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.
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…
Doctors are, quite rightly, encouraged to continue learning their trade and keeping up with modern developments long after they have qualified. Indeed, in some states in the US doctors are required to take continuing education courses in order to retain their medical licenses.
However, the job has been made much easier over the last few decades by pharmaceutical and medical device companies who have offered doctors on-going education courses, usually for free and often in exotic locations and luxury hotels. Although these courses are, theoretically, regulated so that the companies cannot influence the participants, many doctors (and patients) are sceptical and believe that a conflict of interest is inevitable, even when it is not overt. Even when companies never mention the drugs or devices that they produce, by focusing attention onthe conditions for which their products are made, they ‘hype up’ the conditions and the likelihood that the doctor may use their product.
However, no longer prepared to accept the situation, a Harvard Medical School neurologist, Dr Martin Samuels, has now stated a new company, Lighthouse Learning, which will provide entirely independent continuing education to doctors across the US, without using any industry funding.
For a more detailed discussion of the problem and the new service, see an interesting article in the Boston Globe.
Well, the axe has now fallen and the government has announced its decision over the future of the Food Standards Agency. (If you are not up to speed on the background, click here.)
As axes go, it is a pretty spongy one as they propose to retain 2,000 of the current 2,100 jobs (not much dent in the deficit there), but, as ever, it is the nuanced phrases which count.
The ministerial statement ‘recognises’ the important role of the Food Standards Agency in England, which will continue to be responsible for food safety. The Food Standards Agency will remain a non ministerial department reporting to Parliament through Health ministers’ – but not, as it was intended to be, an independent agency specifically exempt from ministerial oversight – and therefore, influence.
The Department of Health press release reveals the underlying agenda even more clearly:
‘Nutrition policy will be transferred to the Department of Health. This includes front of pack nutrition labelling, such as Guideline Daily Amounts. (The final sod falls on the grave of consumer-friendly traffic light nutrition labelling.)
The transfer of nutrition policy into the Department of Health directly contributes to the Governmentâ€Ÿs plans for public health. In the long-term, bringing policies “in houseâ€Ÿ will enable better services to be created and clearer information to be given to the public. (And ensure that the agency does not go round espousing projects, such as consumer-friendly traffic light nutrition labelling, which the food industry does not like.)
The Department of Health will, as a result, be able to press industry to contribute more on improving the health of the nation. This includes reformulation, and provision of nutrition information in supermarkets and restaurants. (Hmmm…)
The one bright spot for food allergic people is that food allergy is seen not only to be part of food safety (a non controversial area) but is relatively non-controversial in itself. Moreover, the growth of the freefrom food industry means that a growing section of the food industry has an active interest in freefrom food and allergy, so, keep your fingers crossed, the Food Allergy Branch of the FSA may be left relatively untouched to continue its good works.
How has peanut allergy crept up on 21st century children? In 1997 there were 416,000 peanut allergic children in the USA; in 2009 there were 4.5 million. This is a thousand-fold increase in a mere 12 years…. And the numbers are still rising.
Rising almost as fast is the number of theories as to what may be causing this explosion but none, until the publication of Heather Fraser’s History of the Peanut Allergy Epidemic, offered a credible explanation for this phenomenon.
Her theory, in essence, runs as follows:
Injection is a very efficient way to induce anaphylaxis. Vaccinations have, since the early 20th century, been given by injection. Since the end of WWII most vaccinations have contained a significant amount of refined peanut oil.
Peanuts are notoriously allergenic and despite claims to the contrary, refining cannot entirely remove all peanut protein from peanut oil.From the end of WWII to the late 1980s there was a gradual rise the in the number of peanut allergic children. In the late 1980s, in the US, the vaccination programme was massively extended with the aim of ensuring that 90% of pre-schoolchildren were vaccinated by the year 2000. This programme was adopted by the WHO and followed in all countries influenced by WHO guidelines.In order to reach their 90% target children were vaccinated younger and younger (from around two years down to within a few days of birth) Vaccines to more and more conditions (from 10 up to 29) were deemed to be necessary.
In order to make administration easier and increase compliance vaccines were combined into multiple doses of up to five vaccines in one syringe. The start of the epidemic rise in peanut allergy coincides almost exactly with the ramping up of the vaccination programme in the late 1980s.
Ergo – the peanut allergy epidemic among children has been caused by the use of peanut oil in vaccinations and by the massively increased vaccine programme which has been applied to children in the Western world from early 1990s onwards.
Now, logical and credible though this explanation may seem to you and me, there are a very great number of people to whom, whether or not it is logical and sensible, it will certainly not be acceptable:
The vaccine manufacturers who have made billions out of the expanded vaccination programme.
The US and other governments who have made infant vaccination a central plank Â of their healthcare programmes
Pharmaceutical companies and the food industry who have made more billions out of the allergy medications and freefrom foods spawned by the allergy epidemic
All of the above if the US Vaccine Injury Compensation Programme, which effectively prevents anyone suing vaccine manufacturers for damage caused by vaccinations, were to be repealed opening the doors to a flood of class actions by the parents of peanut allergic children.
But, as the numbers keep rising, we need a more clear headed approach to the problem than endless debate as to whether the peanuts should be boiled or roasted and whether pregnant women should avoid peanuts or eat plenty of them. How many more families have to subjected to the horror of living a life in which, at any moment, their child could be killed, in a matter of minutes, by a random contact with peanut dust?
And what about the fallout in the rest of society?
OK, peanut farmers may have benefitted from the wholesale use of peanut oil in vaccines but they are definitely suffering now and will suffer a good deal more if peanuts are banned from aeroplanes as is currently being discussed in the USA.
And how about schools, restaurants, cafes, shops, trains, buses and all the other many public places where people and food meet?
Schools have been thrown into turmoil by the growth in all allergy, but especially peanut allergy. Staff have needed extra training, kitchens have been turned upside down, children have had that staple of the lunch box, the peanut butter sandwich, banned and everyone within the school lives in permanent fear of child having an allergic reaction.
Meanwhile policy committees, school governors, newspapers, radio shows, blogs and now airlines agonise over how to deal with allergenic foods such as peanuts. Should they be banned entirely? Should allergy sufferers just learn to live with their allergies? Is there a half way house?
Which raises the whole philosophical problem of to what extent the majority should be required to adapt their life styles to accommodate the minority, especially when that minority find themselves in a disadvantaged situation through no fault of their own.
Organisations such as the Anaphylaxis Campaign take, what seems to me to be a very rational and sensible standpoint: there is no way that the world can be made peanut-free to accommodate peanut allergy sufferers so the latter must learn to live with the risk – but the risk should be minimised wherever possible. So all foods should be comprehensively labelled, everyone should know about and understand the risks run by those who are allergic and every effort should be made by food producers and handlers to avoid contamination, but, when all is said and done, it is the allergic person who has to take responsibility for their own safety, monitor their own food intake and ensure that they have their medication available and are able to use it.
Easy to say – but hard to live with. How much better if the riddle could be solved – maybe Heather Fraser just has – and the whole horrible mess cleaned up….