Social Issues Research Centre Front Page
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2001 – The year of new reason? – Welcome changes in media coverage of health and science issues.

The Tyranny of Health: Doctors and the regulation of lifestyle. A review of Michael Fitzpatrick's new book.

Closing time at the Last-Chance Saloon? Over 10 years ago the then National Heritage Secretary, David Mellor, commented that the behaviour of some parts of the British media was so outrageous that controls on the 'sacred cow' of press freedom were necessary to curb their more extreme activities.

Homocysteine will be 'the new Cholesterol'? SIRC's monitoring of trends in dietary fashions and taboos indicates that meat will be the next nutritional folk-devil. In recent years, fat-bashing and fears about cholesterol, while still popular, have been overtaken to some extent by carbo-phobia and anxiety about 'glycemic load'.

The madness of Prince Charles. HRH Prince Charles' Reith lecture, Respect for the earth – A royal view, has angered and depressed in equal measure the entire science community. His mystical, and at times quite whimsical, views on the sacred status of nature started to make even Vandana Shiva's earlier lecture in the series seem half-way sensible.

Back to nature in India? Vandana Shiva's Reith lecture, Poverty and Globalisation, has predictably increased her standing among elitist, Western, green activist groups and anti-globalisation protesters. At the same time it has depressed many people with a more rational concern for poverty and hunger in the Southern Hemisphere.

Oxfam Hits Back on GM Stance. We reported in November 1999 the attack on Oxfam's position on GM crops made by Vandana Shiva, head of the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in New Dehli. (See Oxfam Berated by Eco-Activists) Oxfam have now replied to this seemingly callous criticism, and we are happy to respond to a request by Koos Neefjes, their Policy Advisor, to feature this reply on our web site.

Backlash against the anxiety makers. Our 'Scares and Panics' column on the Mediawatch page usually has space for only a small fraction of the anxiety-generating articles which litter our newspapers every morning. It is difficult to find anything which has unequivocally been declared safe by the 'experts'. Hidden dangers are portrayed as lurking in every aspect of our lives, from the food we eat to the phones we use, and even the pet dog that we love and cherish.

All-American Food Fight. Unnoticed so far by the British media there is what is being described as the "All-American Food Fight" currently in progress in the United States. No, this has nothing to do with genetically modified crops – an issue which keeps the British in constant fear of turning into monsters. No, it is to do with what is normally the rather mundane subject of official dietary advice. With more than 1 in 6 of the American population now officially deemed to be obese, the interest in such things is high.

Oxfam berated by Eco-activists. Oxfam's recent position paper, Genetically Modified Crops, World Trade and Security is a thoughtful and balanced document. It is rightly concerned that the introduction of GM crops in the third world may lead to a consolidation of control of local agriculture by large, agro-industrial companies. It recognises, however, that GM crops, with their higher yields, "could be of benefit to poor farmers in the longer term if applications are directed to their needs."

F.I.T. only for the waste bin. The 'British National Survey on Genetically Modified Foods', currently being conducted by the Food Information Trust, is one of the most blatantly biased and unscientific studies we at SIRC have ever encountered.

Scaremongers: the new threat to children's healthThe current MMR vaccination crisis, which experts predict will lead to a measles epidemic, has highlighted a new public health problem: 'riskfactorphobia' – a psychological side effect of health scares.

The tide turns against Greenpeace Greenpeace anti-GM food activists may well have done the organisation's reputation irreparable damage. In place of the pious deference shown by the British Press to the movement's every word on biotechnology, a consensus is now growing that the mindless vandalism of recent weeks has gone too far.

 Another Unfounded Food Scare?
The scaremongers are at it again, and this time they are causing unnecessary alarm about a rapidly increasing and profitable trend in food production. Among their unfounded allegations are those concerning increased risks of liver cancer from aflatoxins in food, the heightened dangers of E coli 0157 poisoning and the presence of the potentially lethal organism Citobacter freundii.

A Little Bit of What You Fancy
In a highly personal and poignant article, Desmond Morris explains how his own experiences have reinforced his scientific views on the importance of avoiding anxiety and stress about what we eat.

GM Foods OK in US
It seems ironic that in the United States, a country obsessed with food safety and prone to whimsical dietary fads, confidence in genetically modified foods is very high. There is no talk of ‘Frankenstein’ Food. Nor is there the irrational fear about so-called ‘tinkering with nature’ which occupies the mind of so many British consumers. Instead, the large majority of Americans see GM foods as having many benefits, both now and in the future.

Big Mouth: Food and pleasure
(From Lionel Tiger's 'The Pursuit of Pleasure')

Human beings are like other mammals in that they often receive their first food directly from their mother's body. But it is difficult to imagine any other mammal having such variety, complexity, and intensity of experiences surrounding food. No other creature on earth enjoys as much as people do so many kinds of pleasure from food – simple, complex, real, symbolic, basic, luxurious.

The secret agendas of health promotion
A recent paper published in a leading health promotion journal reveals the ‘fanatical zeal’, ‘secretive’ processes and ‘hidden agendas’ of health promotion professionals.

Shopping Malls: The New Village Green
A contribution from Professor Robin Fox – a member of SIRC's advisory panel

Do healthy adults need screening
Routine screening is now part of what we take to be responsible, preventative medicine. Most people assume that there are significant benefits to be gained from such procedures. Surely, if potentially fatal diseases can be detected at an early stage and cured, then we should be screened more often.

Beware the Precautionary Principle
A new mantra is beginning to occupy pride of place in debates on all environmental issues, whether they be to do with food safety, genetic engineering or global warming – the precautionary principle. Originating in 1960s Germany as Vorsorgeprinzip (literally foresight planning) it has been increasingly seized upon by green activists and other romantics since the 1970s as an unanswerable credo – when considering technological innovation, exercise caution with regard to its potential consequences.

No more good air days
In line with the current trend towards environmental doom and gloom, weather forecasters will no longer be allowed to end their broadcasts with a cheerful "…and the air quality today will be Very Good". The very best we can expect to hear is that "pollution levels will be Low".

Recycling – the sacred cow of enviromentalism
Is the often holier-than-thou crusade to recycle everything from newspapers to beer bottles a way of saving the planet? Or is it just a modern manifestation of mass anal retentiveness?

Red meat and the health-scare gravy train
The widely leaked Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy (COMA) report on red meat and cancer upset another venerable body of health professionals: the World Cancer Research Fund. Not that the WCRF disagreed with COMA's findings. Quite the opposite. It is just that COMA raced to the press briefings before them and threatened to steal all the limelight. For this reason the WCRF retaliated by rushing out their own 600-page report, which says much the same thing about the evils of red meat. They are also setting up road shows around the world to show that they not COMA are the true guardians of public health.

Health stories: Reading between the lines
We are all rightly concerned about our health, and recognise that what we eat has a profound effect on our physical and mental well-being. It is also very appropriate that the media - whether newspapers, magazines, TV programmes or even Internet Web sites - should recognise these concerns and provide us with sensible guidelines based on current and emerging scientific research. Few people have time to read the learned journals on diet and nutrition, and even fewer have the academic training to understand them fully. So we rely on journalists and popular writers to make the material more accessible.

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