SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – May 2000

Can Too Much Safety be Hazardous? A Critical Look at the 'Precautionary Principle.' "When we apply the precautionary principle and focus on hypothetical risks and ponder what actions we might take 'just in case', we leave the world of science and enter the realm of ideology. We allow ourselves to come under the spell of those who are motivated , for whatever reason, by a desire to return to what they perceive as a pre-industrial Garden of Eden." ACSH.

Skinny models 'send unhealthy message'. Eating disorder warning as BMA urges media 'realism'. British doctors yesterday called on the media to use female models with more realistically proportioned bodies instead of "abnormally thin" women who contributed to the rise in the numbers of people suffering from eating disorders. Guardian, Times, Independent.

Rejecting the knowledge and efficiency that science can bring to food production is unrealistic. Whether you noticed them or not, over recent months the community has been told of great unease in Australia with protests in most capital cities and many regional centres over the presence of unlabelled, untested, genetically engineered foods on supermarket shelves. Welcome to activist world …Canberra Times.

Irish teenagers are not receptive to notions that GM foods are the creation of a modern-day Frankenstein. In fact, the majority believes biotechnology may soon have the same relevance to their lives as the Internet, according to entries in a competition for transition year students. Irish Times.

GM tomato is life-saver. A genetically modified tomato that has three times the normal amount of betacarotene, which helps to protect against heart disease, cancer and blindness, has been developed in Britain. Telegraph.

Feeding Africa. If you live in Europe or the US, genetically modified food might sound like a luxury. But for people in poor countries, it's the difference between a square meal and starvation. New Scientist.

Don't eat that, it's not fat. When it comes to diets, experts should not always be trusted. "Those of us who get our dietary information from sources other than our own research have little to go on but the low-fat propaganda of the established nutritional bodies." Nigella Lawson in the Observer.

Eating your greens is now even better for you. Super-broccoli that packs an extra punch against cancer has been bred from ordinary broccoli and a scrawny wild Sicilian relative. Compared with regular broccoli, it contains 10 times as much sulphoraphane, a substance that helps to neutralise cancer-causing substances in the gut. New Scientist.

Foods of the future? The government is launching a national debate on the possible benefits and costs of technological advances in food production in the wake of the controversy over GM food. Among some of the possible topics to be discussed are vegetables modified to beat cancer, smart packaging that can tell the consumer if the product is fresh, and even tissue cultures which allow you to grow your own meat at home. BBC.

Richard Dawkins writes to Prince Charles. "Your Reith lecture saddened me. I have deep sympathy for your aims, and admiration for your sincerity. But your hostility to science will not serve those aims; and your embracing of an ill-assorted jumble of mutually contradictory alternatives will lose you the respect that I think you deserve. I forget who it was who remarked: 'Of course we must be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.'" Edge.

Who's afraid of the big bad GM genie? We applaud scientists' advances in medicine, so why do we scorn their efforts with GM crops? … Hardest to explain is the sheer passion of the hostility the public feels towards GM foods, one which strangely contrasts with a relatively sanguine attitude towards genetic engineering in other areas. People who want their pills to be state of the art, and smile condescendingly at their grandparents' panaceas, are determined, it seems, to eat nothing that granny might not have baked. Sunday Times.

Prince's luxury lifestyle conflicts with image of ascetic and reluctant royal. Prince Charles spent the days leading up to his latest diatribe against "scientific rationalism" in suitably ancient, low-tech, ascetic surroundings: the remote Greek Orthodox complex of monasteries on Mount Athos, where he slept in a dormitory and read by the light of an oil lamp. He arrived there in very different style – on board the third biggest luxury yacht in the world, the Alexander, plaything of his friend, the elderly Greek shipping tycoon John Latsis. The Alexander comes equipped with ballroom, two speedboats and a helicopter. For a man as concerned as Prince Charles with sustainable development – the theme of his controversial BBC lecture this week – this emblem of conspicuous consumption seemed to jar with his heartfelt plea for mankind to "work with the grain of nature". Guardian.

We can't pretend science isn't there. "I know people feel strongly about GM, but it is a mechanism that can be used for good or for evil. It has had extremely beneficial effects in human medicine and people in developing countries know the benefits of a vitaminenriched rice, or being able to grow crops on land never cultivated before. We can't just close our minds to those opportunities." Baroness Hayman in The Times.

Litre of beer 'is good for you'. Researchers have shown that all types of alcohol can help to reduce the risk of heart disease – if you drink it little and often. The best strategy is to drink up to a litre of beer a day. BBC

Presence of GM crop in UK presents no human health risk. Reports that a small proportion of oilseed rape, grown in the UK and other European Union countries, in the past year contain low levels of a genetically modified variety poses no added risk to public health said Sir John Krebs, Chairman of the Food Standards Agency. The seeds were produced in Canada in 1998 and around one per cent of them could be affected. Food Standards Agency.

Scientists saddened at Prince's attack. Scientists reacted more in sorrow than in anger yesterday to the attack by the Prince of Wales on science, delivered as part of the BBC's Reith Lecture series. Times.
Scientists condemn Prince's 'woolly' lecture on GM food. The Prince of Wales's attack on scientists for tampering with nature in his Reith lecture on BBC Radio last night drew praise from environmentalists, but hostility from scientists. Steve Jones, professor of genetics at University College London, said the Prince of Wales was "a classic woolly thinker". He said: "He is mixing up theology and science. The best thing he should do is go back to school and do more A-levels. Telegraph.

E-mail guide to field invasion. Instructions to anti-GM campaigners on how to damage GM crops and take direct action against farmers is being circulated by e-mail. The message describes direct action as "the most wonderful and liberating experience" and suggests that one way of frightening farmers would be to organise groups of masked protesters armed with scythes to operate at night. It says that such action might goad farmers into a violent reaction. Some have received the guide from the e-mail address of a leading figure in the Friends of the Earth Swindon branch. Times.

Non-science plus non-thinkers equals nonsense. Peter Preston wonders why we have fallen prey to mobile phone fears … "The British government's former chief medical officer (with high-level colleagues) has spent many months investigating the threat of the mobiles – everything from tumours to diarrhoea. But, try as he may, he can't find one. The "balance of evidence" shows "no adverse health effects" from the phones or their transmitter stations. No brain frying, no premature Alzheimer's: nothing. A scientific verdict which chimes precisely with World Health Organisation wisdom. End of argument? We should be so lucky." Guardian.

A cautious advocate of change. At first glance he seems a tangle of contradictions. An Englishman in New York. A radical turned member of the intellectual establishment, with a multimillion-dollar budget to play with. A scientist who rebuked Monsanto for arrogance extolling genetically modified (GM) crops. But the unconventional itinerary reflects a philosophical viewpoint. For Gordon Conway, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, believes in nuances, shades of grey. Indeed, it is the lack of subtlety, the crude polarisation, that exasperates him when it comes to the GM debate. Financial Times.

Mobile precaution. If anything, Sir William Stewart's inquiry into the health effects of mobile phones has lent too far towards the "precautionary principle", a doctrine that is too often used by pressure groups to justify regulation that is unsupported by science. Since the BSE affair, scientists have been understandably reluctant to be anything but equivocal in their judgments of safety. Sir William will not have wanted to become known as "the man who said mobiles were safe", if future research proves otherwise. In a less febrile climate, the evidence would have provided for greater reassurance as hundreds of new users take part in a great experiment. Times.

Give children choice. Attempts to educate children on the benefits of good nutrition for their long-term health are rarely successful, according to Professor Westenhoefer. "Younger children find it very difficult to understand concepts like energy and nutrition and even older children only ever think of the short-term effects. The key to getting children to eat healthily seems to be to keep their options open." Express.

ASA rules shoppers misled over organic food. "I don't mind people making claims for organic food as long as they don't involve knocking conventional food and saying it's bad for you Pesticides are vital to agriculture and producing our food supplies, and I am trying to counter knocking copy about them which is not based on fact." Independent.

GM plants protesters 'attacked decoy crop'. Demonstrators who uprooted oil seed rape plants in a protest against genetically modified crops caused only £1.50 of damage when they missed their target and attacked a decoy area by mistake. Telegraph.

White House says genetically-modified food safe. Mandatory labels on foods containing gene-spliced ingredients are not necessary because there is no reason to believe the foods are more risky, the Clinton administration said. OnHealth

Childhood is poisoned by the germ of fear. From the way that mothers behave these days, you would think that modern Britain was infinitely more perilous than in Victorian times. In their fevered imagination, germs lurk in every dishcloth and paedophiles on every street corner. As a result, today's children are being brought up in a world so sanitised that they have no chance of immunising themselves against the hazards that they will sooner or later encounter. Times.

Irish seek more GM crops. A review group of senior scientists in Irish universities and the State's agricultural research body says Ireland must build as a matter of urgency a world-class research and development capability in food biotechnology. Their report specifies, for the first time, research priorities that should be pursued in food manufacture and crop production if Ireland wishes to participate in the "new agricultural revolution". Irish Times.

Bring on the germs. We've never been cleaner, and we've never been more freaked out about cleanliness. But there are signs that this very preoccupation with good hygiene is making some of us sick. Salon Magazine.

On what the NSPCC really stands for. They want to make our flesh creep. The new TV commercials and billboard posters from the NSPCC are designed to suggest that hideous anger lurks in every happy home, and that a baby that is loved and cherished in the morning can be beaten and bruised by midnight that same day. Express.

Life is a risky business for us worriers. The media never tell us when something has actually gone well … Guardian.