Thursday, July 29, 2010

Food police

by John Stossel

On my TV show on New Threats to Freedom, I thought I was joking when I used the term “Food Police,” but here they are, caught on tape.

Food faddists who buy raw food and unpasteurized milk are fools. There’s no good evidence that the food is healthier, and they risk their families’ health. The risk is real but small. If buyers of unpasteurized milk get sick, word will get out, and those sellers will be punished. Whole Foods already dropped these products because selling them would have raised their liability costs.

But the LA Times reveals that that’s not good enough for our ever more intrusive government:
"With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.

Then, guns drawn, four officers fanned out across Rawesome Foods in Venice. Skirting past the arugula and peering under crates of zucchini, they found the raid's target inside a walk-in refrigerator: unmarked jugs of raw milk.‘I still can't believe they took our yogurt,’ said Rawesome volunteer Sea J. Jones, a few days after the raid. ‘There's a medical marijuana shop a couple miles away, and they're raiding us because we're selling raw dairy products?’”

At least the reporter interviewed the other side: “How can we not have the freedom to choose what we eat?”

But they denigrate them as “a faction of foodies.” The editors devote more space to the food nannies’ justification for the raid. As usual, the mainstream media are quick to assume that the bullies ought to act: “Regulators say the rules exist for safety and fairness.”

Safety, I understand, but fairness? The Times says the raid was also “to provide a level playing field for producers.” Sounds like crony capitalism--the established health food nuts using government to shut competition down.

Good lord. When will they ever stop?


Prostate cancer scare is misleading

Comment from Australia

Underbelly actor Daniel Amalm is one of several young Australian celebrities who appear in Prostate Cancer Foundation advertisements to say that prostate cancer can kill men "just like me".

Amalm is 31. The ads urge all men older than 50, and those older than 40 with a family history of the disease, to get tested. Yet, of the 75,433 men who died from prostate cancer between 1968 and 2007, just two were aged 30-34.

Given that no government anywhere in the world, no peak cancer control agency, and no high-level, independent review has ever supported screening, it is important to question the foundation's campaign and consider what it might achieve if it was wildly successful.

The foundation repeatedly emphasises that men need to make informed decisions about being tested. Here's some uncontestable information that you won't find on the Prostate Cancer Foundation's website, nor in its TV ads.

First, prostate cancer is a disease that far more men die with rather than from. We know this because of the many autopsies where men who die suddenly or without having recently seen a doctor are examined for cause of death. At autopsy, 10-20 per cent of men in their 50s and 40-50 per cent in their 70s have prostate cancer but have died from other causes.

Many men who get tested will thus be found to have high prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels. Many will be then have a biopsy and be counselled to have their prostates removed. This will stop them dying from prostate cancer. But autopsies tell us that many of these men would not have died, even if their cancers had never been found. The problem is that there is no reliable way of knowing the benign from the deadly cancers, so over-treatment is rampant.

Second, prostate cancer tends to kill far later in life than other cancers. The average age of death for prostate cancer is 79.8 years; the average age of death for all other male cancers combined is 71.5 – considerably younger.

More than half of men who die from the disease are aged 80 or older (the average age of death for an Australian man in 2007 was 76), so men who die from any cause after that time are already living longer than average; and 82 per cent are aged 70 or more. In 2007, just 2.8 per cent (83 men) who died from prostate cancer were younger than 60, and 10 (0.1 per cent) were in their 40s.

Men with family histories of prostate cancer are at elevated risk. But it follows that most such men will have had fathers, uncles and grandfathers who died from the disease late in life. If these relatives had not died from prostate cancer, many would have died within a few years from other causes because of their advanced age.

What's the problem with men wanting to do all they can to avoid dying young, even if the odds are so low (the chance of a man aged 40-44 dying from prostate cancer in a year is a stratospheric one in 250,000 — worse odds than winning the lottery — while for men older than 85 it is one in 125)?

Thirty years ago, before PSA testing was available, our death rate from prostate cancer was 33.4 per 100,000 men. In 2007 it was 31 per 100,000, a decline of 7.2 per cent. The decline reflects early detection and better treatment. Yet in the same period, the incidence of prostate cancer rose 110 per cent, from 80.8 per 100,000 to 170 per 100,000, thanks to aggressive promotion of PSA testing, often by those who stand to benefit financially by its proliferation.

The third major problem is that widespread testing leads to widespread unnecessary surgery and frequent serious complications. Recent NSW data shows that three years after radical prostatectomy, 77 per cent of men remained impotent and 12 per cent had urinary incontinence, compared to 22 per cent and 1 per cent of similarly aged men who do not have prostate cancer. Many of these men underwent unnecessary surgery and live permanently with the consequences. They tend not to talk publicly about these problems.

Tritely dismissing the daily lives of thousands of unnecessarily impotent and incontinent men by saying "you can't have sex in a coffin" is astonishingly arrogant. All this is why Richard Albin, who discovered prostate-specific-antigen called the promotion of widespread testing "a hugely expensive public health disaster" earlier this year.

In 2009, nine-year results were published from a multination European trial of PSA testing. Dr Peter Bach, from New York's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Centre, summarised the meaning of the trial for a man being treated after testing positive today: "There is a one in 50 chance that in 2019 or later he will be spared death from a cancer that would otherwise have killed him. And there is a 49 in 50 chance that he will have been treated unnecessarily for a cancer that was never a threat to his life."

Enthusiasts for prostate testing emphasise that the European trial saved lives. It did. But the reduction was from 4.2 to 3.3 deaths per 10,000 person-years.

Telling someone that they have cancer, particularly when the great majority of men thus diagnosed would have never died from it nor had their life in any way affected by the "silent" or indolent cancer inside them, can be deadly serious. A Swedish study found that the risk of suicide after diagnosis of prostate cancer was 7.4 times higher during the first week after diagnosis and 1.6 times higher during the first year after diagnosis.

Some testing enthusiasts promote the idea that untested men are ignorant or in denial. But many men consciously choose to remain ignorant of their PSA status after reading widely for themselves. Indeed, a Victorian study of GPs older than 49 found that 55 per cent had not been tested.

Celebrities have made wonderful contributions to raising public health awareness. But this carries responsibilities to ensure the public is given the full picture. Promoting prostate cancer testing should emphasise enough information to ensure men make fully informed decisions.


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