Document Directory

14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Food Poisonings Traced to Bad Tuna Burgers
14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - DNA test allows M&S to trace bad produce
14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - US researchers seek vaccine on isolated island
08 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Study links overeating to breast cancer risk
07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Electricity in homes linked to child cancer
07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Leukaemia study finds unexplained home radiation
07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Farms and abattoirs blamed for food poisoning rise
04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Danger meat enters Britain
04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Leukaemia is linked to pylons, says watchdog
04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Pylons are cancer risk - official
04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - New hope in food bug fight
02 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Eating fruit halves the risk of an early death
28 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Bugs 'found in 16% of supermarket chicken'
25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - How a rural idyll turned into a hotbed of disease
25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Paying the price for cheaper food
25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Irrigation creates world water crisis
25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - The deadly cost of economy class
25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Olive oil no healthier than cooking oil
23 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Global disease on the rise
23 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Consumer Beef Purchases May Change
23 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Minister orders review of food industry safety
22 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Humans safe, food agency insists

14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Food Poisonings Traced to Bad Tuna Burgers

By Amy Norton

YAHOO--Wednesday 14 March 2001

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a world overburdened with high cholesterol and reports of Mad Cow disease, a tuna burger may seem a safer alternative to the traditional red-meat variety. But when the fish is handled improperly, a bite into a tuna burger can be a stomach-churning experience, according to a report in the March 14th issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Health officials traced 22 cases of food poisoning in North Carolina to contaminated tuna, mostly in burger form and nearly all from restaurant dishes. Although they could not zero in on which points between sea and burger bun the fish became tainted, poor temperature control is likely to blame, according to researchers led by Dr. Karen Becker of the Department of Health and Human Services in Rockville, Maryland.

Of the 22 people who were sickened by histamine, a toxin that can develop in tuna and some other fish, 18 had eaten tuna burgers. The four others had eaten either tuna salad or tuna filet. Tuna burgers are susceptible to contamination because they are prone to ``temperature abuse,'' Becker explained in an interview with Reuters Health.

The safest way to handle fish is to transport it from ``ice to stove,'' according to Becker. But tuna burgers may have gone through a wave of temperature changes before they get to people's plates. For instance, Becker said, the grinding process heats up the fish. But this hot-and-cold shift can begin on the boat, where newly caught fish may not be adequately chilled. At every step afterward--from trucking to markets to preparation at restaurants--inadequate temperature control can increase the chances that bacteria will thrive.

Becker's team found temperature-control violations in two of five restaurants investigated, which accounted for two thirds of the food poisonings.

Histamine poisoning takes hold quickly, sometimes within minutes, and causes symptoms such as burning around the mouth, headache, rash, stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea. In this study, there were no hospitalizations or serious complications.

In the one recent case that did not involve a restaurant, Becker noted, the woman bought a fish, then traveled for several hours with it in her car. For consumers, getting fish at least ``close to freezing'' quickly is vital, Becker stressed.

``It's not safe enough to keep it at temperatures cold enough for meat and poultry,'' she said.

On a larger scale, Becker and her colleagues write, investigators need a simple test that is sensitive enough to catch histamine contamination before it gets to the dinner table.

Between 1988 and 1997, histamine fish poisoning was reported in 145 outbreaks involving 811 persons from at least 20 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - DNA test allows M&S to trace bad produce

Andrew Clark

Guardian--Wednesday 14 March 2001

Marks & Spencer will be able to trace the individual animal responsible for each piece of meat on its supermarket shelves under a partnership deal with a hi-tech offshoot of Kent-based engineering firm Whatman.

Whatman has developed a method of storing the DNA from an animal or plant simply through a swab test with a piece of paper. M&S will be able to keep a library of DNA from all its suppliers' carcasses - or of the plants on which fruit and vegetables are grown.

By taking a second swab from any suspicious cut of meat, the retailer will be able to identify the source, check farm conditions and establish whether other products from the same supplier are affected.

Whatman's chief executive, David Smith, said: "We can check whether a piece of steak really is Aberdeen Angus, or whether it's from some old French cow."

M&S is responding to a series of food scares - ranging from Mad Cow disease to salmonella and foot-and-mouth disease. A spokeswoman said: "Consumers are becoming far more conscious about where their food comes from. If there is any reason to trace back supplies, this will help us."

The retail chain has not yet decided how widely to use the system. It will pay Whatman a small amount for each DNA test carried out.

Dr Smith said: "We'll do all the analysis for them, in return for a fee. M&S don't have many biochemists working for them in-house."

In addition to tracking unsatisfactory products, M&S may also use the technique for pinpointing suppliers of particularly good meat and vegetables, following positive feedback from customers. M&S's spokeswoman said: "If we know something's good, we can order more from the same supplier."

Whatman's method of storing DNA on paper means samples do not have to be refrigerated. It is more advanced than most tracking methods, which involve attaching barcodes to carcasses.

The firm's technology is used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to track suspects through blood or saliva samples.

Whatman said there was "strong demand" for DNA techniques in the human identity market, with other law enforcement organisations similarly interested.

The company originally manufactured paper, but has diversified into hi-tech filtration technologies.

Whatman's shares rose 2.5p to 212.5p. The company announced annual pre-tax profits of 33.9m, against 10.2m last year, helped by a gain of 22m on the sale of its industrial filtration and gas generation operations.

Underlying profits, from established businesses, were up 28%, with sales in Whatman's biosciences business rising 81% to 3.3m.

14 Mar 01 - Food Safety - US researchers seek vaccine on isolated island

From James Bone in Plum Island, New York

Times--Wednesday 14 March 2001

The best hope for a rapid-acting vaccine to halt the spread of foot-and-mouth disease may lie on a tiny speck of land off the furthest tip of New York's Long Island.

The research centre on Plum Island, 840 acres of low-lying woodland, is the sole laboratory in the United States permitted to experiment with the live foot-and-mouth virus. Only authorised personnel can board the small ferry for the 15-minute crossing to the Agriculture Department's Animal Disease Centre. Just to get into their labs scientists must undress completely, removing even their spectacles and wedding rings, and walk naked into the area of negative air pressure in which they work. It ensures that any pathogens are sucked inwards.

For a quarter of a century Marvin Grubman, the centre's leading research scientist, has been working on a new vaccine. Although a vaccine has existed since the late 1940s, it is made from a chemically inactivated virus, which could cause the disease. The Isle of Wight outbreak in 1981 is thought to have been caused by virus from France that was linked to poorly inactivated vaccine. As a result mass vaccination has not been attempted in Western Europe since 1992.

The current vaccine is also considered to be too slow-acting to stop the proliferation of the disease since vaccinated livestock, while unaffected, can still carry the virus. As a result countries respond to outbreaks by slaughtering infected herds.

In recent years, however, Dr Grubman and his colleague Peter Mason have been developing a new genetically engineered vaccine that cannot cause disease and which could quickly stop livestock "shedding", or communicating, the virus. "I think we are making great progress," Dr Grubman said."That's not to say we are going to have a product next week, or next year or in the next five years." Because the disease spreads so fast, the aim is to make a vaccine effective within two days, but seven days is the best result thus far.

The research is trying to create a vaccine that incorporates only the genetic code of the empty husk (capsid), of the virus. The hope is that vaccinated animals will recognise the capsid and produce antibodies to defend against it. Rival scientists in Spain and elsewhere are trying a similar approach, but Dr Grubman believes his team has gone one better by incorporating the genetic information for a key enzyme needed to disassemble the capsid.

At the insistence of Congress the foot-and-mouth lab was located on an island. Plum Island has its own water, sewage and electrical systems. All rubbish is incinerated or heat-treated and left in quarantine for seven days before being tested.

It is proof of the virulence of foot-and-mouth disease that, even with these stringent precautions there was an outbreak on the island in 1979, during building work. Luckily for US farmers, the disease did not spread to the mainland. The scientists on Plum Island have one further, natural, protection: the prevailing winds blow eastwards, towards the Atlantic.

08 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Study links overeating to breast cancer risk

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Independent--Thursday 8 March 2001

Overeating may increase a woman's chances of getting breast cancer, researchers suggest today. Going hungry and hard physical labour may be among the most effective defences against the disease.

Breast cancer is much more common among women in industrialised countries than in those with more traditional lifestyles in the developing world. Scientists believe the explanation lies in the balance between energy intake and energy expenditure.

The number of calories consumed and expended in exercise affects hormone levels in the body, which in turn influence breast cancer risk. Women who eat less and exercise more may therefore cut their risk of breast cancer.

Saliva taken from women in Bolivia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nepal, Poland and the United States showed that those with the highest hormone levels (oestrogen and progesterone) had the highest risk of breast cancer. Hormone levels were in turn linked with the calories consumed.

The rate of breast cancer in America is almost twice that in the Congo and the progesterone concentration in the women's saliva was almost 10 per cent higher. The higher hormone levels in the US were linked with the higher calorie intake, twice that in the Congo.

Hormone levels and breast cancer risk fell between these extremes in the other countries but were also closely linked.

Professor Grazyna Jasienska, of the Institute of Public Health at Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland, writing in the British Medical Journal, says there is an important link between the risk of breast cancer and nutritional status. "The strength of the relation strongly suggests that it is an important biological phenomenon."

The influence of diet on the reproductive cycle is well known. Starvation can suppress ovulation and menstruation while access to unlimited food, as in America, encourages frequent monthly cycles and a high hormone concentration. No link has been found between low hormone doses in contraceptive pills and breast cancer.

Professor Jasienska said: "The risk of breast cancer may be modified if changes are made in a woman's lifestyle. An increase in physical activity and decrease in caloric intake may thus lead to lower concentrations of progesterone and oestrogen, resulting in a reduction in breast cancer risk."

Asked if dieting could reduce the risk of breast cancer, she said: "It is a logical conclusion. They [dieters] would be reducing their levels of oestrogen and progesterone. Post-menopausal women who have gained in weight by several pounds since their twenties have an increased risk of breast cancer. In pre-menopausal women, some people think it is calories that are important while others think it is exercise [that affects the risk]."

Exercise was better than dieting. "Dieting increases the risk of osteoporosis whereas exercise strengthens the bones. We know that exercise lowers hormone levels - but we don't know how much exercise or what kind. That is what we need to find out."

07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Electricity in homes linked to child cancer

By Lorna Duckworth, Social Affairs Correspondent

Independent--Wednesday 7 March 2001

More than 120,000 homes in Britain have abnormally high levels of electromagnetic radiation that could cause a small risk of increased leukaemia in children, an independent panel of scientists has revealed.

The scientists, who were trying to establish whether there was a link between cancer and high voltage overhead power lines, discovered the radiation, though they could not explain it.

They said that 20 per cent of the homes with high-level magnetic fields were close to overhead power lines or pylons, while about 80 per cent were the result of the electricity supply into the homes, internal wiring, or - less likely - the heavy use of appliances.

The scientists, led by the epidemiologist Sir Richard Doll, concluded that "prolonged exposure to higher levels of power frequency magnetic fields is associated with a small risk of leukaemia in children".

But there was no clear evidence of a carcinogenic effect in adults and the "weak" link with childhood cancers was not strong enough to conclude that the magnetic fields caused leukaemia in children.

The panel, which advises the National Radiological Protection Board, the Government's radiation watchdog, said that out of 500 cases of childhood leukaemia a year, the risk from magnetic fields could add another two cases a year. Over two years, just one of the extra four cases would be related to overhead power lines. About five in 1,000 children may be exposed to a large enough dose to incur a risk of leukaemia, it said.

Sir Richard said he could establish no link between childhood leukaemia and power lines and said he would live near pylons himself. "I am not convinced there is an association, but some other epidemiologists might be," he said.

07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Leukaemia study finds unexplained home radiation

James Meek, science correspondent

Guardian--Wednesday 7 March 2001

Powerful, unexplained electromagnetic fields have been measured in homes that are nowhere near electricity pylons, scientists reported yesterday, throwing further confusion on possible links with cancer.

Long-term exposure to high levels of electromagnetic radiation, such as that found near pylons, is associated with a possible two extra cases of child leukaemia each year on average, 0.4% of the total in Britain, the report said.

But this did not prove that electromagnetic radiation caused the cancer, said Sir Richard Doll, head of the report team. Nor was there evidence that the extra cases existed. He would "bet money" on a statistical quirk being responsible for the association.

The team's most startling finding was that only four-fifths of the estimated 275,000 Britons exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation lived close to pylons; the rest might be experiencing the effects of their domestic wiring, or the local electricity distribution network.

"The discovery that most high exposures are away from power lines is new," Sir Richard said. "It was quite a surprise." The report was prepared for the national radiological protection board. Stuart Allen, an NRPB expert who acted as consultant for the inquiry team, said he suspected mains supply lines to homes were involved, but could not be sure.

Electromagnetic fields are measured in teslas. A high domestic exposure is consid ered to be an average 0.4 microteslas or more. Household appliances generate much higher levels, but only at very short distances. The combined effect of scores of electric motors and pumps in a home would not be enough to bring the average exposure to children up to 0.4 microteslas.

Electromagnetic radiation in the home could be measured with a handheld device, but the NRPB said that, while more research was needed, it saw no reason to change guidelines in the wake of the report. Like the recent report on mobile phone radiation, the Doll group did not do field work, but collated results of nine projects around the world. They found exposure to more than 0.4 microteslas was associated with a doubling of the risk of leukaemia before age 15 from about one in 1,400 to one in 700.

But the numbers of children involved were so tiny that it was hard to prove this was happening in Britain, and impossible as yet to prove that any increase was linked to electromagnetic fields.

Unlike ionising radiation - the kind produced by nuclear reactions - there was no sign that electromagnetic radiation caused mutations in human cells, which can lead to cancer.

Sir Richard said he himself did not believe it was dangerous for families to live near power lines, but conceded that a link between electromagnetic fields and cancer had not been ruled out. "We can't say these fields cause cancer, only that the possibility remains that intense and prolonged exposure can increase the risk of leukaemia in children," he said.

07 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Farms and abattoirs blamed for food poisoning rise


PA News--Wednesday 7 March 2001

Poor hygiene on farms and abattoirs rather than poor culinary skills is being blamed for rocketing numbers of food poisoning cases in summer.

Scientists say comparisons of temperatures with outbreaks of the illness have revealed a link between warm weather when the food was being produced and when it was eaten two to five weeks later.

Almost 90,000 cases of food poisoning were reported in England and Wales in 1999. Because most cases go unreported, some experts believe the true number could be 30 times as high.

"The consumer has always been blamed, but it looks like a bigger problem is the food production process," said Dr Ian Langford, environmental risk analyst from the University of East Anglia.

Dr Langford told the New Scientist that high temperatures stress intensively-reared animals even more than normal, making them susceptible to infection.

Bacteria grows faster in high temperatures meaning any unhygienic practices on farms or abattoirs have serious consequences, he added.

The widespread closure of abattoirs in recent years, already blamed for encouraging the spread of foot-and-mouth, is also a cause of increased food poisoning.

The animals were transported longer distances and it was not a good environment, said Dr Langford.

04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Danger meat enters Britain

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Rosie Waterhouse

Sunday Times--Sunday 4 March 2001

Meat from countries infected with foot and mouth is still being imported into Britain, 12 days after the disease was discovered.

The meat is coming from four countries that have suffered outbreaks in the past 12 months: Namibia, Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.

It was imported Argentine meat that was blamed for the last serious outbreak in Britain in 1967. Senior veterinary experts are calling for a review.

"Of course there is a risk factor if you import meat from countries infected with foot and mouth," said Mac Johnson, a professor at the Royal Veterinary College in London.

The government's admission over the imports came as the number of confirmed cases in Britain rose to 52, including one in Northern Ireland. Nick Brown, the agriculture minister, also announced an inquiry into farming practices relating to disease control.

Belgium suffered a foot and mouth scare yesterday after signs of the disease were detected in pigs imported from Britain at a farm near Diksmuide in the southwest of the country. More than 300 animals were slaughtered while officials awaited the results of tests. If confirmed it will be the first case in continental Europe since the British outbreak.

France, which is investigating its own first possible case among sheep in the Loire valley, closed its border to Belgian livestock

The British government banned exports of meat and milk products when the first case of the disease was confirmed on February 20.

This weekend officials confirmed that it is allowing imports from four countries which have had outbreaks in the past year; 300 suspected cases were reported in Argentina last week and Brazil, Uruguay and Namibia have also had cases recently. Foot and mouth is endemic in parts of South Africa; an outbreak was confirmed last September, but Britain did not ban imports until January 5.

Vets said extra meat supplies from foreign sources, including countries with the disease, are being used instead of British meat.

The agriculture ministry said responsibility for approving countries from which it was safe to export meat lay with the European Union.

There was anger this weekend among farmers who claimed meat wholesalers were offering less money for livestock, even though some supermarkets were raising meat prices.

04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Leukaemia is linked to pylons, says watchdog

By Lorna Duckworth, Social Affairs Correspondent

Independent--Sunday 4 March 2001

Children living near power lines run an increased risk of developing leukaemia, a new study indicates.

Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who established the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1960s, is expected to announce at a press conference tomorrow that there is evidence to connect electromagnetic fields and the incidence of cancer.

It will be the first time that government advisers have acknowledged an association between cancer and high-voltage power lines. But they will say more research is needed before any causal link can be proved.

Last night one source said: "There is a weak association, but that doesn't necessarily mean there is a causal link between electromagnetic fields and childhood leukaemia."

There have long been fears that the magnetic fields around electricity cables can cause cancers in children and adults living near by. The controversy has been stoked by a series of conflicting studies in the past few years.

Until now, Sir Richard has said the suspicions are unfounded. But yesterday Professor Colin Blakemore, a member of the advisory group headed by Sir Richard, said a link now had to be recognised and investigated further to see if planning rules had to be changed.

"The evidence is that there is a slightly elevated risk of cancer near to power lines. We are going to acknowledge that evidence exists indicating an association between power lines and cancer," Professor Blakemore was reported as saying.

Sir Richard is chairman of a scientific panel which advises the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPD), the Government's radiation watchdog. The panel's report, which was requested by the Government, has been compiled following months of analysis of the incidence of cancer and exposure to electromagnetic fields.

The study is expected to say that out of 500 children who developed leukaemia, two cases were linked to electromagnetic radiation. But out of these two cases, there was an 80 per cent chance that the cancer was associated with high levels of electricity already around the home and a 20 per cent chance it could be attributed to pylons. That is equivalent to one case of childhood leukaemia every two years being associated with power lines.

Last night a Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The report suggests that two of the 500 new cases of child leukaemia a year could be associated with high levels of electromagnetic fields, not all of which are due to power lines.

"We have already commissioned further research. We welcome this new report and will study the outcomes in depth as well as any recommendations made by the NRPD."

More than 23,000 homes in Britain have been built under or near power lines and the official acknowledgement of a weak link will reignite campaigns on behalf of thousands of families.

Professor Denis Henshawof the University of Bristol, who says his own research supports a link between electricity power lines and cancers in all ages, said: "This appears to be a profound change in the official position.

"This report could be just the tip of the iceberg. The problem could be a lot wider than just childhood leukaemia."

04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Pylons are cancer risk - official

Jonathan Leake Science Editor

Sunday Times--Sunday 4 March 2001

High voltage power cables have been officially linked to cancer for the first time. A study shows that children living near them run a small but significant increased risk of falling victim to the disease.

Sir Richard Doll, the epidemiologist who discovered the link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1960s, will this week warn that children living near electricity power lines are at an increased risk from leukaemia.

He is also expected to say that there may be a link with adult cancers but that this is unproven. His work was commissioned by the National Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), the government's radiation watchdog.

Doll is chairman of its Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation (Agnir). He has spent months analysing the results of studies on cancer among people living near power cables.

It is the first time a British government body has accepted the link between cancer and power lines.

It raises the possibility of multi-million-pound claims by families who have blamed their children's illnesses on the cables. It could also reopen campaigns by local groups to have power lines buried underground or moved away from homes.

Professor Colin Blakemore, a member of Doll's group, said: "The evidence is that there is a slightly elevated risk of cancer near to power lines. We are going to acknowledge that evidence exists indicating an association between power lines and cancer."

Blakemore said the mechanism was uncertain but could be due to the high voltage lines emitting charged particles called ions which may then be inhaled.

Blakemore added: "It's important to acknowledge that there is a link and we need to do more research on it. Putting power lines underground would be a possibility. The cost would be enormous if we did this to existing power lines, but it is something that we may have to take into account for future development and especially new housing."

Doll's report will emphasise that more research is needed to confirm the mechanism. Previous studies - which have been considered by Doll's expert committee - have suggested that tens of thousands of people in Britain live close enough to power lines to be affected by strong electromagnetic fields.

The analysis in the new report suggests that a small number of children each year could develop cancer.

The link between overhead power lines and cancer was first made in America in 1979. By 1990 several independent British studies had also suggested that electromagnetic fields could damage health. However, successive reports ruled out the connection and legal action by sufferers against electricity companies was abandoned.

The NRPB oversees safety research and regulation for all kinds of radiation. It has always taken a cautious approach to claims that power lines affect health, but this weekend insiders were acknowledging that it may have to revise its policies.

Martyn Day, the solicitor who in the mid-1990s pursued unsuccessful claims on behalf of leukaemia victims, believes that the findings could enable legal action to reopen.

"This is probably the most significant step forward for 10 years," he said. "I was forced to back off, pack away the files and put them into archives, but this may well mean I will start to dust them off once more."

The Electricity Association, which represents many of Britain's power generators and distributors, said there was no concrete evidence that the electric and magnetic fields generated by power lines caused cancer. "Any suggestion of a health risk, however weak, needs to be taken seriously," it added.

04 Mar 01 - Food Safety - New hope in food bug fight


PA News--Sunday 4 March 2001

Scientists may have made a breakthrough in the fight against a life-threatening food bug.

Experts in the US say the discovery could help in the battle against E.coli O157 , which claimed the lives of 21 pensioners in Lanarkshire, Scotland.

A British taskforce was set up following the outbreak, which stemmed from meat sold by Wishaw butcher John Barr.

Now scientists at the University of Georgia's Centre for Food Safety, working alongside the British group, claim to have discovered why only 25% of cattle carry the E.coli bug, while the rest are kept virus-free by an unknown bacteria.

In tests, they have used the healthy bacteria to kill the O157 virus and say they have been able to eradicate 90% of cases inside two weeks.

Dr Michael Doyle, who led the University of Georgia research, told the Sunday Express their experiments had been a success.

He said: "We have isolated a friendly bacteria from cattle that do not carry E.coli which attacks and kills O157.

"After two weeks the friendly bacteria out-compete the O157 and eliminate it from the animal."

Professor Bill Reilly, head of the British taskforce, said: "This has been tried and tested with salmonella in chicken by putting in the 'good guy' bacteria, with some success.

"It is a path for the future and we will have to work out how we can put it into commercial practice."

02 Mar 01 - Food Safety - Eating fruit halves the risk of an early death

By Jeremy Laurance, Health Editor

Independent--Friday 2 March 2001

An apple a day could cut the risk of a premature death by 20 per cent, researchers have found. Adding an orange and a banana may reduce the risk by as much as half.

Scientists who measured the level of vitamin C in the blood of almost 20,000 men and women found that those who ate the most fruit and vegetables had half the risk of dying early from any cause compared with those who ate the least.

The study, done over four years in Norfolk, is published in The Lancet today. The results show one of the biggest effects of a small change in diet ever recorded and suggest there could be important public health gains if people ate more fruit and vegetables. It was unable to show if there was any benefit from taking vitamin supplements, whose effect "remains to be seen", the researchers say.

On Wednesday, the Government rolled out its scheme to give every child of four to six years old a free piece of fruit a day to help establish healthy eating patterns early in their lives.

Vitamin C - ascorbic acid - is a powerful anti-oxidant that is known to play a part in many biological processes, including scavenging free radicals, which are thought to cause athero-sclerosis (the furring of the arteries that leads to heart disease). It is also vital for the synthesis of hormones and collagen (the protein that is the main structural component of many parts of the body), in blood clotting and in protecting fat membranes that could be important in chronic disease.

Professor Kay-Tee Khaw and colleagues from the clinical gerontology unit at Cambridge University based their research on a group of 30,000 men and women in Norfolk selected for a Europe-wide investigation of the causes of heart disease. Of these, 19,496 completed a questionnaire about their health and lifestyle and had the level of ascorbic acid in their blood measured.

The daily quantity of fruit and vegetables eaten, based on blood levels of vitamin C, ranged for men from a small apple (75 grams of fruit) and a serving of carrots (70 grams of vegetables) in the lowest group to two apples (192 grams of fruit) and a serving of carrots with a few sprouts (117 grams of vegetables) in the highest.

For women the range was from a large apple (108 grams of fruit) and a serving of carrots (77 grams of vegetables) in the lowest group to two large apples (227 grams of fruit) and a serving of carrots with one of sprouts (118 grams of vegetables) in the highest group.

Deaths from heart attacks and strokes were 60-70 per cent lower in both men and women with the highest levels of vitamin C but deaths from cancer were lower only in men, by about half. The researchers suggest vitamin C may only protect against certain types of cancer, such as lung and prostate, which are more common in men.

Previous research on the effects of vitamin C has produced conflicting results. A 12-year US study published in 2000 found a lower death rate in men with high intake of vitamin C but not in women.

However, the researchers conclude that "small and feasible shifts within the normal population intake [of fruit and vegetables] could have a substantial effect on mortality risk".

They add: "Our findings suggest that an increase in dietary intake of foods rich in ascorbic acid might have benefits for cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality in men and women and add to the large amount of evidence that lends support to the health benefits of fruit and vegetable intake."

28 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Bugs 'found in 16% of supermarket chicken'

Felicity Lawrence

Guardian--Wednesday 28 February 2001

Food poisoning bugs are rife in chickens, with almost one in six bought from supermarkets a potential food risk, according to a report from the Consumers' Association.

A survey published today in Which? magazine says that tests on more than 300 fresh raw chickens and chicken pieces found 16% containing unwelcome bacteria, including salmonella. The tests used are not the most sensitive and may well underestimate the scale of the problem.

Which? went undercover to a slaughterhouse to investigate the causes, and found live chickens in crates stacked on top of each other.

"These crates were made of plastic mesh with spaces large enough for faeces to drop through on to the birds below and spread bacteria. After being killed the birds were dunked in a scalding tank to make their feathers easier to remove. The water was changed only once a day. Many thousands of dead chickens went through it. Brown scum floated on the top - the water was cool enough for salmonella and campylobacter [the commonest form of food poisoning bacteria] to live in."

The magazine said that in the area where birds were cut into pieces, staff were handling chickens without cleaning their gloves. "Our source told us he had seen a member of staff return to his job still wearing an apron which had trailed in a urinal when he visited the lavatory. "Chickens left over after the firm had sent out the day's orders were rewrapped the next day with a new sell-by date," a practice which a Meat Hygiene Service source said he feared went on at other slaughterhouses. "Chickens aren't born with salmonella or campylobacter, they catch it," the association said. "This can happen at any stage in the food chain. On the farm infection can spread if chickens are confined in small spaces."

In the Which? tests, chicken from Tesco was found to be contaminated the least, in 6% of cases. Sainsbury's, at 22%, and Safeway, at 21%, were the worst.

25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - How a rural idyll turned into a hotbed of disease

Anthony Browne and Paul Harris

Observer--Sunday 25 February 2001

The foot and mouth disaster throws the whole of Britain's livestock farming practices into question

It was just after 11am yesterday when the heavy oak door of a grey central London building swung open to let three grim-faced figures scuttle inside. The men from the ministry had arrived, bringing news from the frontline of the battle against foot and mouth disease.

In a sparsely furnished room on the eighth floor of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food headquarters, they offered their prognosis.

It was bad. Hundreds of farms remained sealed off to the outside world; livestock markets would stay shut for at least a week and the slaughter of animals had begun on eight farms. But Jim Scudamore, the chief veterinary surgeon, Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown and Baroness Hayman, a junior Minister, had one snippet of good news: no fresh outbreaks of the disease had been reported.

They spoke as the grim preparations continued at Ronald and Bobby Waugh's Burnside Farm in Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland to slaughter their pigs. It was here the disease is thought to have first emerged. In silence, locals watched as lorries carrying kindling and coal trundled through the rusty gates. In a nearby field, JCB diggers gouged huge holes in the earth.

They were digging graves. In the farm's holding sheds vets had used specially-adapted guns to shoot the animals in the head before their bodies were taken to the pits for burning. The fires will be lit today.

The pigs' deaths are no more horrific that their lives, according to reports of conditions at Burnside Farm. Vets declared it was the perfect breeding ground for the disease. Rotting pig carcasses had been left with live pigs. Pieces of raw meat were left lying about the farm. The sows gave birth among other pigs, and grown pigs were eating piglets.

It took only days for the microscopic virus to bring the countryside to a halt. The transport of all livestock and meat have been banned and a dozen farms put in quarantine. Hunting has been stopped, horse racing banned, cattle markets closed.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has shut all its reserves, and zoos including Whipsnade have closed their gates. Even the Army has been brought to a halt, suspending military exercises on rural land. Supermarkets now fear that with food supplies disrupted, panic buying will set in.

The scale of the clampdown has nothing to do with the severity of the disease - it is almost entirely harmless to humans, and although it can be fatal to cloven-hooved animals, including pigs, goats and cattle, it usually causes blistering around the foot and mouth before the animal recovers. The reason for the alarm is the devastation the disease can cause to the farming industry and the economy. Animals suffering from foot and mouth lose their appetite, and meat production falls sharply. It is so infectious the entire national herd could succumb within days.

The government believes the measures taken have contained the disease, but the long-term impact is already becoming clear. The crisis has yet again exposed the appalling conditions of animals on some farms, and brought to public attention the modern farming practices that have brought us cheap food... and an endless round of health scares from BSE to swine fever to E coli and salmonella.

The outbreak has already exposed the frighteningly lax inspections of farms and the meat trade, and the consequences of long distance transport of food. Even though foot and mouth presents no threat to human health, it will add further momentum to demands for more naturally produced foods.

That squalid conditions existed at Heddon-on-the-Wall was widely known. Locals often complained about it. Last year Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norwich sent a team to inspect it. Prevented from getting in, they saw enough from the gate to call in the RSPCA.

Acting on their advice, trading standards inspectors who visited the farm with MAFF officials on 22 December are thought to have wanted to prosecute. But MAFF officials simply told the Waughs to pull their socks up. A month later a further inspection also failed to spark action. The inspection last week by a vet revealed that the pigs were clearly suffering from foot and mouth, and had been for some time.

The farmers said they had not noticed: 'I honestly hadn't seen anything wrong with any of my pigs in the last few weeks,' said Robert Waugh.

But while it was incubating on his farm, the disease spread to Cheal Meats Abattoir in Essex, where the Northumberland pigs had been sent for slaughter. It has now spread to at least one other farm in Northumberland, and three sites near the abattoir. Dozens of farms are being investigated and hundreds of animals slaughtered and burned.

Animals are routinely sent from one end of the country to the other for slaughter, the result of a decline in the number of abattoirs. Almost two-thirds of abattoirs have closed in the last 10 years - down from 1000 to 340 - because of increased costs of inspection after the BSE crisis.

Ewan Cameron, chairman of the Countryside Agency, said every market town should have an abattoir, a call taken up by Tories and Liberal Democrats. James Pavitt of the National Association of Farmers Markets said: 'It shows the need for more local abattoirs and less transportation, and the promotion of local food.'

The trade in meat is global, and inspection can be lax. Pork and beef is imported from countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Zimbabwe and South Africa, all of which have had foot and mouth outbreaks in the past year. Other meat has been imported from Japan and Thailand which had serious outbreaks of the strain that is now infecting Britain.

When the meat arrives in Britain it is rarely inspected, and certainly not for foot and mouth disease. Harriett Kimbell, a director of the Consumers Association and adviser to the Government on BSE, said: 'This is an accident that has been waiting to happen . Anything could be coming in.'

Pressure to produce cheap and plentiful meat can lead to livestock being kept in conditions that those outside farming consider horrendous. The Heddon-on-the-Wall farm may have been notorious in its area, but most pigs are kept in poor conditions. Almost all bacon and sausages sold in Britain come from industrially produced pigs, who spend their lives cramped in dimly-lit sheds. They rarely have straw as bedding, and are kept on floors that are either concrete, or slatted so that their manure can drop out. The pigs get so distressed they start biting each other's tails, which are now routinely docked to prevent this.

Chickens are often kept in even worse condition than pigs. Up to 80,000 hens are kept cramped in dark barns, starved of fresh air and light. They are bred to grow so fast that they often have splayed legs, unable to support their unnaturally swollen bodies, and many suffer heart failure. To stop them pecking each other, their beaks are clipped, and they are fed antibiotics to stop disease spreading. The use of antibiotics in agriculture has risen 15-fold in 30 years, and now more antibiotics are used on farm animals than on people .

Selectively-bred dairy cows now produce 50 litres of milk a day, 10 times what a calf needs. Although sheep are generally reared traditionally on hillsides, they are transported long distances in large numbers. Live export of animals - the subject of vigorous campaigning a few years ago - has doubled since the protests. Evading bans by regular ferry companies, farmers now charter their own boats, increasing the number of animals exported from a low of 400,000 to more than a million.

The result of all this is that food poisoning in Britain has been growing rapidly . Since the early Eighties, reported cases of food poisoning have risen sevenfold to more than 100,000 a year. Peter Stevenson, political director of the lobby group Compassion in World Farming, said: 'We will continue to have these diseases so long as we have industrialised farming. Animals are kept in such cramped and squalid conditions it is hardly surprising they harbour disease, and once an animal is infected it spreads like wildfire.'

The outbreak will increase public concern by once again putting the spotlight on farming techniques. 'Every crisis adds up in the public consciousness, and they realise there are new ways of eating,' said Samantha Calvert of the Vegetarian Society. 'The current crisis will probably affect how people feel about food - it will lead to more vegetarians.'

Concerns about animal welfare have also led the Government to introduce other clampdowns on farming techniques. Veal crates were banned in 1990, and sow stalls for pigs were banned two years ago. Battery cages for chickens will be banned by 2012.

But the public are several steps ahead of the Government. Rather than wait for the farmer-friendly Minister of Agriculture Fisheries and Food to do anything, consumers are taking matters into their own hands. The comprehensive rejection of genetically modified foods shows just how passionate the British are on the issue, and the demand for more 'natural' foods is having far more widespread effects.

The desire to buy locally-produced food has seen an extraordinary renaissance in the last few years. It has fuelled an explosion in the number of farmers' markets, where food is sold by the farmer, a member of the family, or someone involved in production direct to the customer. Whereas there was just one farmers' market in 1997 there were 100 a year ago, and 300 at the beginning of this year. Last Christmas, more than half a million people got their festive food from farmers' markets.

Demand for organic food is growing by about 40 per cent a year, and 'eating organic' is becoming far more mainstream. When Planet Organic launched the concept of an organic supermarket in the UK in 1995 it was seen as of interest only to cranks. 'When I first had men in suits in here I thought they were spies - and some of them were,' said Renee Elliott, the founder. 'Now men in suits shop here all the time.'

In 1999 the supermarkets jumped on board. Tesco now has over 900 organic products, with an organic version of all its main lines, from pizza to wine. It also launched a range of 100 different 'Freedom Foods' of meat and animal products, recommended by the RSPCA for its humane production methods.

Free range eggs now account for about 20 per cent of all those sold in the UK, and they are now the only ones sold by Marks & Spencer. And nothing shows the power of the trend towards natural foods more strongly than the decision by McDonalds in the UK to ensure that at least 90 per cent of the eggs it uses are free range.

The move to more naturally produced food can only get a further boost as smoke from the piles of burning pig and cow carcasses afflicts the country.

'We are still clinging to an agricultural system invented 50 years ago. It is time to move on. I have no doubt that if we abandoned factory farming we would address a lot of these food issues,' predicted Stevenson.

25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Paying the price for cheaper food

Matthew Fort

Observer--Sunday 25 February 2001

The state of Britain's abattoirs represents a failed quest to produce ever cheaper food

Once again British farming is in a state of shock . Once again consumers are in a state of bewilderment. Once again consumers are being asked to pay the price for a system of agriculture and food production which, time after time, has shown itself to be deeply flawed.

We have had, and continue to have, listeria , salmonella , BSE , E. coli , swine fever and infectious anaemia in farmed salmon. We now have foot-and-mouth for the first time since 1981. And yet the root cause of each of these disasters is the same: the policy that we must produce as much food as we can, as cheaply as we can.

So ingrained has the concept of cheap food become that it seems impossible now to eradicate it from the political process, institutional planning and the public mind. Yet no one seems to stop to count the true cost of 'cheap food'.

For a number of years the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has been following a covert policy of closing down 'red meat' abattoirs. The theory was that there were too many of them to be viable - and it was true that many of them were badly run.

Under the guise of implementing EU regulations, MAFF set about closing the smaller ones, and centralising the slaughter of animals in large units. The logic behind this had little to do with the EU - it would have been easy to bring the smaller abattoirs up to standard over a reasonable period - and much to do with economies of scale.

Never mind that animals would become more stressed because they would have to travel greater distances to be slaughtered. Never mind the greater chances of infectivity in the case of an outbreak of disease. The costs of slaughter would be reduced. Meat would be cheaper. The public would be appeased.

So, between 1985 and 2000, the number of abattoirs fell from 1,022 to 387 . Over the same period, the average number of animals killed each week has risen from 13,313 per abattoir to 32,729 . The consequences of this policy have been made evident by the course of the latest outbreak of foot-and-mouth. When the first case was identified, the focus of investigation fell on Cheale Meats in Little Warley, Essex. It has since been established that more than 600 farms, from as far away as Northumberland, Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Isle of Wight, Northern Ireland and Scotland, send their meat there.

Given the fact that the foot-and-mouth virus is so highly contagious and can be transmitted by living animals or in the carcases of dead ones, it is easy to see the potential for contamination. It may well turn out, of course, that the true source of the outbreak is traced to meat imported from another part of the world - all in the name of cheap food - and so we can pass the buck. But we have to accept the blame ourselves because we have institutionalised the whole notion of cheap food.

The original reasons behind the cheap food policy, conceived in the wake of World War II, may have been worthy, but the case for change is now overwhelming. The drive for cheap food has been behind every major food catastrophe of the past decade .

BSE was caused by the use of ground-up animals for feed because they were a cheap form of protein. Salmonella is endemic in chickens and their eggs because the broiler system delivers cheaper poultry products. E. coli is a by-product of intensive livestock practices. ISA in salmon is caused by the broiler system being applied to fish.

The consequences for the consumers, and the active part we play in the perpetuation of the policy, are equally dire - vCJD, food poisoning and obesity. We love cheap food. We binge on it. Diet-related diseases kill more people in the West than any other cause. We eat too much, diet too much, worry too much about our figures. Yet still we advocate keeping food as cheap as possible.

Instead of promising to perpetuate the discredited policies which have reaped such bitter harvests, the Government should embark on a policy of de-intensifying agriculture, scrapping false economies of scale and ensuring that a realistic price is charged for the results.

And we, as consumers, must accept our responsibilities and be prepared to pay for food that is produced up to a quality, not down to a price. Until we are, the outbreaks of foot and mouth, BSE, E. coli and their like will continue.

25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - Irrigation creates world water crisis

Robin McKie, science editor

Observer--Sunday 25 February 2001

More than a billion people lack access to clean water, despite 10 years of intense efforts by aid agencies to avert droughts and pollution.

An investigation by the World Health Organisation has revealed that tens of thousands of children are dying every day of thirst or from diseases triggered by infected or poisoned water.

Alarmingly, the report - Water for Health: Taking Charge - shows that attempts to improve irrigation and extraction have worsened the problems and increased suffering.

In Bangladesh, deep wells were drilled to provide alternative sources to contaminated surface waters but these supplies have been found to be poisoned with arsenic. A tenth of those who drank such water are now doomed to die, say doctors.

In Egypt and Ghana, man-made lakes have been infected with worms that spread bilharzia to people working in nearby fields. The disease, known also as schistosomiasis, can cause seizures, paralysis and liver, lung and bladder damage.

In other countries, smaller dam projects have created bodies of water in which mosquitoes thrive. In Ethiopia, this has led to a sevenfold increase in malaria cases.

'There is, unfortunately, a mismatch between those supplying water and those trying to ensure the health of those living near such schemes,' said Dr Jamie Bartram, co-ordinator of the WHO's water, sanitation and health programme. 'Often there is an improvement in average living conditions when a new dam or irrigation scheme is opened, but that is confined to the people living down stream. Those living beside these projects often have their lives or health made much worse.'

The WHO report, to be published next month says global warming will exacerbate the situation. 'The greenhouse effect is already bringing more extreme weather episodes and that means more droughts and more outbreaks of serious flooding,' said Bartram.

With flooding, drinking supplies get contaminated with sewage and people can no longer consume unpolluted water. Epidemics of disease, such as cholera, then break out.

Water's critical importance is spelled out in the current issue of Scientific American by Peter Gleick, a leading expert on the subject. He says Earth can now sustain its six billion inhabitants only by exploiting artificial irrigation systems, which nourish 40 per cent of the planet's agriculture, and hydro-electric plants generating 20 per cent of its electricity.

However, these projects often jeopardise the lives of those they are meant to help.

25 Feb 01 - Food Safety - The deadly cost of economy class

By Trevor Gardiner

Independent--Sunday 25 February 2001

Deep Vein Thrombosis is thought to kill 2,000 British aeroplane passengers each year. Now major airlines are facing accusations of negligence for not telling us about the risks

Heightened concern about thrombosis risks on flights, following the death last October of 28-year-old Emma Christofferson after a Qantas flight from Australia to London, has prompted a rush of prospective claims of negligence against airlines.

Ms Christofferson, a fit and active non-smoker, collapsed in the arrivals hall at Heathrow and died before reaching hospital. She had been suffering from Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a condition now commonly referred to as "economy-class syndrome", because of its reputation for affecting passengers sitting in cramped airline seats.

DVT involves the formation of a blood clot in the leg. It can sometimes occur on long flights where passengers are immobile and often slightly dehydrated from breathing dry re-circulated air - factors which can encourage DVT to develop. DVT can be dangerous and will often require hospital treatment. Worse, though, is the onset of pulmonary embolism, where the clot moves to the lung. This can happen when the person starts moving again after a period of inactivity. It can be instantly fatal.

In Australia, lawyers at Slater and Gordon are currently working on 2,500 potential cases against a number of airlines. Passengers stricken with DVT, and relatives of those who had died after flights, contacted the firm when media coverage of the condition intensified towards the end of last year.

Brendan Sydes, a partner at the firm, said that the cases are currently at the enquiry stage and that the firm is examining the best legal strategy to follow.

"There has been no formal contact with the airlines yet, so we have not had a reaction, but they seem to be keeping a low profile," says Mr Sydes. "With such a large number of cases, it involves a wide range of international airlines, including companies such as Qantas and British Airways."

In the UK, law firms are at a similar stage in the preparation of cases, with enquiries increasing rapidly over recent months.

Gerda Goldinger at Collins in Watford, a law firm with particular expertise in personal injury and transport litigation, says that they have a large number of clients who have developed DVT on flights and are now planning legal action.