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.