over the past 25 years. Clearly, all is not well within the food industry.

It is not difficult to identify one of the causes of this malaise. Food businesses must hurdle a multitude of rules and regulations just to remain in business, let alone to introduce a new product or process. This is not to say that unsafe practices or processes should be allowed but simply that regulation tends to breed regulation, and we are now at the tipping point for the food industry.

More and more, consumers are demanding benefits from the foods they purchase beyond that of simple nutrition. Health conscious consumers want to take control of their health and they expect to take on some "do it yourself doctoring" for diet-related chronic disease. This new trend was recognised by the Australian Government when it announced its Better Health Initiative at COAG in February last year. The initiative emphasises prevention and early intervention rather than treatment.

The health benefits of foods are a key driver for industry innovation and have been a centrepiece of two government initiatives under the $137 million National Food Industry Strategy (2002-07), the food innovation grants scheme and the National Centre for Excellence in Functional Foods. But the benefits don't just accrue to consumers and industry from this form of innovation. Governments also reap rewards as the striving for "better for you" foods has an indirect, positive impact on government health funding by improving the health of the nation and contributing to reduced healthcare costs.

It is lamentable that the food regulatory system works against effective innovation in responding to this initiative. Take the example of an application to allow fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soups and savoury biscuits to be fortified with calcium. Lack of calcium in the diet contributes to osteoporosis in old age. The application showed that increasing calcium intake through these foods had the potential for reducing osteoporosis in the elderly, a disease with a cost burden, according to Access Economics, of $9 billion annually.

The initial proposal was accepted by the regulatory agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in December 2001. The proposal took almost two years to pass each stage of assessment and public consultation before it was submitted to the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council in September 2003. The Ministerial Council returned the proposal to FSANZ for reassessment, citing numerous areas for review, many of which had already been covered and reviewed thoroughly in the first stages of assessment.

FSANZ reviewed and returned the recommendation to the Ministerial Council in March 2005 and it was again returned (by a majority) to FSANZ in May that year. FSANZ once again reviewed and returned its recommendation for approval to Ministerial Council and the application was finally gazetted in November 2005. It took four years for this simple request to become part of the food standards code: an unacceptable delay that cost the industry market access.

Another example, fortified beverages, resulted in a lost opportunity of $350million for Australian manufacturing. Australian consumers have shown that they appreciate the opportunity to purchase water and juices with vitamins added to complement their lifestyle. This growing market has been available to New Zealand manufacturers for import into Australia for many years but until recently it was not open to Australian manufacturers. Changing the rules had the potential of increasing Australian jobs, providing niche products for the smaller independent beverage bottlers to explore, and expanding what is now only a small market in Australian non-alcoholic beverage exports. It took four years from 2002 to late 2006 for the Australian Beverages Council to steer an application through the regulatory morass to level the playing field with New Zealand.

Unlike most Ministerial Councils that set policy and permit their agencies to set the rules that allow the policy to be expressed, the Food Regulation Ministerial Council has power of veto over the regulations proposed by the agency. In this case, the council has not one but two opportunities to veto decisions of the agency, first by a single vote and second by a majority vote.

The current system must be fixed. The duplication of review responsibilities given to both FSANZ and the Ministerial Council creates inefficiencies and an additional cost burden. The veto powers of each member of the Ministerial Council, without regard to the constituents that that minister represents, allows Australia's smallest state to stand in the way of a proposal supported by its largest state.

The food regulatory framework was last reviewed in 1998 (Blair review). Its purpose was to simplify food regulation in Australia and New Zealand. However, the sad fact is that the operation of the new system has accumulated even more excessive red tape and poorer delivery in commercial time frames. It has disadvantaged industry without generating the benefits consumers and government deserved from the reforms. Given the difficulties that are needlessly added to the process of bringing new products to market, manufacturing overseas is beginning to look like a preferred option.

The Australian Government recognised this problem 15 months ago and offered a short-term and a longer-term fix. Recognising that some of the delays in the system were the product of the act under which FSANZ operates, the Government undertook extensive stakeholder consultations to streamline the operations of the agency. These were agreed in early 2006 but the bill to amend the act still hasn't been introduced to Parliament 12 months later.

The Prime Minister commissioned the Productivity Commission to report on reducing the regulatory burden on business (Red Tape Review) as a longer-term solution. The Red Tape Review highlighted issues for attention, calling for a reconsideration of the Australian Government's role in the food regulatory system, including aspects of enforcement, which are currently a states and territories responsibility. The Government's response was to endorse the recommendations and initiate a review to report.

The Government announced this week the appointment of the independent chairman of this review, Mark Bethwaite. The review is to be completed by April 2007. The outcome of this review and the implementation of changes by all governments will determine whether the excellent science and knowledge in Australia can be turned into commercial opportunities for the food and agriculture industries.

It is not just commonwealth regulations that stifle industry. The states and territories have the responsibility for enforcement of food regulations and this can lead to a lack of uniformity in response due to resource constraints, which itself creates uncertainty for industry. For example, is it better to set up in NSW, which has a single agency for food matters, or in Victoria or Queensland, where responsibilities are spread across a number of agencies? With 80 per cent of food manufacturing concentrated along the eastern coast of Australia, the Victorian Government has taken leadership in the national reform agenda to build on its competition reforms by reducing the regulatory burden in its food regulatory system. Victoria commissioned an inquiry into food regulation in September 2006 through the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission. This is a welcome opportunity and may lead to the establishment of a one-stop shop for food regulation in Victoria, similar to the establishment in NSW some years ago of the NSW Food Authority.

The clock is ticking for food manufacturing in Australia. Delays in reform will increase the potential for more R&D to leave Australian shores. It is imperative that the food regulatory system returns without delay to the fundamentals of protecting public health and safety while removing unnecessary impediments to innovation and competitiveness.



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 and margarine? They are just about pure fat. Surely they should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

Trans fats:

For one summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and the evidence of lasting harm from them is dubious. By taking extreme groups in trans fats intake, some weak association with coronary heart disease has at times been shown in some sub-populations but extreme group studies are inherently at risk of confounding with other factors and are intrinsically of little interest to the average person.

The use of extreme quintiles (fifths) to examine effects is in fact so common as to be almost universal but suggests to the experienced observer that the differences between the mean scores of the experimental and control groups were not statistically significant -- thus making the article concerned little more than an exercise in deception


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