SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – January 2001

MMR vaccine: the continuing saga. Understandably some parents and health professionals are confused and anxious and, in an effort to protect their children against measles, have sought single antigen vaccines. We have reviewed the latest developments in this saga and are convinced that such confusion and anxiety about MMR vaccine are unfounded…The latest data indicate that uptake by the 2nd birthday fell by only 4% to 88% in 1999 and by September 2000 had fallen no further. Whether it will hold up under the latest media onslaught remains to be seen. Incorrect media reports of vaccine uptake "plummeting" could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. BMJ.

MMR: why government reassurances won't work. The medical top brass, who were assembled at the Department of Health on Monday 22 January 2001 in an attempt to reassure the public over the safety of the immunisation of children against measles, mumps and rubella, blame one man for the fall in the uptake of the vaccine. They believe that, by alleging that the MMR vaccine may cause inflammatory bowel disease and autism, gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield has single-handedly reduced the rate of immunisation below that required to provide community protection against further epidemics. But Wakefield's work only had such an impact because it encountered a climate of opinion that was already highly sensitised to health scares. This climate was not created by Wakefield – though the government and its top medical advisers have certainly done much to encourage it over the past decade. Michael Fitzpatrick in Spiked!.

Saturday night at the science lecture. Even though science might be more accessible, via increased television coverage and obliging publishers, the problem is one of interaction. Scientists are, for the most part, perceived as about as trustworthy as politicians and, inevitably, remote and unfeeling nerds. While some people might be experiencing the "wow" factor over certain aspects of science, they are still scared rigid by GM foods and mobile phones, and the fact that no one will actually talk things through clearly with them, and steer them through the minefield of scientific method. Prof Susan Greenfield. Independent.

Organic farm standards at risk, say MPs. Organic farming has expanded so fast it is in danger of losing its high standards, and is appealing to sentiment rather than being able to prove environmental or health benefits, MPs said yesterday … The committee said organic methods could not feed Britain, and suggested a mixture of organic and traditional agriculture. This disappointed the campaign to give the UK a target of 30% organic farming … The MPs said it was a "common perception" that organic meant pesticide and chemical-free. In fact, it simply meant farming without artificial pesticides. Guardian.

Labour peer warns of 'crisis' in science. The Labour peer Lord Winston warned last night of an international crisis in science, levelling the blame at protesters such as the fuel lobby, arts graduates, the press, and even fellow scientists … Lord Winston said the growing suspicion of science put Britain's economic growth put in jeopardy, and lambasted the press for printing "absolute nonsense" on stem cell research. He highlighted "single issue protest groups" as a particular threat, accusing such groups of distorting public opinion via "manufactured protest". Independent.

Organic food sales disappoint Iceland. Iceland Group's high-profile bet on organic foods failed to pay off as the company saw its sales slump in the six months to 29 December … "We will continue to promote organic produce on a phased basis rather than a complete basis," said Bill Grimsey, the new chief executive of the group … He described the company's 100% move into organic foods, particularly vegetables, last September as a "bold but misguided policy". BBC.
Iceland shivers as its customers get cold feet over the organic revolution When the tabloids started screaming about the dangers in "Frankenstein food", Walker spotted a public relations coup to be had and proclaimed his stores the first to be free of genetically modified foods. No matter that his burgers oozed fat and his chickens were battery modified, the Mums who went to Iceland had been sufficiently scared by the GM stories to feel reassured by the promise that Iceland was not intent on turning their children into mutants. Times.

Hunger outweighs GM food fears. The need to feed the world's starving was more important than worrying about the vague risks of side-effects from genetically modified crops in developing countries, according to a visiting agriculture expert. Australian.

New claims of vaccine danger rebutted. Professor Brian Duerden, medical director of the public health laboratory service, said yesterday that he could find "no hard scientific basis at all" for Mr Wakefield's claims. "He is a fervent believer in his views on this," said Prof Duerden. "One person's idiosyncrasy and interpretation puts the vaccination programme and the need to protect children at risk." Guardian.

Parents have no cause for alarm as this scare is based on flawed research. Dr Wakefield is on a crusade. In the past, he has asserted that the measles vaccine causes bowel disease and linked MMR to autism, and now that MMR was licensed without proper safety studies. Before we look at his recent claims, we need to remember that he has been wrong before, and his views have no support from experts in vaccines. Independent.

Running scared . Huntingdon Life Sciences has been abandoned by cowards who fear an animal rights terror campaign. Guardian.

Animal research: extremists are not the main problem. The UK government's defensiveness on scientific issues allows a tiny minority to lay claim to public opinion…Anti-science arguments are given credence and credibility – and a disproportionate influence – precisely because of the defensive climate today that the government epitomises perfectly. Spiked.

GM rice 'best hope of feeding world' The best hope of feeding the world lies in genetically modified crops because organic and other "sustainable" farming methods would not be able to do the job, a conference at St James's Palace was told yesterday. Professor Jules Pretty, of Essex University, an expert on organic farming and "sustainable" agricultural methods, said it would be difficult to tackle the malnutrition facing 800 million people without using developments such as genetically modified rice with added vitamin A. Telegraph.

Are too many warnings damaging our health? This is a safety warning. You are going to die. Sorry, but it's the truth. Can't tell you when or how, so there is nothing to be done about it - which makes this warning just as useless as almost all the others that besiege us every day. There are so many more than ever. The relentlessly published wisdom of scientists, politicians, and doctors suggests we are living in times more dangerous than any since the dawn of civilisation, beset by perils at every turn. But is that right? Or are they encouraging us to become obsessed by risk, even as our lives are made safer? Independent.

Tired? Listless? You're probably suffering from Guff War syndrome. Much of the nation appears to be in the grip of Guff War syndrome - the pathological tendency to surrender our critical faculties whenever an army of scaremongers fires off another hysteria-tipped broadside about an unsubstantiated or exaggerated risk to public health. The wasting effects of Guff War syndrome on the body politic have reached the point where entire news bulletins can become a rundown of the current Top Ten health panics. This week, Balkan War syndrome (son of Gulf War syndrome) is jockeying for top spot with the MMR vaccine scare, with the growing panic about Economy Class syndrome tucked in behind. Times.

Controversy rages over MMR jab. The biggest study of the controversial MMR vaccine appears to have given it the all-clear…Researchers in Finland followed nearly two million children for 14 years after they were given the measles, mumps and rubella injection. They found no link between the vaccine with autism or bowel disease. BBC.
Knowledge and practice among health professionals regarding the second dose of the MMR vaccine vary widely…48% of the professionals (220/460) had reservations and 3% (15) disagreed with the policy of giving it. BMJ.

Food Restriction Linked To Lower Self Esteem Among Overweight 5-yr-old Girls. A Penn State study has found that parents’ degree of concern about their daughter’s weight and their adoption of restrictions on certain foods were associated with lower self esteem among overweight girls as young as 5 years of age. Dr. Leann Birch, professor and head of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, says her group’s research has repeatedly shown that restricting foods has negative effects on children. Penn State News.

Fat Chance. Overweight people -- constantly told they'd be healthier if they were slimmer -- finally may have found an area where they have an edge on their thin counterparts. New research contends that obese people who have high blood pressure have a better chance of reducing their risk of heart attack and stroke than thin people with high blood pressure. HealthScout.

Dr. Strangelunch. Activists like Shiva subscribe to the candlemaker fallacy: If people begin to use electric lights, the candlemakers will go out of business, and they and their families will starve. This is a supremely condescending view of poor people…Per Pinstrup-Andersen of the International Food Policy Research Institute asked participants in the Congressional Hunger Center seminar to think about biotechnology from the perspective of people in developing countries: "We need to talk about the low-income farmer in West Africa who, on half an acre, maybe an acre of land, is trying to feed her five children in the face of recurrent droughts, recurrent insect attacks, recurrent plant diseases. For her, losing a crop may mean losing a child. Reason Magazine.

Prince's organic food profits triple. Organic farming is bringing home the bacon for the Prince of Wales. Duchy Originals, his organic-food company, increased its profits almost threefold last year as sales of organic food soared. Sunday Times.

Error in salmon study undermines toxin claims. Fresh doubts have been raised about the scientific research that was reported this week to show that farmed salmon are contaminated with much higher levels of toxins than their wild cousins. An error has been identified in one of the studies, which wrongly identified "farmed" salmon as coming from a supermarket when in fact it was wild salmon. Independent.

Vaccination: stop scaring the parents. That vaccines can eradicate diseases, and make something like death by measles a thing of the past, is certainly something to celebrate. But when facts and panics come and go, it is small wonder that parents feel less than confident. The reality is that the minimal risk from vaccination pales in comparison to the risk of illness in the absence of vaccination. This would be clear, if the vaccination panic button wasn't so easy to press. Spiked.

Scientific Innovation has come to be seen as a perversion of nature. We are rightly wary of some of the advances in genetic technology. We should never lose sight of the bigger picture, however - that scientific breakthroughs add much more to the value of life than they take away. Independent.

BBC 'created health scare to plug programme'. The Food Standards Agency accused the BBC yesterday of generating a health scare over farmed salmon in order to plug a forthcoming television programme. The BBC said new scientific research had found that farmed salmon contained 10 times the levels of cancer-causing chemicals as wild salmon. However, the scientist who conducted the study denied the figure and has complained to the corporation over what she claimed was a "misinterpretation" of her findings. Independent.

Measles outbreak warning. Government scientists are warning that children starting school next week face the risk of measles outbreaks. The Public Health Laboratory Service (PHLS) is concerned too few children are being immunised with the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. BBC.

ADHD: turning a problem into a disease. 'That's the trouble with you people – every time you see a problem you turn it into a disease.' So stated mafia boss Tony Soprano, of the cult drama The Sopranos, on hearing his 13-year-old son diagnosed as a 'borderline case' of Attention Deficit Disorder. Spiked.

At Risk: When Parents Say No to Vaccinations. Colorado children whose parents decided against measles and pertussis vaccinations not only contracted the diseases at sharply higher rates than vaccinated children, but they also appear to have increased the risk of infection for their peers, according to a study published last week in The Journal of the American Medical Association. New York Times.

Study finds "backlash" in face of conflicting health studies. Yes I would like fries with that. That's what many Americans are saying in the face of conflicting research advice on just what makes for a healthy diet, researchers found. Associated Press.