Thursday, March 22, 2012

Raw milk not banned in England -- so far

Department store sells it

Upmarket store Selfridges has been accused of potentially putting customers at risk and breaking the law by selling ‘raw’ milk.

It is selling the milk, produced on an organic farm in Sussex, from a vending machine and insists it is hugely popular and regularly sells out.

Many traditionalists enjoy raw milk, believing it tastes nicer and may even be better for them.

However the Government’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) and its experts insist that raw milk, which is not heat-treated or pasteurised to kill off harmful bugs, is a public health threat.

Its health and legal experts have put the store and the farmer involved on notice that they are at risk of prosecution.

Historically, consumption of raw milk was associated with the spread of TB in humans, plus food poisoning bugs such as salmonella, campylobacter and E.coli O157.

As a result, raw milk has been banned outright in Scotland as a health threat since 1983. There are various exemptions in the rest of the country which allow sales direct by farmers to the public at the gate, at farmers’ markets and via the internet.

At the same time retailers are freely allowed to sell cheese made from unpasteurised milk.

The future of controls on the sale of raw milk were discussed by the FSA board yesterday, where members were divided on the need for action.

An expert paper submitted to the board warned: ‘The potential risks associated with the consumption of raw drinking milk have long been recognised.

‘Between 1912 and 1937, about 65,000 deaths from bovine tuberculosis were reported in England and Wales. In addition, raw milk was associated with many cases of brucellosis, food poisoning and other diseases.’ However, these same experts accepted that there have been no reported cases of illness associated with the milk for the past ten years.

Board members said the lack of known cases of illness in recent years might be due to the low numbers drinking the milk. Others suggested the absence of evidence that people are falling ill means the FSA need not spend time and money investigating the issue.

Member for Northern Ireland, Dr Henrietta Campbell, said the time has come for an outright ban across the entire country. She said: ‘We have to make absolutely clear in our message to the young, the old and the immune-compromised that they should not drink raw milk. Anyone else who does it is foolish. ‘I would go further and look for a ban on the sale of raw milk.’

Colleague, Clive Grundy, said: ‘It only takes one incident for this to be a very serious issue. We would be discussing this in very different terms if that one were a fatality. That deeply concerns me.’

The FSA board has given approval for a research and consultation project on whether new controls, including a ban, should be introduced.

After the meeting, a spokesman said: ‘Both Selfridges and the farmer have been informed that the FSA believes sales of raw cows’ milk from retail premises are an offence under the food Hygiene regulations. Enquiries are on-going.’

Selfridges began selling the raw milk supplied by Hook & Son, from Longleys Farm in Hailsham, Sussex, in December.

The farm insists it contains beneficial bacteria that are destroyed by pasteurisation and that consumption could reduce children’s risk of suffering allergy-related conditions such as eczema and hay fever.

Selfridges said the FSA has failed to provide clear information on whether its sale of raw milk from a vending machine is illegal.

Selfridges food director, Ewan Venters, said: ‘We have always supported unique products like raw milk. We see ourselves, like many farmers markets, as a platform to launch a variety of choice for our customers to enjoy. ‘We have stringent checks in place to make sure that the products we sell meet the standards of governing bodies, we feel raw milk should be available to everyone.’

Its senior technical manager, Melisa Clottey, said: ‘So far we have not received any indication this form of sale is illegal. If this position changes, we will of course ask Hook and Son to remove the vending machine and cease trading.’


Scientists finally solve 75-year-old riddle of how controversial electric shock treatment can treat severe depression

I doubt that this is the whole story. Social factors in the process were identified by H.J. Eysenck about 60 years ago

Scientists have finally discovered how one of psychiatry's most controversial treatments can help patients with severe depression.

Researchers at Aberdeen University have discovered that ECT - or electro-convulsive therapy - affects the way different parts of the brain involved in depression 'communicate' with each other.

They found that the treatment appears to 'turn down' an overactive connection between areas of the brain that control mood and the parts responsible for thinking and concentrating.

This stops the overwhelming impact that depression has on sufferers' ability to enjoy normal life and carry on with day-to-day activities.

This decrease in connectivity observed after ECT treatment was accompanied by a significant improvement in the patient's depressive symptoms.

The ECT treatment, which is 75-years-old, involves an electric shock being passed through the cortex of a severely-depressed patient to 'cure' them.

Its graphic portrayal in the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next won Jack Nicholson an Oscar.

The controversial treatment was introduced in 1938 by an Italian neurologist Ugo Cerletti, who was allegedly inspired by watching pigs being stunned with electric shock before being butchered in Rome. The animals would go into seizures and fall down, making it easier to slit their throats.

At the time psychiatric orthodoxy held - wrongly - that schizophrenia and epilepsy were antagonistic and one could not exist in the presence of the other.

Deciding to try the stunning technique on his patients, Dr Cerletti found electric shocks to the head caused his most obsessive and difficult mental patients to become meek and manageable.

Later the treatment was found to be effective in treating severe depression but its mode of action has remained until now a complete mystery.

The study involved using MRI to scan the brains of nine severely depressed patients before and after ECT, and then applying entirely new and complex mathematical analysis to investigate brain connectivity.

Professor of Psychiatry at the university Ian Reid, who is also a consultant psychiatrist at the Royal Cornhill Hospital, Aberdeen, said: 'We believe we've solved a 70 year old therapeutic riddle.

'ECT is a controversial treatment, and one prominent criticism has been that it is not understood how it works and what it does to the brain.

'For all the debate surrounding ECT, it is one of the most effective treatments not just in psychiatry but in the whole of medicine, because 75 per cent to 85 per cent of patients recover from their symptoms.

'Over the last couple of years there has been an emerging new perspective on how depression affects the brain.

'This theory has suggested a 'hyper-connection' between the areas of the brain involved in emotional processing and mood change and the parts of the brain involved in thinking and concentrating.

'Our key finding is that if you compare the connections in the brain before and after ECT, ECT reduces this 'hyper-connectivity'.

'For the first time we can point to something that ECT does in the brain that makes sense in the context of what we think is wrong in people who are depressed.'

Although ECT is extremely effective, it is only used on people who need treatment quickly: those who are very severely depressed, who are at risk from taking their own lives, and perhaps cannot look after themselves, or those who have not responded to other treatments.

Professor Reid said: 'The treatment can also affect memory, though for most patients this is short-lived.

'However if we understand more about how ECT works, we will be in a better position to replace it with something less invasive and more acceptable.

'At the moment only about 40 per cent of people with depression get better with treatment from their GP.

'Our findings may lead to new drug targets which match the effectiveness of ECT without an impact on memory.'

Professor Christian Schwarzbauer, chair in neuroimaging at Aberdeen, who devised the maths used to analyse the data, said: 'We were able to find out to what extent more than 25,000 different brain areas 'communicated' with each other.

'The method could be applied to a wide range of other brain disorders such as schizophrenia, autism, or dementia, and may lead to a better understanding of underlying disease mechanisms and the development of new diagnostic tools.'

The team's findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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