Banned in Boston. . .
. . . and in all US schools and libraries. New internet filtering systems installed in US schools and libraries are designed to keep children away from online pornography. However, setting the filters to their most restrictive levels–as most schools and libraries do–results in the blocking of a quarter of all health sites including, you guessed it, westonaprice.org and realmilk.com! Apparently accurate information on diet and health is too risque for high school students, particularly information that would help future parents have healthy babies. The filtering software is called “Web Inspector” and is made by Elron Software. It supposedly works by pre-scanning pages for keywords, but can also be customized with specific lists of unacceptable web pages–our “not recommended” rating from the Tufts Nutrition Navigator comes to mind. The filter can be set at several levels–it is the most restrictive level that blocks most of the health sites. A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the filters blocked 87 percent of all pornography at their lowest settings and 91 percent at their most restrictive ones–a mere 4 percent more. So the solution is to convince your local schools to set the software at the lowest settings, which blocks most of the pornography but allows access to health sites–unfortunately most schools set them on the most restrictive levels (Wall Street Journal 12/11/2002).
We all recognize the huckster who appears in the works of Mark Twain, a dandified salesman who arrives in town, sets up his soapbox and proceeds to sell nostrums and panaceas–often by first making you afraid of the consequences of not buying his potions and pills, such as growing old or suffering from rheumatism. Today’s huckster is more difficult to spot; nevertheless, he operates throughout the world selling us stuff we don’t need, and no industry has developed the art of hucksterism better than the vegetable oil business. Their hucksters wear white coats, sport MD and PhD degrees and are backed by the weight of national governments. The man who epitomizes the modern huckster best is Pekka Puska of Finland, who has spent the last three decades cajoling the population of Finland into using margarine instead of butter and lard. Hiding behind laudable goals, such as eating more vegetables and quitting smoking, Puska and his minions of health care workers have persuaded the population of North Karelia to avoid sausage, consume lowfat dairy and use vegetable oil for cooking. While cholesterol levels have indeed fallen somewhat, there hasn’t been a significant decline in the rate of heart disease. Thus, the self-sacrificing peoples of northern Finland have gained little–and dairy farmers have taken a direct hit–but the vegetable oil industry has profited mightily. Dr. Puska’s reward is a cushy job as head of noncommunicable-disease prevention at the WHO where he is developing similar projects in China, Chile, Iran and Oman (Wall Street Journal, January 14, 2003).
D Risk Factor
We’ve heard about high cholesterol, high blood pressure, overweight, smoking and lack of exercise–all of them risk factors for heart disease. Yet many slender, nonsmoking, exercising individuals with “normal” cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure have heart disease. Now researchers have found a different type of risk factor–low levels of vitamin D in the blood. German scientists have discovered that levels of the vitamin are up to 50 percent lower in the blood of patients with chronic heart failure. In animal studies, chicks with vitamin D deficiency have been shown to develop heart failure, which disappeared as soon as the vitamin was added to their feed. Lack of vitamin D can lead to low levels of calcium, affecting the electrical activity of the heart. Skeptics of the theory argue that heart attacks are not more common in Nordic countries compared to southern Europe. No one wants to admit that there are other sources of vitamin D besides sunlight, namely lard, butter, eggs and organ meats–all high-fat, high-cholesterol foods that we’re being told cause heart disease (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, January 2003 1;41(1):105-12).
Shiny new supermarkets–Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Lotus, a Thai conglomerate–offer convenience and low prices. The meat is wrapped in plastic and the shelves are lined with western foods–the photo for this article shows row upon row of vegetable oils. Where are these new markets? In the larger cities of China. With the advent of supermarkets, experts predict a “food revolution” in China. “With supermarkets come new food systems, supply chains, food safety regulations and national brands, like Log Feng, a line of frozen foods” for the growing numbers of urban dwellers in China with refrigerators and microwaves. Shelves lined with candy, boxed goods, instant noodles, pasteurized milk and Coca Cola appeal to the emerging middle class. The new food system is pushing out the old “wet” markets–“bustling, chaotic food bazaars that truck in fresh vegetables and live animals every morning for people to buy and cook later in the day.” According to Thomas Reardon, a professor at Michigan State University, the new markets “will reshape the whole food economy.” But traditional markets retain their appeal among many Chinese who still prefer fresh foods like jellyfish and squid, and live turtles, eels, frogs, chickens, ducks and pigeons. Against such traditional attitudes the supermarket industry has aimed another weapon–sanitation laws. A series of widely publicized food-poisoning outbreaks in recent years has hurt neighborhood markets by creating the perception that they are unclean. We’ve seen the same pattern here–the emphasis on convenience and ultra-hygiene has pushed independent food purveyors and high quality food right out of the market–and ushered in a health crisis of monumental proportions (New York Times, March 6, 2003).
Fox in the Hen House
The fastest growing area in the practice of medicine today is that of pediatric dentistry. Vegan and junk food diets of pregnant women, formula feeding and high-sugar, lowfat diets for infants and children has led to an epidemic of cavities and other dental problems in the young. The only long-term solution is education about the nutritional requirements of pregnant women and growing children. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) has announced a $1 million grant for just such a program–only the donor is none other than the Coca-Cola Foundation! According to David Curtis, president of the AAPD, the grant will “help the organization reach more children” but Coca-Cola will have no say in shaping the research the organization conducts with the money (Philanthropy News Digest, March 6, 2003).
A recent study by the World Health Organization cited high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol as among the top ten risk factors for early death in all countries, including Third World countries. Previously these “hazards” were thought to be important only in relatively affluent nations. This study can, of course, be used to justify public health campaigns to bring vegetable oils into the most remote corners of the globe. The study also cites malnutrition and inadequate intake of three key micronutrients–zinc, iron and vitamin A–as the cause of early death and disability. Animal foods are the best sources of these nutrients, particularly animal fat as a source of vitamin A–the kind of fat that vegetable oils displace (Washington Post, October 21, 2002).
If your neighbor experiments with explosives in the backyard, you should probably report him to the local police, an FBI agent told farmers in a recent talk. Reporting unusual activities is a key to fighting agroterrorism, said Jerry Lyons, an FBI special agent who serves in the weapons-of-mass-destruction countermeasures unit. “You might have one piece of the puzzle that could solve the case.” He also noted that “it is a federal crime for anyone to engage in teaching methods of terrorism.” How to spot a neighboring farmer who might be a potential terrorist threat? Look for someone who strongly opposes genetically modified crops or the consumption of milk, said Lyons (Blue Ridge Leader and Loudoun Today, December 20, 2002). Does this sound like a plan to turn neighbor against neighbor and criminalize free thought, or what?
A sentence from an article on Smith Island in the Chesapeake Bay caught our eye. Isolated from the mainland–it takes a 45-minute boat ride to get there–the island is rapidly losing population. Seafood in the form of oysters and crabs has traditionally formed the mainstay of the diet and the population has been largely too poor to afford much junk food. The sentence that caught our eye was this: “Many islanders share a certain resemblance–green or blue eyes, brown hair, small features set in round faces.” Anthropologists would say that this similarity is genetic but the trait of small features set in round faces will disappear with the inevitable decline in diet that goes along with migration to the mainland (Washington Post, December 25, 2002).
Feeding hay to cattle instead of corn for a few days before slaughter reduces the odds of E. coli contamination in meat. This was the discovery of James Russell, a USDA scientist who works at Cornell University. For his important discovery, Russell became embroiled in a public fight in 1999 with two scientists who said he had ties to livestock groups. He abandoned the research after a series of professional attacks on an internet site and in a scientific journal. Russell declined to talk about why he stopped the research but a Midwestern USDA scientist familiar with Russell’s research and this particular situation reported that the Agriculture Department “marginalized” the work “after complaints from the beef industry and the universities.” The simple solution of feeding hay before slaughter would stymie plans to “solve” the E. coli problem by treating beef with irradiation (grazersedge (at) yahoogroups.com).
A recent article describes the benefits of using alkaline water on dairy farms. Tap water is treated by electrolysis to separate it into water that is acid and water that is alkaline. Twenty-seven dairy farms reported improvements in cows given alkaline water, including an increase in milk output, reduction in odors, healthier skin and udders, longer life-span and improved fertility. But the thing that interested us the most about this report is that these dairy farms were all in Japan–all 27 of them. Who says the Japanese don’t consume dairy foods? (http://www.portalmarket.com/dairy.html)
They Do It in the Movies
Remember the old movies where macho actors and svelte actresses lit up cigarettes? These films did more than thousands of advertisements to popularize smoking. Only recently have we learned that the tobacco companies paid mightily for film stars to puff Marlboros in front of the cameras. Now fast forward to the 21st century. On the TV show “Will & Grace,” soy milk makes a cameo appearance in the main characters’ refrigerator. This did not happen by chance. Last year, White Wave, a maker of soy milk, hired a marketing firm that pushed their Silk brand soymilk onto a dozen prime-time television shows including “Will & Grace” and “7th Heaven.” Doctors’ endorsements provide another parallel with smoking–remember all those men in white coats who endorsed various brands of cigarettes? No different from the MDs and PhDs endorsing soy in popular magazines. Steven Demos, president of White Wave, Inc. in Boulder Colorado, is not shy about his agenda. Having captured the health-conscious market, the soy industry now wants to obtain a share of mainstream beverage sales. “It’s not just about the hippie dollar anymore,” he said, “It’s about the average American dollar. . . . The product placement is effectively trying to give the consumer a subtle message of awareness that there’s nothing special about soy.” White Wave also spent $5 million last year on advertisements spanning publications from Rolling Stone to Vegetarian Times and distributed coupons into 53 million homes via Sunday papers. At stake is a share in the multi-billion-dollar US beverage market. Sales of soy milk reached a high of about $700 million last year but that’s a tiny sum compared to $63 billion for soft drinks, $10 billion for milk and $8 billion for bottled water (Washington Post, March 15, 2003). Since the parallel of soymilk with cigarettes is glaring, we are justified in asking the following questions: Will soy promoters eventually meet with the same opprobrium as cigarette promoters experience today? And will the soymilk industry add something to their product to make it addictive?
Banned in Bangkok
The Education Ministry of Thailand has banned the use of MSG in school meals, along with other potentially harmful food additives. Any firms found using MSG in food that is supplied to schools after the start of the next semester could face legal action, according to Deputy Education Minister Sirikom Maneerin. In addition, Sudarat Keyuraphan, Public Health Minister, announced that controls on advertising MSG will be reviewed. The announcement followed the publication of studies showing that MSG develops into a carcinogen when used in grilled products. The Confederation of Consumer Organizations, a watchdog organization in Thailand, is calling for warning labels on foods containing MSG, saying such foods should not be consumed by pregnant women and children (Bangkok Post, November 7, 2002, www.bangkokpost.com). No warning labels are required in America because, we are assured, “MSG has always been a part of Asian diets.” Maybe that’s why Asians are the first to warn consumers about the dangers of this ubiquitous modern additive.
More Reason to Take Cod Liver Oil
Reasons for taking cod liver oil–and giving it to children–just keep piling up. A recent clinical trial found that supplementation with a multivitamin together with cod liver oil can reduce rates of ear infections in children (Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology 2002;111:642-52). In the study, five of seven children who had experienced frequent ear infections had none while taking the supplements. The study authors also found that children suffering from ear infections had lower levels of vitamin A, selenium and eicosapentaenioc acid (EPA) compared to healthy adults. Cod liver oil provides EPA and vitamin A–and probably helps in the absorption of selenium also. Another study found that newborns whose mothers had consumed adequate amounts of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) exhibited healthier sleep patterns than others. Disturbed sleep patterns in newborns are indicative of disrupted neurological development (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002;76:608-613). Cod liver oil is the ideal source of DHA for pregnant women. Vegetarians have claimed that pregnant women can make DHA out of omega-3 fatty acids in flax oil but another study found that supplementing lactating women with flaxseed oil does not increase DHA in their milk (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003, 77:226-233). Cod liver oil has it all–vitamin A, vitamin D, EPA and DHA–all of which are vital to the optimal development of children and all of which are lacking in western diets.
Promoting the Pyramid
Vegetarian groups have often accused the USDA of caving in to meat and dairy interests when they formulated the Food Guideline Food Pyramid. The USDA guidelines call for 2-3 servings of meat or dairy products per day, but 6-11 servings of grains. If you think that the grain industry was an innocent bystander, visit www.cerealfoods.com/pyramid. There you will read the following: “Because we fully recognize that the success of Cereal Foods is dependent on the success of the baking industry and breadstuffs in general, we are active in assisting organizations such as the Wheat Foods Council in promoting the USDA Food Guide Pyramid. If Americans ate just the minimum of six servings as recommended in the pyramid graphic, an additional $7 billion in wholesale baked goods would be realized. Cereal Foods Processor believes in making this possibility a reality.”