Friday, March 31, 2006

U.K.: Beer good for sick cows: "A farmer was yesterday toasting the health of a cow that made a wonder recovery after being treated with beer. When the cow developed a stomach problem, a vet suggested yeast - so the Suffolk farmer fed her Adnams beer. Lottie has now made a full recovery and given birth to a calf named Adnams. "She was very ill and wouldn't eat or drink", said Mrs Baskett yesterday. "The vet who was treating her said she thought that brewers yeast might help cure the problem. "She said she had heard of it being used in other countries and in England many years ago. "So Tony approached the local pub and they gave him a barrel of Adnams which just had the dregs of the beer in the bottom. "We put it in a bottle and pushed the bottle into Lottie's mouth and got it down her that way. "After a few months she made a full recovery and now to show how healthy she is she has given birth to a calf, which we have of course named Adnams. "We've been farming for 48 years here and I have never heard of beer being used like this before. But apparently it was in the old days.""

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Food nuttiness to be restrained by the Feds

"The House voted Wednesday to strip many warnings from food labels, potentially affecting alerts about arsenic in bottled water, lead in candy and allergy-causing sulfites, among others. Pushed by food companies seeking uniform labels across state lines, the bill would prevent states from adding food warnings that go beyond federal law. States could petition the Food and Drug Administration to add extra warnings, under the bill. Lawmakers approved the bill on a 283-139 vote. Supporters expect a Senate version of the bill to be introduced soon.

"This bill is going to overturn 200 state laws that protect our food supply," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. "Why are we doing that? What's wrong with our system of federalism?" The bill's supporters argue that consumers deserve the same warnings on supermarket shelves across the country. The bill would allow a state to seek a nationwide warning from FDA. "We ought to do it in all 50 states," said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "Chicken grown in Louisiana is going to end up on a plate in Michigan." Rogers mentioned a warning his own state about allergy-causing sulfites: "If they're bad for Michigan citizens, I think they're bad in all of the other 49 states," he said.

Nationwide, as many as 200 state laws or regulations could be affected, according to the Congressional Budget Office. They include warnings about lead and alcohol in candy, arsenic in bottled water and many others. The government would spend at least $100 million to answer petitions for tougher state rules, according to CBO.

Opponents of the bill scored one victory Wednesday: State warnings about mercury in fish would remain. Lawmakers amended the bill to let states keep those warnings. That amendment, sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., passed on a 253-168 vote. About a dozen states have safety and labeling rules for fish. In California, white signs with "WARNING" in red letters tells grocery shoppers about high mercury levels in certain fish. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., displayed the placard during debate Wednesday on the House floor. Eshoo noted the bill's supporters have personal ties to food industry lobbyists. "This is not about consumers. This is about special interests," she said.

California is a primary target of the legislation. There, the voter-passed Proposition 65 requires companies to warn the public of potentially dangerous toxins in food. California has filed lawsuits seeking an array of warnings, including the mercury content of canned tuna and the presence of lead in Mexican candy.

Of particular concern to the industry is acrylamide, a chemical linked to cancer that forms in starchy food cooked at high temperatures, such as french fries and potato chips. California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has sued to force Burger King Holdings Inc., PepsiCo Inc.'s Frito Lay brand, McDonald's Corp., Wendy's International Inc. and other companies to warn consumers that acrylamide is present. There is widespread opposition among state officials. Attorneys general in 39 states are opposed, as are the National Conference of State Legislature and the associations of state food and drug officials and state agriculture departments.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Human milk popular: "You won't find it on any commodities exchange, but there is a booming trade in mothers' breast milk. The United States' largest non-profit milk banks distributed 745,300 fluid ounces (22,000 litres) last year - double the amount in 2000 - at a cost of $US2.6 million. Prolacta Bioscience, which is in it for profit, started marketing a breast-milk concentrate for $US48 an ounce. And some mothers are selling their own milk on the internet for $1 to $2.50 - more than a third less than milk from the big banks. Since January one popular website has listed more than 100 advertisements for human milk."

Monday, March 27, 2006

Chief of the Fat Police: Bill Clinton's new role

On Fat Tuesday, repentant sinner Bill Clinton declared war on cheeseburgers, fried oysters, fudge, and other tools of the devil. Identified by the Associated Press as "a reformed overeater," Bill, looking quite ghostly when compared with the robust figure he cut in his glory days, warned the National Governors Association that America has "a huge cultural problem and unless we change it our children may grow up to be the first generation with shorter life spans than we had."

The problem, according to Clinton, is that Americans are serious chowhounds whose love of grub is a major threat not only to themselves, but to the national economy. According to the Associated Press, Clinton noted that if the U.S. could reduce health spending - now 16 percent of GDP - to 11 percent (in line with what other countries spend), the savings would be $700 billion. But it won't be easy. "No matter what else you say, no matter what different studies show, you've got to consume less and burn more," Clinton said. "To do that you've got to change the culture." The governors, many of whom support anti-fat school programs, responded with thunderous applause.

It is clear to some of us that this drastic turnaround in Clinton's viewpoint is the result of post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by that ill-advised investigation of his romantic life, capped by impeachment. Back in the day, he preferred a little plumpness: Monica, let us recall, was only a few corpuscles shy of being renamed Lulu. Now he's become yet another leading American who believes it's his duty to tell us what we should and should not be eating.

Clinton's warning was no doubt welcomed by the health authorities, especially in light of a recent study indicating that eating less fat late in life does not lower the risk of cancer and heart disease in women. That $415 million investigation "showed no difference in the rate of breast cancer, colon cancer, and heart disease among those who ate lower-fat diets and those who didn't," according to a press account. This wasn't what researchers were hoping for. "These results do not suggest that people have carte blanche to eat fatty foods without health problems," snipped Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital and co-author of the study. "The results, of course, are somewhat disappointing."

Yet we should take Clinton's transformation seriously, especially the part about changing the culture. Whenever an American icon says "change the culture," it's time to fix bayonets.

The message Bill and his ilk hope to pound into the public consciousness is that every time we order French fries we do damage not only to ourselves, but to the nation's economy and our children's future. This same argument holds that we commit sin against the earth by driving cars and running weed eaters, etc., etc. Each individual act is measured against the common good - and is generally found wanting. Only dangerous sex is exempt from this wide-ranging scowl.

This is a major turnaround. To our ancestors the current state of culinary affairs would represent paradise. To be able to walk into a Kroger and purchase, at very reasonable prices, French wine, Swiss chocolates, cow tongues and filets, ,clairs, massive bags of ginger snaps, rivers of honey and thick crSme, butter and pretty much whatever else the taste buds crave - that could hardly be imagined.


Boob job too successful: "A woman who had breast enlargement surgery to transform her B-cup to a DD-cup is taking her boss to court for looking at her breasts too often. Sabrina Pace, 26, who works at a Cardiff car-hire firm, said that after she returned to work following her breast operation, her manager, David Ford, began to pay her unwanted attention. At an employment tribunal this week, she said Ford had suggested she pose for a calendar. "You will have to close your cardigan, Sabrina, unless you want me to talk to your breasts," he is alleged to have told her."

Why women like married men: "The mystery of why women frequently fall for married men may have finally been solved by scientists. Women may be genetically programmed to seek out men who carry the scent of their wives' skin. They find a man carrying the smell of another woman more attractive than a 'clean' male, according to studies on mice. Dr Donald Pfaff, professor of neurobiology at Rochester University in New York, explained: "The implication was that the test females would pay more attention to the male if he was decorated with the odours of other females. "Our data suggests that female mice may use, or even copy, the interests of other females based on olfactory cues. It could also be seen as a female trusting the mate choice of another female.""

Meals now get "assembled": "Hundreds of "meal-assembly" centres are opening up across the US to help overworked mothers - and the occasional father - to bring home a "home-cooked" meal. Selecting from the menu of the month, harried customers visit the centres to assemble meals from ingredients that have been pre-peeled, chopped or diced. The meals are packed up to be put in the freezer and later served at home. There is no agonising about what to cook, no time-consuming preparation of meat or vegetables and no washing up. There are now an estimated 700 "meal-assembly" centres across the country - and they are opening up at the rate of 40 a month. The industry even has its own trade group, the Easy Meal Prep Association. The centres, arranged like giant kitchens with different stations for each recipe, allow customers to prepare up to 12 uncooked meals in two hours."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Pot rots your lungs: "Marijuana smokers risk getting life-threatening emphysema 25 years earlier than cigarette smokers. Melbourne doctors have identified a pattern of emphysema in marijuana smokers that is different from the disease that develops in cigarette smokers. They found young patients had developed large cysts or holes in the lobes of the lungs that made breathing difficult. Respiratory expert Associate Professor Matthew Naughton said the nine marijuana smokers studied had been using the drug for 10 to 35 years. "We believe the reason for this outcome is that the breathing manoeuvre for marijuana intake is different from tobacco smoking," Associate Professor Naughton said.

Cheney keeps it caffeine-free: "Some stars demand epic quantities of whiskey in their dressing rooms, but the strongest thing on US Vice President Dick Cheney's backstage menu is decaffeinated coffee and caffeine-free soda. The Internet sleuth site has obtained a list of official "vice presidential downtime requirements". Mr Cheney's office has confirmed the items are "consistent" with what he expects to find in his hotel room. The decaffeinated coffee will be brewed before he arrives, the thermostat will be set to 20 degrees Celsius and the televisions will be tuned to Fox News, which is widely viewed as sympathetic to the White House. There will be four to six bottles of mineral water and four cans of Diet Sprite, plus two bottles of sparkling water if Mr Cheney's wife, Lynne, is travelling with him."

The Stifled Debate about AIDS

I am going to touch here on a topic that seems to be extraordinarily touchy -- The cause of AIDS. From the earliest days, some researchers with great experience in virology have questioned whether the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. I am not going to make any pronouncement on that issue. I hope that what I am about to say will not reveal which side of the issue I come down on.

What I want to note is how the debate seems to be censored. Proponents of the orthodox theory seem very reluctant to debate it. The documentary The other side of AIDS brings all that into sharp focus. The maker of the documentary had no trouble finding distinguished scientists who questioned the orthodox view but he could find almost nobody who would defend the orthodox view on camera. The most eminent scientist that he managed to interview on the orthodox side was Dr. Mark Wainberg of the McGill University AIDS Center. Here is part of what Dr. Wainberg said:

"Anyone those who attempts to dispel the notion that HIV is the cause of AIDS are perpetrators of death. And I, would very much, for one, like to see the Constitution of the United States and similar countries have some means in place that we can charge people who are responsible for endangering public health with charges of endangerment and bring them up on trial. I think that people like Peter Duesberg belong in jail".


He actually wants to throw in jail anybody who questions the orthodox theory! It sure looks like a fragile theory judging by the words and deeds of those who espouse it.

So here's the surprise: I have been reading on this issue for many years and I think the orthodox view is probably right -- at least as far as the Western world is concerned. Africa is another matter. They seem to call anything AIDS there. The main thing that makes me doubt the orthodox theory these days is the dogmatism of its defenders.

I am guessing that admitting to any uncertainty in their conclusions is seen by the establishment as politically dangerous. But the matter should nonetheless be discussed fully and openly as it would be truly tragic if the theory is wrong.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Texas has begun sending undercover agents into bars to arrest drinkers for being drunk, a spokeswoman for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission said on Wednesday. The first sting operation was conducted recently in a Dallas suburb where agents infiltrated 36 bars and arrested 30 people for public intoxication, said the commission's Carolyn Beck. Being in a bar does not exempt one from the state laws against public drunkenness, Beck said. The goal, she said, was to detain drunks before they leave a bar and go do something dangerous like drive a car.

"We feel that the only way we're going to get at the drunk driving problem and the problem of people hurting each other while drunk is by crackdowns like this," she said. "There are a lot of dangerous and stupid things people do when they're intoxicated, other than get behind the wheel of a car," Beck said. "People walk out into traffic and get run over, people jump off of balconies trying to reach a swimming pool and miss." She said the sting operations would continue throughout the state.


Fish and linseed oil not so great after all: "Fish oil may not quite be the elixir of life that we have been led to believe. Analysis of all the best trials on the subject has found little evidence that eating fish, or taking fish oil capsules, cuts the risk of dying of heart disease, stroke or cancer. The finding may come as a shock to those who believe that the benefits of omega 3 fatty acids, which are found not just in fish oils but also, in short chain form, in some plant oils such as linseed oil. The analysis indicates that, despite a lot of work and a multiplicity of trials, it is difficult to show clear benefits. The better the quality of the trial, the lower the apparent benefit. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal online by a team led by Lee Hooper, of the University of East Anglia, are unlikely to go uncontested. Other analyses, including one published as recently as 2002, have shown benefits".

Friday, March 24, 2006


Some call the people behind the Washington-D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest busybodies, but I call them wannabe tyrants. Let's look at their agenda, which seeks greater control over our lives. Last year, CSPI filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration to reduce the amount of salt in packaged foods. They also called for the FDA to mandate warning labels on non-diet soft drinks that consumption increases the risk of obesity, tooth decay and osteoporosis. Earlier this year, CSPI announced its intent to sue Viacom Inc. and Kellogg Company for marketing junk food to children.

CSPI has long called for excise taxes on fatty foods, cars and TV sets. Their justification is that obesity adds to Medicare and Medicaid health costs. They want some of the tax revenue used to fund exercise facilities and government fitness campaigns.

There's no end to CSPI's consumer-control agenda. They say, "Caffeine is the only drug that is widely added to the food supply." Therefore, they've called for caffeine warning labels. To deal with teenage and adult overconsumption of alcohol, they've called for doubling the tax on beer. According to them, "The last thing the world needs is more drinkers, even moderate ones."

To fight obesity among young people, CSPI calls for a fast-food advertising ban on TV programs seen by children. CSPI's director, Michael Jacobson, said, "We could envision taxes on butter, potato chips, whole milk, cheeses, [and] meat," adding that "CSPI is proud about finding something wrong with practically everything."

I'm guessing that most Americans, except politicians, find this control agenda offensive. Politicians might not find it offensive because controlling lives is their stock in trade, plus there's the promise of the higher revenues from food taxes. Most Americans who might find the CSPI agenda offensive are not motivated by principle. It's a matter of whose ox is being gored.

You say, "What do you mean, Williams?" CSPI tyrants are following almost to the letter the template created by the nation's anti-smoking zealots. Their fellow traveler, New York University professor Marion Nestle, says that the food industry "can't behave like cigarette companies. ... Yet there's a lot of people who benefit from people being fat and sick, and the whole setup is designed to make people eat more. So the response to the food industry should be very similar to what happened with the tobacco companies." ...

I'd be interested to know just how many Americans would like to see done to our food industry what was done to the tobacco industry: massive multibillion-dollar lawsuits against food companies, massive suits against restaurants that serve too large a serving, and confiscatory taxes levied on foods and snacks deemed non-nutritious.

Consumers will pay for all of this in the form of higher food prices and fewer choices. There's also the possibility that food zealots in some cities, emboldened by the success of the anti-smoking zealots in Calabasas, who are concerned about smokers passing on bad habits to our youth, might call for an ordinance banning public appearance of obese people so as not to pass bad eating habits on to our children.

More here

The water fad: "But there's another water-related cultural trend that has gained near cult-status in the day-to-day lives of many Americans: bottled water. Today, half of all Americans drink bottled water. One in six drink only bottled water. The bottled water industry has doubled in the United States in the last decade. Today, supplying water is a $400 billion business, already 30 percent larger than the pharmaceutical industry.... What's more, bottled water is often not what it's marketed to be. Beverage corporations have spent hundreds of millions of dollars promoting bottled water as "pure," "safe," "clean," "healthy" and superior to tap water, while many popular brands actually come from our public taps. A Natural Resources Defense Council study found that bottled water is no more "pure" or safe than tap water. In the case of some brand-name waters that contain harmful contaminants like arsenic, it can be even less safe. In 2004, half a million bottles of Dasani were recalled in Britain after they were found to contain unsafe levels of bromate, a cancer-causing chemical. Today, bottled water is among the least regulated industries in the United States. Adding insult to injury is the astronomical markup to the consumer on each bottle of water. Ounce for ounce, bottled water is 240 to 10,000 times as expensive as tap water. Most branded bottled waters cost more than gasoline."

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Since our blood has about the same saltiness as seawater, the claim that our bodies cannot handle salt safely is absurd. We are in fact very good at it. Salt has been implicated in raised blood pressure but if that were really a concern, a much more constructive approach would be to add potassium (which lowers blood pressure) to food rather than removing salt. Both are natural food components. Also see the research report following the article immediately below -- a report which shows that a low salt diet is actually BAD for you. So it is really a puritanical desire to reduce people's pleasures that motivates the anti-salt brigade. They only look at evidence that suits them

Britain's food watchdog was accused last night of endangering the lives of 15,000 people a year after backing down on strict guidelines designed to limit the amount of salt in food. Health campaigners were furious at the decision by the Food Standards Agency to publish revised targets to cut salt in 85 types of food products by 2010. In many cases the agency raised levels after feedback from companies which claimed that they were unable to cut salt in certain products for technical or safety reasons.

Increases in permitted levels recommended by the agency included: Raising the salt allowed in crisps such as Quavers and Skips from 1.4g to 3.4g per 100g; Ketchup up from 1.8g to 2.4g; Savoury biscuits up from 1.3g to 2.2g.

The agency said that it still hoped to cut the overall intake of salt per person per day from 10g to 6g within four years. But medical experts said that the new targets meant this would not be met, especially as the targets cannot be imposed on the food industry. If salt intake were cut to 6g per day, it would prevent 70,000 heart attacks and strokes a year, of which 35,000 are fatal. If intake fell only to 8g a day, 15,000 people would die unnecessarily.

"Products like Quavers and Wotsits are still going to be allowed to contain more salt than in seawater," Professor Graham MacGregor, head of cardio-vascular medicine at St George's Hospital, in Tooting, southwest London, said. "If by 2010 we only get salt consumption down to 8g a day then that will result in another 30,000 strokes and heart attacks and some 15,000 will be fatal. The new targets reflect the naked power of the food industry that is just not interested in the health of the people it feeds."

The National Heart Forum also expressed concern about "laggards" in the food industry who were failing to tackle salt reduction. Paul Lincoln, its chief executive, said that the firms resisting change should be "named and shamed". He pointed the finger at manufacturers of children's foods such as crisps, pizzas, bread, processed cheese and biscuits for making slowest progress in reducing salt. "The problem is these targets are voluntary," he said. "Some companies have demonstrated that it is possible to make significant and rapid reductions. However, without the threat of any sanctions or penalties some sectors are clearly unwilling to press ahead with healthy reformulations."

Malcolm Kane, an independent food safety consultant, said: "The new targets reveal a food industry still defending the use of excess salt in processed foods based upon weak arguments referring to technical reasons or food safety which are largely irrelevant to contemporary food processing conditions."

The FSA said that its targets were realistic. The agency also said it was pleased with the efforts made by manufacturers and supermarkets to cut salt. Salt in bread was already down by 30 per cent, in breakfast cereals reduced by 33 per cent, and down a third in Kraft cheese spreads and snacks. Manufacturers were also committed to reducing salt in soups and sauces by 30 per cent.

However, some campaigners believe that the agency is running scared of the food industry after a recent rift over the need for red warning labels on junk food. Only Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Asda have endorsed "traffic light" alerts that will show levels of salt, sugar, fat and saturated fat. Gill Fine, the agency's director of consumer choice, said: "We believe that the salt levels set out represent a realistic rate of reduction which will have a real impact on consumers' intakes."

She said that the targets would be reviewed in 2008 to ensure people were on track to achieve a 6g maximum daily intake of salt by 2010. The targets mean that Stilton cheese has been granted a reprieve. The FSA had originally wanted to cut its salt content from 2.5g per 100g to 1.9g.

Cheesemakers argued that salt reduction could threaten the viability of the 33 million pound a year industry which employs at least 500 people.


Salt OK for health

Salt gets a shake in a large study, reinforcing previous research which questions the value of a low salt diet - and suggests it might even be harmful. I know. One day they're telling you one thing and the next the opposite. The trouble is that with salt, doctors and dieticians have assumed because a low salt intake may help blood pressure, that it saves lives.

A 13 year follow up of 7000 people has found that in most groups, the lower the salt intake, the higher the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke - independent of other lifestyle factors. The study wasn't a trial; it observed people's health rather than tested a proposition, so had potential problems. But the authors say that applies to almost all the studies which supposedly justify reducing salt and that none, they claim, show that a low salt diet saves lives.

The reason for the possible risk is that a low salt diet may increase artery damaging hormones. So while it's not carte blanche for salt, it's probably okay to enjoy the taste of food again.

For reference see: Cohen HW et al. "Sodium intake and mortality in the NHANESII follow-up study". American Journal of Medicine 2006;119:275.e7-275.e14


There is a further comment on the scandalous ignoring of science by the anti-salt fanatics here

Buildings not sick after all: "So-called sick building syndrome does not exist, according to a study that suggests its cold-like symptoms can be mainly pinned to job stress, dissatisfaction and poor office relationships. Sick building syndrome is a popular yet vague term to describe headaches, coughs, tired or itchy eyes, runny noses or inexplicable tiredness that are usually blamed on poor air quality in the office. More than 4,000 British civil servants, aged 42-62 and working in 44 different buildings across London, were questioned about their health. They were asked to list any symptoms of sick building syndrome, the physical properties of their offices and the demands of their job, including levels of support at work. Separately, the buildings were also assessed by independent field workers. They checked temperature, lighting intensity, levels of airborne bacteria, fungi and dust, humidity, ventilation flow, noise level and concentrations of carbon-dioxide (CO2) and airborne organic chemicals. One in seven of the men and nearly one in five of the women respondents reported five or more symptoms of the syndrome. There was some evidence -- but minor -- that those who reported high levels of the symptoms worked in offices that were too hot and dry and had relatively high levels of airborne germs and dust. On the other hand, those with only low levels of the symptoms worked in buildings where there was poor air circulation and unacceptably high levels of CO2, noise, fungus and airborne chemicals. In fact, the biggest factors linked with the symptoms were job stress and lack of support in the workplace. "'Sick building syndrome' may be wrongly named," say the authors. "Raised symptom reporting appears to be due less to poor physical conditions than to a working environment characterised by poor psychosocial conditions."

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The War on Big Soda

"Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that drinking soda can be hazardous to your health."

Look for that warning label on bottles and cans of Coke, Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper and even Hawaiian Punch in stores near you in the not too distant future ... that is, if the Health Nannies and the Trial Lawyers get their way. An Associated Press story this week reports that nutrition "experts" are "escalating the fight" against obesity, and they appear to be changing their focus from fast-food to soft drinks. "In reports to be published in science journals this week, two groups of researchers hope to add evidence to the theory that soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks don't just go hand-in-hand with obesity, but actually cause it," the AP reports. "Not that these drinks are the only cause, but that they are one cause, perhaps the leading cause."

And once "science" takes that leap, the AP predicts the results could be "higher taxes on soda, restrictions on how and where it is sold -- maybe even a surgeon general's warning on labels." As Barry Popkin, a "scientist" at the University of North Carolina boasted, "We've done it with cigarettes."

Yes, they did. And many of us fought the three-headed hydra of government bureaucrats, trial lawyers and junk scientists in their war against Big Tobacco. The bottom line for our side was simply that no one was pointing a gun at anyone's head and MAKING them smoke cigarettes -- just as no one is MAKING anyone drink sodas today. But that didn't matter to a lot of fair-weathered conservatives who willingly joined the War on Tobacco simply because they didn't like cigarettes. Freedom and responsibility? Fuggetaboutit. Let's just get rid of Joe Camel, right?

Well, we tried to warn you people. And I'm not hesitant in the least to say, "I told you so." You allowed the hydra to get its nose under the tent. And now, flush with cash and success in "getting" Big Tobacco, they're coming for your Yoo-Hoo and your Pepsi. Serves you right. Of course, some of you will STILL blow off this encroachment on freedom as nonsense. The government would never crack down on Gatorade the way it did Marlboros, right?

Wrong. They're already doing it. In legislatures and local governments across the country, a quiet but growing movement is already well underway to ban soda machines in schools. After all, what self-respecting social engineering project would dare move forward without a "for the kids" component, right? In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who should know better -- signed two bills last fall banning vending machine sales of sodas, chocolate bars, crackers, chips, candy and other "junk" foods. The bills' sponsor, Democrat/Socialist state Sen. Martha Escutia, justifies her Big Brother bill thusly: "The benefits of having kids in class who are not on a sugar high, who are going to be able to concentrate and learn better - that's just as important as the obesity aspect."

Yes, dear reader, you read that right. The War on Soda is actually an effort to help kids learn better! Forget about hiring competent teachers, paying them more, raising standards, dumping No Child Left Behind, getting back to basics, breaking up the government monopoly on education, providing school choice and kicking the teachers union out of the classroom. No, all we really need to do to raise student performance is kick the Coke machine out of the school cafeteria. Good grief.

The California bans take effect in July 2007, and let me tell what's going to happen. Kids will continue to drink their favorite beverages. They'll continue to eat Snickers and Ding-Dongs. And if they can't purchase them on campus, they'll purchase them off campus. In addition, a black market in Fritos and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups will pop up under the gymnasium stands, as young entrepreneurs recognize the new demand and fill it from their back-packs. Psssst. Wanna buy a Twix?

Eventually, the Dudley Do-Gooders such as Sen. Escutia and Gov. Schwarzenegger are going to pursue legislation to crack down on the Twinkie black market, banning not just the vending machines on campus, but penalizing mere possession, thus equating snacks with the likes of marijuana, which is already sold on campuses and the use of which only fuels an even greater demand for potato chips and donuts. Hmm. I guess marijuana IS a gateway drug after all.

Eventually, our kids are going to be sent to the principal's office or suspended for getting caught sneaking a Hershey's bar between classes. Somehow I don't think this is what the Founders had in mind when they promoted the need for an educated populace in order to maintain our liberty. But does anyone care any longer?


Tuesday, March 21, 2006


SEVENTY per cent of mothers of obese or overweight children do not consider them overweight, new research shows. The author of a study outlined in the Medical Journal of Australia published today says the findings back the view that parents see their children's health through rose-coloured glasses and inadvertently lay the foundations for future problems. The MJA editorial also comments on the issue, warning of ample evidence that consuming soft drinks is linked to the problem despite claims to the contrary by the soft drink industry.

The new research found that while 19 per cent of children were overweight or obese, only 5 per cent of mothers worried about their children's weight and 70 per cent of obese children's mothers thought their children's weight was similar to that of their peers. Researchers at Melbourne's Murdoch Children's Research Institute reached their conclusions after examining 341 four-year-olds and their mothers. Study leader Michele Campbell said nearly all mothers believed their children were as active as, or more active than, other children of the same age.

Dr Campbell said obesity among Australian children had doubled in the past 15 years. Despite "massive and sustained publicity" about this growing problem, the study showed public awareness of a problem did not necessarily translate into individual concern, and effective measures might "rely on acknowledgment of a child's weight problem as a first step for change", she said.


Of course the mothers of fat children don't think their kids are abnormal -- because most of the mothers themselves are fat! It may be sad to say but most of the mothers these days are fat. THAT is why there is an "epidemic" of obesity. It is genetically inherited. Slim women very often think they are too good to have children, so fewer slim children are born


Like all socialism, socialist coffee is good only for its own chosen elite. But it's a cheap ego-boost for the parlour pinks

Fair Trade certification, intended to raise the living standards of coffee farmers in Nicaragua and elsewhere, has grown into a complex bureaucracy and an industry in itself. Starbucks, the longtime Enemy No. 1 of the Fair Trade crusaders, agreed to purchase a limited amount of Fair Trade certified coffee days before a planned protest in 2000. The company bought 10 million pounds in 2005. In 2003 Dunkin' Donuts agreed to make all of its espresso drinks certified. Nestle, one of the biggest coffee companies on Earth, launched a Fair Trade line in October 2005; the same month, McDonald's agreed to test Fair Trade in 658 outlets. High-end specialty coffees are the fastest growing sector of the industry, and Fair Trade is the fastest growing specialty coffee; demand for it has ballooned by around 70 percent annually for the last five years.

You'd think this confluence of social responsibility and double lattes, good business practices and lefty politics, would make Katzeff a happy man. But he and a growing number of roasters say the Fair Trade movement has lost its way. The movement has always aroused suspicion on the right, where free traders object to its price floors and anti-globalization rhetoric. Yet critics from the left are more vocal and more angry by half; they point to unhappy farmers, duped consumers, an entrenched Fair Trade bureaucracy, and a grassroots campaign gone corporate.

The Fair Trade label was born in the Netherlands in 1989 under the brand name Max Havelaar, taken from the title of a 19th-century novel about oppressed Javanese coffee plantation workers. When the company came to the U.S. a decade later, the American branch billed itself TransFair USA. TransFair's stated goal is simple: to ensure that farmers get a decent price for their beans, and to let consumers know it. By cutting out predatory middlemen and selling a clear conscience at a premium, coffee idealists hoped to achieve humanitarian goals by capitalist means.

TransFair USA certifies Fair Trade products and audits the chain of custody from producer to finished product... The organization charges between $2,000 and $4,000 to check out a cooperative, plus annual recertification fees and a small percentage of the price of each pound of coffee. The benefits, for those that pass muster, are not insignificant: a guaranteed price floor of $1.26 a pound to Fair Trade retailers-more than double the going rate for beans globally-and a stable price in a famously volatile market.

The Fair Trade apparatus is intended to mitigate a system that seemed especially cruel just as the movement was gaining steam. Until 1989 the price of coffee was relatively stable, held in place by an international agreement that imposed both import and export quotas. That year, as the Cold War ended and stability in producing countries was less of a priority in consuming ones, the pact-known as the International Coffee Agreement-dissolved completely. When supply and demand kicked in, new producers from Vietnam to Papua New Guinea were free to try their hand at the coffee game, drastically redrawing the java map. The resulting glut sent prices spiraling downward. By autumn 1992 coffee cost 50 cents a pound-a level, according to Fair Trade marketer Global Exchange, that's comparable to prices in the 1930s.

Counterintuitively, as prices were plunging for coffee farmers, middle-class Americans were learning to pay double or triple what they once had for a single cup of joe. The major coffee companies-Sara Lee, Kraft, Procter & Gamble, and Nestle-were paying less than they had for years, and the quality of their products, connoisseurs complained, was getting progressively worse. Around the same time, specialty companies such as Green Mountain started buying high-quality beans and pitching coffee as a luxury good rather than a commodity. A "specialty revolution"-the Starbucksification of America, driven by latte-toting yuppies-spawned a massive market for pricey brewed java. By 1998 Starbucks could plan on opening a store a day, and the satirical newspaper The Onion ran a story headlined "New Starbucks Opens in Rest Room of Existing Starbucks."

As they grew in numbers and influence, it was the small, quality-obsessed specialty roasters who absorbed and perpetuated the Fair Trade ethos, thus distancing themselves from the big four, which continued to pay rock-bottom prices for low-quality coffee. Against the backdrop of schizophrenic prices, in the face of a glaring gap between impoverished Third World farmers and affluent First World consumers, Fair Trade advocates sold a vision of socially just consumption. Men like Katzeff began to travel abroad to source beans, and the industry's inequities started to emerge: Farmers were being squeezed by middlemen, known as coyotes, so that even the dismal profits from cheap mass-produced coffee failed to reach them. Growers lacked basic information about what their crop was worth, how to maximize production, and how to market their beans, and it was to the coyotes' advantage to keep it that way. Fair Traders, by contrast, sought a direct relationship between coffee farmers and coffee drinkers: clean, just, transparent transactions.

Fair Trade's pioneers sought the one best way to reform this culture of abuse, and they settled on a bucolic vision of small farms working for the collective good. The system would serve growers who formed cooperatives of small family farms. Such organizations represent only a very narrow swath of the world's 25 million coffee farmers, but as the Fair Trade brand has grown, the eligibility requirements have not budged. The result is a marketing machine meant to spread wealth across class divides that in practice draws sharp lines between winners and losers.

Gregorio Martinez grows coffee on 30 hectares of land in Lepaera, Honduras, where he lives with his wife and four children. In 1998 Hurricane Mitch destroyed his crop, leaving him deep in debt; by 2004 he was set to lose his farm to foreclosure for lack of $800. That same year, he sent a bag of beans to the Princess Hotel in San Pedro Sula, where a U.S. nonprofit was hosting a contest known as Cup of Excellence. Martinez took top honors, attracted attention from buyers, and auctioned off his crop for $19,500. In his acceptance speech, he expressed relief that he would be able to pass his farm on to his family rather than the bank.

Martinez owns a small family farm and produces a high-quality coffee, but none of his beans carry the Fair Trade label. His farm isn't part of a cooperative, a Fair Trade non-negotiable that disqualifies small, independent farmers, larger family farms, and for that matter any multinational that treats its workers well. "It's like outlawing private enterprise," says former SCAA chair Cox, who now serves as president of a coffee consulting company. "What about a medium-sized family-owned farm that's doing great, treats their employees great? Sorry, they don't qualify." In Africa, many coffee farms are organized along tribal, not democratic lines. They're not eligible either, a problem that has prompted some roasters to charge cultural imperialism....

Specialty coffee roasters have always paid above-average prices, but that hasn't stopped activists from launching smear campaigns against high-end retailers who resist the Fair Trade model. In 2000, activist groups including Global Exchange launched an attack on Starbucks that has left the company stained with a reputation for mistreating farmers. Yet given its size, Starbucks likely has done far more than the Fair Trade movement to improve the lot of coffee growers in the 25 countries from which it purchases coffee. Starbucks buys 2.2 percent of the world's coffee production, and its infamous growth fuels demand for high-priced specialty coffees. In 2004 it bought that coffee at an average price of $1.20 a pound, slightly below the $1.26 Fair Trade pays but more than twice the average price for beans on the global commodity market.

Among the litany of complaints roasters voice about TransFair, cost is most resented. Roasters and retailers must pay the company to be registered as legitimate purveyors of Fair Trade goods. Organic labels cost about two cents per pound of coffee; TransFair demands ten, and there are controversies about how the money is being spent....

It may have a corporate image in the coffee industry, but Fair Trade still cultivates an aura of grassroots revolution on college campuses, where hundreds of student groups have formed to hold rallies and promote the brand. This past November, Vanderbilt undergraduate Blake Richter and 20 fellow students stood outside a Tennessee Starbucks and handed out free Fair Trade coffee while explaining to passers-by their beef with the company: Only a small percentage of Starbucks' purchases are Fair Trade Certified. The demonstration, he tells me, was a "first step" toward more equitable exchange in the area. If handing out free stuff sounds like a pretty mild protest, consider the result: "A lot of people would come by and say, `I appreciate what you're saying, but I still need my latte." Richter adds, "I think we probably increased Starbucks' business that day."

Richter's experience wouldn't surprise many specialty roasters. Since the early days of Fair Trade, many of them have argued that customer loyalty hinges on quality, not the perception of social justice. Fair Trade consumers, in other words, tend to be dabblers who are happy to pay extra for conscience-soothing coffee today, but will eventually go back to the beans they like best no matter what the social pedigree. That may be for the best: The specialty revolution, with its $4 lattes and emphasis on growing methods, has probably jacked up prices for farmers far more than the Fair Trade movement has. Starbucks buys more coffee each year than gets Fair Trade certified. When consumers become coffee snobs, prices rise, and some of that increase makes it back to growers....

The range of prices between high- and low-quality coffees is still minuscule compared to what you'll find with a highly branded beverage like wine, but it is growing, and consumers have consistently demonstrated that they're willing to pay more for better beans. The best hope for farmers lies with consumers demanding better coffee, not just from Starbucks but from the supermarket shelf. This may be inevitable; a generation weaned on high-quality lattes is not going to turn to instant Nescafe as it grows more affluent. But there are signs that Fair Trade, with its predilection for uniformity, is retarding, not accelerating, that process.

"Fair Trade does not incentivize quality," explains Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia Coffee, who has spent the last nine years training coffee farmers in Africa and Central America. Fair Trade co-ops are composed of hundreds of farmers producing vastly different qualities of coffee. Often their output is blended together for sale to roasters, masking any quality improvements one farmer may have felt motivated to implement. Money then flows back to the co-op, not the individual farmer, and is distributed equally among the members. "There is no reward for the guy who works harder than his neighbor," says Watts. Nor is there much motivation for individual farmers to learn better farming techniques, experiment with new types of coffee, or seek new markets.

The system thus breeds anonymity and mediocrity in a business that desperately needs to focus on branding and identity. Ironically, this mimics the problems brought on by multinationals: Treating coffee as a single commodity, in large undifferentiated lots, prevents any single farmer from excelling and advancing.

Much more here

Dopamine is good gear: "When Wayne Kanuch received a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease in 1993, the last thing he imagined was that the drug prescribed to treat his illness would turn him into a compulsive gambler and put his libido into overdrive. Mr Kanuch's marriage ended in divorce, partly as a result of the sexual pressures he placed on his wife, and he began losing fortunes at the horse track. He was fired from his job at Chevron for trawling for dates on the internet while at work, and he quickly went bankrupt... New evidence unearthed by scientists at the US Food and Drug Administration and Duke University suggest the reason Mr Kanuch, 52, could not stop is that the drug being used to treat Parkinson's boosted the level of dopamine in his brain. Researchers are looking into the possibility that dopamine, associated with a host of obsessive behaviours, may turn some Parkinson's patients, even those who tend to be risk-averse, into obsessive pleasure seekers"."

Sheeeet! Now showers can be bad for you!: "A new analysis based on animal studies suggests that showering in manganese-contaminated water for a decade or more could have permanent effects on the nervous system. The damage may occur even at levels of manganese considered safe by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to researchers from Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "If our results are confirmed, they could have profound implications for the nation and the world," said John Spangler, M.D., an associate professor of family medicine. "Nearly 9 million people in the United States are exposed to manganese levels that our study shows may cause toxic effects." The study is the first to show the potential for permanent brain damage from breathing vaporized manganese during a shower. It was conducted by reviewing the medical literature and calculating, based on animal studies, the amount of manganese people would absorb by showering 10 minutes a day."

Sunday, March 19, 2006


The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched a Competition Commission inquiry into the UK's big four supermarkets - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrison's. OFT believes there is evidence that these stores have erected barriers to keep out new players and that their move into convenience stores could 'distort competition and harm consumers'.

This follows years of complaints from small shopkeepers and liberal commentators who bemoan supermarket's retail dominance. This week the London Evening Standard has launched a campaign called 'Save our Small Shops'. The popularity of the big four supermarkets, which account for nearly 75 per cent of the grocery market, suggests that consumers think otherwise. Compared with local shops, supermarkets on the whole provide more variety of goods at cheaper prices. Isn't that a good, or at least useful, thing?

As contributors on spiked have noted previously, supermarkets are increasingly coming under fire from certain quarters (see Supermarkets are super, by Jennie Bristow; Supermarket sweep, by Josie Appleton). The complaints that Tesco operates in shady business deals or 'manipulates' consumers sound a bit like sour grapes from competitors, and a suspicion of mass production from environmentalists. The charge that supermarkets are motivated by the desire to generate enormous profits points to a naivety about the business world. That's how things work in capitalist societies; even fabled local traders are not driven by charitable impulses.

There is something worrying about the continuous criticism of supermarkets. It's one thing to be preoccupied with consumerist issues regarding rip-off traders and poor services; it's another thing to get angry about low prices and the efficient distribution of goods. Getting rid of hunger, and improving our choice of food, has been one of the major success stories of the modern age - and supermarkets played a role in that. To bemoan these developments doesn't reveal a principled 'stance' for anything, but a generally misanthropic outlook. It's remarkable that anyone would see shelves groaning with plentiful food as a bad thing.

The logical conclusion of the anti-supermarket lobby would be to close down dozens of Tesco and Sainsbury's stores and their attendent benefits. Indeed, a recent article on the closure of 25 McDonald's restaurants in the UK cheerily welcomed such a development for food retail in general.

Some commentators are careful not to come across as saying: 'slash jobs/raise food prices'. Any sober assessment of supermarkets would find it pretty difficult to deny the benefits of cheaper groceries and better choice, a point that the OFT has already conceded. Instead, subtler critics have devised a new line of attack, arguing that local shops can provide mechanisms for community cohesion and a shared sense of belonging. Compared with the local butcher or baker, they say, the one-stop-shop experience reduces familiar points of contact with other people. As one editorial put it: 'The key question is whether the undoubted benefits and popularity of superstores are outweighed by the grave effects they have on a way of life that, once lost, will be irretrievable.'

Such misty-eyed annotations sound a bit like the ramblings of ex-Tory prime minister, John 'Back to Basics' Major. Only in soap operas does the corner shop double up as community centre. More often, local traders are seen as penny pinchers with a line in one-upmanship snobbery. Of course, it's ridiculous to believe local shops can engineer social solidarity, as it's ridiculous to try to cajole people into shopping there. For millions who live in big cities, shopping solely at local shops would neither be practical nor particularly desirable.

Evoking community, however, provides some kind of left-wing cover for what can be reactionary ideas. In reality, 'community' is meant as a buffer against society, the 'local' against the 'global'. It also begs the question: what type of 'community' is being referred to? For well-heeled individuals in well-heeled areas, it's probably a community of organic food buyers and concerned environmentalists. Residents in Highgate village, north London, for instance, campaigned in 2002 against the opening of a Starbucks branch there. They argued it would erode their 'distinctive' 'community'. Many probably didn't want vulgar displays of mass society in their backyard.

On this level, critics of mass retail in general, and supermarkets in particular, imbue them with more strange powers and 'meaning' than most of us who shop there do. One commentator believes that declining literacy levels in the West is down to the omnipotence of supermarkets (3). Leaving aside this head-scratching hypothesis, why should the ubiquity of Tesco be a particularly debased experience? Anyone would think the proposed alternatives - independent local shops - are the equivalent of exploring art galleries and exhibitions. They're not. On the whole, shopping is a drearily practical necessity best done with as little time and effort as possible. This is why one-stop-shops win hands down - most people are not as preoccupied with shopping as some critics and commentators seem to be.

Given the popularity of supermarkets, why the need for an OFT inquiry at all? There are no mass campaigns calling for boycotts or an investigation into, say, Sainsbury's ready meals. Those who do are usually small traders seeking state compensation for their own inefficiencies. Ironically, local shopkeepers believe supermarkets yield too much unrepresentative power and influence; but in this case, surely it's the other way round? While a small number of retailers have won a chance to hold supermarkets back, millions of shoppers could potentially lose out. This might not be so surprising; maybe it is what the supermarket critics wanted all along.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Stop living "ethically", and start living

Even British Conservative leader David Cameron now wants to live a more 'ethical life'. What's going on?

'Ethical living' was once the domain of hair-shirted hippies living in north Wales; now it has been adopted by the urban glitterati. Last week Tory Party leader David Cameron announced that he was planning to add wind turbines to his posh west London home. American Express launched its ethical 'red card', which donates 1p out of every pound spent on designer brands to the cause of AIDS in Africa - a campaign endorsed by stars including the supermodel Elle MacPherson.

Ethical clothing has made its way into the high street. Topshop stocks a range of organic and fair-trade baby clothes; the ethical clothing company People Tree has lines in Selfridges. Enamore does sophisticated hemp, while American Apparel does sophisticated cotton prep-wear. Online, the choice of ethical produce is vast. So Organic offers 'funky organic baby clothes from Hug and Cut 4 Cloth to the purest toys from Keptin-Jr', while a swathe of companies offer pricey organic eyeliners and lip glosses.

Ethical holidays have gone from the mud hut in the jungle, to luxurious log cabins with designer furniture. Being carbon neutral is cool: it's practically obligatory for pop bands on tour, a trail blazed by the likes of Coldplay. Meanwhile, organic food has gone from farmers' markets to delis in west London, with organic supermarkets in the smartest parts of town.

The only criticism levelled at ethical living is that it is a sham. Some bemoan the fact that ethics is becoming just another fashion label; it's not really about helping the planet or changing your behaviour. You had to get a long-haul flight to your Brazilian eco-holiday, they point out. Fair trade isn't really that fair. Washable nappies aren't any more environmentally friendly than disposables. Ray-Bans are Ray-Bans, even if Amex did donate some of their price tag.

But this gets things the wrong way around. When ethical living is just a sham it's relatively harmless, arguably no worse than other fashion fads. It's when ethical living is taken seriously that it is a problem.

Ethical living redefines the whole point to life as cleaning up after ourselves. Every action is assessed in terms of impact - more impact, bad; less impact, good. Traditionally, ethics was about pursuing greater goals in life: fostering virtues such as friendship, honour, courage, and overcoming vices such as jealousy and vanity. Ethics was about obligations to other people, expressed in aphorisms such as 'do as you would be done by'.

Today's ethical living is merely about the self. 'My conscience is clear' is a phrase that trips off the tongue of the purveyors of the eco good life. Whatever happens to the rest of you, they say, I've done my calculations and I'm clean. Online calculators allow you to total your carbon impact, with the aim of approaching the desired karma of 'carbon neutral'. Rather than seeking to do something good in the world, you seek merely to leave the world as you found it. This is a drawn-out apology for existing.

'Do you really need that?', is the question always asked. The result is a mean-spirited survivalism in the midst of plenty. Friends of the Earth suggests that rather than give people presents, why not 'give your time - helping with decorating, gardening, or a big clear out?' (1). The Guardian's ethical living columnist Leo Hickman warns against giving flowers: 'the only truly sustainable alternative is to show your affection to loved ones in other, more imaginative ways, or to carefully source seasonal, preferably organic, flowers grown in the UK, particularly bulb flowers'. He concludes that best of all would be a 'pot plant' (2). The Green Choices website asks whether you should really be embarking on that big DIY project, or if you could make do with a 'subtle revamp'. 'Is it ethical to have children?', asked an Observer article earlier this year: 'Are parents contributing to the future of our planet - or just fuelling an unsustainable population explosion?'

Life becomes an 'ethical minefield' to pick your way through. Sources of enjoyment are seen as suspect. According to a Guardian ethical shopping guide, prawns and swordfish should be avoided, and only very specific varieties of salmon and tuna are permitted. The result is a Woody Allenish self-scrutiny, analysing the implications of every action. Hickman tried to work out acceptable ways of doing everything from skiing holidays to banking to pets - and the end result of his efforts was appropriately published in book form as A Life Stripped Bare. This is Puritanism without the promise of redemption; self-restraint is driven not by a desire for transcendence, but by the soulless calculations of the green calculator. 'Make less mess' is the prosaic motto of today's ethical living brigade.

Of course, if putting windmills and solar panels on our roofs were a cheaper and better way of generating electricity, that would be fine. Ditto recycling. But that would be a technical decision about resource allocation, it wouldn't be an individual ethic. Ethical living is promoted not because it makes rational sense, but because it offers a guide for personal behaviour.

This guide is not just impoverished; it is a cop-out. Ethical living is an excuse for not thinking about real ethics: about our goal in life, about how we treat people, or even on an everyday level about what we eat or wear. Rather than decide what you want to cook that evening, you plump for the one kind of fish that is ethically permitted. Rather than make your own decisions, you live life by the pluses and minuses of green gurus. Get a life.


It's true. There is such a thing as a penis bone: "Whatever men and smirking wives may say about size not mattering, the fossa, a diminutive and distant cousin of the lion, clearly isn't listening. The creature, dubbed the Pink Panther of Madagascar, has the largest penis bone of all the cat-like species which, scientists believe, ensures that it is the real king of its island jungle. An adult fossa is about 3rft long and has a penis of about 7in, a sixth of its body length. If Man had the same ratio he would be 3ft tall and very smug. Scientists believe that the fossa is so well-endowed because of the demands of the female and the need to outdo male competitors. Lesley Dickie, presenting a study to the Zoological Society of London yesterday, said the large penis bone, the bacula, may be the secret to the fossa's ability to keep up an acceptable performance during mating sessions that last for up to eight hours. "It provides extra rigidity," she said. "It's nature's Viagra and in the case of the fossa size might be everything.""

Fatness is caused by a virus!: "As many as one in five Australians may have contracted a virus linked to obesity. Blood tests on 2000 Australians, carried out in the US, showed about 20 per cent of them had been exposed to a virus called Ad-36, which some researchers say can cause weight gain. The idea that fatness is catching is controversial. However, Richard Atkinson, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, who did the testing, said a fat virus could help explain the worldwide epidemic of obesity. "I believe obesity is a complex disease of many causes, one of which is viral infection," he said. How Ad-36 caused fatness was not known exactly, but it had been detected in fat cells in people and animals. In the laboratory it stimulates cells that are pre-fat cells to become fat cells."

Friday, March 17, 2006

Another diet fad bites the dust: "Weight- and health-conscious eaters may not find much help in following the so-called low-GI diet, a new study suggests. In recent years, researchers have taken to classifying carbohydrates based on their GI, or glycemic index - a measure of the effects of a given food on blood sugar levels. High-GI foods, like white bread and potatoes, tend to produce a quick surge in blood sugar, and some studies have suggested that diets heavy in such foods can contribute to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease. Books and web sites espousing "low-GI" diets have followed suit. But not all studies have found associations between high-GI foods and elevated blood sugar and diabetes. One reason is that it's hard to translate lab findings on glycemic index to the much more complicated realm of everyday eating, according to Dr. Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, the lead author of the new study... In her team's study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, there was no association between high-GI eating habits and elevated blood sugar among 813 adults who were followed over 5 years."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Jogging solo bad for your brain: "Far from being a healthy pursuit, jogging on your own could be bad for your health. New research has found that it raises stress levels and stifles the production of new brain cells. Harvard University psychology Professor Elizabeth Gould, who led the research, said: "These results suggest that, in the absence of social interaction, a normally beneficial experience can exert a potentially deleterious influence on the brain." Writing in the journal Nature, Professor Gould said her results showed that, contrary to accepted wisdom, jogging is not always good for you."

Pot blows your memory: "People who regularly smoke marijuana may find their memories growing hazy over time, a study suggests. In a study of long-term and shorter-term marijuana users, researchers in Greece found that both groups performed more poorly on tests of memory, attention and other cognitive abilities than a comparison group who'd only occasionally used the drug. Long-term users - who'd smoked four or more joints per week for at least 10 years - showed the greatest deficits. The findings, published in the journal Neurology on Monday, add to the conflicting body of research on the effects of marijuana on the brain. While many studies have suggested that long-time pot smoking dulls memory, attention span and mental acuity, some have found no large differences in these skills between marijuana users and non-users."

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Remember -- Today's medical miracle is tomorrow's medical disaster: "Millions of people with heart disease may be able to reverse their illness and stave off heart attacks by taking higher doses of cholesterol-busting drugs, according to a landmark study. For the first time scientists have found a way of reversing the chronic build-up of fat in arteries, a development dubbed the holy grail in the fight against coronary heart disease. Patients put on intensive treatment with a cholesterollowering statin showed a significant reversal of atherosclerosis, when fatty deposits known as atheroma build up on artery walls. The process, often compared to scale forming in water pipes, causes narrowing of the blood vessels and can lead to fatal conditions including heart attacks and strokes. Until now, efforts have concentrated on slowing the progress of what was thought to be an irreversible disease. But a major study involving rosuvastatin, known by the brand name Crestor, has shown that patients given much more intense doses can reverse their coronary decline. British scientists working on the international study, presented yesterday at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta, Georgia, said that a more aggressive use of statins appeared to halve the relative risk of heart attacks. Neal Uren, consultant cardiologist at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, the only British centre involved in the trial, said that for those who had had a clinical episode, this could offer big improvements in life expectancy."

Monday, March 13, 2006

Huge tropical fruit: "A woman in Hawaii has grown the world's heaviest mango. The more than 2.25kg tropical fruit is roughly the size of a human head. Colleen Porter has a certificate from the Guinness Book of World Records for growing the world's heaviest mango. She framed it - in mango wood, of course. Virginia Easton-Smith, West Hawaii agricultural extension agent for the University of Hawaii, who helped with the submission to Guinness, confirms the record. The fruit had to be weighed and documented two separate times by three people. Independent witnesses verified six weighings. Porter, who tends a small avocado and mango orchard, also took her mango to several local grocery stores to weigh it on their scales. The record-breaking fruit is a Keitt mango, which typically reach about 1kg."

Saturday, March 11, 2006


And gets subjected to an "inquiry" as punishment

Tesco was under assault on two fronts last night for using its muscle as Britain's biggest supermarket to buy and hoard vast amounts of land and for boycotting a scheme to encourage healthy eating. The retail giant was attacked by MPs and the Food Standards Agency after defiantly rejecting the regulator's call yesterday to introduce "traffic light" health warnings on products. Tesco was also put on notice that it will be at the centre of an investigation by the Competition Commission into the impact of supermarket dominance on local shops and suppliers.

The Office of Fair Trading, reversing a decision made last year, said that it was likely to refer supermarkets for an inquiry that would cover claims that Tesco and the rest of the Big Four supermarkets were driving cornershops out of business. Tesco made profits of almost 2 billion pounds last year on a turnover of 34 billion pounds.

The supermarket said that it had nothing to fear from the commission, claiming that its relentless expansion was good for consumer choice. It said that it had already been through a series of investigations, including one by the commission in 2000, adding that the new inquiry was a "diversion of effort and resources". The retailer was accused of "arrogance" for its dismissal of the competition inquiry and its boycott of a "traffic light" scheme for sugar, salt and fat accepted by other supermarkets including Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Asda.

The FSA wants retailers to put the alerts on food packs to allow consumers to make informed and healthy choices. It said yesterday that ready meals, breakfast cereals, pizzas, sandwiches, burgers, sausages, pies, chicken nuggets, fish fingers, and other chicken and fish products should be the first foods with the new labels and may be on sale before the summer. Foods to be included later are biscuits, cakes, crisps, chocolate and sweets.

The FSA was scathing about the industry's attempts to derail the "traffic light" labels. A paper circulated to its board members said: "Information as adopted by Tesco and several major manufacturers is not helpful and may be misleading." Big-brand manufacturers Danone, Kellogg's Kraft, Nestl,, Pepsico and Unilever are determined to join Tesco in rejecting the voluntary scheme. They have adopted their own format for labels which includes a table showing the calories, fat, salt, saturated fat and sugar in a product. They refuse to use red symbols because they believe that consumers will be turned off by the colour.

Sue Davies, principal policy adviser at Which?, the consumer organisation, also supported "traffic light" labels and described the industry alternative as "a fudge". She said: "Can you really tell me what shopper is going to go round the supermarket making complicated calculations about the amounts of fat or salt are in each product and how that fits into their daily diet?" Steve Webb, the Lib Dem health spokesman, said: "A company the size of Tesco is in many ways as powerful as the Government. They have huge influence on our culture and what we eat. It is irresponsible for such a company to go it alone when it comes to public health. "Its attitude to competition and food labelling is symptomatic of an arrogance on the part of big supermarkets."

The Federation of Small Businesses welcomed the OFT's decision to refer the 95 billion pound grocery market to the Competition Commission after finding that a restrictive planning system and land banks meant that consumers were "harmed". Carol Undy, its chairwoman, said: "This inquiry is not a moment too soon. When supermarkets, convenience stores and branded petrol stations are considered together, there is little doubt that there is a dominant position being taken by the Big Four supermarkets."

Lucy Neville-Rolfe, Tesco group corporate and legal affairs director, said the company had nothing to fear. "The development of the UK grocery market has been good news for consumers precisely because of high levels of competition


Friday, March 10, 2006

The child obesity panic

Panic: A new report by three British official bodies has criticised the government for a lack of progress on tackling child obesity. For example, it has taken 18 months just to agree on how obesity should be measured. The report quotes statistics suggesting that the proportion of obese children has risen from 9.6 per cent in 1995 to 13.7 per cent in 2003. By 2010, the report says that the cost of treating diseases caused by obesity across the whole population - including hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes - will reach o3.6billion per year. Steve Bundred, chief executive of the Audit Commission, said: 'If the trend continues, this generation will be the first for many decades that doesn't live as long as their parents.'

Don't panic: While it is true that certain diseases are more common in obese adults, the vast majority of people can still expect to live into old age whatever their body shape. If fears about obesity are overstated for adults, they are even more misplaced when it comes to children.

It is by no means certain that children who are fat will go on to be fat adults. Figures suggest about 30 per cent of obese children stay that heavy in adulthood. Telling a child that being overweight means they are effectively sick may have some impact on their waistlines but is likely to be a recipe for misery in years to come. As Dr Dee Dawson, a specialist in treating eating disorders, notes: 'We should not be getting children obsessed about what they eat, how much fat and calories there is in their food, how they look. Most of them are perfectly fit and well.'

Nor are the alternatives necessarily much better. While getting some exercise, like walking regularly, seems to be beneficial, taking a lot of exercise may have little additional benefit. Dieting is not only regularly unsuccessful, but has itself been associated with health problems. As an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine noted in 1998, 'Until we have better data about the risks of being overweight and the benefits and risks of losing weight, we should remember that the cure for obesity may be worse than the condition'.

The most controversial idea, quoted regularly, is that children of this generation will have a lower life expectancy than their parents. While not impossible, it seems highly unlikely. Firstly, it assumes that obesity is the reason that very fat people tend to die younger, rather than lack of exercise, poverty, poor quality of diet or a host of other reasons. Secondly, it suggests that this one lifestyle factor could overcome the effect of all the other medical and social developments which have provided consistent rises in life expectancy. For women, life expectancy has risen every decade for the past 16 decades, and for both sexes lifespans are rising by roughly two years every decade.

If we are really concerned about child obesity, we should stop fretting about what children eat and give them more opportunity for active, independent play. However, given our increasingly risk-averse approach towards kids, there's fat chance of that.


Farmer 'breaks' penis: "A newly married Romanian farmer fractured his penis after ogling his young wife while carrying a heavy sack of grain. Farmer Gheorghe Popa, 52, from Galati, had been moving the grain sacks to the barn when he stopped to watch his 25-year-old wife Loredana hang up the washing. He got himself over excited and dropped the sack on his erect penis, snapping vital tendons and ligaments. Doctor Nicolae Bacalbasa said: "It was a bizarre accident, and he was in a lot of pain. "We have done what we can for him but he may never regain use of the organ again, at least for sexual purposes.""

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Now it's convenient suburbs that make you fat: "Suburban sprawl which sees hundreds of housing blocks designed around cul-de-sacs could be making people fatter, according to University of Queensland researchers. Professor Neville Owen, from the UQ Cancer Prevention Research Centre, is one of a group of investigators examining how changing the design of communities can improve the health of residents. They believe cul-de-sacs and low density suburban designs with low mixed use and poor connectivity may fundamentally limit the physical activity of residents. Less than half of Australians meet minimal public health exercise guidelines but research on transportation and urban planning has found factors such as population density and mixing residential with shops and other uses is strongly related to how much walking a person does. University of Adelaide Geography Professor Graeme Hugo, who is also involved in the research, said early results had shown factors including how streets were laid out influenced walking habits".

Now rhubarb is good for you: "Historically found languishing soggily under a coating of lumpy custard, rhubarb has taken on a new lease of life, thanks to its discovery by health-conscious eaters. Sales have doubled in the past year alone after the "forgotten vegetable" was championed by celebrity chefs and dieticians. Those red stems are low in carbohydrate but high in vitamin C, dietary fibre and potassium. One of the chefs responsible for the rhubarb renaissance, Antony Worrall Thompson, has featured it heavily in his two books on the GI diet. "I think the GI diet plays a part in the recent rise in demand for rhubarb," he said. "Rhubarb is very healthy and it is excellent for the GI diet because it is low in carbohydrate".

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Your coffee tells who you are: "The sort of coffee you drink says a lot about who you are and where you're from. According to a report by industry analysts BIS Shrapnel, the caffe latte is the drink of choice in the inner, more affluent, suburbs of Melbourne, while the cappuccino is king in the outer suburbs. The hard-core espresso is preferred by young males and the flat white is more likely to be ordered by older drinkers. "When they go out, the older people tend to have the equivalent of what they are used to drinking at home, so a flat white is the equivalent of an instant coffee with milk," said report author Sandro Mangosi, leader of BIS Shrapnel's international food service study team. "There is a reluctance to change, which increases with age, while younger people get on with the new trend." For those looking for the next coffee craze, Dr Mangosi tips the espresso. "It won't be long and we will see the introduction of variations with straight coffee," he said. "In Italy, there are at least five types of espresso, and this is gradually developing here."

Coffee is bad for you -- of course! "Coffee drinkers who have more than three cups a day could significantly increase their chances of suffering a heart attack. Research suggests that some people who carry a particular variation of a gene cannot process caffeine as quickly as other people. Such individuals could be 60 per cent more likely to have a heart attack if they drink large amounts of coffee. It is not known how common the gene variation is in the British population. Some studies indicate that up to a third of Caucasians may carry it. Canadian scientists have discovered that people with the slower metabolism gene variation, known as *1F, run a dramatically higher risk even if they drink only two cups a day. Researchers found that heavy coffee drinkers under the age of 50 were four times as likely to have an attack compared with those who had one cup a day".

Tuesday, March 07, 2006


Male drivers who are involved in a car crash are more likely to die if they are obese, a US study suggests. The Milwaukee team says this may be due to the driver's greater momentum in a crash and because of the effect obesity has on the body's ability to recover. But the bodies of moderately overweight men appear to cushion the blow, reports the American Journal of Public Health. The authors said their findings, based on crash data involving 22,000 people, had implications for vehicle design.

The team from the Injury Research Centre of the Medical College of Wisconsin looked at information on 22,000 people from a nationwide crash data collection programme sponsored by the US Department of Transportation. The fatality rate for motor vehicle crashes was 0.87% for male drivers and 0.43% for women drivers.

The team found that male drivers who had a body mass index that was either higher than 35 or lower than 22 had a "significantly increased risk of death" compared to those with an intermediate body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres and is a standard way of assessing whether a person is underweight, overweight or within a healthy weight range.

Lead author Professor Shankuan Zhu said: "The increased risk for death due to motor vehicle crashes associated with a high BMI may be caused by some combination of momentum effects, comorbidities (side effects) of obesity, and emergency post-operative treatment problems among the obese. "Furthermore, obesity imparts anatomical and physiological changes that may either protect or interfere with the body's response to injury."

He said the increased risk for those with a BMI lower than 25 may be because they lack some fat which could provide a cushion effect and absorb some of the energy of the crash. "It may also be because the reason they are thin is because they have some underlying disease," he added.

But there was no significant link between BMI and women drivers' risk of death, the researchers found. They suggest the reasons for gender difference in BMI and motor vehicle fatality might be due in part to the different male and female body shapes.

More here

Monday, March 06, 2006

Tough women have boys: "Tough, confident females may be more likely to give birth to sons than women with less pushy personalities, researchers have found. Scientists have established that eggs taken from female mammals have varying levels of testosterone and that those with the highest levels are more likely to develop into male embryos. Testosterone in women has been linked to more dominant character traits. The discovery of the "queen bee" syndrome in mammals is the latest in a growing body of work that challenges the traditional view that a baby's sex is determined by chance. Valerie Grant, author of the study, said the sex of offspring might be due to more than just whether "male" Y chromosomes or "female" X chromosomes prevailed when sperm fertilised an egg. Grant, a behavioural science lecturer at Auckland University in New Zealand, said her latest research, conducted on cows, suggested that a female mammal's testosterone level might predispose her eggs to accept "male" sperm"

Rewired brain: "A Young woman confined to a wheelchair for seven years is not just walking again but singing and dancing in amateur shows, after a "miracle" cure using electrical implants in the brain. Amy Westall, 20, is the most dramatic example of the experimental treatment developed by doctors to tackle Parkinson's disease, depression and even paralysis. The "rewiring" of the brain involves guiding electrodes to areas known to govern specific functions. A small current is delivered from a battery implanted beneath the collar bone and connected by wires to the electrodes in the brain itself. Westall, from Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire, suffered from a genetic form of a condition called dystonia, in which fierce, uncontrollable muscle spasms force victims into painful contortions, making walking impossible. She underwent a lengthy experimental procedure by Marwan Hariz, professor of functional neurosurgery at the Institute of Neurology in London. Tiny filaments, thinner than a human hair, were implanted in her brain to carry electrical current that would interrupt the signals sending her muscles into spasm. They produced miraculous results."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Bad marriages bad for your heart in more ways than one: "Stormy relationships are bad for your heart, research suggests. Psychologists in the US found that women who become hostile when they argue with their husbands are more likely to suffer from a hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart attacks. And men are more likely to get the condition if their wives - or they - act in a controlling manner. A team from the University of Utah took 150 healthy married couples who were mostly in their 60s and asked them to pick a topic - such as money, in-laws or chores - that caused disagreements. Their discussions on the subjects were monitored and rated for hostility and controlling behaviour. Two days later, each had a CT scan to measure calcification or hardening of the arteries. In cases where both sides had been hostile in the discussion, particularly high levels of calcification were found. Professor Tim Smith, who led the research and presented its findings at the American Psychosomatic Society, said: "A low-quality relationship is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease."

Kiss OK after all: "A 15-Year-old girl with a peanut allergy did not die from kissing her boyfriend after he ate peanut butter but from another cause, a coroner has ruled. But coroner Michel Miron would not reveal what caused Christina Desforges's death, saying he simply wanted to speak out before her case was cited by the food allergies association. "The [association] intended to use the Desforges case to launch an education campaign," Mr Miron said. "I had to tell them the cause of death was different than first believed." At the time of Desforges's death last November, officials said doctors had been unable to treat her allergic reaction to the kiss. Thinking she was having an asthma attack, Desforges had desperately searched for medicine. Friends called an ambulance as her breathing grew laboured but she collapsed. She died four days later in a Quebec hospital".

British schools to ban those incorrect fizzy drinks and chocolate

Dame Suzi Leather sounds like a harsh mistress. She is also soft in the head. If you look at the approved food, you will see that "fromage frais" gets a stamp of approval time after time. Yet that is a cheese-based yoghurt which would be EXTREMELY calorific! It's total calories that make you fat -- not where they come from

Schools will be banned from selling junk food and told to give pupils seeds and yoghurt drinks in moves to tackle child obesity. Parents will also be issued with guidelines on food high in fat and sugar which should not be included in their children's packed lunches.

Nuts, seeds and yoghurt drinks will replace crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks in tuck shops, after-school clubs and vending machines, say the draft guidelines issued yesterday by the government-appointed School Food Trust (SFT). The laws to wean children off sweets and chocolate will be among the toughest in the world and will take fizzy sugary drinks off the menu, as well as diet and sport drinks and flavoured waters.They come just days after the Audit Commission attacked the Government for its indecision and lack of leadership over the implementation of measures to curb child obesity.

Children will be allowed to have milk, yoghurt drinks, water and fruit juices as well as tea, coffee and low-calorie hot chocolate. Crisps will be banned at all times, but cakes and biscuits will be allowed at lunch and in after-school clubs. Dame Suzi Leather, chairman of the SFT, said the rules, to be introduced from September, were necessary because children were eating too much sugar, fat and salt with "little or no nutritional value".

"They [the new rules] cannot succeed if pupils are surrounded with chocolate, crisps and drinks that fill them up with sugar and fat during the school day," she said. "Anecdotal evidence suggests that when these products are removed, behaviour improves and this could also have implications for better learning." The SFT said that about a quarter of children were obese or overweight and 53 per cent of the 4-18 age group had dental decay.

The food and soft drinks industry is estimated to make 45 million pounds a year from school vending machines. Schools are believed to make 2,500 pounds a year per vending machine.

A spokesman for the Automatic Vending Association, whose machines are only in secondary schools, said: "We think educated choice would have been better than outright prohibition." Masterfoods, which supplies Mars and Snickers bars, said it was "disappointed with the SFT's simplistic approach. Banning certain foodstuffs will not work. Young people need to understand how to enjoy a balanced diet and active lifestyle."

Dame Suzi said that the SFT would also be strengthening lunchbox guidelines, and would expect schools to advise parents of what should be included in a healthy diet. The SFT guidance is out for consultation until May. The Education and Inspections Bill, which was published this week, requires governing bodies and local authorities to comply with healthy eating regulations in the provision of "all food and drink provided on the premises" of state schools. It gives ministers power to ban specific types of food and drink from schools and states that the rules will apply "to food or drink provided by contractors under arrangements made with LEAs or governing bodies


Saturday, March 04, 2006

UK: Lords fight to save Stilton from food watchdog: "Below the gilded ceiling and the statues of the Magna Carta barons, the peers on the red benches of the House of Lords turn today from matters of state to a more exalted subject: Stilton. Like the aristocratic families whose descendants are still in the second chamber, the 'king of cheese' has ruled for hundreds of years, its blue veins a sign of its gastronomic lineage.Yet all is not well deep in the Stilton-producing counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Now the 21st century has arrived and a plan to reduce the saltiness of this most aristocratic of foods has caused a whiff of scandal in the Lords. ... At the centre of The Great Stilton Controversy is a proposal by officials in the Government's Food Standards Agency to reduce the cheese's saltiness from 2.3 per cent to 1.9 per cent. The Stilton Cheese Makers Association says the move would ruin the quality of Stilton, cause many batches to go off and occasionally lead to harmful bacteria being produced. Salt in Stilton is not just a matter of taste, the cheese-makers and their friends in high places say -- it is a vital ingredient."

Colour vision is for seeing you blush: "Primates may have evolved colour vision not to find the ripest, tastiest fruit but to detect that tell-tale blush on someone else's cheek, US researchers have reported . The cone structures in the eye that help detect colour seem exquisitely tuned to skin tones, the team at the California Institute of Technology reports. "For a hundred years, we've thought that color vision was for finding the right fruit to eat when it was ripe," Mark Changizi, a theoretical neurobiologist and postdoctoral researcher at Caltech who led the study, said. "But if you look at the variety of diets of all the primates having trichromat (three-color) vision, the evidence is not overwhelming." Instead, Dr Changizi and colleagues report in the latest issue of the journal Biology Letters, the system seems adapted especially to find the colours prevalent in primate skins - notably changes due to how much oxygenated haemoglobin is in the blood... The clincher - Dr Changizi said old-world primates that had the three-cone vision were also all bare-faced and bare-butted. "There's no sense in being able to see the slight colour variations in skin if you can't see the skin," Dr Changizi said".

Yukky Chinese restaurant: "The menu at Beijing's latest venue for its growing army of gourmets is eye-watering rather than mouth-watering. China's cuisine is renowned for being "in your face" - from the skinned dogs at food markets to scorpion kebabs in street stalls - and there is no polite way of describing Guolizhuang. Situated in an elegantly restored house beside Beijing's West Lake, it is China's first speciality penis restaurant. Here, businessmen and government officials can sample the organs of yaks, donkeys, oxen and even seals. In fact, they have to, since they form part of every dish - except for those containing testicles. "This is my third visit," said one customer, Liu Qiang. "Of course, there are other restaurants that serve the bian [penis] of individual animals. But this is the first that brings them all together." Since it set up in November, a booking comes with a trained waitress and a nutritionist to explain the menu and its medicinal virtues. In China, you are what you eat. Nutritionist Zhu Yan said the clients were mainly men eager to improve their yang, or virility. Women could benefit, too, she added, although she told a female photographer: "I wouldn't recommend the testicles. The testosterone might interfere in fertility. But many women say bian is good for the skin.""