SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – June 2001

Greenpeace has Govt’s ear, farmers turn shrill. The build-up to the Centre’s decision to extend the trial period for Bt cotton by a year is more interesting than the decision itself: the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) invited farmers, seed companies to a dialogue on whether Bt cotton should be grown commercially, and surprise, surprise, 'foreign NGO' Greenpeace was part of what the Ministry called an ‘open discussion behind closed doors’. Much to the farmers’ chagrin and environmentalists’ delight, the very next day, the government announced its decision to extend the trial period by a year. Indian Express.

Public attitude to GM food is changing. A significant change in the public’s attitude to genetically modified food has been detected by the director of a public food watchdog body. Professor Robert Pickard, director of the British Nutrition Foundation, suggests this may be down to more balanced television documentaries on the subject and its likely benefits. Scotsman.

No link between MMR and autism. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does not increase the risk of autism in children, according to research published yesterday. The fresh evidence, in the Vaccine Journal, adds more weight to the argument against a link between the combination jab and autism. It follows calls from the British Medical Association that the UK could face a deadly measles epidemic if parents do not have their children immunised. Scotsman.

The End of British Farming "O'Hagan never supports the sensational conclusion of the title. British farming will change, not end. But it will take harder heads than his to end the misery. At least O'Hagan, unlike most peddlers of cures for Britain's rural crisis, has talked to a few farmers." Book Review, New Scientist.

Banned Wagon. In its attempt to haul aboard the patriotic voter, the Conservative party proposed in its manifesto a plot to catch out all those nasty foreign food producers who flood our island with their foul and poisonous nosh … For the bossy bureaucrat, a more appetising measure could scarcely be imagined. Have Mr Hague’s advisers ever sat down with a packet of chicken tikka masala and read just how many ingredients, even main ingredients, go into it? If the method of production of every one of them has to be listed, every processed foodstuff will have to be accompanied by a short book. Should anyone be tempted to read it, their dinner will almost certainly have congealed into an inedible mush by the time they have finished. Spectator.

Recovering Earth. "Environmentalists said our planet was doomed to die. Now one man says they are wrong." [Review of The Skeptical Environmentalist by Bjørn Lomborg.] "The book is part of a growing backlash against green groups, and potentially the most dangerous. Most previous criticisms have come from right-wing think-tanks hostile to the environment agenda. Now the attacks are increasingly coming from left-wing environmentalists such as Lomborg, a former member of Greenpeace. The accusation is that, although the environment is improving, green groups – with revenues of hundreds of millions of pounds a year – are using increasingly desperate scaremongering tactics to sustain donations." Observer.

Statement from BEIC in response to Soil Association report on antibiotics. The British Egg Industry Council (BEIC) has criticised The Soil Association's report on antibiotics in UK agriculture for presenting misleading and out-of-date information on eggs…The amount of nicarbazin, an antimicrobial which was found in some eggs in 1999, was so minute that an adult would need to eat 2,400 eggs a day to exceed the Acceptable Daily Intake for the product. There were no nicarbazin residues found in eggs in 2000. PR Newswire.

Fed Up With Dietary Flip-Flops? Nutrition studies often produce contradictory and fallible results. Even experts can be puzzled over which foods are best … Nutritional information has become a smorgasbord of science with contradictory opinions about healthy eating. For instance, coffee has been shown to decrease cases of Parkinson's disease but increase cases of Osteoporosis. It's decreased suicides but increased arthritis. And over the course of a little more than a year, coffee was shown to both increase and decrease the rate of miscarriages. CBS.

Sock tactics. Life. It's a dangerous business — as clearly revealed by the latest Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance System report from the Department of Trade and Industry … Above all, it is horrifying to find that hospitalisation caused by socks and tights has risen sharply to a shocking 10,773 cases a year. Bridget Jones would doubtless know what to make of it; we admit to total bafflement. Clearly, something pretty dodgy is going on in the socks-and-tights department. A Royal Commission, no less, must surely be in order. Independent.

GM Foods – some thought-provoking issues. "Elites comprising a negligible share of the human population can indulge in so-called 'natural' foods or biofoods, but not the one billion desperately poor and hungry people. If rationally thinking scientists fail to exploit the modern advances in gene technology to meet the basic food, fibre and wood needs of the poor, they will be wittingly or unwittingly responsible for the looming calamities which may truly descend on all of us. Failure to end hunger in the Third World may not be due to want of technology, but political will." Sri Lanka Daily News.

Genes in the Food! "Whatever fears I might have of possible allergic reactions to food produced from genetically modified organisms, they are not more unsettling than the allergies induced in me by the quality of the arguments about them. What are we to make of a major issue of science and public policy in which a physicist bases her opposition to genetic engineering on 'the recognition in the Isho Upanishad that the universe is the creation of the Supreme Power meant for the benefits of (all) creation.'" Richard Lewontin reviewing Vandana Shiva's Stolen Harvest. New York Review of Books.

Green guru in call for compulsory GM studies. A Nobel Peace prize winner has called for the introduction of compulsory biology studies among wealthy urban nations to improve understanding of food and agricultural issues. Dr Norman Borlaug, often described as the father of the "green revolution" said that this understanding would help counter the irrational fears stirred up by zealots against genetic modification techniques. "The intensity of attacks against GMOs by certain groups is unprecedented and, in certain cases, even surprising given the potential environmental benefits that such technology can bring in reducing the use of crop protection chemicals," he said. "It appears that many of the most rabid crop bio-tech opponents are driven more by a hatred of capitalism and globalisation than by the actual safety of transgenic plants. Scotsman.

The dirt on organics. Call it the tomato gap. In cities across North America, the grocery-shopping experience has segregated into twin solitudes of produce – an organic-food elite and an untouchable class of plain old vegetable buyers. Now, suddenly, some researchers are arguing that the gap is meaningless, and that most North American veggies today can lay roughly equal claim to being "health food." Toronto Globe and Mail.

Banned Wagon…there is a more fundamental issue of freedom at stake: why should the state dictate how we live in our own homes? If you like to hear the wind rattling your window frames, who are Liberal Democrats to tell you that it is not allowed? Asthmatics would have reason to feel particularly aggrieved: there is some evidence that living in an overinsulated home can worsen the condition. One wonders where it is all leading. Once the state assumes the power to force us to fit double-glazing, it may not be long before it takes that next, logical step and bans us from opening our windows in cold weather. Spectator.

Media praise. The media are often accused of whipping up medical scare stories, so Minerva was interested to read that sometimes they can be praised. According to the leading article on changing physician behaviour in the Archives of Disease in Childhood (2001;84:459-62), the widespread dissemination of accurate information in parenting magazines about resistant bacteria and the inappropriate use of oral antibiotics has led to fewer parents requesting a prescription for antibiotics for respiratory illnesses. BMJ.