Saturday, December 31, 2005

I love the last sentence of this report: "Would you pay $175 for a pound of coffee beans which had passed through the backside of a furry mammal in Indonesia? . . . Kopi Luwak beans from Indonesia are rare and expensive, thanks to a unique taste and aroma enhanced by the digestive system of palm civets, nocturnal tree-climbing creatures about the size of a large house cat. . . . Despite being carnivorous, civets eat ripe coffee cherries for treats. The coffee beans, which are found inside of the cherries, remain intact after passing through the animal. Civet droppings are found on the forest floor near coffee plantations. Once carefully cleaned and roasted, the beans are sold to specialty buyers. . . . So far, most of the orders have been from California".

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Whooping cough makes resurgence: "Pertussis, the highly contagious disease also known as whooping cough, has become a growing problem in adolescents in recent years despite its history as primarily a disease of infants and young children, federal data show. 'Even though the highest rate of pertussis is still among children under 6 months of age, the highest proportion of cases is now among adolescents,' said Dr. Amanda Cohn, an epidemic intelligence service officer for the Atlanta-based U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr. Cohn is one of the authors of a report titled 'Pertussis -- United States, 2001-2003,' published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that was released last week. The study showed that reported cases of pertussis increased from a historic low of 1,010 in 1976 to 11,647 cases in 2003. 'A large increase in reported cases has occurred among adolescents' as vaccinations they received as young children have lost effectiveness, the authors wrote."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Good old vitamin D stops cancer!: "A large daily dose of vitamin D can lower the risk of developing common cancers by as much as 50%, scientists said yesterday. Researchers found the natural form of the vitamin, known as D3, can reduce the chances of developing breast, ovarian and colon cancer, as well as others. Taking 1000 international units (0.025mg) of the vitamin each day could halve an individual's cancer risk, they said. Vitamin D is normally produced in the skin by the action of sunlight but is also obtained from certain foods. Dietary sources are limited, however. A glass of milk, for instance, contains only 100 IU of the vitamin. The team of US researchers carried out a systematic review of 63 studies, looking at the relationship between blood levels of vitamin D and cancer risk. The papers, published worldwide between 1966 and 2004, included 30 investigations of colon cancer, 13 of breast cancer, 26 of prostate cancer and seven of ovarian cancer. Their analysis, published in the American Journal of Public Health, showed that, for at least some cancers, the vitamin D factor could not be ignored... However, the team warned taking high doses of vitamin D - more than 2000 IU a day (0.05mg) - could cause serious damage to the liver and kidneys. Excess Vitamin D is stored in the liver, where it can promote dangerously high levels of calcium uptake.""

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Tyrannical (and job destroying) NSW occupational health & safety act: "If you think the proposed [Australian] sedition laws are tough, spare a thought for a piece of legislation that makes them look almost benign. Under this law, there is a presumption of guilt, the trial occurs before a tribunal and there is no appeal to a real court, and 96 per cent of those accused are found guilty. Plus the party bringing the case gets to keep half the fine. It's a package Philip Ruddock can only dream of. The law is the NSW Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000, under which hundreds of managers and companies are prosecuted every year".

Sunday, December 25, 2005


News from Nice in France

An extreme-right French group has found a way to distribute Christmas cheer only to a chosen few by offering homeless people free hot soup containing pork, which observant Jews and Muslims do not eat. The soup kitchen, set up at the harbour of this Riviera town, draws about as many protesters as poor people. Police stand guard between it and a Catholic charity group distributing vegetable soup outside their church.

Dominique Lescure, head of the small ultra-nationalist group distributing the soup, disputed charges by angry protesters on Wednesday evening that what he called his "patriots' soup" was meant to exclude Jews and Muslims. "I don't see why I should not be able to put pork, which has always played a major role in my country's cuisine, into a traditional soup that I want to distribute, admittedly, to my compatriots and European homeless people," he argued. "I'm not excluding anyone," he shouted in a heated exchange with a handful of jeering protesters. "We're tired of being treated like little Nazis. If a Muslim comes, I'll serve him, but the real poor these days are our people."

Standing nearby under bright Christmas lighting, a city official said he could do nothing about the controversial soup kitchen. "Serving soup with pork is not a crime," said deputy mayor Noel Ayraud.

The nationalist far-right is a strong fringe group in France, where its supporters feel under threat from Europe, globalisation and the country's five-million-strong Muslim community, the largest Islamic majority in Europe.... When he launched his soup kitchen in early December, Lescure said in a statement he wanted to help "our least fortunate blood brothers ... in this hour when the black tide of demographic submersion and free-market impoverisation is rising."

More here

Fat soldiers now OK: "Australia's military may soon be led by overweight officers with poor eyesight and asthma under a radical proposal to tackle a recruitment crisis within the Defence Force. The army, navy and airforce are considering plans to relax eyesight and weight criteria for officer recruits in an effort to fill recruitment quotas and accept more of the 10 per cent of applicants who fail on health grounds. The chiefs of Australia's three military services have ordered a review of the once-strict eligibility criteria in the face of falling numbers of recruit applications and government moves to expand the size of the Defence Force amid current global instability".

Friday, December 23, 2005

Chocolate is now good for you: "Lovers of dark chocolate have been given the perfect excuse to indulge -- it is good for the heart. A study has found that eating a few squares a day could help prevent problems with blood flow. This is because chocolate contains high quantities of antioxidants called flavonoids, which prevent arteries hardening. These benefits are not shared by milk chocolate, possibly because the milk interferes with the effect of the flavonoids. In the study, published in the journal Heart, tests were carried out on 20 smokers, chosen because they have an increased risk of hardened arteries and heart disease. Asked not to eat anti-oxidant rich foods, they were then fed 57g of different types of chocolate. After two hours, those who had eaten dark chocolate, with 74 per cent cocoa solids, had "significantly improved" blood flow."

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Panic: 'MP calls for ban on artificial sweetener', reports the Guardian on fears related to the sweetener aspartame, more widely known as NutraSweet. Liberal Democrat MP Roger Williams, a member of the parliamentary select committee on food and the environment, said in a Commons debate that there was 'compelling and reliable evidence for this carcinogenic substance to be banned from the UK food and drinks market altogether'. Williams referred in particular to a study announced earlier this year from the European Ramazzini Foundation, which found statistically significant increases in leukaemia and lymphomas in rats fed a diet with the sweetener added.

Don't panic: While there have been long-standing suggestions that aspartame is carcinogenic, the sweetener has been the subject of numerous reviews that have drawn the conclusion that it is not a health risk.

On the face of it, aspartame seems an unlikely cause of cancer. As it is digested, the sweetener is broken down into simpler by-products, two amino acids plus methanol, which are already found in the diet in other foods. If aspartame is carcinogenic, then so are many normal foods. For example, tomato juice contains six times as much methanol as the equivalent volume of aspartame-sweetened soft drink. The quantities of aspartame consumed on average, about 2-3mg per kilogram of body weight per day, are well below the 40 mg/kg per day specified as safe by the European Union (EU).

The European Ramazzini Foundation study does suggest that aspartame is a health risk. Rats bred to spontaneously develop cancers developed more cancers while consuming aspartame than those that did not. For example, rats given the equivalent of 100 times the safe dose of aspartame were roughly twice as likely to develop lymphomas and leukaemias as those given no aspartame. There were also effects seen at lower doses.

However, such a study on a rather peculiar breed of animal cannot be a reliable guide to the effect of aspartame on humans. In passing, it is worth noting that there have been suggestions in the past that aspartame could increase the risk of brain tumours - but no significant increased risk of brain tumours was found in this study.

Before these results were widely publicised, it would have been better for them to be reviewed in the light of previous research, especially human epidemological studies, to make a balanced assessment of risk. Given the ubiquity of aspartame in all sorts of foods, any significant increased risk of cancer in humans would surely have shown up by now. One of the largest manufacturers of aspartame, Ajinomoto, has criticised the Ramazzini study as 'not consistent with the extensive body of scientific research which already exists on aspartame'.

The irony is that this is another example of competing panics. Aspartame has become popular at a time when many people are trying to lose weight, often for health reasons inspired by the hysteria around obesity. On the other hand, it is now suggested that aspartame may be carcinogenic. So, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't. Sweet.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No ham for Christmas: Muslim menu for West Australia hospital

No tolerance shown for Australian majority customs -- like ham at Christmas dinner

A WA hospital has scrubbed baked ham from its Christmas menu, fearing Muslim patients could be offended. It has also overhauled its entire menu so that all meals are now halal - containing only meat and other food prepared according to Muslim customs.

But Port Hedland Regional Hospital staff and many non-Muslim patients are outraged, saying it is a case of political correctness gone mad. Kitchen staff are so angry that they have organised a petition demanding ham be put back on the Christmas menu. Other WA hospitals are also introducing halal dining, though the Health Department says Port Hedland is the only one to convert its entire menu to suit Muslims.

Hospital directors decided to axe the traditional festive season baked ham because of the high percentage of Muslim patients. Eating pork or ham is forbidden under Muslim custom. Until now, Muslims were asked to supply their own food if they did not want to eat hospital fare. The hospital's nursing director, Judy Davis, said though ham was not on the menu, Christian patients would not miss out on festive cheer. "We'll still make Christmas special - we've got prawns and all sorts of other special treats," she said.

But one long-time Port Hedland hospital worker told The Sunday Times the menu change was "unAustralian". "It's going to be a boring old Christmas lunch for the patients," he said. "After all, what's Christmas without a ham, or Sunday morning without bacon and eggs? "The management of the hospital are unable to stand up to a minority and keep our Australian way of life intact. They are bowing to the pressure of a select few." He warned that the only politically correct fare would soon be "a bowl of rice and a cup of tea". "No wonder the true-blue Australians are getting angry," he said. "Now all we need is for someone of the Hindu faith to jump up and down and we'll have no beef. "Before we know it, if you're sick in Port Hedland, you will have to be happy with a diet of boiled rice and a cup of tea."

A Health Department spokeswoman said the menu change was about meeting the needs of the Islamic community. She denied it meant sacrificing Christian traditions. "Port Hedland has one of the largest Muslim communities outside the capital cities of Australia, and has done so for many years," the spokeswoman said. "Changes to the menu meant pork and ham were no longer offered to patients. "However, other meat and alternatives are available." She said no patients had complained, but the Health Department was aware that staff at Port Hedland were unhappy.

"We are aware that staff would like ham for Christmas lunch, and this will be provided by the hospital," the spokeswoman said. "The majority of hospitals try to take into account the different patient mix when deciding on their menu, and offer several choices."


Monday, December 19, 2005

Paracetamol causes headaches!: "Popular painkillers such as aspirin and paracetamol may cause the headaches they are supposed to treat. A paper published in the latest issue of the medical journal Australian Prescriber claims the recommended daily dose of some over-the-counter medications can cause headaches. "Medication-overuse headache is estimated to be responsible for 30 per cent of chronic daily headache and accounts for 10-60 per cent of patients attending specialist headache clinics," said David Williams, director of neurology at John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle. "The prevalence of medication-overuse headache is high and the condition is usually present for a long time before it is recognised and treated." Dr Williams said the body adapted to regular use of painkillers and became less responsive to medication. "When people stop taking the substance, the body suffers withdrawal symptoms," he said. "And the main symptom of withdrawal of analgesics is headache".

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Now brandy is good for you: "Drinking a shot of brandy this Christmas could benefit your health, Monash University researchers have found. A School of Physics researcher in Melbourne, Dr Gordon Troup, said that, in moderation, brandy had been shown to have medicinal qualities, thanks to its antioxidants. "A 30ml shot of brandy gives you enough antioxidants to kill as many free radicals as your daily requirement of vitamin C," he said. And the better quality the brandy the greater the benefit. "So when you are enjoying a slice of brandy-infused fruit cake or a drink of good-quality brandy over Christmas you can put your mind at rest that this amber liquid isn't too bad for you at all.""

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Whoopee! Fibre diet 'doesn't prevent cancer': "A comprehensive study challenges the one accepted truism of dietary research since the 1960s. Eating lots of fibre may do little to protect against colon cancer, the latest analysis of evidence has found. While people who eat the most fibre - in the form of cereals, vegetables and fruit - are slightly less likely to get colon cancer, the association is weak and disappears altogether when other factors are taken into account, according to an international team in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The research undermines one of the greatest of dietary shibboleths, first enunciated by the British physician Denis Burkitt in the 1960s. Working in Africa, he noticed that rates of colon cancer were low, and put it down to the fibre-rich diet of local people".

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Britain: 'Fresh' apples could be a year old: "Apples are being sold in supermarkets up to a year after harvesting. The "freshly-picked" fruit - stocked by chains including Sainsbury's - is treated with a chemical gas that stops it ripening during storage. The process allows produce to be sold two to three seasons after being harvested. Agrofresh, the US firm behind the SmartFresh chemical as it is known, says it locks the taste in the apples, preserving the quality. However critics insist stores should stock fresh local fruit.... The treatment, which is used in more than 25 countries, stops apples producing ethylene, the natural ripening agent that softens fruit before it rots. The nutritional content of fruit is also preserved during storage... Producers using it include Domex, which ships American apples to Britain.... Year-old apples are common in US supermarkets but it is thought that most apples on sale in Britain are no more than six months old.... The chemical is also used on bananas, melons, tomatoes and avocados, but only extends their shelf-life by days or weeks".

Food, Nutrition and Calories

A little while ago I put up a post ridiculing an "expert" who said that food can be high in calories but have no nutritional value. The statement is absurd because the human body produces calories from food and if food is not nutrition what is?

A number of readers have however written to me who agree with the "expert" -- usually taking the trouble to tell me also how their own diet of fruit and nuts (or whatever) has benefited them.

So I think I may have been a bit unfair to the "expert". I suspect that in current American usage "nutrition" means "food that I approve of". Being a straight-talking Australian, that caught me by surprise.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Tea stops cancer! "Women who consume two or more cups of tea daily over a period of time may lower their risk of ovarian cancer compared with women who never or seldom consume tea, according to a study published in the December issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. "We observed a 46-per-cent lower risk of ovarian cancer in women who drank two or more cups of tea per day compared to non-drinkers," Susanna Larsson and Alicja Wolk of the National Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden, said. The study found that each additional cup of tea consumed a day was associated with an 18-per-cent lower risk of ovarian cancer in study participants. The researchers examined the association between tea consumption and the risk of ovarian cancer in 61,057 women between 40 and 76 years of age".

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Costly harvest of ignorant GM campaign

By Jennifer Marohasy. Jennifer's blog is here

The organic food market is growing and according to some studies this demand is being driven by increasing consumer resistance to genetically modified foods. This resistance in turn is driven by anti-GM campaigning. In Australia, state government bans on GM food crops prevent the planting of GM corn, soybeans and canola, varieties grown overseas, including in the US.

During the past two weeks the Australian organics industry has sponsored a lecture tour by anti-GM advocate and US-based consultant Charles Benbrook. As part of this tour, Benbrook has made several claims, such as GM crops have been a failure in the US and herbicide use, particularly for GM soybeans, is at record levels. This story was picked up and run by numerous media outlets, including ABC radio. The only problem is that what Benbrook has said is not supported by the available evidence.

Information on herbicide use is available at the US Department of Agriculture website. This data shows that during the past 10 years the area planted with GM soy has increased and that overall herbicide use has remained steady. Last year 87 per cent of the total area planted to soybeans in the US was planted with GM varieties. Yield was a record high, at 42.5 bushels per acre, while herbicide use was equivalent to 1996 levels, the year the first GM variety was planted. In fact soybean production in 2004 totalled 3.14 billion bushels, making it the largest soybean crop in US history. It is difficult to reconcile these statistics with an out-of-control weed problem as claimed by Benbrook. While the statistics indicate that herbicide use has not declined in soybeans, there has been an almost complete shift to the more environmentally friendly herbicide glyphosate. In this regard the GM technology has been spectacularly successful.

Earlier this week a report from the US National Centre for Food and Agricultural Policy sang the praises of GM technologies, claiming that GM varieties increased yields, decreased production costs, and provided $2.3 billion in additional revenue to US farmers.

Interestingly Australia was the first country to release a GM organism, the crown gall bacterium, in 1988. Since then we have made only one other release, GM cotton, first planted in 1996. Now grown on 90 per cent of cotton farms, the latest GM varieties have reduced pesticide use by an average 88 per cent, allowing beneficial insects to return to fields and reducing the risk of pollution.

About 35 per cent of the vegetable oil we consume in Australia is from cotton seed. Most of the rest of our vegetable oil is from canola. A Greenpeace anti-GM campaign deceptively targeted GM canola as the first GM food crop and ignored GM cotton as an existing source of vegetable oil. This campaign led to the state bans on GM food crops, with only cotton exempt on the basis it is grown primarily for fibre.

Incredibly, in Australia we have banned GM varieties that could help us reduce our ecological footprint, through the use of more environmentally friendly herbicides in the case of soybeans and canola. Ironically, while the Victorian Government has banned GM food crops, Victorian farmers import large quantities of GM soybeans from the US to feed their dairy cows. Europe is supposedly GM free but imported $858 million worth of GM soy last year, also from the US.

Benbrook's tour has added to the confusion and fear and included claims at odds with the official statistics. The misapprehension is likely to reinforce opposition to GM technologies and increase market share for organic farmers. The Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics has reported that failure to commercialise GM crops will cost Australian agriculture $3 billion by 2015. Executive director Brian Fisher has said growth in GM crops overseas will disadvantage Australian grain and oilseed producers as non-GM varieties are more expensive to produce. Furthermore, he has said present bans are harming innovation and research in Australian agriculture.

Misinformation from anti-GM campaigning comes at a significant economic and environmental cost. Benbrook and the organic food industry may unintentionally be playing an expensive game with Australian agriculture.



The huge anti-smoking establishment remains mostly ineffective at getting young people to avoid smoking and getting current smokers to quit. Much work remains. The question is, though: How much work?

Less than a decade ago, we would have been thrilled if Big Tobacco acknowledged that smoking was dangerous and addictive or gave in to demands to be more honest about the wide range of negative health consequences of smoking. If only they ran ads telling people that there are no safe cigarettes and that the safest thing to do is to quit, we fantasized.

But they are doing all this now -- and the question staring the anti-smoking community in the face is: Short of banning cigarettes, what is your endgame? Where do we go from here? Sure, there are major and important skirmishes to be fought, but at this point haven't we gotten a great deal of what we've been asking for from Big Tobacco? What other major steps could we ask for in a free society?

If there is no clear goal, defined by urgent public health imperatives, what is it that continues to drive the anti-smoking movement? The truth is that ideology and politics have become dominant; public health has taken a back seat. Misguided campaigns undermine the original and necessary goals of the movement, putting the credibility of the underlying mission at risk.

Similar Zealotry Among the Food Police

And now we see the phenomenon of redoubled effort without a clear aim happening again, in the food wars.

Obesity is a real public health threat in this country. However, some activists have chosen to blame fast food restaurants for poor choices made by too many Americans -- as if Burger King and McDonald's going out of business today would mean obese Americans easily getting back into shape and eating healthy, balanced diets. To plaintiffs' lawyers, fast food has become the next Big Tobacco. Lawsuits against Big Food are everywhere. And activist groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have been demanding more nutrition information, right on the menu boards. To their credit, McDonald's is now rolling out plans to put such information right on the wrapper -- so you can't miss it. But are the food police happy? No, as Dr. Elizabeth Whelan points out in her op-ed in today's Washington Times.

There is a lesson to be learned here, whether from the tobacco control community's addiction to a game without an endgame or the food police's insatiable hunger for more government intervention in the private sector. When your objectives are met, you should ask whether it's time to refocus your efforts -- or whether you are being driven ever forward by some more cynical motivation: a non-public-health agenda, driven by an underlying anticapitalist ideology.

Sometimes, the public health arena is a good venue for that ideology, which can help rein in bad actors. But when a public health mission has been accomplished and activists keep on fighting big bad evil industry, the activists reveal themselves as rabble-rousers, abusing the public's good will toward the public health community.


Olive oil could save your sex life: "A pill made from olive oil and herbs could dramatically reduce a man's chances of developing prostate cancer. A trial at Columbia University in the US revealed the herbal supplement can reduce the rate at which prostate cancer cells grow and spread by nearly 80 per cent. The results, published in the medical journal Nutrition And Cancer, appear to confirm anecdotal evidence that the herbal mixture has powerful anti-cancer properties. Called Zyflamend, the supplement is based on olive oil and ten different herbs. It is already widely used as an alternative to prescription drugs in conditions such as arthritis. This is because it appears to reduce inflammation that causes painful, swollen joints. Available through health food suppliers and costing around 25 pounds for 60 capsules, Zyflamend attracted the attention of researchers at Columbia University after tests showed it stopped cancer cells multiplying. But after testing the pill on almost 50 men, the team admitted they had not expected it to have such a potent effect. "These results were particularly surprising and show greater promise in the fight against prostate cancer," said Dr Debra Bemis, who led the study".

Friday, December 09, 2005


Judging from today's headlines, you'd think most of America is pudgy, couch-ridden, and on the verge of some catastrophic illness. Our poor eating habits and slothful lifestyle have served as grist for many an in-depth report, multi-part series, and conference like the Time-ABC News "Obesity Summit" held last summer. For years, the government and media have told us we're in the midst of an "obesity crisis," and that our excess weight unnecessarily kills some 400,000 of us every year.

Here's the good news you don't often hear: Last year, life expectancy in America reached an all-time high. Death rates among all age groups have been in decline for decades. That's true across all races and both sexes. In fact, the life expectancy gap between black and white is narrowing, even though African-Americans are fattening at a greater clip than white Americans. The two diseases most linked to obesity -- heart disease and cancer -- are in rapid decline. Deaths from each have been steadily dropping since the early 1990s. In fact, deaths from nine of the ten types of cancer most associated with obesity are down over the last 15 years, not up. Deaths from heart disease have declined in every state in the nation. Deaths from stroke are down, too. The biggest increases in mortality are coming from diseases that inevitably set in at old age, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

In short, we are healthier than we've ever been. Granted, much of this good news is attributable to advances in medical technology. But so what? If the fattening of America is really the health threat it's made out to be -- Surgeon General Richard Carmona recently said it's a bigger threat than terrorism -- after thirty years of putting on weight, we should at least be seeing the front end of this coming calamity. It simply isn't happening.

More here

British broccoli mania: "Your genes could mean that eating broccoli to help protect against cancer may not be enough - what you need is "super-broccoli." Researchers have found around half the population don't have the right genes to fully benefit from eating the green vegetable. They retain the cancer fighting chemical sulforaphane for only a few hours. But they could compensate for the difference in their genetic make-up by eating the super variety, with higher levels of the active plant chemical sulforaphane. "Super-broccoli" is currently being developed and may not be in the shops for another three years. In the meantime researchers from the Institute of Food Research (IFR) say that eating larger portions may be the best way to compensate. Lead scientist Professor Richard Mithen said: "Eating a few portions of broccoli each week may help to reduce the risk of cancer". And pigs might fly

Thursday, December 08, 2005

The "alcohol is good/bad for you" merrygoround continues: "Those who drink in moderation may have a significantly lower risk of obesity, suggests a new study published online in BMC Public Health. The study found those who drank one or two drinks a day had a significant lower risk of obesity compared to non-drinkers, while heavy drinkers and binge drinkers are at a higher risk. In the study, a drink is defined as a 12-oz beer, 4-oz glass of wine, or an ounce of liquor. For the study, Ahmed A Arif from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center and James E Rohrer from Mayo Clinic Family Medicine Program analyzed data from 8,236 non-smoking respondents who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The drinking habits were surveyed and body mass indexes were measured. The study was to explore, "association between obesity and alcohol consumption in the non-smoking U.S. adult population." The researchers found, "the odds of obesity among current drinkers were 0.73 times lower than the odds among non-drinkers. Significantly greater odds of overweight and obesity were observed among those engaged in binge drinking." "Similarly, those who reported drinking four or more drinks per day had 30 percent greater odds of being overweight and 46 percent greater odds of obesity," the authors wrote in their article. "However respondents who reported drinking one or two drinks/day had significantly lower odds of obesity.""

Poisonous Tacos in Nashville?

First a news excerpt:

"Citing health concerns, the city is considering a ban on taco trucks and other mobile food wagons that dot the busy streets in Nashville's immigrant neighborhoods. But critics say the proposed ban has more to do with cultural differences than health. "There's a resounding feeling that these actions are driven by racism," said Loui Olivas, a business professor at Arizona State University. Nashville is one of several cities with fast-growing Hispanic populations that have tried to restrict food trucks recently, he said. "Folks weren't pointing fingers or speaking loudly with traditional hot dog vendors or bagel or ice cream vendors," Olivas said. "That's always been a part of growing up in America. Why the concern now?"

The racism accusation should succeed at putting the kybosh on the whole move of course and I think this is one occasion where such an accusation will do some good. We read the real reason for the ban a little later on -- a reason that goes all the way back to Adam Smith:

"The 31 trailers were chosen for inspection because they operate every day throughout the city, health inspectors say. "They're not created to function as a full-time restaurant, and that's become the case," said Bradley, who has received complaints from businesses near the food trucks.


What Adam Smith said was that businessmen "seldom gather together except to conspire against the public interest." And getting governments to make rules that squash your competition is as old as the hills.

Nutritious Food is Bad for you?

It is difficult to know where to start commenting on this piece of nonsense from a supposedly learned man. Excerpt:

"SpongeBob SquarePants, Shrek and other characters kids love should promote only healthy food, a panel of scientists recommended. In a report released Tuesday, the Institute of Medicine said television advertising strongly influences what children under 12 eat.

"The foods advertised are predominantly high in calories and low in nutrition -- the sort of diet that puts children's long-term health at risk," said J. Michael McGinnis, a senior scholar at the institute and chairman of the report committee.

The report said evidence is limited on whether TV advertising leads to obesity in children. A study hasn't been done that would demonstrate a direct cause and effect".


If something is high in calories, then it is also high on nutrition. Calories are a measure of how much nourishment a food contains. So the above statement is just politically correct nonsense. What they presumably mean is that advertised foods are TOO nutritrious. There is so much nutrition in them that they make you fat. So we have yet another abuse of language from our would-be dictators.

And they have the gall to tell people to do something while at the same time admitting that they have no evidence for what they say! And since what is supposedly good and bad for you keeps changing, the chance that they ever will have such evidence is remote.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Dioxin: death for objectivity

Compensation schemes for vets exposed to Agent Orange fly in the face of the evidence.

Shortly before hurricane Katrina struck Mississippi, a devastating jury decision there struck the company DuPont, awarding a man $15million because of his scientifically groundless claim to have been injured by the chemical dioxin.

This was only the latest in a long line of bogus assaults on dioxin. Greenpeace and other environmental organisations damn the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for moving too slowly to eliminate dioxin from meat and dairy products, air and water, and, most poignantly, from mothers' milk. Greenpeace says that dioxin causes cancer, miscarriages and birth defects, developmental disorders and lasting mental impairment. Despite moving too slowly for Greenpeace, however, EPA agrees that dioxin must be carefully regulated. And the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays millions of dollars to thousands of veterans each year as compensation for the diseases ostensibly caused by the dioxin that contaminated Agent Orange.

Greenpeace, EPA and VA cite the results of hundreds of animal tests to bolster their claims about dioxin's deadliness. But they ignore or downplay the absence of human evidence for harmful effects.

That absence is not from lack of trying to find human effects. EPA, VA, the US Department of Health and Human Services, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the United States Air Force, state agencies, and industry, have all spent millions studying populations of people who have been or might have been exposed to dioxin.

Sifting through the results of studies of workers exposed to high levels of dioxin reveals scattered reports of a particular cancer or disease being found at above-expected levels in one study or another. It also reveals that some cancers or diseases are found at below-expected levels in some studies. There's little consistency - cancers elevated in some studies are decreased in others.

The results support the conclusion that dioxin exposures to human populations are without effect, and that the sporadically found higher and lower disease rates are the result of random fluctuations in disease occurrence. Even the International Agency for Research on Cancer's (IARC) widely proclaimed assessment that dioxin causes cancer in humans relies on animal test results; IARC concedes the evidence from studies of humans is less than convincing.

What the dioxin studies really tell us

There are fewer studies of 'environmentally exposed' people, primarily because there are few populations that have been exposed to higher than 'background' levels. The two most studied populations are those that lived around a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy, which blew up in 1976; and the residents of Times Beach, Missouri, which was exposed to dioxin-contaminated oil. These studies find that there are no increases in overall disease rates or cancers. It is possible to associate dioxin exposures with elevated occurrence of a specific cancer or disease in some studies, but the occurrence of other cancers and diseases is lower than expected, and there is little consistency among studies' results. This suggests that the varying disease rates result from fluctuations of occurrence observed whenever small populations are studied.

The most publicised dioxin-exposed group is Vietnam veterans. Agent Orange, a mixture of two herbicides, was used to defoliate trees in the jungles of Vietnam. It was always contaminated with traces of dioxin, present at levels from less than one part per million to perhaps 50 parts per million, so anyone exposed to Agent Orange was exposed to dioxin. Dioxin persists for years in the fatty tissues of animals, and measuring current levels of dioxin in those tissues provides information about past exposures to dioxin and dioxin-containing substances, such as Agent Orange.

The two active ingredients of Agent Orange are far less toxic than dioxin in animal tests, but one was removed from the market because it was always contaminated with dioxin. The other is still available in any hardware store.

The ranch hands

Two groups of Vietnam veterans have been intensely studied. The 'Ranch Hands' are the 1,200 Air Force personnel who serviced and flew the airplanes that sprayed 90 percent of the Agent Orange used in Vietnam. Along with 1,200 other Air Force personnel - a control group referred to as 'Comparisons', who were not exposed to Agent Orange - they were subjected to a week-long physical and psychological examination every five years between 1982 and 2002. This finds no difference in overall disease or mortality rates between the Ranch Hands and Comparisons

More here

Booze not good for you after all: "After years of telling us that a couple of drinks were good for us by reducing the risk of heart attacks, one team of experts have changed their minds. The team led by Dr Rod Jackson and three colleagues from the University of Auckland in New Zealand, suggest that the apparent protective effect of alcohol may be largely due to confused research. Writing in The Lancet medical journal, they maintain that any benefit from light to moderate drinking is probably small and unlikely to outweigh the harm to health caused by alcohol. If anything, they say the evidence of heart protection is more convincing for heavy drinkers, though the dangers greatly outweigh this benefit. The Auckland team point out that earlier studies were not randomised to avoid confounding errors. For instance, people who stop drinking because of heart problems may be included in studies and misclassified as "never drinkers" in studies. This would lead to the impression that small amounts of alcohol protect against heart disease".

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Boozing really does rot your brain: "Middle-aged adults who binge drink may face a heightened risk of dementia later in life, a study has suggested. Researchers found even among adults who usually drank moderately, those who occasionally binged were more likely than their peers to develop dementia over the next 25 years. Overall, middle-aged adults who binged at least once a month - downing, for instance, five bottles of beer or a bottle of wine in one sitting - had a three times greater risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease. The findings were published in the medical journal, Epidemiology. Study co-author Jaakko Kaprio of the University of Helsinki, Finland, said it was not surprising binge drinking was related to a higher dementia risk. But the risk had not been well documented before, he said".

Friday, December 02, 2005

Fast food tells all: Washington Times by Elizabeth M. Whelan "McDonald's has decided it's time to tell you everything you ever wanted to know about the caloric content and nutritional value of the burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and other delectables they serve at 13,000 establishments around the country. Starting next spring, the leading fast-food chain will print in clear, basic language and symbols the fat, calorie, carbohydrate, and sodium count -- right on the wrapper. This is both a good move for consumers (it will help them make informed food choices) and for McDonald's (by protecting the company from legal charges of withholding information from consumers, causing them unwittingly to get fat). The new full-disclosure policy could be seen as successful industry 'self-regulation' -- where progress is made without the heavy hand of government regulatory involvement. But instead of extending wholehearted congratulations to the Mcfolks in Oakbrook, Ill., the regular suspects -- specifically, the Center for Science in the Public Interest 'food police' -- complain that McDonald's has not gone far enough."

You Must Be Healthy: For British health officials, liberty doesn't count

(From Theodore Dalrymple)

The place of liberty among political desiderata is a matter of philosophical dispute. No doubt, we must occasionally curtail liberty in pursuit of other ends; but I nevertheless find alarming the creeping authoritarianism of the medical journals, which seldom recognize liberty as an end worthy of the slightest consideration in the making of public policy.

The British government is proposing to ban smoking in all pubs that serve food but not in those that don't. You might think this a sensible compromise, allowing for separate public places for smokers and non-smokers. But a recent paper in the British Medical Journal attacks the proposals, on the grounds that they might well increase the differential in the life expectancy between the rich and poor, which has stubbornly refused to yield to 60 years (so far) of profound social engineering.

The reason the proposals, if implemented, might increase the differential is that there are more pubs that don't serve food in poor areas than in rich, so the poor would be subjected to more passive smoking in pubs than the rich. The authors therefore propose a total rather than a partial ban of smoking in pubs. For them, a widening of the differential would be undesirable, even when everyone's life expectancy was rising.

Now clearly there exist threats to public health so severe that we must curtail liberty to meet them, as with quarantines. Whether passive smoking is such a threat that it justifies such curtailment is a matter of opinion and not yet susceptible to definitive answer supported by a knockdown argument. But the authors of the article in the British Medical Journal do not even recognize the need to justify their proposal to curtail liberty, because they do not value liberty.

Perhaps it is only natural that considerations of public health should seem all-important to public health doctors (the authors), such that anything that will lengthen the public's life span appears to them justified without further argument. But I still find it disturbing that they should be unaware of other desirable ends other than health and a prolonged life span that is equal between all social classes. Monomania is never good.

Besides, in practice not every activity that threatens the public health leads to a call by public health doctors for prohibition. The British Medical Journal once published a news item stating that 17 million sports injuries occurred in Britain every year-17 million! They ranged from the trivial to the fatal, of course; but no public health doctor called for the prohibition of sport to protect human life and to avoid the waste of medical resources on what were essentially self-inflicted injuries.

This is because they regard sport as morally good, while smoking is the nearest people can come these days to sin. I hasten to add that I have no shares in tobacco companies, and I abhor tobacco smoke.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Which shows how absurd conventional definitions of poverty are

Residents in Sydney's [poor] south-west are among the fattest in the state, with more than half the inhabitants of the Campbelltown and Camden area overweight or obese, new figures reveal.

Meanwhile, Sydney's affluent eastern suburbs and North Shore have the lowest percentage of overweight and obese residents, with just one in five women above the healthy weight range.

Figures from the NSW Health Department, compiled for The Sun-Herald from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 adult health surveys, highlight the correlation between weight and wealth. They come as doctors grapple with the nation's obesity crisis and experts call for the regulation of food outlets and subsidising of healthy, fresh food. Compiled from interviews with 32,877 people across the state over three years, the figures also draw attention to the disparity between obesity levels in rural and city regions.....

Social researcher Neer Korn, a director of research organisation Heartbeat Trends, said the figures showed the direct correlation between socio-economic status and obesity problems. "People from a lower socio-economic background eat more junk food and they have less time to care for themselves," Mr Korn said. [Another nitwit! Has she never heard of the long houres at work that many middle-income put in?] "If you have a nanny and you're not working, you have all day to go shopping for food to get something nice to cook for dinner which is healthy, and you can afford gym membership." Mr Korn said Australia's obesity problem was more pronounced in rural areas because fresh food was more expensive [What rubbish! He hasn't got a clue! He must never have lived in a country town and found out how much informal exchange of fresh fruit and vegetables there is] and the health message was a lower priority for residents there. "Try getting fruit and vegies in Wilcannia - it's so expensive there, it's much cheaper just to go to Maccas," he said.

Ian Caterson, Boden Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Sydney, said the availability of food was a major contributor to the increasing obesity problem. He told a WeightWatchers-hosted discussion forum on obesity last week that an American study found the abundance of food outlets accounted for 68 per cent of the increase in obesity levels. He recommended introducing legislation to police the number and type of food outlets [No disguising the Fascism there!] that could be built in any one area to ensure people could obtain, say, fresh fruit as easily as fast food....

More here

That greater self-discipline might make you both richer and slimmer is not of course mentioned

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

True love is for 12 months only: "They say true love lasts a lifetime. But according to scientists, that intoxicating head-spinning feeling that comes when you first clap eyes on the love of your life does not last quite that long. In fact, they say the chemical in the brain which is responsible for the first flush of romance wears off after just 12 months. The researchers found the effect was the same even among couples who were still passionately in love. They studied a group of men and women aged 18 to 31, some of whom had just fallen in love, some of whom were in long-term relationships and others who were single. Among those in the first throes of passion, levels of a protein called Nerve Growth Factor - which causes those telltale palpitations, sweaty palms and butterflies - rocketed. But in couples who had been together for a year or more, the levels had fallen back to that found in singletons"

Monday, November 28, 2005


Last January, media outlets reported that cancer had overtaken heart disease as the number one killer in the United States. Sounds scary, no? Fear not. As is usually the case, beyond the scary headline, deep into the copy, came the real story. Both diseases are in steady decline. Cancer rates and deaths from cancer have fallen every year since the early 1990s. The thing is, incidence and mortality rates of heat disease and stroke have fallen even more over the same period (25 percent since 1990). So while it's true that cancer has "overtaken" heart disease, that's really not the story. The story is that both are in decline, heart disease remarkably so.

Late last February, another health story hit the wires: Americans are living longer than ever before. Life expectancy is up across the board, among both genders and all ethnicities. The gaps in life expectancy between men and women and between black and white are shrinking, too.

At the same time all of this good news has transpired, the number of Americans classified as "obese" and "overweight" has been on a steadily upward trajectory since about the mid-1970s. In 1985, 8 states reported that at least 10% of their populations were obese. By 1990, the number rose to 33. By 2001, it was all fifty.

Of course, as you might expect, the scariest numbers about the condition of America's waistline are overblown - there are significant problems with the way the government measures obesity, which I'll discuss in a moment. But most researchers agree that the average American is carrying 10-15 more pounds than he was thirty years ago.

If you believe media, nutrition activists, and public officials, those extra 10-15 pounds portend a looming healthcare catastrophe. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, for example, said in 2004 that childhood obesity is "every bit as threatening to us as the terrorist threat." A congressionally commissioned report from the Institute of Medicine published in the fall of 2004 called for massive government intervention to stave off the crisis. One author said we need "nothing short of a revolution." The World Health Organization warned "If immediate action is not taken, millions will suffer from an array of serious health disorders."

But if we've been getting fatter for 30 years, shouldn't we be seeing at least the front end of this coming crisis? Why are we getting healthier? In fact, a closer look at the statistics suggests that even some of the diseases most associated with obesity are in retreat.

Take cancer, for example. In 2002, the BBC reported researchers had found that "the more excess weight a person carries, the greater their risk of certain types of cancer." In 2004, USA Today echoed that claim. "The nation's current epidemic of overweight and obesity is likely to drive up cancer rates in coming years," the paper wrote. The Associated Press wrote that, "heart disease and diabetes get all the attention, but expanding waistlines increase the risk for at least nine types of cancer, too" (other sources put it at ten).

But of the ten types of cancer commonly associated with obesity, deaths from nine - pancreatic, ovarian, gall bladder, stomach, prostate, kidney, colal-rectal, cervical-uteran, and breast - have decreased since 1992, some of them significantly. Only one - pancreatic cancer - has seen an increase in mortality rates over that period.

And heart disease? Case Western Reserve University researcher and obesity skeptic Paul Ernsberger notes that "The greatest improvements are in cardiovascular disease deaths, which are most strongly linked to obesity."

As noted, the gap in life expectancy between black and white is shrinking. But at the same time, blacks as a group have put on more weight than whites......

America is at war with obesity. We could eventually come to find, however, that this war's origins are dubious as the sinking of the Maine. None of this is to say extreme or morbid obesity is healthy, or even benign (though again, there seems to be some modest protective effects to carrying some excess weight). The decline in incidence and deaths from heart disease and cancer are almost certainly due to advances in medical research and technology. We're getting better at uncovering these diseases early, and with pharmaceutical marvels like Statin drugs and chemotherapy, we're making huge leaps in treatment once we've diagnosed them. And it's of course likely that the gains we've made would be even more significant were the most obese among us a bit more svelte.

But the notion that our expanding waistlines have put us on the verge of a calamitous offensive against our health care system simply isn't borne out by the evidence. And so these incessant calls for immediate, large-scale government interference in how we grow, process, manufacture, market, prepare, sell, and eat our food ring hollow, hyperbolic, and needlessly invasive....

The bizarre thing about the obesity debate is that less than a decade ago, the very thought of it was often discussed only in parody, or in a reductio ad absurdum context. Opponents of the tobacco lawsuits often invoked the idea of trial lawyers suing fast food restaurants as one example of the "parade of horribles" that might follow should the tobacco suits be allowed to go forward.

Well, we're here now. This is post-reductio America. If the anti-obesity proposals currently up for debate become law, it's difficult to come up with any aspect of our lives that's out of the reach of the public health activists. Or, as one advocacy group that represents the food industry has put it, the question will no longer be "what's next?"...but "what's left?"

Much more here

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Cranberies are good for you: "Cranberries, which already are known to help thwart urinary tract infections, may also prevent tooth decay and cavities, dental researchers reported in the January issue of the journal Caries Research. The same sticky compounds in the small, hard red fruit -- which is boiled into a jelly that is a staple at American winter holiday meals -- that help keep bacteria at bay in the bladder also appear to help prevent bacteria from clinging to teeth, according to the researchers. They also found it seemed to help ward off plaque, a gooey substance formed from bits of food, saliva, and acid that can harbor bacteria and eventually irritate the gums. "There's potential to find compounds there that prevent dental cavities," said Hyun Koo, an oral biologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York"


Plans for a walkway high in the forest of Westland National Park have stalled over a requirement to provide access for wheelchair users. South Island tribe Ngai Tahu is behind the $2 million treetop venture, a more than 300m-long looped walk, 14m high and against a backdrop of the Southern Alps' Franz Josef village.

Ngai Tahu Tourism acting general manager Rick Tau said providing electric or mechanical lifts to get disabled people up and over sets of steps built into the walkway would add more than $100,000 to the cost of the project. "It could put the kibosh it," he said.

More than $50,000 had already been spent on design and planning. Electric lifts would require a power supply, and self-operated mechanical lifts could be a problem if people were severely disabled, Mr Tau said. The tribe had asked the Department of Building and Housing for an exemption under the Building Act, but was turned down.

It's not the first time Ngai Tahu's tourism ventures had come up against disability laws, Mr Tau said. "Some of it is idiotic. We have lodges that take two days' walking to get to, yet we have to provide wheelchair access to toilets."

More here (Hat tip to Kiwi Pundit)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Nestle under fire for 'sexist' TV ad

Humourless lesbians suspected again

"Confectionery giant Nestle is under fire in Britain over chocolate bar adverts suggesting football is "not for girls". The company is promoting a bar called Footie with wrapper slogans including: "It's definitely not for girls", "no passes to lasses" and "no wenches on the benches". Wrappers also contain an image of a woman holding a handbag framed in a no-entry road sign.

The Women's Sports Foundation said such advertising undermined attempts to encourage girls to play more sport and improve fitness levels in teenage girls. "We'd rather not see this kind of advertising," she said. "Research shows that 40 per cent of girls have dropped out of sport by the time they reach 18. It's a serious problem with implications for health and fitness. "There are all sorts of cultural barriers to women getting involved in sport. A campaign like this adds to the problem."

Privately, staff at the Equal Opportunities Commission said they were disturbed by the messages on Footie bar wrappers. A spokeswoman said she could make no official comment because confectionery advertising was not within the organisation's remit. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority said it had no powers to adjudicate on the wording of confectionery wrappers.

Nestle said the Footie bar was a version of the Yorkie bar and the slogans were "meant to be humorous". "The Yorkie 'Wenches on the Benches' pack is meant to be tongue-in-cheek and humorous and we apologise if (anyone) has taken offence," said a Nestle spokeswoman. "The 'Wenches on the Benches' Yorkie pack is part of the wider 'Not For Girls' Yorkie campaign. "The spirit of this is to reclaim chocolate for men, based on the consumer insight that there are not many things that men can look at and say that it's just for him. "This is especially true for the chocolate confectionery market, which is full of female-targeted brands. "Yorkie was launched 26 years ago as the chocolate for men and used a very popular 'Trucker' campaign. "We are building on this strong male heritage using a light-hearted and fun way of talking about the differences between men and women.""


Friday, November 25, 2005

No kidding: Americans acquiring taste for goat: "For many Californians, goat has become the other red meat. Curried goat and birria stew have become fixtures on the menus of local restaurants. Markets catering to Muslims and Latinos do brisk business selling fresh goat meat. Even the meat section of the upscale Whole Foods Market in Glendale now peddles the commodity. Goat meat imports to the U.S. jumped about 140% over a seven-year period ending in 2003. Now some California farmers see gold in goat. They are expanding their herds, hoping to cash in on consumers' broadening tastes. 'As goat producers, we are standing in one of the most enviable positions of any agriculture industry in the United States,' said Marvin Shurley, president of the American Meat Goat Assn. in Sonora, Texas. 'High demand for our products and livestock prices are unmatched within the history of our industry.'"

Boffins crack beer goggles: "Scientists have figured out why alcohol makes ugly people seem more attractive - otherwise known as the "beer goggles" effect. Far from being a simple matter of how much you have to drink, the researchers have devised a complex formula which takes into account the level of light in the pub or club, the drinkers' own eyesight, the smokiness of the room and the distance between two people. A phenomenon which has caught out millions of people over the years, the beer goggles effect refers to how having too much to drink can make someone you find repulsive suddenly exude all the charms and allure of a supermodel. While getting intimate with the person may seem like a good idea at the time, it's only the morning after when you realise that the Angelina Jolie superbabe you hooked up with the night before actually resembles Margaret Thatcher in the cold harsh light of day... "The beer goggles effect isn't solely dependent on how much alcohol a person consumes, there are other influencing factors at play too," said Professor Nathan Efron, Professor of Clinical Optometry at the University of Manchester. Amazingly, scientists now believe you don't even need to have had an alcoholic drink to suffer from the beer goggles effect. "The formula shows for example, that a person with poor vision who's talking to someone in a very smoky bar will be experiencing a beer goggles effect close to someone who has consumed eight pints in a smoke-free and well-lit room.":

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Shriek! Vegetables, fruits cause more US food illnesses

What will the food freaks eat now?

Contaminated fruits and vegetables are causing more food-borne illness among Americans than raw chicken or eggs, consumer advocates said a in report released on Monday. Common sources of food illnesses include various bacteria such as salmonella and E.coli that can infect humans and animals then make their way into manure used to fertilize plants. The practice of using manure fertilizer is more common in Latin America, which has become a growing source of fresh produce for the United States.

"Although poultry has historically been responsible for far more Salmonella infections, in the most recent years ... produce seems to be catching up," the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) said, calling for tougher federal food safety standards.

In fact, vegetables and fruits triggered 31 outbreaks from 2002 to 2003, compared with 29 for chicken and other poultry, according to the report.

Overall, contaminated tomatoes, sprouts and other produce made 28,315 people sick during 554 outbreaks from 1990 to 2003 -- 20 percent of all cases CSPI analyzed.

Chicken made 14,729 people sick in 476 outbreaks, and eggs were responsible for 10,847 illnesses from 329 outbreaks, according to the group.

"Pathogens can adhere to the rough surfaces of fruits and vegetables, so consumers should take precautions, such as washing produce under running water," the report said, adding people should "still eat plenty of produce."

Food-related infections cause a range of problems from discomfort to severe dehydration and death, but most problematic organisms can be killed when food is cooked long enough at high enough temperatures.

Not all people exposed to an outbreak get sick, but those who do can experience vomiting, diarrhea and fever, among other problems for about a week. Some experience no symptoms but can infect others.

The report found seafood was the largest cause of outbreaks but led to fewer illnesses than other foods. There have been 899 such outbreaks between 1990 and 2003, leading to 9,312 illnesses.

CSPI officials urged federal regulators to do more to protect the nation's food supply -- a job currently divided among at least 10 U.S. agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

One large, independent agency would reduce coordination troubles, conflicting standards and other problems that make the government slow to act, the group said.

Other changes could be made in the meantime, it added.

"FDA should require growers to limit the use of manure to times and products where it poses no risk. And packers and shippers should mark packaging to ensure easy traceback when fruits and vegetables are implicated in an outbreak," said Caroline Smith DeWaal, CSPI's food safety director.

CSPI's database includes reports mostly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other sources, including state health departments and medical journals, make up 7 percent of the data.


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Biscuits aimed at the older eater: Faced with the grim reality of a declining number of sweet-toothed youngsters, one of Japan's biggest confectioners is re-tooling itself for the swelling ranks of weak-jawed oldies. As the greying of Japan's population begins in earnest because of the plunging birthrate, biscuits [cookies] and other products are being redesigned with a simple remit in mind: they should look like the original, taste like the original and the first bite should crunch like the original. But after that they must dissolve instantly so as not to strain ageing jaws. The company, Ezaki Glico, is a global leader in the cutting-edge science of "biteability". Deep among the bubbling flasks and test tubes of Glico's central research laboratory in Osaka lies the world's most sophisticated electronic gauge of a biscuit's crunchiness..."

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


The bizarre excesses of certain food labelling exercises have been subject to ridicule for some time. A friend of mine recently bought some goats' cheese that carried the warning 'Contains goats' milk' - a case in point. But if the UK government's Food Standards Agency (FSA) gets its way, the fad for daft food labels has only just begun.

On 16 November, the FSA announced that it has just completed its research into the colour-coding of food according to its levels of fat, saturates, sugar and salt, and has concluded that a 'Multiple Traffic Light' system is the way to go (1). If this goes ahead, consumers picking out their pizzas and ready-meals in supermarkets will be confronted with a brightly-coloured label on the front of the packaging advising how their proposed dinner scores on the healthy-eating chart. So a pizza, for example, might have a green light for saturates and sugar (good), and amber light for fat (don't make a habit of it) and a red light for salt (stop right there! Are you trying to poison your children?). And you thought a trip to the supermarket was wearing enough already.

What is behind this complicated colour-coding system for everyday foods? The FSA says it is about helping consumers make the choices they want to make. 'Consumers have told us that they would like to make healthier choices but find the current information confusing', said Deirdre Hutton, chairwoman of the Food Standards Agency. 'After carrying out rigorous and comprehensive research, we now have the makings of a system that will make it quicker and easier for people to do so.' Well, fine - but it seems pretty damned complicated to me. And it is far from clear whether the 2,600 people upon whom the FSA conducted its research really think that food traffic lights would make all the difference to their diets.

The FSA consulted about four possible 'signposting' schemes, of which the Multiple Traffic Light system was one. Another was a 'simple' traffic light system, where green meant healthy, amber meant okay and red meant unhealthy. Further options were a Colour Guideline Daily Amount (CGDA), listing the amount of fat, saturates, sugar and salt per serving against the Guildeline Daily Amount of that ingredient; and a monochrome version of this CGDA.

The option 'none of the above' does not seem to have been given. And when it came to which of those four limited choices the guinea pigs actually preferred, the majority opted for the Colour Guideline Daily Amount. But the FSA, in its infinite wisdom, has rejected this choice because one third of respondents from lower socio-economic and ethnic minority groups were apparently unable to use it to identify whether a food had high, medium or low levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Given that it is the eating habits of the poor that most bother the government, it couldn't just go with what most people wanted, if this meant failing to capture the ignorant oiks in the all-pervasive healthy eating message. And as Deirdre Hutton explained, the FSA is, in fact, less interested in making it easier for people to make their choices than in encouraging them to make the right choices. 'What we choose to eat is a personal matter, but we want to help people make informed choices for themselves about the content of their food', she said - making sure people know that it's red for STOP, and that they jump the lights at their peril. Simplistic? Very. Patronising? Oh yes.

However, the biggest problem with the forward march of the food traffic-light system is the way it seeks to package food in terms of risk, rather than nutrition. We are used to the food industry's attempts to brand its products as 'good' for you - for your heart, your energy levels, your cholesterol intake - and we tend to take these with a pinch of salt (no pun intended). But the traffic-light system seeks to categorise food according to how bad it is for you. Red means danger, and the best that can be said for the green-light products is that they are not as bad for you as the red ones. This is an unhealthy, and rather miserable, approach to the food we eat on an everyday level. In reality, food does not kill us, but keeps us alive. The FSA should remember that, before it starts plastering everything with warning labels and treating fat, salt and sugar like some kind of toxin.

And we should remember that the premise of this entire government-sponsored healthy eating crusade is founded on nothing more than prejudice. For all the authorities' simplistic prescriptions about eating five fruit and veg a day or banning chips in schools, there is no evidence supporting the contention that the precise foods we eat make a major difference to our health. It is telling that one of the FSA's proposed colour-coding schemes, the 'simple traffic lights' that coded foods as simply healthy, okay or unhealthy, was rejected as 'too basic' - whereas in fact, as any nutritionist or person with basic common sense could tell you, it's just wrong. The fact that a food is low in salt, sugar, and fat does not automatically make it 'healthy', and the consumption of foods high in fat, sugar or salt as part of a normal diet will not make you ill. (NB: 'Normal' does not mean eating a super-size burger and chips every day.) To encourage people to speculate increasingly about whether this or that particular food is good or bad for you, particularly when it comes to children, is a recipe for increasing our neurotic obsession with food.

The FSA has now launched a 12-week public consultation about exactly which foods should be signposted, and where on the packet this signposting should appear. It would be more useful if such a consultation asked people whether it is useful for a government to promote a widespread fear of food, and to cajole people into filling their shopping trolleys according to the inflexible orthodoxy of 'healthy eating'.


Monday, November 21, 2005


Bad diets costing the British taxpayer billions?

Panic: 'NHS picks up 6 billion pounds a year bill for our bad diet', reports today's Daily Telegraph. Researchers working in the British Heart Foundation (BHF)'s Health Promotion Group at Oxford University brought together figures on NHS costs broken down by disease, and compared them with figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which attribute percentages of each disease by cause. The main claim is that 'food-related ill health is responsible for about 10 per cent of morbidity and mortality in the UK and costs the NHS about 6 billion pounds annually'.

Don't panic: Even the researchers accept that their results are 'crude estimates', although they think they are probably reasonable. They are, nonetheless, estimates based on other estimates.

The headline figure sounds incredible until you realise that the NHS spent around 70 billion pounds in 2002, increasing to around 88 billion pounds in the current financial year. So while 6 billion pounds seems like a lot of money, it actually reflects the huge sums now spent on healthcare as much as it might be an indictment of our diets.

The figures still need to be treated with caution. They are based on WHO figures suggesting that diet contributes about 15 per cent of all life-years lost to death and disability. However, such estimates are prone to re-evaluation, as the embarrassingly massive downward revision in US obesity-related deaths earlier this year demonstrated. US health authorities produced a figure of 400,000 obesity-related deaths in 2004, but now the accepted figure is in the region of 75,000.

It's also worth noting that the category of '15 per cent' who die of 'bad diet' includes not just those who are overweight and obese (6.9 per cent) but also those who have a low fruit and vegetable intake (2.3 per cent) and consume a lot of saturated fats (6.4 per cent). Yet the links between ill-health and all three of these factors is much more controversial than is suggested by such bald estimates. All estimates of deaths from any lifestyle cause (smoking, eating, alcohol and so on) are produced by extrapolating risk factors from small studies, each with their own methodological problems, to whole populations. There is plenty of room for error in such an exercise.

Above all, it is laughable to suggest that all this death and illness would disappear if we all just switched to eating fruit and salads and avoided burger bars. But such news reports help groups like the British Heart Foundation to bang the drum in favour of greater levels of spending on their particular concerns.

The wickedness of salt

Panic: A report published this week suggests that people in Britain consume too much salt, and that reductions in salt intake could cause a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease. Why 6g? A Summary of the Scientific Evidence for the Salt Intake Target, produced by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC), argues that a reduction in salt intake from current average levels of about 9.5g per day to the government's 6g per day target would lead to a predicted 13 per cent reduction in stroke and a 10 per cent reduction in coronary heart disease.

One of the report's authors, Dr Susan Jebb of the MRC, said: 'It is important for people to understand the links between salt and high blood pressure and to recognise the importance of reducing salt intake as part of broader lifestyle changes to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.'

Don't panic: While a link between salt intake and cardiovascular disease seems plausible, there is little direct evidence to support this report's assertion. High blood pressure is a well-known risk factor for heart disease and strokes. Reducing salt intake seems to lower blood pressure for many people, although for some people it has no effect whatsoever - and for a few, leads to an increase in blood pressure.

However, little research has been done into the direct effect of salt intake on the risk of ill health. What we do know is that the human body is very adept at regulating salt levels in the blood so that excess salt is excreted. This capacity to adjust salt levels has been crucial to our ability to cope with changes in temperature and diet, and our ability to adapt to living in a very wide range of different climates. It seems that the government and medical researchers would prefer to downplay this sophisticated mechanism in favour of salt regulation by guideline.

Moreover, blanket advice to cut salt intake may even cause harm. Sudden changes in temperature, due to a heatwave, exercise or travel to a hot country, can cause those accustomed to milder temperatures to suffer sodium deficiency. The current obsession with cutting salt intake may increase this risk.

The data linking salt intake with health is contradictory - and if there is a positive benefit, it is likely to be small. Reducing salt may help the seriously hypertense, for whom any means of reducing blood pressure is beneficial. For the rest of us, reducing salt in our diet is more likely to lead to bland food than better health.


Sunday, November 20, 2005

What will they ban next? "Fans of organic raw milk are going to extremes to get their fix. Months after the state's only raw organic dairy was shut down, black-market buyer groups have emerged, drophouses are cropping up, and FedEx is making special deliveries to the Valley from California. ... State dairy regulators, also concerned about the health risks, enforce strict rules on raw-milk producers and sellers and are cracking down on illegal practices. Still, consumer demand is brisk. Nationally and in Arizona, people are breaking the law to get their hands on raw organic milk, claiming it is superior in health and taste to the pasteurized, homogenized milk found on the supermarket shelf. They swear it tastes like melted vanilla ice cream. 'It's like heroin right now,' said Tony Spaltro, a night manager at Gentle Strength Co-Op in Tempe, one of the few places Arizona consumers can purchase raw milk."

Stanford study: Playing music good for your brain: "Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading problems. The study, made public Wednesday, is the first to show that musical experience can help the brain improve its ability to distinguish between rapidly changing sounds that are key to understanding and using language. The research also eventually could provide the 'why' behind other studies that have found that playing a musical instrument has cognitive benefits. 'What this study shows, that's novel, is that there's a specific aspect of language ... that's changed in the minds and brains of people with musical training,' said researcher John Gabrieli, a former Stanford psychology professor now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge."


"If you eat too much cholesterol, or saturated fat, your blood cholesterol will rise to dangerous levels. Excess cholesterol will then seep through your artery walls causing thickenings (plaques), which will eventually block blood flow in vital arteries, resulting in heart attacks and strokes.... Scientific hypotheses don't get much simpler than this: the cholesterol, or diet-heart, hypothesis, which has broken free from the ivory towers of academia to impact with massive force on society. It has driven a widespread change in the type of food we are told to eat, and consequently the food that lines the supermarket shelves. Many people view bacon and eggs as a dangerous killer, butter is shunned, and a multi-billion pound industry has sprung up providing 'healthy' low-fat alternatives.

However, all is not what it seems. The cholesterol hypothesis can be likened to a cathedral built on a bog. Rather than admit they made a horrible mistake and let it sink, the builders decided to try and keep the cathedral afloat at all costs. Each time a crack appeared, a new buttress was built. Then further buttresses were built to support the original buttresses. Although direct contradictions to the cholesterol hypothesis repeatedly appear, nobody dares to say 'okay, this isn't working, time to build again from scratch'. That decision has become just too painful, especially now that massive industries, Nobel prizes, and glittering scientific careers, have grown on the back of the cholesterol hypothesis. The statin market alone is worth more than 20 billion pounds each year.

In reality, cracks in the hypothesis appeared right from the very start. The first of these was the stark observation that cholesterol in the diet has no effect on cholesterol levels in the bloodstream: 'There's no connection whatsoever between cholesterol in food and cholesterol in blood. And we've known that all along. Cholesterol in the diet doesn't matter at all unless you happen to be a chicken or a rabbit.' Ancel Keys PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota 1997.

A bit of a blow to a cholesterol hypothesis, you might think, to find that dietary cholesterol has no effect on blood cholesterol levels. However, as everyone was by then fully convinced that something rich and 'fatty' in the diet was the primary cause of heart disease, nobody was willing to let go.

So the hypothesis quietly altered, from cholesterol in the diet to saturated fat in the diet - or a bit of both. As if cholesterol and saturated fat are similar things. In reality, this could hardly be further from the truth. Saturated fat and cholesterol have completely different functions in the body, and they have very different chemical structures....

It is true that Ancel Keys appeared to have proven the link between saturated fat consumption and heart disease, but when it came to the major interventional trials, confirmation proved elusive. The MR-FIT trial in the USA was the most determined effort to prove the case. This was a massive study in which over 350,000 men at high risk of heart disease were recruited. In one set of participants, cholesterol consumption was cut by 42 percent, saturated fat consumption by 28 percent and total calories by 21 percent. This should have made a noticeable dent in heart disease rates.

But nothing happened. The originators of the MR-FIT trials refer to the results as 'disappointing', and say in their conclusions: 'The overall results do not show a beneficial effect on Coronary Heart Disease or total mortality from this multifactor intervention.'

In fact, no clinical trial on reducing saturated fat intake has ever shown a reduction in heart disease. Some have shown the exact opposite: 'As multiple interventions against risk factors for coronary heart disease in middle aged men at only moderate risk seem to have failed to reduce both morbidity and mortality such interventions become increasingly difficult to justify. This runs counter to the recommendations of many national and international advisory bodies which must now take the recent findings from Finland into consideration. Not to do so may be ethically unacceptable.' Professor Michael Oliver, British Medical Journal 1991

This quote followed a disturbing trial involving Finnish businessmen. In a 10-year follow-up to the original five-year trial, it was found that those men who continued to follow a low saturated fat diet were twice as likely to die of heart disease as those who didn't.

It is not as if this was one negative to set against a whole series of positive trials. In 1998, the Danish doctor Uffe Ravnskov looked at a broader selection of trials: 'The crucial test is the controlled, randomised trial. Eight such trials using diet as the only treatment has been performed but neither the number of fatal or non-fatal heart attacks was reduced.' As Ravnskov makes clear, no trial has ever demonstrated benefits from reducing dietary saturated fat.

Much more here

Saturday, November 19, 2005

New aphrodisiac: "A new inhaler-delivered love drug for women and men is threatening to better Viagra, putting anyone with sexual dysfunction in the mood, US media reported today. Sex experts said the drug, known as PT-141 and which is in final trials before US Food and Drug Administration review, will be the boon to women with desire woes that Viagra has been for millions of impotent men... PT-141 is a copy of the hormone that stimulates the melanocyte-receptors in the brain that play a role in sexual arousal. Unlike Viagra, which gets the blood flowing in men, PT-141 goes straight to work on the mind, in both sexes. "It affects the central nervous system," said Ms Berman. "It affects desire." In lab trials, female rats exposed to PT-141 immediately began seeking out male rats for sex. New York magazine reported that women who took part in trials within minutes felt a "tingling and a throbbing" along with "a strong desire to have sex". Men told the magazine a snort made them feel "younger and more energetic" as well as eager for sex. "You get this humming feeling," one man told the magazine. "You're ready to take your pants off and go."

New aphrodisiac: "A new inhaler-delivered love drug for women and men is threatening to better Viagra, putting anyone with sexual dysfunction in the mood, US media reported today. Sex experts said the drug, known as PT-141 and which is in final trials before US Food and Drug Administration review, will be the boon to women with desire woes that Viagra has been for millions of impotent men... PT-141 is a copy of the hormone that stimulates the melanocyte-receptors in the brain that play a role in sexual arousal. Unlike Viagra, which gets the blood flowing in men, PT-141 goes straight to work on the mind, in both sexes. "It affects the central nervous system," said Ms Berman. "It affects desire." In lab trials, female rats exposed to PT-141 immediately began seeking out male rats for sex. New York magazine reported that women who took part in trials within minutes felt a "tingling and a throbbing" along with "a strong desire to have sex". Men told the magazine a snort made them feel "younger and more energetic" as well as eager for sex. "You get this humming feeling," one man told the magazine. "You're ready to take your pants off and go."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Oral sex is bad for you: (Feels good, though) "Certain cases of mouth cancer appear to be caused by a virus that can be contracted during oral sex, a Swedish study shows. People who contract a high-risk variety of the human papilloma virus, HPV, during oral sex are more likely to develop mouth cancer, according to a study conducted at the Malmoe University Faculty of Odontology in southern Sweden. "You should avoid having oral sex," dentist and researcher Kerstin Rosenquist, who headed the study, told Swedish news agency TT. HPV is a wart virus that causes many cervical cancers".

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bones fix hearts? "Heart attack victims recover much more quickly if they are injected with stem cells taken from their own bone marrow. A study of more than 200 patients in Europe found those receiving stem cells had almost twice the improvement in their heart's pumping ability as patients given a placebo. Researchers from Goethe University in Germany said the new treatment not only limited damage to the heart but also regenerated heart cells. "The medications and interventional therapies available so far are intended only to limit further damage to the heart," said Andreas Zeiher, a professor at the university and senior author of the study. "In contrast, progenitor cell therapy has the potential not only to limit damage but to regenerate heart function.""

Monday, November 14, 2005

Keeping warm DOES help beat a cold: "Mothers and grandmothers the world over can feel vindicated today after their advice to "wrap up warm or you'll catch a cold" was backed by scientific research. For years the theory that chilling the surface of the body, through wet clothes, feet and hair, can lead to illness has been dismissed as an old wives' tale with no scientific basis. Now researchers from the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University appear to have shown that being chilly really can cause a cold to develop. Ron Eccles and Claire Johnson recruited 180 volunteers to take part in their five-day study during the city's common cold season. Half of the participants immersed their feet in bowls of ice-cold water for 20 minutes. The others sat with their feet in empty bowls. Over the next few days, almost a third of the chilled volunteers developed cold symptoms, compared with fewer than one in ten in the control group".

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Censored snacks

Panic: 'What's on your plate?' asks the British Heart Foundation (BHF) in a new campaign to encourage children to eat heathily. The campaign is accompanied by gruesome pictures, emblazoned with 'CENSORED', of what really goes into burgers, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. (Those children fascinated to know what got censored can easily view the pictures on the BHF website, clearly appealing to those kids who enjoy being grossed out.)

The BHF argues that obesity levels in children are rising, and it quotes figures suggesting that a further 440,000 children will be overweight or obese within two years. Children can't eat well, say the BHF, if they don't know what goes into their food, noting that a third of the children they asked didn't know what chips were made of.

Don't panic: While there is evidence that the very overweight have an increased relative risk of heart disease, the precise causes of both heart disease and obesity remain elusive. Simplistic campaigns like this one only increase anxiety while doing little to improve health outcomes.

While the BHF feverishly campaigns against 'junk' food, it is worth noting the BHF's own report on cardiovascular disease (CVD), which notes that 'Death rates from CVD have been falling in the UK since the early 1970's. For people under 75 years, they have fallen by 36 per cent in the last 10 years'. Heart disease is the main cause of death in the UK but it overwhelmingly kills in old age.

As for our diets, there is no such thing as 'junk' food. All the foods mentioned by the BHF are perfectly nutritious. It is not healthy to eat one kind of food to the exclusion of others, but as long as there is some variety in the diet, children will generally thrive perfectly well on what some might consider 'crap'.

While many of the ingredients in 'junk food' may not look particularly appetising in their unprocessed state, this does not mean that they aren't nutritious. In a country not blessed historically with a wide range of foodstuffs, the imaginative use of the 'unattractive bits' has been central to British cooking. Much of what the BHF turns its nose up at, is served as haute cuisine at restaurants like St John in London.


Saturday, November 12, 2005

Serbs line up for testicle shocks: "Men in Serbia are lining up to have electric shocks delivered to their testicles as part of a new contraceptive treatment. Serbian fertility expert Dr Sava Bojovic, who runs one of the clinics offering the service, said the small electric shock makes men temporarily infertile by stunning their sperm into a state of immobility. He said: 'We attach electrodes to either side of the testicles and send low electricity currents flowing through them. This stuns the sperm, effectively putting them to sleep for up to 10 days, which means couples can have sex without fear of getting pregnant.' ... Dr Bojovic added patients were now lining up at his fertility clinic in Novi Banovci for the shock treatment, as it had none of the problems attached to using condoms, the male pill or having a vasectomy. He added: 'We are hoping to have a small battery powered version on sale in the shops in time for Xmas.'"

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Drug makes dummies smarter than normal: (But only in certain mice) "Scientists report that in mice, they have used a popular cholesterol drug to reverse attention deficits linked to the leading genetic cause of learning disabilities and mental retardation...The researchers bred mice bred to develop the disease, called neurofibromatosis 1 (NF1), which affects an estimated one in 3,000 people. The results proved so hopeful, they said, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the drugs in three clinical trials currently under review to test their effect in people with NF1. If scientists understand this learning disability, they may be able to use the information to tackle a wide range of learning and memory problems, the researchers said.... A popular class of drugs called Statins, which lower levels of artery-clogging cholesterol in the blood, work by blocking the effects of certain fats. Because Ras requires fat to function, less fat results in less Ras, allowing normal learning to take place, Silva said.... Silva's lab tested the effects of statins on mice bred with the NF1 mutation. They displayed the same symptoms as people with NF1: attention deficits, learning problems and poor coordination. The NF1 mice on statins showed a 30 percent improvement in their ability to pay attention, outperforming normal mice, the researchers said. The treated mice also beat normal mice on a maze test."