SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – July 2001

GM tomato may be salt-water salvation. The world's first artificially generated crop plant that can grow in salty water was revealed yesterday by scientists who claim it could offer hope to millions of people living on land poisoned by brackish water … Estimates show that as much as 40 per cent of the world's irrigated land is so salty that it limits agricultural productivity. Any development that increases a crop's tolerance to salty soil could benefit many rural communities in the developing world. Independent.

Just beware of Greens bearing gifts. Despite the ludicrous pretence of acting on behalf of poor nations, the globo-phobes cannot name a single developing country that supports them in their anti-trade vendetta. By seeking to shut down the very meetings that attempt to loosen up economic borders, they are the problem, not the solution. Sydney Morning Herald.

Just what can't damage your health in our times of living dangerously? It's risky just getting out of bed these days in Hong Kong. You wake up, check the pollution indicator in the newspaper and find out you need a gas mask to breathe. Then you check to see whether the likes of Utor is coming to town to sweep you off the streets … Then there's work. If you draw your mobile towards your ear, we hear, you might get cancer. Your computer screen may be generating volatile organic compounds such as benzene and your office building may be ``sick'', meaning that it is a breeding ground for headaches, coughs and the sniffles … Over the past few months, we have been bombarded with studies and reports about how dangerous living is these days. You just don't know what might harm you … "There are definitely people who, even without all of this news, are afraid of all these things. There are some people who generally worry a lot and so such news can perpetuate their fear," psychotherapist Cathy Tsang Feign said. Hong Kong iMail.

Life's too short to play by the rules. Take a tip from Joan Collins and get yourself a young lover…Right now our world is obsessed with eliminating risk – whether it's school trips or GM food. We want guarantees with everything, even though none of us can be protected from ourselves. We try, though. Women try harder than most. We don't listen to that little voice inside, or to our dreams. When something really big happens, we call it fate. Guardian.

Watchdog cracks down on misleading claims in organic food ads. The advertising watchdog has issued a tough set of guidelines to companies producing and selling organic food after a string of false claims … From now on, advertisers will not be able to claim that organic food production is free from chemicals, fertilisers, herbicides or pesticides … The use of words and phrases such as "environmentally friendly" or "sustainable" have been vetoed after it was decided that all food production systems cause at least some damage to the environment. Independent.

Body image obsession on the rise among young girls. One young girl comes home and announces her intention to diet because "I'm getting fat!" Another child wishes she wore a smaller clothing size. And yet another declares herself "ugly" after studying fans wearing hip-huggers and midriff tops at a concert. Such moments are hardly surprising in a world that many say is obsessed with weight and looks. But these comments come from children – girls ages 6, 8 and 5. Experts say they are part of a growing number of young children, especially girls, who fret about body image. In extreme but increasingly common cases, some are being treated for eating disorders. Nando Times.

Easing Parents' Anxiety Over a Child's Fever. Despite many attempts to ease parents' fears about fever, many are still overly concerned about it, often to the potential detriment of their children. In a recent report, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center in Baltimore noted that "fever phobia persists" among parents of young children, and that health care workers might not be doing enough to calm parents. In fact, doctors and nurses often seem to add to parents' concern, resulting in unnecessary calls and visits to the doctor. N.Y.Times.

Fat can be healthy. A leading scientist has sparked controversy by saying fat people who exercise are at no greater risk from disease than their thinner, lazier counterparts. In a meeting with the Association for the Study of Obesity in London, American scientist Steven Blair said: "There is a misdirected obsession with weight and weight loss, the focus is all wrong. It's fitness that is the key." CNN.

The pressure on pressure groups. Undemocratic, unrepresentative, unaccountable, ill-informed and illegitimate. These criticisms are continually levied at international organisations, multinationals and governments by pressure groups. But if anyone deserves such criticism, it is some of these same pressure groups themselves … Their campaigns are almost always driven by slogans, which ignore trade-offs and are far too simplistic. Jubilee 2000's fight to drop developing countries' debt skated over the crucial issues of the appropriate conditions for debt relief and the lack of a clear link between a country's debt and its need for poverty alleviation. Environmental campaigns against genetically modified crops ignore their benefits, highlighted earlier this week in the United Nations Human Development Report. Financial Times.

Wonderful world. 'A lot of people really, really hate me," says Bjorn Lombörg. It's easy to understand why. The Danish statistician has gone to infinite pains to show that most people's cherished beliefs about the lamentable state of the Earth are bunk. SundayTimes.

Mean Cuisine – Gone is the Joy of Cooking. "Today's celebrity chefs are serving up a menu of global doom and politically twisted snobbery In their worldview, food is no longer something to be enjoyed; it is something to be feared and understood through a complicated set of new rules that acknowledge the global implications of every plate of pâté. Though most Americans just want to have fun and tuck into a good meal, spending upwards of $128 billion on high-end dining every year, the uptown chefs just can't lighten up. Instead, they increasingly serve up a message of humorless moral suasion that increasingly ends up on the plates of policymakers around the world." Washington Monthly.

Public Attitudes towards Agricultural Biotechnology in Developing Countries – A Comparison between Mexico and the Philippines. "Though the public debate on the potential risks and benefits of agricultural biotechnology is discussed globally, it is often reduced to a transatlantic debate with the United States as the main producer of bioengineered crops and Europe as the main opponent to such crops. Developing countries often find themselves in an uncomfortable position in the middle … The study shows that most of the respondents to the surveys consider biotechnology a powerful new tool to address problems in agriculture, nutrition and the environment, and they do not seem to share Europe’s fear of potential health risks for consumers. In turn, they are concerned about corporate control of the technology, and the potential impact of such crops on their countries’ rich biological diversity." Harvard Science, Techology and Innovation Program. See also SIRC editorial Science and Agriculture in Africa.

Food Fight … last week activists from Greenpeace vandalized a plantation of genetically modified corn in Brazil. The Greenpeace Web site demands that governments ban genetically engineered crops. This is murderous nonsense. Over the next two decades world population is projected to grow by between 2 billion and 2.5 billion. This increase, together with rising incomes, means that crops will have to grow by about a third, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. We could do that by chopping down forests and planting marginal lands, which would be environmentally awful. Or we could do it by boosting yields with new technology. Washington Post.

Move to Curb Biotech Crops Ignores Poor, U.N. Finds. Opposition in richer countries to genetically modified crops may set back the ability of the poorest nations to feed growing populations, according to a new United Nations survey. A movement against these crops, genetically changed for various reasons - including higher yield, more nutritional value and pest or disease control - is strongest among Western Europeans and to some extent Americans … "Western consumers who do not face food shortages or nutritional deficiencies or work in the fields are more likely to focus on food safety and the potential loss of biodiversity," the report states, but "farming communities in developing countries are more likely to focus on potentially higher yields and greater nutritional value, and on the reduced need to spray pesticides that can damage the soil and sicken farmers." The report draws a comparison to successful Western-led efforts to ban the use of the industrial pesticide DDT worldwide, which has allowed a resurgent population of mosquitoes to devastate tropical countries with several virulent strains of malaria. New York Times.

Customized Quarantine – Child-free zones and other innovations in exclusionary living. There are "smoke-free zones" in public accommodations, "truck-free zones" on residential streets, "campaign-free zones" around polling places, "skateboard-free zones" in parks, "cell-phone-free zones" in restaurants, "alcohol-free zones" in sports arenas. There are "car-free zones," "trailer-free zones," and "pesticide-free zones." Cities and towns have proclaimed themselves "nuclear-free zones," and activists in Aspen, Colorado, once sought to declare their city a "fur-free zone." Moves are afoot to declare schools "commercial-free zones" (to keep advertising away) and to make the human genome an "IP-free zone" (to prevent sequencing data from being claimed as intellectual property). A portion of Cape Cod has been set aside as a "gull-free zone," and in Maryland officials concerned about an infestation of Cygnus olor have called for the enforcement of "swan-free zones" in the Chesapeake Bay. The Atlantic.

Doctors attack MMR refusniks. Doctors have launched a stinging attack on parents who refuse to have their children immunised with the triple MMR vaccine. Some parents are campaigning for the right to give their children separate single vaccines for measles, mumps and rubella amid lingering fears about the safety of the combined vaccine … Dr David Sinclair, from Fife, Scotland, said: "Single vaccines lead to more children's deaths and disability. "This is a recipe for deaths in children – no more, no less. It is pandering to the chattering classes and not to our children's health." BBC.

Help me, there’s a risk I’m going to die. As a nation we have never been healthier. Yet we have never been more anxious about our health. Nearly every day there are reports of new research – and new warnings to worry about. Doctors have a term for those who are overly anxious about their health: the "worried well". It’s something they are diagnosing with increasing frequency, and it can have consequences that are very worrying in themselves. For every story about a health risk, it seems, there’s a scare story and, when it comes to health, it is perception of the risk, not the actual risk, that matters. Scotsman.

 Play areas to teach lost art of risk-taking. Designers of children's equipment are developing new "extreme" playgrounds amid fears that youngsters have lost their sense of danger. Political correctness over safety and the fear of legal claims if a child as much as traps a finger have been blamed for neutering adventure in Britain's playgrounds. Now, psychologists are warning that the trend is creating a new generation of timid youngsters. They say that "mollycoddling" children may prevent them from fully developing their sense of balance or the ability to weigh risks. Sunday Times. [see SIRC's comment Nothing to fear but fear itself]

What's eating you? Another day, another food scare, and another fad. This time it's soy sauce. On other days we've woken up to bad eggs, good salmon, bad salmon, bad beef, perfectly fine beef, good red wine, good white wine, bad coffee, good coffee, indifferent coffee … so many pieces of confusing and contradictory advice about what is harmful and helpful in your diet, that it is tempting to ignore it all. Guardian.

Crunchy numbers. ''All numbers are imperfect,'' says Sociologist Joel Best in a phone interview, preaching his gospel of cheerful cynicism from the University of Delaware. ''Be especially suspicious of big round numbers.'' His book [Damned Lies and Statistics] blows up a lot of them, most notably the often-misquoted statistic that 150,000 women die of anorexia each year. Best explains that advocates wishing to draw attention to a problem made an educated estimate that 150,000 women were anorexic. That number morphed into deaths because it was more dramatic, and now it has a life of its own. Boston Globe.