SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – November 2001

The Politics of Precaution – Genetically Modified Crops in Developing Countries. "Genetically modified (GM) agricultural crops such as cotton, maize, or soybeans have been planted widely by farmers since 1995 in three western hemisphere countries-the United States, Argentina, and Canada. Where GM crops have been planted they have performed as advertised, allowing farmers to reduce costs by controlling insects and weeds with fewer, less toxic, and less persistent chemicals. Yet the planting of GM crops has not spread significantly beyond these three countries … it is somewhat discouraging at this point to see in so many cases that the most important local stakeholders – poor farmers with families to feed – have not yet been given official permission to use this important new tool for raising farm productivity." Robert L. Paarlberg – International Food Policy Research Instute.

"Farm to Fork" Are we in danger of being overcome by "risk paranoia"? Do we suffer from "risk dyslexia"? Are we weighed down by "risk overload"? I am deadly serious when I pose these questions. I am not just being provocative. They are serious questions for policy makers, politicians and individuals … Let me … contrast the road and smoking death tolls with another policy area within my remit Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). To my knowledge, nobody has died from eating a GMO. Animals and humans have been eating GMO feed and food for years in the US without any obvious problems. The only exception being StarLink which was used in food when it should not have been. But here in Europe we have been suffering from what might be called "GMO psychosis". David Byrne's speech to the European Voice conference.

Terrorism and You – The Real Odds. We are presented with a continuous stream of stories telling us about the most recent horrible incident and the possibilities of future terrors. Frequent repetition of these stories may lead people to overestimate the likelihood of future dire events. While we need to be made aware of potential dangers, we also need to understand the true probabilities of these risks. Washington Post.

Allergic to real life. Most of those who claim to have a food allergy are just on a diet. The myth of food allergies has finally been exposed. Celebrities and their pretenders won’t, after all, choke to death if their vegetables are not lightly steamed or they accidentally bite into wheat-infested bread…From now on, we are told by the trend pundits, eating everything is set to be the new food fad - the triumph of the welladjusted. Times.

Cholesterol enables nerve cells to connect. While cholesterol has a bad reputation for clogging up arteries and causing heart disease, this fatty molecule is an essential part of all cell membranes. Scientists have now found to their surprise that cholesterol may also regulate when and where nerve cells in the brain form the vital junctions known as synapses. Science News.

vCJD: health risks and health scares. Panorama: "Coming Clean," BBC 1, 11 November at 10 15 pm. What a programme making dream this must have been for the Panorama crew. It featured a fatal disease, a government scientist turned whistleblower, a buried report, and a set of surgical instruments locked in a hospital attic… Was this a programme aimed to heighten public awareness of an important health issue or another case of media scaremongering? Respondents to Panorama's website ( mostly thanked the programme for lifting the lid on the "cover up" but others found the programme alarmist, and criticised it for leaving no support information. BMJ.

Low-fat diets can cut children's nutrient intake. Well-intentioned parents who limit their child's dietary fat in the name of good health may be depriving their growing son or daughter of essential nutrients, researchers report…they warn pediatricians that a diagnosis of high cholesterol and a recommendation to parents to begin cutting back on fat in their child's diet could result in nutrient deficiencies. Reuters.

Protesters Don't Grasp Africa's Need. They can buy their food in supermarkets. They can eat fast food, home-cooked food, restaurant food. They can choose the more expensive organic foods, or even imported foods … The 'they' I refer to are a variety of anti-biotechnology protesters who would deny developing countries like my home, Kenya, the resources to develop a technology that can help alleviate hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Los Angeles Times.

A stroll down to the pub can help keep the doctor away. And now the good news for those who like a swift one after a hard day – going to the pub is beneficial to your health, according to a detailed piece of academic research. Dr Colin Gill, of Leeds University, has discovered that a visit to the pub for a man is equivalent to a visit to the shops for a woman – a way to relieve the stress of modern life. Herald.

Exercise messages may hurt women's body images. Although well-intentioned, exercise promotion may have the unintended side effect of making women more dissatisfied with their bodies – possibly raising their risk of eating disorders, researchers suggest. Reuters.

I just can't eat that stuff. Many people are changing diets in a belief that they have a food intolerance. But is the diagnosis the real problem? … there is now growing scepticism about the scale of the food intolerance epidemic, and an increasing concern that people may be eating an unbalanced diet as a result of omitting but not replacing what is perceived to be the trigger food. Independent.

Survey highlights diet headache. Britons are eating record amounts of unhealthy "comfort" food, says a survey of the nation's diet. Chocolate, chips, cakes, and pastries all figure prominently in the National Food Survey 2000. However, we are also spending more on fruit – and nutrition scientists say that, on balance, our diets are the most wholesome that we have enjoyed for a century. Even so, obesity rates are spiralling upwards in the UK, because although we are not necessarily eating much more, we are exercising less. BBC.

Food allergies 'are often just a trendy excuse for gaining weight'. Britain's growing obsession with food allergies is faddish and largely unfounded, according to a report to be published this week. Around one in five Britons believe they suffer from allergies and intolerance to foods that are often wheat and dairy-based. However, research by the British Nutrition Foundation claims that less than one per cent of adults have a potentially life-threatening food allergy and less than two per cent are affected by a milder food intolerance. Telegraph.

Risk, science and society. In the context of the safety of our day-to-day environment, we have become highly risk-averse. Our obsession with very small risks has reached a stage that results in damage to society. Further, the debate we have about these problems has a comparable value and intellectual content to the often-cited discussions in Byzantium about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. It often consists of a reiteration of the prepared data of pressure groups, which often ignore unfavourable data where they are non-supportive; and a series of exhortations about what should be done to make things safe – or a statement (from the opposing viewpoint) that they already are. Prof. Colin Berry in Spiked!.