Blood test to show whether Britain faces nvCJD epidemic
Incredible French disclosures: bovine brain injections
Making vaccines from BSE sourcing: the manufacturers' right to secrecy
Americans clueless on food safety
Genetically modified food compared to nuclear power plant -- Wall Street
Federal regulators issue blanket reassurances at request of industry
CDC in denial over triple stumble
French Official: No Lift To Beef Ban
Shoppers `need more assurance over food safety'
Newspaper pooh-poohs disease fears
Oct. 3 /99 British Times Jonathan LeakeThe test, which the story says has been already secretly proven on humans, can show the presence of the microscopic prions that cause variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD) - the human form of BSE - long before any symptoms develop. Such a test, which will initially be used to screen samples held in blood banks rather than individuals, has been sought after for years by scientists.
At the moment vCJD and its equivalent in animals can be diagnosed only after death by examination of the brain. It means that there is no way of telling how many people are incubating the disease, to which tens of millions of people were exposed through eating infected beef products.
The procedure will also allow the screening of farm and zoo animals, potentially enabling the disease to be eradicated. Currently, about 2,000 cows a year develop the disease and many more are thought to be incubating it.
Last week, the story says, it emerged that Mary Jo Schmerr, the American researcher who perfected the test, had visited the Central Veterinary Laboratories at Weybridge, Surrey, and discussed developing a pilot screening programme in Britain for humans and animals. "In the first instance, it will be used to screen existing blood banks, but it could be made available to individuals in the future," she said.
An agriculture ministry spokesman was cited as saying that a team had been set up to evaluate the test and then begin a screening programme for humans and animals, adding, "This could be a very powerful tool in the battle against BSE and CJD."
Schmerr was cited as saying she was overwhelmed by the consequences of what she had developed, adding, "This test could lift a weight from the shoulders of millions of people - or tell them they are going to die from a horrible disease."
So far 46 people are known to have died from vCJD in Britain. The question is whether they are just isolated cases or the first of millions.
The story goes on to say that Schmerr works for the American government's National Animal Disease Centre in Ames, Iowa, where she developed the test to see how common BSE-type diseases were in animals such as elk. The test looks for a specific abnormal protein associated with such diseases and is so sensitive that it can detect less than one part per billion.
When the test was proven, however, she realised that the same protein was produced in human forms of the disease, meaning the test could be used on people.
The 4 government labs involved in TSE (Ames, Pullman, NIH, and Rocky Mtn) have done consistently outstanding work despite (because of?) small staffs, cramped lab space, and scrambling for budgets. Without them, where would we be today on diagnosis, detection, and in vitro therapy assays?
The webmaster has learned that the Schmerr blood tests on humans have been ongoing for 18 months; it is possible that the English had some positive tonsilectomies where blood samples could be taken and that these have since gone clinical. Reportedly, some, but not all, US sporadic CJD cases have tested positive, some perhaps blood donors. Further, Schmerr is said to be most unhappy with the decision in Dec 98 to reverse the blood recall on Doug McEwen. Million of doses of medicine subsequently were injected worldwide. (There is no information on whether a test was done there, or if one could still be done.)
At her talk at the Tubingen meeting, Schmerr reported lambs in scrapie environment can become prp-res positive in blood at 4 weeks of age (even one at 2 weeks!). Test works on elk, md, sheep, hamster. This gives rise to hopes that provided facilities are not too contaminated with persistent agent, livestock producers could test their way out of the disease.
The August 1999 MJ Schmerr article in J Chrom. provides some technical aspects of the assay but does not answer many questions about where things are as of now.
Dr.Mary Jo Schmerr email address is email@example.com. Her title is Research Chemist, National Animal Disease Center, Respiratory & Neurologic Disease Research Ames, Iowa tel (515) 239-8287 X287 fax (515) 239-8458 web
Lancet Volume 354, Number 9186 9 October 1999 Jacques VerdragerRisk of transmission of BSE via drugs of bovine origin
... A possible way that human beings can be infected is exposure to BSE through injectable pharmaceutical drugs containing bovine brain, bovine spinal cord, or bovine pituitary-derived hormones, and via implanted materials of bovine origin such as cowgut (non-synthetic surgical sutures: bovine catgut).
In France, during the 1980s, these injectable drugs and implants may have posed a risk of transmission of BSE to human beings, especially sinceFrance was one of the biggest markets for UK beef. There were several injectable drugs derived from cattle.
Fresh bovine spinal cord solution, equivalent to 3 grams of fresh spinal cord per ampoule for intramuscular use, was recommended for tissue repair and used in the treatment of varicous ulcer, decubitus ulcer, duodenum or stomach ulceration, nocturnal enuresis, asthma, and hypertension.
A dry extract of bovine brain and bovine spinal cord was given intramuscularity for the treatment of asthenia, fatigue, and convalescence. Bovine somatotropin (intramuscular or subcutaneous) was used for treatment of decubitus ulcer, leg ulcers, and burns. It was also used, unofficially, to increase muscle strength in weight lifters and body builders .
Bovine thyroid-stimulating hormone or anterior pituitary bovine thyrotropin was used intramuscularly as a stimulation test for the euthyroid gland. Bovine posterior pituitary extract (continuous intravenous drip) was used in obstetrics for induced labour, induced delivery, uterine inertia, uterine haemorrhage, and also in haemoptysis and digestive-tract bleeding.
There are other drugs that contain adrenal cortex extracts, pancreas-derived hormone, or lung-derived anticoagulant that may have been a risk to human beings. Bovine adrenal cortex extract given intravenously or intramuscularly was used for the stimulation of immune defences in acute or chronic respiratory infections and in the treatment of shock; bovine pancreas-derived insulin was used in the treatment of diabetes; and bovine lung-derived heparin was used in the treatment of acute thrombophlebitis. Bovine lungs may occasionally be contaminated by brain tissue because brain emboli may occur after stunning.2
In France, most of the drugs of bovine origin were banned in July, 1992 (following WHO recommendations). Bovine catgut was banned in August, 1996. Consideration was also given to the risk/benefit ratio, which explains why bovine insulin was used until 1996. Homoeopathic drugs of bovine origin were banned in July, 1992, but paradoxically, brain, spinal cord, and eyes were not removed from the human food chain until September, 1996.
Therefore, to rule out iatrogenic transmission of BSE through injectable drugs or implants as a possible cause of new variant CJD in the UK seems difficult.
1 Verdrager J. New variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and bovine pituitary growth hormone. Lancet 1998; 351: 112-13. 2 Garland T, Bauer N, Bailey M. Brain emboli in the lungs of cattle after stunning. Lancet 1996; 348: 610.
October 8, 1999 Electronic Telegram Article:By David Brown, Agriculture EditorMILLIONS of people, including children, may have been treated with vaccines derived from cattle infected with BSE, the bovine brain disease, despite warnings that they might not be safe.
Officials of the BSE inquiry admitted yesterday that they had failed to establish what happened to batches produced from cattle serum in the 1980s, when BSE was reaching a peak. Pharmaceutical companies had so far declined to volunteer the information, they said.
It is known that vaccines for rubella, whooping cough, polio, measles and mumps as well as yellow fever, cholera and typhoid contained bovine material, some of it from Britain. Officials said: "It is possible that we will never know whether all these vaccines were destroyed or whether they were used."
Concerns about the safety of vaccines produced from cattle serum had been raised in 1989. Manufacturers had said then that they found it difficult to give an accurate assessment of suspect products likely to be used for children. It was believed that the last products produced from British cattle serum were withdrawn in 1991. BSE has so far been linked to the deaths of 46 people from a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.
Comment (webmaster): In other words, if they didn't get it from eating beef, they got it later because of a medical procedure. During the peak years of the BSE epidemic, was informed consent obtained from patients for being injected with bovine material? These medical practises must have been known to a great many physicians -- why are they just being disclosed no, some 15 years into the epidemic?
The Lancet article does not provide numbers of people exposed to high quantitites extremely high risk material. France has tens of thousands of weight lifters alone. Many of the practises are medical quackery -- no peer-reviewed study supports bovine brain injections relieving fatigue etc etc.
We also know that bovine and ovine dura mater (brain membranes) were widely used in human brain and reconstructive surgery. This material has long been known to transmit TSE. It is probably far worse to transplant infectious material directly at the brain than simply to receive an intramuscular injection which in turn is far more efficient than dietary exposure.
A German medical doctor collected sheep dura mater for the Lyodura company may be related to 1991 CJD death from a brain surgery carried out in 1983. While it was apparently never resolved whether this patient had mad cow disease, mad sheep disease, nvCJD, or ordinary CJD, the article does establish that both bovine and human dura mater were routinely used in brain surgery at that time and through 1986. Trans-species use was evidently so routine that the hospital didn't bother to record the species or company; the surgeon evidently did not know either.
A British newspaper reports today:
"The French food safety council said that Britain still expects around 3,000 cases of BSE this year, an incidence of 650 cases per million head [about 1 per 1000] of cattle compared with between 1.5 and 2 per million in France. It suggests waiting until 2001 to assess the success of the British measures. It also raised doubts about British contentions that cattle are being contaminated _only_ by maternal transmission and contaminated animal feed".
6 Oct 99 BSE Listserve opinions of Terry S. Singeltary Sr., Bacliff, Texas USA [Mr. Singeltary's mother was diagnosed with CJD and died 14 Dec 97]"Not to keep repeating myself, but, not only my Mom DOD hvCJD 12-14-97. My neighbors Mom _also_ died from CJD. She had been taking a nutritional supplement called IPLEX.
Ingredients: vacuum dried bovine brain, bone meal, bovine eye, veal bone, bovine liver powder, bovine adrenal, vacuum dried bovine kidney, and vacuum dried porcine stomach.
The woman taking these pills, died from CJD. Dr. Gibbs checked the pills, and from what I heard, they were not contaminated (by their present tests). But, out of the same breaths, of both NIH and the Texas Dept. of Health, it is possible that the test performed were not sensitive enough to pick up whatever infectivity level there was, if any.
But, even if that particular batch was not infected, what about the other batches over the previous years she had taken? This company that manufactures IPLEX, has many different supplements which contain different bovine ingredients.
I also have a copy of a letter from the FDA Washington DC, dating back to 1992, addressed to " Manufacturer of Dietary Supplements", _begging and or pleading_ with them, to be very careful with pooling their bovine by-products because of the risk of BSE:
"FDA has recently been involved in investigating a consumer complaint involving a confirmed case of CJD. It is standard procedure for FDA to follow-up on all consumer complaints involving death or serious injury. In the course of this investigation, FDA learned that the woman had taken a bovine tissue-containing dietary supplement. Although, at the present there is no basis to conclude that this supplement played any role in causing this disease FDA and NIH decided that it is prudent to further investigate this matter".
How many more people, are going become infected and die, before they quit investigating, and _do something_? < P> Right now, 20/20 is doing a story on METABOLIFE. This company is so worried about the story, they even put up a web site to address the findings from 20/20, before the story comes out. You can read the complete transcript, although, despite all the worries, they didn't even mention B.S.E. However, you can
When I informed Metabolife back in Dec. 1998 about the possible dangers from B.S.E. and bovine ingredients (although it does not contain the most infectious organs, such as brain, eye, and I would imagine pituitary), Dr. Smith replied:
We are looking at reformulation. I agree that slow virus diseases present a problem in some areas of the world. Our product uses healthy USDA inspected cattle for the glandular extract. If you have any links to more information on this subject I would like to examine them. Thank you for your interest and concern,
Oother parts of the world??? It seems, that USDA stamp of approval they stamp on everything, doesn't include B.S.E. and or other strains of T.S.E.'s. If you consider the numbers they have checked since 1990; out of 1,250,880,700 cattle and calf crop slaughtered since 1990, they have checked 8,400 for B.S.E. as of Aug. 1999. The 950 scrapie infected flocks in the U.S.? Give me a break...."
October 5, 1999 by Lydia Saad GALLUP NEWS SERVICEU.S. public concern about genetically modified foods barely registers a ripple in a new Gallup Poll survey. While Europe is reportedly in an uproar over biotechnology-related food safety and environmental concerns -- fraught with boycotts, vandalism, and charges of "Frankenfood"--only 10% of Americans report having heard "a great deal" about the issue and just one quarter, 27%, currently believe it poses a serious health hazard to consumers.
The biotech controversy focuses on concerns that specialized strains of corn, soybeans and other agricultural products may not be safe for human consumption when they utilize genetic manipulation rather than traditional cross pollination methods. The debate encompasses food testing issues that could eventually test the trust Americans have in the United States Food and Drug Administration's ability to guarantee the safety of the food supply.
According to the September 23-26 Gallup survey, Americans today seem quite relaxed about food safety issues. Without reference to any specific hazard, 80% say they feel confident that the food available in most grocery stores is safe to eat; 69% feel confident in the safety of restaurant food. This conviction stands in stark contrast to the situation in Europe, where consumer concerns and boycotts have forced a mounting number of food producers and grocery chains to take a "biotech free" pledge.
When asked specifically about the use of biotechnology in food production, Americans express a fair amount of uncertainty, but nevertheless come down on the side of biotechnology. Only 27% of the U.S. public currently believe biotechnology poses a serious health hazard to consumers; 53% think it does not pose a hazard, and the rest, 20%, are undecided.
7 Oct 99 Science Martin EnserinkTwo scientific groups are racing to sequence the DNA of the lethal virus that sowed panic in New York City last month, hoping to pin down its precise identity--which at this writing is still uncertain. The virus triggered an outbreak of encephalitis that killed four people and sickened at least 33 others in New York and surrounding communities. The culprit looks like one of the flaviviruses, a family of agents that cause dengue and yellow fever as well as encephalitis. But experts are not sure exactly which member of the family is to blame. After a false start, they are now moving with caution.
Shortly after the first cases emerged in late August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta announced that the outbreak was St. Louis encephalitis (SLE), caused by a flavivirus endemic in the southeastern United States. The CDC changed its diagnosis 2 weeks ago, however, after genetic tests indicated the virus might be the so-called West Nile virus, endemic in Africa. Since then, the agent has been provisionally called "West Nile-like" virus. But a competing research group led by molecular biologist Ian Lipkin of the University of California, Irvine, believes it may be more closely related to the Kunjin virus of Australia and Southeast Asia.
Lipkin's group and a CDC team led by Duane Gubler are both sequencing the virus's entire genome. Although Kunjin and West Nile are about 80% the same genetically, the differences between them are important to researchers trying to determine how the virus ended up in New York. A second reclassification would be awkward for the CDC, which has already drawn fire for sticking to a faulty diagnosis for weeks. "In retrospect, it's embarrassing," says Jack Woodall, an emerging diseases investigator at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. [This is similar to CDC's inability to retract its CJD incidence studies. -- webmaster][
When the first patients in New York City came down with fever, swollen glands, and headaches, the symptoms seemed consistent with SLE. Tests of antibodies appeared to confirm the diagnosis. Like several other viruses that cause encephalitis, the SLE virus replicates in birds and is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. New York health authorities soon started spraying insecticides.
Around the same time, however, pathologist Tracy McNamara of the Bronx Zoo noticed that birds there were dying from what looked like a neurological disorder. McNamara sent tissue samples to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa. The USDA isolated and cultured the virus, ruling out some of the usual suspects of sudden bird mortality, such as avian influenza and Newcastle disease. But the lab was unable to make a final identification, and on 20 September it sent the virus to CDC's lab for insect-borne diseases in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Suspecting a link to the human epidemic, CDC started sequencing snippets of the viral genome and concluded that the New York birds were dying from something that resembled the West Nile virus, which had never before been found in the Western Hemisphere. Soon afterward, the CDC confirmed that the human patients were infected with the same virus. Fort Collins researchers think the close genetic resemblance between the SLE and West Nile viruses produced a high degree of cross-reactivity in blood tests, which led scientists astray.
As CDC was examining the virus from birds, Lipkin's lab, which had been asked by New York state health authorities to conduct an independent investigation using tissue from patients, also ruled out St. Louis encephalitis. Genetic tests suggested the agent was Kunjin virus. Based on the sequence of three regions, says Lipkin, who will publish his first results in this week's Lancet, the New York isolate shows 86% to 87% similarity with the Kunjin virus, and only 80% to 82% with West Nile. Lipkin is calling it the Kunjin/West Nile-like virus for the moment.
Both the CDC and Lipkin expect to have the entire genome sequenced in the next couple of weeks. "We won't know what virus it is until we have that complete sequence," says virologist Vincent Deubel of the Institut Pasteur in Paris, France. Some researchers were miffed that the CDC announced its own findings without mentioning the contributions of the USDA and Lipkin. "We were a little bit astounded," says the USDA's Beverly Schmitt.
The confusion hasn't in any way hampered attempts to control the outbreak; the St. Louis, West Nile, and Kunjin viruses are all transmitted by mosquitoes, and spraying of insecticides is a good preventive measure. But some experts say that CDC could have avoided its mistake by isolating the virus and ruling out other candidates more quickly.
"They didn't do anything wrong, but they didn't do all the right things," says Charles Calisher, a former head of CDC's Fort Collins lab who is now at Colorado State University. But CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner says that the lab followed standard protocols by first considering four or five U.S. types of encephalitis. "West Nile virus has never been seen before in the United States," says Skinner, "so why would we have thought that this would be the first time?" [This sounds very similar to CDC on nvCJD in the US. -- webmaster]
Researchers are still trying to figure out where the virus came from. One possibility is that an infected person arrived in New York and was bitten by a mosquito there, which transmitted the virus through birds to other New Yorkers. But the zoo epidemic prompted New York health authorities to focus on the possibility that recently imported birds brought the virus. It's also possible that the virus was lurking in or around the city for years without being noticed, says Woodall.
The disease may disappear from view as temperatures drop and mosquitoes die. But it's unknown whether infected eggs might hatch next year, or whether migratory birds might spread the disease to southern U.S. states this fall--a worrying possibility because those states have mosquitoes all year round. Woodall warns: "It could become established in the South if it gets there."
Thu, Oct 7, 1999 By PA News ReporterPenguins in British zoos are being wiped out by a brain disease believed to be linked to bird malaria that is spread by mosquitoes and insects. At the worst affected zoo, Marwell Zoological Park in Hampshire, all 26 rare penguins have died since the summer. But Gaynor Worman, spokeswoman for the Marwell Zoo, said the problem had been encountered at other zoos, including Edinburgh and London. In an effort to tackle the problem animal experts are to meet later this month at Marwell Zoo.
Some animal experts believe global warming may be to blame, by spreading conditions in which mosquitoes and midges, the sources of the disease, can thrive. "We have lost all our penguins over a period of months," Ms Worman said. "It has wiped the population out." She said penguins are believed to contract the disease, avian malaria, from other birds and infected midges and mosquitoes. And those insects may have bred in the pool which housed the zoo's jackass and macaroni pigeons.
The disease may have struck Marwell particularly hard as its showpiece penguin pool, opened by the Princess Royal in 1997, contains no chlorine. "We will be restocking, but not yet," Ms Worman said....The purpose-built colony at Marwell Zoo consisted of Macaroni penguins from the South Atlantic and a variety from Africa. The first penguin was taken ill in May and the final one died last week, said Gordon Campbell, assistant curator at the zoo.
"We have had a long, difficult summer trying to get on top of it and we are very surprised that we didn't win the battle and we lost the birds. "It really is sad and visitors are very upset not to see any penguins in the enclosure, which was a very popular attraction." Mr Campbell said it was possible that another virus, so far unidentified, may have contributed to the deaths.
"Malaria multiplies then goes into the red blood cells and the tissues of the animal, particularly the liver, spleen and lungs," he said. "But the fact that we lost all the birds suggests that something else was going on, perhaps a virus. We have been looking for a virus but nothing has turned up yet....
October 5, 1999 Los Angeles Times Paul JacobsA storm of protest against genetically engineered foods by foreign governments and consumers has reached U.S. shores, leading some experts to predict that agricultural biotechnology could go the way of nuclear energy--falling out of favor because of public fears and unfavorable economics.
Critics say the industry erred by rushing products with unknown health or environmental side effects to market before the public was ready and harnessing the technology to help farmers and food distributors rather than creating obvious benefits for consumers.
Even industry leaders acknowledge that a protest movement launched in Europe and Asia is having a telling effect in the U.S., bringing threats of a global trade war and stalling the introduction of a new wave of genetically altered crops with improved nutritional benefits.
Agricultural biotech has been a victim of its own success. Five years after the first genetically engineered crop won federal approval, transformed foods are everywhere--more than half the soybeans planted in the U.S. this year and 30% of the corn are from biotech seeds. Oils and sweeteners derived from these crops are ingredients in a host of processed foods such as soft drinks, tortilla chips and French fries.
But the protests may even lead to a rollback of what's already been done: The American Corn Growers Assn. has urged its members to consider using non-genetically modified seeds next year. "Agriculture has been sold a bill of goods about how great genetically modified seeds would be," said the association's chief executive, Gary Goldberg. "We're sure as hell not going to grow a product the customer doesn't want."
The backlash has been noticed on Wall Street too, where doubts are being raised about the viability of ag biotech. For months, analysts Timothy Ramey and Frank J. Mitsch at Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown have been arguing that "GMOs genetically modified organisms are dead."
In May, Ramey correctly identified the emergence of a two-tier market for grain in which improved grains would sell for less than traditional hybrids. Two months later, he asked, "Are GMOs safe, good for the environment and necessary to support the inevitable growth in the world's population? Yes, but the same arguments can be made for advancing nuclear power. Despite the support of the scientific community, it is unlikely that we will add any new nuclear power plants any time soon."
Other analysts also see problems ahead. "We like biotech genetic engineering long-term because it is a very useful tool and eventually science will win out," said Paine-Webber's Andrew Cash. "But in the immediate future, the only thing investors care about is perception. . . . There is a big, dark cloud over those stocks right now."
The heart of the argument against genetically altered crops is that too little is known about them. "There need to be long-term studies of the environmental and health effects, which there haven't been," said Charles Margulis, who heads Greenpeace's U.S. efforts to ban genetically modified crops.
Activists from around the country, after a meeting in Bolinas in Northern California in July, have now drafted a list of demands: the labeling of all products derived from genetically engineered crops or animals, an improved system for assessing health hazards, an end to the patenting of plants and animals, and strict corporate liability for damages caused by these products.
The activists aren't alone in their criticism of the industry. Among the most prominent critics of the big companies is Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, the nonprofit organization that helped bring about the so-called Green Revolution by promoting high-yield hybrid seeds and improved growing methods to feed the developing world.
Conway fears a growing mistrust of biotechnology, and he faults the corporations that introduced the first altered crops for failing to respond. "As a result of the reaction against what they are doing and the way they are doing it, we may lose the benefits of the technology," Conway said.
This summer, he took his complaints to the board of directors of Monsanto, a major supplier of genetically engineered crops. "The rush to get products to market," he told board members, who had invited him to speak, "has led to mistakes, misunderstanding and a backlash against plant technology."
Even though no ill effects from modified foods have been reported, protests overseas are having an impact in the U.S.:
* Exporters are asking farmers to separate their genetically modified grains when they reach the silo to satisfy overseas customers who reject biotech crops.
* Like their counterparts in Europe, environmental extremists have been mowing down and uprooting test crops. In recent weeks these self-styled green vigilantes have struck fields at UC campuses in Berkeley and Davis.
* U.S. trade officials are bracing for a fight with Europe over biotech crops in what could become a replay of an earlier battle over a European ban on American beef from hormone-treated cattle.
The Clinton administration has been fighting to remove what it regards as arbitrary trade barriers that block access to overseas markets, including attempts to banish genetically modified crops. When World Trade Organization negotiations open in Seattle next month, the U.S. will back rules "that allow for the use of these technologies," said U.S. trade ambassador Peter L. Scher.
The U.S. does not oppose labeling of genetically modified products, said Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman, as long as "whatever labeling is scientifically based and would not arbitrarily close doors to our products." American consumers, unaware of how quickly genetically modified commodities have slipped into the food supply, may well wonder why the fuss.
Company officials and federal regulators admit that there are potential hazards in manipulating plant genes, but nothing like the claims of "Frankenstein foods" that make daily headlines in Britain.
"There's a real lack of understanding of the extent of analysis we do to establish safety," said Roy Fuchs, Monsanto's director of regulatory science for plant biotechnology. Before introducing a product, the company subjects the altered crop to a battery of tests to ensure that the new traits are not toxic and are unlikely to cause allergic reactions, he said.
But environmentalists point out that the system essentially leaves safety in the hands of a few major seed companies, subsidiaries of multinational corporations such as Monsanto, Novartis and DuPont.
After researchers at Cornell this spring reported that the pollen from genetically engineered corn could kill Monarch butterfly larvae, the Monarch became the symbol for the movement to outlaw all biotech crops.
The industry has launched a counteroffensive, citing scientists who believe the Cornell experiments were conducted under conditions never seen in the field. They argue that the insect-killing proteins in the corn, taken from a bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis, or "Bt," are less harmful than the chemical pesticides they have replaced.
As proof that the food safety system works, seed producers everywhere point to the same example--an experimental soybean, developed at Pioneer Hi-Bred International--that boosted the value of soybeans as livestock feed by borrowing a gene from the Brazil nut.
Because a small percentage of the public is allergic to Brazil nuts, Pioneer checked out samples of the genetically engineered soybeans, using a standard skin-prick test in allergic volunteers. The transformed soybeans triggered allergic reactions, and Pioneer abandoned the soybeans, concerned that they could accidentally enter human food supplies. The incident, said Pioneer spokesman Doyle Karr, illustrates the company's "careful, thoughtful approach to things."
But those opposed to genetically modified foods point to the incident as proof of the perils of transferring genes from one species to another. "This can be a life-and-death matter," said Rebecca Goldburg, a scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund.
Brazil nuts were known to cause allergies, and patients with allergies were available for testing, she said. But there is no easy way to determine which proteins are likely to produce allergic reactions in all cases.
This summer, Greenpeace and Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, separately announced that they had detected the presence of genetically modified ingredients in baby foods, infant formula, nutritional supplements for the elderly and other products. In response, both Gerber and H.J. Heinz announced they would shun genetically modified ingredients in their baby foods, while denying any danger. Some pet food manufacturers are doing the same.
The revolt against these products began in Europe, where confidence in government regulators had been rattled by an outbreak of mad cow disease in British cattle and other instances of food contamination. As the movement picked up momentum, European supermarket chains promised to yank genetically modified products off their shelves. In Britain and Japan, the governments called for labeling.
Humans began experimenting with crops at least 7,000 years ago with the discovery of bread wheat. Scientific plant breeding was born in the 19th century, when farmers began crossing plants systematically in the search for improved characteristics.
Using these conventional breeding techniques--including radiation and chemical treatment to increase mutations--the seed companies each year offer growers new hybrids promising higher yields or pest resistance or improved flavor. The process is largely unregulated.
Still, one new variety of potato was withdrawn from the market several decades ago because of high levels of solanine, a natural chemical that can cause intestinal distress. A new celery variety was pulled when food handlers developed allergic rashes.
In fact, many common foods naturally contain low levels of toxic chemicals, with no known impact on health.
"Two of the best carcinogens are present in edible mushrooms that many people enjoy with their steaks and gravies," said Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for developing high-yield wheat varieties that became staples of the Green Revolution. [This is dishonest. Aflatoxin is a fungal disease of stored peanuts, it is not a compound found in commercial mushrooms. Alpha-amanitin also does not occur in edible mushrooms. -- webmaster]
In the mid-1970s, scientists discovered ways to snip useful genes from one species and splice them into another. The revolution in genetic engineering promised a new era in which crops with improved nutritional value would feed the world.
But the first genetically engineered crops directly benefited growers and seed companies, not consumers, by adding characteristics such as resistance to weedkillers.
In 1992, the Food and Drug Administration decided--over the objections of environmental and consumer groups--to treat genetically engineered crops just like other foods. As long as the transferred genes produced proteins already in the food supply, the agency would not require pre-market approval or special labeling.
The first test under the FDA's voluntary review system came in 1994, when the agency approved the Flavr Savr tomato, a fruit genetically altered to stay firm during shipping. It proved a flop in the marketplace.
At the same time, Monsanto developed a genetically modified soybean that could resist the company's best selling weedkiller--Roundup. The herbicide destroyed weeds but spared the genetically altered crop--reducing the need for hoeing while boosting Roundup sales.
And Ciba-Geigy, now part of Novartis, produced a corn with an insecticide from Bt bacteria built into every leaf and kernel to kill the European corn borer.
One concern about such products was that antibiotic resistance genes, now standard in genetically engineered plants, could be taken up by bacteria, creating antibiotic resistant microbes. Highly unlikely, concluded the FDA. Other researchers believe that the widespread use of Bt crops might create superbugs--pests no longer susceptible to Bt insecticides.
Federal law places the burden on the seed companies and food manufacturers to make sure that their products are safe, said George H. Pauli, the FDA's director of product policy. But he notes: "For every commercially developed product for sale in the U.S. the producer has come in to consult with us." And the agency retains the power to recall unwholesome products.
The FDA shares responsibility with the Environmental Protection Agency, which looks at the potential dangers of the genetically engineered pesticides, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which reviews impacts on agriculture.
Activists charge that the result is a fragmented system of review that ignores potential hazards. The Alliance for Bio-Integrity filed suit last year, charging that the FDA ignored the objections of its own scientists in deciding not to require a special review of genetically engineered crops.
A second suit, filed last year by Greenpeace and others, charges that the EPA ignored the possibility that Bt plants might harm beneficial insects and engender resistance in target pests.
"This is not like an oil slick, which you can contain or mitigate," said Joseph Mendelson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in both of the suits. "These plants reproduce and cross-pollinate. They put their traits into the environment, and there is no way you can recall them."
Thu, Oct 7, 1999 By PHILIP BRASHER AP Farm WriterThe federal regulators responsible for ensuring the safety of genetically engineered crops sought Thursday to dispel concerns that hazardous biotech products could reach the market.
"Our regulatory system is based on the most rigorous scientific information available, is credible, is defensible and will serve to protect the environment and public health," Jane Anderson, an Environmental Protection Agency official, told the Senate Agriculture Committee. EPA is one of three agencies responsible for regulating genetically modified crops and foods, with the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department.
"We're very confident about the assurances that are put forward," said James Maryanski, biotechonolgy coordinator for FDA's food safety office.
Critics of the technology say the agencies depend too heavily on companies to conduct research and report problems, and that the science is not advanced enough to guarantee the safety of the food. Environmental and consumer groups are pushing the Clinton administration to require the labeling of foods that contain biotech ingredients.
"We don't know what the products will prove to be in the long run. To say we know is an expression of faith, not of knowledge," said Mark Silbergeld, a representative of Consumers Union.
Backers of genetic engineering insist it is not fundamentally different from traditional breeding, in which one plant might be cross-pollinated with a wild cousin to produce a hardier variety. Genetic engineering involves splicing a single gene from one organism to another.
A major concern of scientists is making sure transplanted genes do not cause allergic reactions. Biotech ingredients, primarily from soybeans and corn, already are in wide use in supermarkets and fast-food restaurants, in everything from tortilla chips to soda and baby formula.
When consumers realize that, they will demand such foods be labeled, Silbergeld said. "They want to make the choice for themselves." The food industry fears such labeling would stigmatize genetically modified ingredients. The FDA does not consider biotech ingredients fundamentally different from conventional ones and says there is no need for the labels.
Half the soybeans that U.S. farmers are growing this year were engineered to withstand a popular weedkiller, and a third of the corn crop is biotech, having been altered to produce its own pesticide. There also are genetically modified tomatoes, melons and potatoes. Crops are in development that would be nutritionally enhanced or engineered to deliver vaccines or medicine.
American scientists and farmers have been surprised by the growing public resistance to genetic engineering in Europe. In Britain, where biotech products are derided as "Frankenfoods," supermarkets have started advertising their goods as free of genetically modified ingredients.
Concern about the technology has grown since a laboratory study at Cornell University found evidence that pollen from a genetically modified corn can kill larvae of the monarch butterfly. EPA scientists knew that the pollen could kill insects but do not believe the butterflies, which feed on milkweed, not corn, would be exposed to the toxin outside the laboratory, said Anderson, director of EPA's biopesticides and pollution prevention division. EPA is monitoring field tests of the corn and could impose restrictions on its use, if necessary, she said.
USA Today, Oct 7, 1999Early in the morning of Nov. 24, 1995, Joanne Marshall woke to find her 26-year-old son, Shayne Conner, gasping for breath. Though an ambulance rushed him to the hospital, he later died from respiratory distress. Conner's death was just one of several medical problems that neighbors in Greenland, N.H., had experienced in the month after trucks started dumping sewage sludge - residue left over from wastewater treatment plants - on a nearby field.
Did sludge contribute to Conner's death? Did it cause the death of 11-year-old Tony Behun? He died in 1994 shortly after riding his motorcycle through a Pennsylvania field recently coated with sewage sludge. And has it killed farm animals, as some farmers allege? So far, no clear link has been established between the deaths and sludge. There are only troubling questions about the possible health effects of exposure to sewage sludge.
At the very least, however, these deaths call for an aggressive investigation. Instead, the Environmental Protection Agency has been circling the wagons. It was an EPA rule in 1993 that allowed about 2 million metric tons of sludge to be used throughout the country as a cheap, often free, fertilizer. And since then, the agency has fallen into the disturbing but familiar pattern it follows when its rules run into trouble: It brushes off complaints, downplays uncertainties in the science and attacks critics.
When asked about Shayne Conner's death, for instance, the EPA brandishes a letter written by the town's medical examiner just days after Conner's death. The letter, released by the agency, says the death "was not the result of the use of such fertilizer."
But that preliminary conclusion is hardly definitive. As the letter states, the examiner's finding was based in part on the assumption, denied by the family, that others "were completely unaffected" by the sludge. And it was, the examiner noted, based on assurances that sludge was "safe to use." The final autopsy report issued several months later and obtained by USA TODAY left the cause of death an open question, and the family has since sued the sludge company.
The EPA hasn't handled the science question any better. Under EPA rules, sludge - a noxious brew containing pollutants and pathogens - can be recycled as fertilizer if it's cleaned to specified levels and used under certain restrictions. The EPA insists that the science behind these rules guarantees safety.
However, the EPA's own scientists raised doubts about the science as the rule was drafted, according to memos obtained by USA TODAY. The EPA admitted to some of these weaknesses in 1993 by calling for extensive follow-up research.
Meanwhile, other studies have raised red flags. A 1999 study by Cornell University's Waste Management Institute, for instance, concluded that EPA sludge rules "do not appear adequately protective of human health." It found that many European countries have far tougher sludge standards than the U.S.
As a result, critics contend the rules are too loose and that toxic metals, pathogens and organic chemicals can escape, posing a potential hazard to nearby people and animals. Several local governments have banned or restricted sludge on farms. Yet when critics raise their voices, the EPA has attacked. [It is hard to know where the mafiosa-led sludge industry leaves off and the government begins. -- webmaster]
When EPA scientist David Lewis started complaining about the safety of the sludge rules a few years ago, EPA officials tried to discredit his research, according to Lewis, who has filed a whistleblower complaint against the agency.
When California community activist Jane Beswick started sounding alarm bells, Alan Rubin, an official in the EPA's Office of Water, fired off an ominous letter warning Beswick that her efforts to ban sludge use could prompt regulators to look closely at farmers' use of manure and fertilizers.
And when not attacking critics, the agency has been busy promoting sludge use. Over the past three years, for example, it has spent almost $70,000 on grants to the Water Environment Federation for a sludge "public acceptance campaign," according to the Federal Assistance Award Data System.
This is not the first time the EPA has been accused of shoddy science or attacks on critics. It recently had to reverse course on a gas additive. And last June, several EPA officials complained of the hostile treatment whistleblowers receive inside the agency.
Now members of the House and Senate are pressing EPA chief Carol Browner to explain the apparent manhandling of sludge critics inside and outside the agency. But first the EPA should explain why it has failed to live up to its 1993 pledge "to move aggressively to address any problems with sewage-sludge use should the evidence warrant." In the end, sludge may prove perfectly safe. But by its behavior so far, the EPA has given the public little reason to feel confident.
From: Adrienne Anderson To: firstname.lastname@example.org Sent: Wednesday, October 06, 1999 8:21 AM Subject: EPA's RADWASTE TO CONSUMERS SLUDGE POLICYDear Sludge Activists, Reporters, Concerned Congressional Representatives and Other Victims and Future Victims of EPA's "Toxic Waste as Fertilizer" Policy:
As this week's Augusta Chronicle reports, Congressional pressure is building against EPA's ruse to foist toxic waste onto the nation's farm lands and onto our dinner plates. As this article so well discusses, the EPA National Ombudsman has agreed to take on this Georgia sludge case, and is currently investigating the case in Denver where EPA decided to let a mountain of radioactive waste remain entombed in a central Denver working class neighborhood.
Secret EPA documents recently released after a Senator Allard's intervention show that instead of pursuing safer remedy options, EPA caved to pressure from the polluter (Shattuck Chemical, which processed uranium and other radioactive materials received from DOE's Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Kentucky, new evidence reveals) to do the cheapest thing, despite looming public health risks.
What is not reported in this article is that Shattuck in Denver also sent waste to the Lowry Landfill southeast of Denver, where EPA continues in its plan --despite widespread grassroots citizens' opposition -- to pump the Superfund Site's groundwaters for the next 30-50 years into the public sewer lines to the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District POTW in Denver (on the South Platte River).
From there, sludge is trucked east on I-70 to a "farm" in the rural community of Deer Trail, where it is to join wastes from other "recycled" Denver-area Superfund sites, in mixture with other industrial and domestic wastes as "fertilizer". Wheat crops grown on this have been sold to the Cargill food conglomerate in the past, and Metro Wastewater board of directors' minutes suggest that they seek to market their wheat for commercial sale with an end-use as "specialty baked goods".
An investigation of EPA records in the Denver office shockingly revealed that the Lowry Landfill Superfund Site also contains plutonium, radium, uranium, strontium-90, americium, radioactive lead and twenty other radionuclides. Yet instead of this being a DOE Mixed radwaste and hazardous waste clean-up site, EPA is quickly trying to pump it all down the drain (and ultimately into our food supply and into our bodies). In what we believe to be criminal acts on the part of EPA here, they simply deleted all the radionuclides off the list of known contaminants at the site.
We have sent petitions bearing 7,000 signatures to EPA Ombudsman Bob Martin seeking his office's involvement in this outrageous, and clearly nationally and internationally precedent-setting case. Yet the same Colorado Senators and Congressional Representatives (Senator Wayne Allard and Congresswoman Diana DeGette)that have asked for the Ombudsman's Office's intervention in the Shattuck case in central Denver are looking the other way, to date, regarding the Lowry "PLUTONIUM TO YOUR DINNER PLATE" plan by the same EPA officials who caved to the polluters in the Shattuck case.
We demanded an investigation of suspected criminal actions by EPA by its Office of Inspector General. The Criminal IG division deferred the evidence we presented to the OIG's Audit division for review. A report was expected by last month, but has not surfaced, to date. Furthermore, an EPA whistleblower from this same Region VIII EPA Office (Brian Rimar), presented evidence in his proceedings regarding the OIG's office making false allegations against him, and investigating HIM while he sought justice against EPA for trying to muzzle his scientific findings in the Summitville Superfund Site case in Colorado. So it remains unclear whether this review will be credible, especially under these circumstances.
As many of you know, I was on the Metro Wastewater Board of Directors and attempted to block and unravel this outrageous plan while on the board, and wound up having to file a federal whistleblower suit against the Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, on behalf of the sewage plant's workers I was appointed to represent. While successful at the first level - with the Department of Labor ordering Metro Wastewater to rescind threir threatening and discriminatory letters undermining our rights, Metro Wastewater appealed, I appealed again (represented by the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers' Union's local president, which represents Metro Wastewater's lab workers), and the case has since sat idle on the shelf in Washington, D.C. of the Clinton Administration's Department of Labor Administrative Review Board for over a year and a half (Anderson v. MWRD).
Ask any supportive Congressional representatives to urge that the EPA Ombudsman's Office's present inquiry into the Shattuck Superfund Site in Denver be extended to review EPA's Lowry Landfill plan, which would fertilize crops for national distribution with Atomic Energy Commission and DOE wastes, including wastes from AEC contractors and/or licensees Shattuck, the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) and others, as well as DOD wastes from the Army's notorious Rocky Mountain Arsenal, and other DOD Superfund Sites in the region. While we officially reiterated this request to Martin and Kaufman during a September hearing in Denver on the Shattuck case, our own Colorado Congressional delegation is stonewalling us. Could their silence and failure to act be due to hefty campaign contributions from Coors and other Lowry Landfill responsible parties and CH2MHill, a major contractor at both Rocky Flats and Lowry Landfill, despite a clear conflict of interest?
Wed, 6 Oct 1999 The Associated PressAgriculture Minister Jean Glavany, digging in his heels in a growing controversy over a ban on British beef, said today there was no reason for France to lift the embargo. However, the minister held out hope that British beef destined for third countries could eventually be transported through France, ``because we want to show our good will to the English.'' But ``there is no reason for the government to change its mind'' on maintaining its embargo, Glavany said on Europe 1 radio.
The EU originally imposed the ban, in March 1996, after evidence emerged linking bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease, with a fatal human brain condition, Creutzfeldt Jakob disease. British beef exports resumed in August after final EU veterinary checks were completed. However, France and Germany are holding out on lifting the ban.
``Scientific experts ... have issued a negative opinion,'' Glavany said. ``In these conditions, no one can imagine that the government would ignore it.'' The Brussels-based European Commission has given France until Friday to provide scientific data justifying its continued ban. If France does not provide a satisfactory answer, the EU executive body could decide next week to start legal proceedings against France.
Reuters Online Service Fri, Oct 8, 1999 By David EvansThe European Commission said Friday it was examining what France claims to be fresh evidence supporting a continued ban on British beef over fears it cannot be guaranteed free of mad cow disease.
European Union scientists are expected to make an initial evaluation of the eight centimeter thick French report next Thursday, when they will inform the Commission that there is either no fresh evidence or ask for it to be studied further.
"They can tell us if there is something new," Commission spokeswoman Thea Emmerling told reporters, adding that the EU's scientific steering committee would meet on October 28. If there was no new evidence, the EU executive "would ensure that EU law was being upheld," indicating that legal action could start against Paris for failing to respect EU legislation, Commission spokesman Jonathan Faull said.
The announcement last week by France's Farm Minister Jean Glavany that its own food agency had concluded the ban should be maintained sent shockwaves around the EU, but particularly in Germany -- the only member state other than France yet to pass national laws ending the 3-1/2-year blockade.
German Health Minister Andrea Fischer held talks with EU Food Safety Commissioner David Byrne Friday at which she asked for more information on the French claims ahead of a debate in the German Parliament on October 15. Emmerling said Fischer had said Germany wanted to see EU law being applied and would continue to push the necessary legislation through the Bundesrat. Byrne also promised to update Fischer on a long-planned EU inspection of British measures controlling beef exports set up under the EU's deal in July to remove the ban, which allows only deboned meat from cattle born after August 1996 onto world markets.
The French announcement has prompted British Prime Minister Tony Blair to send a strongly-worded letter to French Premier Lionel Jospin, demanding that EU law be enforced.
Britain has been further angered by France blocking shipments of British beef going to other destinations on the Continent. However, Glavany has since said he believed there could be some flexibility on this issue. British Farm Union President Ben Gill told Reuters his contacts with the French government last week had shown there was no new evidence in the report.
"It's a tissue of fabrication," he said. "It is transparent this is nothing more than a protectionist approach and it strikes at the heart of the EU's ability to police law. It demands quick political action to resolve this," Gill added.
Britain's farmers, struggling with low market prices and a strong pound, saw their $1 billion export market wiped out overnight when the Commission imposed the ban in March 1996. The move followed a British government admission of a link between eating mad cow infected meat and a new form of the deadly human brain wasting disorder Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (nvCJD).
The mad cow disease, or BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy), epidemic has led to millions of cattle being slaughtered. NvCJD has so far claimed about 46 lives in Britain.
Tue, Oct 5, 1999 By Eileen Murphy, Consumer Affairs Correspondent, PA NewsConcern over food continues to be a major issue with shoppers wanting to know more about what they and their families are eating, according to a survey published today. The survey of more than 2,000 people concluded that following the BSE crisis there was still a large measure of public anxiety about the basic quality and safety of food which is not being addressed satisfactorily by the Government or retailers.
The survey, carried out by Mintel for Iceland supermarkets, came as the
supermarket chain launched a number of initiatives aimed at addressing
basic food safety concerns.
-- Meat was the food group causing most concern with seven out of 10 people surveyed worried about the meat they buy.
-- The public was particularly worried about cheaper meat products such as beefburgers, take-away foods and fast foods.
-- The findings showed a sharp rise in the number of people worried about the use of artificial additives and preservatives or E-numbers over the last year.
Iceland, which was the first major British retailer to ban genetically modified (GM) ingredients from its own-label products in 1998, said today that despite efforts by supermarkets to remove GMs the survey had found 41% of consumers were still concerned about the issue. Nearly two-thirds of those interviewed would also welcome measures to make food labels easier to understand. The research revealed there was high interest in organic foods with nearly a third of those surveyed indicating they would buy more organic products if they were cheaper.
Helen Osman, a Mintel researcher, said: "Consumers are becoming more discerning and concerned about the food they are eating which is hardly surprising given all the scientific evidence suggesting that serious diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, allergy, as well as a host of other conditions, are partly-attributed to diet.
Responding to the survey Iceland said it would become the first food retailer to ban artificial colours and flavours from its own-label food from October 1 along with a range of other initiatives. Iceland will also reassure customers that its livestock is fed on a non-meat diet and guarantee to use identifiable quality cuts of meat in all its processed food.
Packaging on all its own-brand food will also bear a large blue hexagon on the pack to signify it is GM-free and does not contain artificial colours or flavours. Other measures include a commitment to clearer labelling, reducing salt content and introducing organic alternatives at little or no extra cost. Malcolm Walker, Iceland chief executive, said: "This is the next logical step in our fight for better food."
A spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), which represents Britain's major food manufacturers, said: "This is an entirely commercial decision. By law all food on sale in the UK should be safe and every food ingredient and additive is subject to strict safety controls.
"It is nonsense to talk about unnecessary food ingredients - every ingredient serves a purpose and, as any chef will tell you, food should look as good as it tastes."
October 5, 1999 By ANN CARRNS Staff Reporter of the Wall Street JournalComment (webmaster):
Blasting the internet as a source of medical information raises the question of why Medline gget 180,000,000 hits a year. Surely the magical hand of the marketplace would cause this web site to have disappeared by now if it were not providing value.
What about OMIM -- does the average American doctor really have a good grasp of the latest research on all 11,000 genetic disorders -- what does the newspaper think doctors do when they go into the back office? The fact of the matter is, patients today can go into a doctor's office far better informed about a particular disease than the harried physician. Are side effects to drugs always imagined (thalidomide was a morning sickness pill) -- or does the Internet allow similarly affected people to find each other? Do the EPA, CDC, FDA look out for the best interests of Americans or are they agencies captured long ago by the industries they were supposed to regulate?
The article mocks the alleged 9,000 web pages on mad cow disease without visiting a single one of them, saying no American has ever had the disease, so why worry. Yet the FDA make a major recent change in American blood policy -- government agencies hardly make policy changes hostile to major industries without a solid evidentiary basis.
Mocking people's fear of AIDS -- what harm accrues from getting a blood test? If even one of those worried well tests positive, a lot of grief is spared down the road.
A recent inquiry using the AltaVista search engine turned up nearly 9,000 Web pages that mention "mad-cow" disease, also known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. And even those who insist the Internet's health offerings are generally beneficial can slip into panic mode.
Jackie Needleman, vice president of allHealth.com (www.allhealth.com), the health channel of iVillage.com, scared herself briefly last week while reading articles on the Internet about breast cancer, in preparation for a feature to boost awareness of the condition. One day in the midst of her research, she felt a sharp pain in her right breast and thought she detected a lump. "I convinced myself that I knew the symptoms of breast cancer, and I knew this was it," she says. "Anxiety was an understatement." She calmed herself down within "minutes," she says, realizing that she had just started a strenuous new exercise program and had probably pulled a muscle. But just in case, she scheduled a visit to her doctor, who pronounced her healthy.
Nicole Schwab, a 22-year-old college student in Phoenix, says she found out late last year how the Web can fuel anxiety. She had what she now suspects was a panic attack that made her heart beat rapidly, but she initially feared food poisoning or a heart attack and started plugging symptoms into Internet search engines.
"Because of the way the Internet works, you always get something back," she says. "So if it hurts to take a deep breath, or you have pain in the chest, it could be lung cancer, or pleurisy, or anything. And as far as my personality goes, I tend to worry about it. Before the Internet, I would have said, 'Oh, it's just a pulled muscle.' But now you can kind of design your own illness."
AIDS Web sites routinely attract visitors who fear they are infected with the HIV virus even though they have tested negative. "We see it all the time," says Rick Sowadsky, an AIDS hotline coordinator in Nevada. "The Internet feeds their fears because they can learn about symptoms they didn't have access to before. They go from one Web site to another. It's a vicious cycle."
Mr. Sowadsky finally authored an article, titled "Are You a 'Worried Well' Person?" His recommendation to such people: "Get off the Internet." Not bad advice. [Now we have gotten to the point of the article: read a newspaper such as this one, don't worry about side-effects from drugs like fen-fen, cancer fromindustrialy pollution from our advertisers, and trust the advise from an affluent physician-investor. -- webmaster]
Sites abound that seem to delight in fueling concern with details of exotic infections or newly discovered terrors. "New Cause of Sudden Death in Young People Found," blares a headline on cbs.medscape.com (cbs.medscape.com), a new consumer site. The story describes bacteria, never before seen in humans, that can cause a fatal heart inflammation.
"People love diseases," shrugs Alyssa Robinson, who operates the "Wonderful World of Diseases" Web page (www.diseaseworld.com). It features a section dedicated to details of the Ebola virus, which causes victims to bleed profusely. "There's sort of a gore to it that people find fascinating," says Ms. Robinson.
Creepy as that sounds, sites discussing neurological or autoimmune diseases may be even more enticing to hypochondriacs, who often worry about illnesses that have difficult-to-pinpoint symptoms. Ms. Woycechowsky, who has her hypochondria under control, says she favored a neurological health forum run by Harvard, and suspects other visitors were worriers, too. "I just know they're lurking there," says Ms. Woycechowsky, "because there are all these postings saying, 'I have this symptom, could I have multiple sclerosis?' "
Even people who have diagnosed medical conditions can worry unnecessarily about complications they learn about on the Web. Seth Feltheimer, a New York general practitioner, ran into that problem with a patient he diagnosed with sarcoidosis, a condition that can cause chronic inflammation of the lungs that, under certain conditions, can be fatal. This particular patient wasn't at risk for the condition's more severe effects, but she became convinced otherwise after reading on the Internet about a patient who ended up on a respirator. "Based on her Internet readings, she thought she was dying," sighs Dr. Feltheimer, who read to the patient from a medical text to persuade her that she was unlikely to get worse.
Even doctors who welcome the Web's plethora of health information as a valuable resource for educating patients [balance provided in the very last paragraph of a long article will be belittled by the final sentence -- webmaster ] say those prone to suggestion can go overboard. "People become obsessed," says an exasperated Everest Whited, a family practitioner in Pflugerville, Texas. "You can give yourself gray hair worrying about every possible side effect." [read: American Home Products stock was devastated by a recent class action suit on fen-fen, a diet pill that caused heart damage. -- webmaster]
James Meikle Friday October 8, 1999 The Guardian.Comment (webmaster):
We learned earlier that even after the ban, stockpiled vaccine use continued into the mid-90's, ie, until such time as the inventory was gone. (The first 10 cases of nvCJD were announced in 1996 but had been diagnosed long before.) Thatcherism is really a hard-core form of capitalism, injecting your own children with vaccine long after no one could have thought them safe; little profit was really at stake here but instead a philosophical objection to a nannyism [industries would self-regulate instead].
The inquiry into successive Conservative governments' handling of the epidemic has been warned not to reveal the names of manufacturers who were told to change the source of bovine material used in their products after scientists considered whether there might be a risk of people catching a human form of the incurable cattle disease.
Even by 1990, three injected or skin-testing products on the market used material from serum from British cattle, although all companies later followed government guidelines and changed to use material from New Zealand or countries with no history either of BSE or scrapie, a similar condition in sheep. [This change apparently failed to address stocks in inventory. These were used up, even if it took years, as with children's vaccines -- webmaster]
Their identity is protected by confidentiality clauses in the 1968 medicines act and the health department declined to say yesterday how long such products were used or how many people may have been injected with them.
The measures were taken before the revelation in 1996 that people had died from a new form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, most probably because they had eaten infected beef. Food is still regarded as the most probable cause of the fatal condition which has so far claimed 46 lives, and the dangers provoked the export ban that has only just been lifted and the ban on beef on the bone.
But the inquiry has been examining how officials and ministers reacted to other possibilities, including infection through medicines. Yesterday it published its draft factual account on the medical precautions. This includes evidence which suggests officials responsible for the control of medicines had been considering the issues months before either the chief medical officer or health ministers were informed of BSE in March 1988, 16 months after the disease was first identified in cattle. [The record shows BSE was first diagnosed as a TSE much earlier than this. -- webmaster]
In February 1989 there were found to be more than 500,000 litres of medicines in stock made with British bovine material. The following year at least three products were still made that way - a skin test for TB, a measles vaccine and a vaccine to prevent diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough. [The 500,000 liters were not recalled but used up until gone. The government requires the vaccine of all schoolchildren. -- webmaster]
Frances Rotblat, an official at the government's medicines control agency, told the inquiry earlier this year that officials held meetings with the companies. "It was agreed that the benefits of the vaccination programme outweighed the theoretical risk of transmission and that the vaccines could be used until new batches became available.'' [Both raw material and vaccines were readily available from the US. -- webmaster]
She believed that all the products used cattle from outside Britain by the end of 1991. Gerald Collee, who chaired a BSE working group for the committee on the safety of medicines, has told the inquiry that the available knowledge in January 1990 "led us to the view that the risk from those products was not only remote, but very remote''.
The health department refused to comment on the details outlined in the factual account. But other sources suggest experiments using mice innoculated with infected British cattle serum have shown no evidence that BSE can be transmitted in this way. [These mice did in fact become ill, even though they were mistakenly give valine at codon 129, a known species barrier allele.-- webmaster]
The medicines act's confidentiality rules are unlikely to be changed by the government's draft freedom of information bill.