SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – January 2002

BBC smallpox terror drama 'is alarmist'. The BBC has been accused of scaremongering about the dangers of biological terrorism in a new drama-documentary to be shown next week. 'Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon' predicts that a virus set loose by a lone terrorist could set off the worst pandemic of disease the world has seen … The programme’s figures have been challenged by other scientists, who say it is alarmist and exaggerates the dangers of a biological attack. Times (PAYMENT FOR ARCHIVE ARTICLES NOW REQUIRED)

Food, drink, drugs and holidays. Killjoys kicked off 2002 as they mean to go on – warning us not to eat, drink, party, dance or holiday too hard. Spiked!.

Guardian bites own columnist. "In Wales, my colleague George Monbiot enjoys an unlikely legal victory. George is one of several charged with criminal damage over the trampling of GM maize crops at a Flintshire farm last July. Only after he turned up at the police station in the town of Mold in November did he manage to get himself charged, but that wasn't the end of his struggle. The prosecution alleged that only £1,000 damage was caused, which would have meant a trial by magistrates, but the defence managed to persuade the court that it was at least £5,000 – the threshold to bump it up to a crown court jury trial. What a shame for George that we don't have the death penalty, just to give him a real target to aim at." Matthew Norman in the Guardian.

Banning other people’s fun can be bad for you. Flying long distances is a miserable business. The one thing that makes it almost bearable is the pleasant, slightly woozy feeling that you get when you drink a glass of wine at 30,000ft. Well, enjoy it while it lasts. They are thinking of banning it…Yet some things must be banned. The most vulnerable must be protected. The difficulty arises when we start banning things not in order to protect others who might be harmed but to protect us from ourselves. John Humphries – Sunday Times.

Rural delivery: GE's the only way to grow. The Greens asked for it. The Royal Commission delivered it. The Government decided on it. But the Greens do not like it. And I do not understand why. I embrace the goals of organic farming – quality environment, quality food, quality soils and that is exactly why I embrace genetic modification, or GM. Contradictory? Not at all. The world population is about 5 billion and rising. How does this planet feed these people and yet maintain soil quality, preserve biodiversity and ensure clean water? New Zealand Herald.

Why trying to be safe can be risky. The action people take to avoid a perceived risk could actually prove more dangerous, according to doctors. BBC.

Organic food price report silenced. The Soil Association, the body responsible for promoting organic food in the UK, has suppressed a report accusing Britain's leading supermarkets of overcharging for organic goods. Independent.

Injecting some sense. In the UK, vaccinating children is like voting. A single vote, or a single vaccination, is rarely going make any difference. If everyone else's children are vaccinated, herd immunity will ensure that deadly bacteria or viruses cannot circulate. A few people can then afford to be "conscientious objectors", because the vaccination of the majority will keep disease at bay. But as with voting, if everyone stops, the system collapses. Measles, mumps, rubella or diphtheria haven't gone away. They are still among us, ready to break out if we let our defences down. A recent outbreak of measles in the Netherlands was triggered by low rates of vaccination: 2,961 children were infected and most recovered. But three died. If too many of us refuse to have our children vaccinated, then parents will soon be discussing epidemics that are far more deadly than nits. Guardian.

Melchett joins the backflip boys. You may recall Melchett as the former Labour minister and insufferable prig who destroyed a field of GM maize in a fit of self-righteousness in 1999. As head of Greenpeace UK, he liked to portray himself as sternly incorruptible and environmentally pure, once proclaiming: "Truth is our strength. We must be as independent and uncompromising as possible. That is the way to achieve success." So imagine the consternation of his former colleagues when Melchett announced he had taken a job at Burson-Marsteller, who by [an] incredible stroke of luck, represent GM firm Monsanto and the European bio-technology industry. … Past clients include the Argentinian junta after the disappearance of 35,000 citizens, the Indonesian régime of President Suharto following the massacre of 200,000 people in East Timor, and the Ceausescu dictatorship of Romania. Yorkshire Post.

! Health warning on unwashed fruit to be dropped. An official health warning to peel or wash fruit and vegetables is set to be withdrawn because it clashes with plans to give free fruit to schoolchildren. The advice to wash or peel produce was originally issued in 1997 by the then Chief Medical Officer, Kenneth Calman, as a "sensible precaution" because of fears that pesticide residues in some fruit and root vegetables could pose health risks, particularly for small children. The Ministry of Agriculture admitted that in rare cases, eating two apples with high levels of pesticides in them could have adverse effects. Independent.

Why natural may not equal healthy. When viewed from the perspective of scientific uncertainty, some of the fears about unknown consequences may seem less irrational. A challenge for those responsible for translating science into regulatory policy is to find an effective way of taking people's concerns into account without straying from the bedrock of scientific evidence. There are no easy answers, but a start may be for scientists both to explain the uncertainties more fully, and to emphasize that evidence is dynamic and evolving rather than a set of ineluctable facts. John Krebs reviews Naturally Dangerous: Surprising Facts about Food, Health, and the Environment by James P. Collman. Nature [subscription required]

MMR: injection of fear. The anti-MMR cause has readily acquired prominent political and journalistic backing, and the endorsement of a few high-profile medical dissidents. As the controversy spread from the broadsheets to the tabloids, to the daytime talkshows and the radio phone-ins, parental anxieties intensified. Dr Michael Fitzpatrick – Spiked!.

Melchett's deal with the devil. Has Lord Peter Melchett been genetically modified? Implausible it may be, but as Sherlock Holmes's old maxim had it, "When you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." … Once you have excluded the possibility that the famously principled and talented Melchett is, in fact, as venal or dimwitted as the next man, what reason, other than some malign tampering with his lordship's essential nature, can there be? Guardian.

A shot in the arm. Outbreaks of measles are once again possible because parental anxiety about MMR means more and more children are not being vaccinated … in spite of the mountain of scientific data and opinion backing the safety of the MMR – the latest being a paper in the prestigious American journal, Paediatrics, which says a child's immune system could cope with 10,000 vaccines at one time if it had to – the figures show a continuing loss of confidence on the part of parents. Public health officials fear we could see sudden deaths once more from measles. Their assessment is categorically that the risk of the deaths of even a few children outweighs any risk from the MMR. It may not be until deaths start to occur once more – and these days they would soon be common knowledge – that the pendulum will swing back and vaccination rates rise once more. Guardian.

! Eco-warrior peer goes over to the other side. A year after retiring as executive director of Greenpeace, in order to make his 800-acre Norfolk farm "more organic", eco-warrior (Lord) Peter Melchett is returning to the fray. This time, though, Melchett, a Labour hereditary peer whose great-grandfather founded ICI, will be working for the other side. He has just accepted a lucrative consultancy with the corporate PR company Burson-Marsteller. Telegraph.

Measles outbreak fears spread. Doctors fear that measles could sweep towns in north-west England as parents turn away from the controversial MMR vaccine. North Cheshire Health Authority (NCHA) says that coverage with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine in Widnes, Runcorn and Hale has dropped to only 77%. BBC.

The expensive roots of organic food. Shoppers have started to think organic food is a rip-off but, while there is money to be made, the supermarkets will continue to stock it … we have run out of food scares for the time being, and the trouble is that the qualitative differences between organic and non- organic foods are not readily obvious. The differential in price is not matched by a discernible improvement in quality. Guardian.