Although we at Foodsmatter are neither doctors nor a support group, we do, inevitably get asked for help, especially by those who are battling with newly diagnosed allergies. While we would never give any medical advice we do usually try to make a few useful suggestions in terms of food strategies etc.
About ten days ago one of these ‘please help I am thoroughly confused’ emails came through and I must admit that my heart sank as it included a quite long list of queries. Anyhow, I buckled down and, in fact, it did not take me long to answer most of the lady’s questions and copy/paste in a list of products containing corn (one of the foods to which she had found she is now allergic) – and thought no more about it beyond wishing her well.
I was therefore somewhat surprised to receive the following email from her about two days later:
Thank you ever so much for all of your help. Did you know that out of everyone whom I have approached for help and guidance, you are the only one who has actually taken the time and trouble to read my comments and respond pertinently instead of just fobbing me off with a pre-composed reply and attaching generic factsheets which are only vaguely relevant and don’t answer my specific questions. Consider me very impressed!
She then asked another few questions about funghi and moulds and ended by saying:
Thank you again for all of your very much appreciated help and support. As I say above, out of everyone – including specialist allergy organisations and even my own hospital, you are the only one who has actually provided tangible guidance – bless you.
Well, obviously, I was delighted that my efforts had been so appreciated (and answered her further questions!) – but I was shocked that she had got so little help elsewhere. Yes, it can be hard work answering individual queries, especially if they are complicated – but I thought that was what support groups and specialists were all about! Anyone can send out a leaflet but even the most detailed leaflet rarely addresses complex allergy problems which are nearly always very specific to the person concerned.
I am sure that she had just been unlucky as I know that there are genuinely helpful resources out there staffed by people who will take endless time and trouble with individual queries – but it is disappointing that they are apparently so hard to find…
Several weeks ago I was reading a food trade journal which was describing the development of new chemicals which would alter foods in order to boost the production of saliva, making things taste juicier or more refreshing, and improve the pleasurable sensation of melting fats. The technical terms used in the journal were ‘mouth feel’ and ‘oral wetting’… What a good thing that the consumers of the food rarely read trade journals.
However, this morning I was reading a report in Natural News on the proposed labelling for new GM salmon which will be three times larger than a non-GM salmon. I quote:
As the GM salmon fiasco unfolds at the FDA (Food and Drink Administration), where scientists have found themselves lost in a highly technical discussion of things that don’t matter while ignoring the really important questions, we’ve learned that if genetically modified salmon is approved by the FDA, it won’t be labeled as such.
And here’s the real kicker: The biotech industry claims that labeling GM foods would just “confuse” consumers. Information, you know, can be so darned difficult to comprehend. All those words!
David Edwards, the director of animal biotechnology at the Biotechnology Industry Organization, explained in this way: “Extra labeling only confuses the consumer,” he says.
Seriously? So labeling GM salmon with the words “GENETICALLY MODIFIED SALMON” would confuse people?
Not really. It would, however, cause virtually everyone to not buy the salmon, which is precisely why they don’t want it honestly labeled as such.
But here’s the best part: Edwards goes on to say “[Labeling] differentiates products that are not different.”
Seriously? GM salmon isn’t different from regular salmon? Then why are they growing it?Why does it need FDA approval to enter the food supply? And why is all the technology used to create GM salmon patented if it’s no different?
What part of “modified” in the phrase “genetically modified” does David Edwards not comprehend? If you MODIFY something, then it’s DIFFERENT.
The FDA, for its part, says that requiring honest labeling of GM salmon would be “illegal” and so it can’t require such labels. This is all revealed in an excellent Businessweek article.
So let me translate these astonishing quotes for you in plain language. What the biotech industry is saying is that we’re all too stupid to understand the words “genetically modified” and that placing such words on a product would just “confuse us.”
And the FDA says placing a “genetically modified” label on genetically modified fish would be illegal!
Therefore, the only solution is to leave all consumers in the dark and hope nobody notices.
Health authorities in the west may fulminate about the public’s scepticism about their pronouncements (the MMR vaccination saga, for example) but they could take comfort from the fact that the Chinese government is having an even worse time.
An article in the Boston Globe last week describes how their plans to vaccinate 100 million children against measles has unleashed a flood of public concern across the internet and social media. The Health Ministry has issued statements, rebutted rumours and held breifings galore emphasising the safety of the vaccine and the need for it. The Chinese public is not convinced…
In the same way that the authorities’ blanket denials of any possibility of harm only fuelled concerns over the MMR vaccine in the UK, Chinese government agencies’ withholding of information about SARS, bird flu and a recent outbreak of cholera , not to mention the tainted infant formula which sickened 300,000 babies two years ago, allowed rumour and panic to rule and deeply dented the agencies’ credibility.
To make it worse, four children died and many others were made seriously ill earlier this year by, it is thought, vaccines for hepatitis B and encephalitis which were improperly stored – although the government maintains that this was not the case.
Is it surprising that the Chinese public are less than enthusiastic about another mass vaccination programme?
If there is one thing that I really hate about the growing sophistication of the internet – it is videos! There are occasions when being able to see something in film format is invaluable – Dr Magda Havas’s explanation of how electromagnetic radiation can affect our blood is a perfect example – but the vast majority of on-line videos are merely spoken versions of what would otherwise have been written.
Whether they are put up there because their originators genuinely believe that site visitors would rather watch a video than read an article, or because it is quicker and easier to whack up the video than to transcribe what was said, I do not know; I do know that they drive me mad…
If I am given an article – or anything in writing – I can skim through it to find out whether I wish to read it in more detail and whether there are specific bits that I want to focus on. This will take me anything from 30 seconds to 3–4 minutes depending on the length and complexity of the piece.
If I am confronted with a video I cannot do this – I have to watch the whole damn thing to find out 1. – whether I want to watch it at all and 2. – whether there is anything in it that I would like to know more about. Moreover, if I want to go back to anything that has been said, unless I can transfer it to some very sophisticated piece of recording equipment, I will either have to listen/watch the wretched thing all over again or jump around it like a demented frog trying to find the bit I wanted to see or hear again. Even if I find it, it will be hard to take notes, especially if it is complicated, without continually having to spool back to the bit I am trying to grasp.
If it was written down on a piece of paper, none of this would apply. The whole thing would be there in front of me, all and any part of it permanently and easily accessible for me to do with as I wish.
And, if that was not bad enough… The written word is an excellent discipline which all too often is not applied the spoken word. Once in front of a microphone, the majority of us get carried away by the sound of our own voices so that what could be said in 200 words on paper gets padded up to 600 words when spoken.
And finally… Talking successfully and interestingly ‘to camera’ requires a combination of talent and skill which is absolutely not given to all of us – and certainly not to many of those who post promotional or ‘informative’ videos on the web. If you must use the medium, for God’s sake get a competent professional to make the presentation. Waffle combined with poor articulation, topped of with a selection of ‘eerrs’ and ‘ummms’ is enough to drive away even the keenest audience…
As for me – I have already reached for the gin bottle…
Even twenty years ago a doctor’s life was relatively simple. You learnt your medicine in medical school, you trained in hospital and then you went into practice using the knowledge and experience that you had gained. Research happened in medical institutions but the results took a relatively long time to filter down to general practice. Meanwhile, your patients believed what you told them and believed that you knew what you were talking about – and so did you. But, no more…
Simple and reliable solutions – such as antibiotics – are developing cracks and, while extraordinary strides are being made in some areas, a relatively recent spate of autoimmune disorders such as coeliac disease, diabetes, allergies, MS and Parkinson’s disease – not to mention cancer – are defying all attempts to understand, explain or ‘cure’ them.
But whereas, in the old days, such medical confusion would have remained within the medical community and been worried over and worked on far from the gaze of the patient, thanks to the arrival of the internet, any allergy sufferer, diabetic or coeliac can access all of the latest research at the click of a mouse.
In many ways this is excellent and, although care needs to be taken to sift the medical dross from the gold when surfing web, a more medically aware patient is likely to take a more positive and active role in their own healthcare – which has to be good. However, it also means that the medical research which would previously have been sifted and mulled in the privacy of the medical world and only released to the patient when some considered conclusions had been reached, is now accessible to all from the moment it is accepted for publication. The result is a lot of confusing information and advice. For example…
For many years now we have been warned about the dangers of excess exposure to the sun causing skin cancer, so we have all dutifully slathered ourselves and our children with Factor 10,000 sun cream lest a single cancer-causing ray get through. Yet we are now deluged with reports that suggest that a wide range of current health problems, from cancer to SAD, are related to vitamin D deficiency (see our articles and research reports) arising from our lack of exposure to sun, the most powerful source of Vitamin D.
A recent study, reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, reports that Professor Yitzhak Katz at Tel Aviv University has found that feeding infants cow’s milk formula very early in life appears to protect them from developing cow’s milk allergy later. Yet, for the last twenty years, mothers who were even remotely concerned about the possibility of cow’s milk allergy have been told to avoid cow’s milk based formula like the plague.
The on-going debate as to whether pregnant and breast-feeding mothers should avoid or deliberately eat peanuts if they want to prevent their child developing peanut allergy. This is a horrendously difficult question and one can only sympathise with the doctors struggling to make sense of conflicting evidence. But it does make it extraordinarily difficult for the patient who has now become party to these struggles. So the pregnant mum, turning to the Foods Standards Agency’s excellent allergy website for guidance, now has to plough through a page of Rumsfeldian advice which, if you did not know that it was genuine, you might seriously suspect of being a spoof.
This is not in any way to suggest that the provision of medical information on the internet is a bad thing – merely to reiterate the well known truism that with every solution comes a new problem…