Friday, February 09, 2007

Cloning madness

California politics lately seems a parody of itself. Starting in February, San Francisco will become the first city in the country to require employers to give paid sick leave to their workers - full- and part-time, permanent and temporary. They will be able to miss work even when they aren't sick, but wish to stay home (ostensibly) to help a domestic partner or a family member. Then there is legislation soon to be introduced into the State Assembly that would criminalize the spanking (or slapping or whacking) of children under four. The coup de grace, however, is a Senate bill that would require the labeling of meat and milk obtained from cloned animals if such products are approved for human consumption.

This last proposal is not only unwise and unwarranted, but is also almost surely unconstitutional. Introduced by Senator Carol Migden (D-San Francisco), it comes several weeks after the U.S. FDA made public a preliminary decision to permit the consumption of food from cloned animals.

The FDA's decision was based on voluminous - and incontrovertible - scientific data. Scientists have known for years that the clones are indistinguishable genetically, biochemically and nutritionally from the parent. As one farmer who owns a pair of clones of a prize-winning Holstein cow observed, they are essentially twins of "a cow that was already in production."

Cloning technology of one sort or another is widely applied to a variety of foods that we consume routinely and uncontroversially. As the authoritative journal Nature Biotechnology observed in a January 2007 editorial:

"The irony in all this is that food from clones has been a part of our diet for years. Many common fruits (e.g., pears, apples, oranges and lemons) and several vegetables (e.g., potatoes and truffles) are clones. And most of us have probably ingested meat and dairy products from livestock cloned by natural reproduction (monozygotic siblings), mechanical embryo-splitting or even nuclear transfer from an embryonic donor cell into an enucleated oocyte. Regulators traditionally paid scant attention to clones as a group-and rightly so."

What of Senator Migden's attempt to require labeling of products derived from cloned animals or their offspring? She needs to do some research. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act requires that food labels be truthful and not misleading, and federal law prohibits label statements that are likely to be misunderstood by consumers even if they are, strictly speaking, accurate. For example, although a "cholesterol-free" label on a certain variety or batch of fresh broccoli is accurate, it could run afoul of the FDA's rules because it could be interpreted to as implying that broccoli usually does contain cholesterol, even though in fact it does not.

Analogously, instead of educating or serving a legitimate consumers' "right to know" certain information, mandatory labels on food from cloned animals would imply a warning, or at least would be misconstrued by some consumers as a suggestion that food from cloned animals differs in an important way (such as safety or nutrition) although it does not. The FDA's current approach to labeling, which has been dubbed "need to know," has been upheld both directly and indirectly by various federal court decisions.

In the early 1990s, a group of Wisconsin consumers sued the FDA, arguing that the agency's decision not to require the labeling of dairy products from cows treated with a protein called bovine somatotropin, or bST, allowed those products to be labeled in a false and misleading manner. However, because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate any material difference between milk from treated and untreated cows the federal court ruled that "it would be misbranding to label the product[s] as different, even if consumers misperceived the product[s] as different."

In another case, several food industry associations and firms challenged a Vermont statute that required labeling to identify milk from cows treated with bST. The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a labeling mandate grounded in consumer perception, rather than in a product's measurable characteristics, raises serious constitutional concerns. The court held that food labeling cannot be mandated simply because some people would like to have the information, and ruled both the labeling statute and companion regulations unconstitutional because they forced producers to make involuntary statements contrary to their views when there was no material reason to do so.

Because the State of Vermont could not demonstrate that its interest represented anything more than satisfying consumer curiosity, it could not compel milk producers to include that information on product labels. In the words of the decision:

"We are aware of no case in which consumer interest alone was sufficient to justify requiring a product's manufacturers to publish the functional equivalent of a warning about a production method that has no discernable impact on a final product. . . . Absent some indication that this information bears on a reasonable concern for human health or safety or some other sufficiently substantial governmental concern, the manufacturers cannot be compelled to disclose it."

The overarching issue here is important: There exists no consumers' "right to know" obscure information about food. "Were consumer interest alone sufficient," said the court, "there is no end to the information that states could require manufacturers to disclose about their production methods."


Australia: "Healthy" food a hard sell for school canteens

School canteens are struggling to break even after banning the sale of high-fat and pre-packaged foods in order to comply with state government guidelines on healthy eating. A study backed by the Australian Research Council has found that many canteens could be forced to close unless federal and state governments provide extra funding to help carry through healthy eating guidelines.

Researcher Claire Drummond, who is undertaking a national study on canteen food services and healthy eating, said government schools that had introduced healthier foods were finding it difficult to make a profit by selling salads, baguettes and fruit. "A lot of the canteens need to make a profit just to survive," Ms Drummond said. "Something is going to have to give and the Goverment is going to have to provide a lot more support or funding, otherwise they're going to fail."

Healthy eating guidelines have been introduced to schools in NSW and Queensland and will be mandated in South Australia by the end of the year. While the guidelines are working well, Ms Drummond said some government high schools were struggling because they lacked volunteer support. Without volunteers, schools have been forced to pay for additional staff or outsource services. A lack of volunteers means there is little time to prepare healthy meals. "The high schools are completely worried about that because they can't get volunteers and primary schools are going that way as well," she said. "(And many) canteen managers have basically come from being a parent to a manager and a lot of them don't have the skills, the dietary background."

The University of South Australia PhD candidate said some high schools were struggling to replace vending machines, chocolate drives and barbecue fundraisers. "They're everywhere in high schools, they're a great source of revenue when the school canteen is closed," she said.

Ms Drummond called for a national approach to provide additional funding. The federal Government last year provided one-off $1500 grants to schools to buy ovens and establish vegetable patches to help them implement the strategies, but Ms Drummond said that had not been offered this year.

At St Peter's Woodlands Grammar School at Glenelg, in Adelaide's west, canteen manager Wendy Manning has introduced low-fat alternatives to pies and pasties. But many children would rather buy high-fat foods than salad rolls. "Lollies are cheaper than fruit at the moment," Ms Manning said.



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.


No comments: