SIRC Media Watch Archive
The Pick – September 2001

MMR vaccination figures fall well short of target. The number of UK toddlers vaccinated with the triple-action measles, mumps and rubella vaccine has reached its lowest level since 1990, according to government figures released on Thursday. Only 87.0 per cent of children who reached their second birthday between April 2000 and April 2001 were vaccinated with the controversial MMR jab, compared with 87.6 per cent in the previous 12 months. Additional data, released from the UK's Public Health Laboratory Service, shows that between April and June 2001, the percentage of two year olds vaccinated with MMR dropped even further, to 84.2 per cent. For nationwide protection of children, 95 per cent must be immunised. New Scientist.

Separated MMR shots use children as guinea pigs. Children who receive separate measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations are experimental guinea-pigs for an untested, unlicensed therapy that could risk their health, British doctors warned on Monday. Fears that the combined MMR vaccine is linked to autism has led many parents to push for the jabs to be given separately, believing them to be safer. But David Elliman, a community paediatrician at St George's Hospital in London says: "They have never been used in that way in any country." New Scientist.
Child health experts dismiss fears over MMR jabGuardian.
MMR worries 'unjustified'BBC.
Children 'put at risk by single vaccines'Independent.

The root of all evil. Frankly, I think we're obsessed nowadays with the perfect body, the perfect figure, the perfect teeth, the perfect breath, the perfect hair and the perfect conscience. This is Wiltshire.

Fed on ignorance. The slogan was once Meat is Murder, yet since the tragic death of little Areni Manuelyan, it is the vegan diet that is now on trial … Three months ago PETA, the organisation of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, was criticised by teachers for producing a series of cards for schoolchildren claiming dairy products were harmful to health. Scientists at the British Nutritional Foundation say they are wary of placing children on restrictive diets. Scotsman.

The Quest for Immortality. Keep up the exercise, eat properly – and you may live a few days longer than an actuary would have predicted. That's the sensible and utterly unexciting prescription offered by Jay Olshanksy and Bruce Carnes. New Scientist.

Vegan parents spared jail after baby dies. A couple whose baby daughter starved to death because of their fanatical belief in a vegan diet were described as "extreme and misguided" by a judge who spared them jail yesterday … Stephen Mejzner, for the father, said the parents, who are to separate, had researched the diet as best they could but made the mistake of believing misleading studies and literature. He said: "We are being bombarded by often conflicting information on a daily basis on what is safe to eat and drink." Times.

CJD warning 'misguided'. Claims that there has been a sustained rise in the number of vCJD victims are "misguided" says an expert. In fact, cases of the human form of mad cow disease have stabilised over the past year, says Dr Azra Ghani. BBC.

Biotechnology: Giving a voice to the developing world. With the world's population having surpassed six billion people and still growing, food production will need to double in less than two generations, using largely the same amount of land and water resources. Science's answer to this dilemma has come in the form of genetically modified crops- crops that can withstand drought, disease, salt, and pollution. Such crops will need to be grown in the developing world, where most of the population growth will occur. But so far the biotechnology debate has been between the US and Europe, with countries in the developing world being marginalized and excluded. Earth Times.

Our unhealthy obsession with being squeaky-clean. The problem is that deep down we all want to believe in the tooth fairy. We would all like to imagine a germ-free world where disease has been conquered. But increasingly we confuse the need for sensible precautions such as making sure chicken is properly cooked and raw meat doesn't drip onto other food in the fridge with American-style overkill. Hence the idiotic tape that you stick on your tongue and the new fashion for "anti-bacterial" wipes and sprays where we would once have used soap and water. Sunday Times.

The organic feeding frenzy.There is an "organic" gastro pub in London where the customers are invited to pay over £5 for a bottle of a pretty decent Yorkshire beer … What is going on? … As soon as the organic bandwagon had rumbled up to walking pace it was bound to carve a path across menus everywhere. But the organic religion is different from all other fads and fancies in that there is a background message of fear. Just when a succession of food scares means that we no longer trust our food to be entirely wholesome, along come these very nice, very earnest people who tell us that we can be wholly confident of anything which they have certified as organic. Independent.

Yellow is not the only colour. In America, extreme fussiness about food has suddenly become very fashionable indeed; it now even has a brand new name…'Orthorexia begins innocently enough with a desire to lose weight, cure digestive problems, live healthily. But the orthorexic is plunged into gloom if he or she lapses; they spend an inordinate amount of time planning meals and shopping.' Observer.

A cause for concern – but not yet for alarm. The report of a sharp increase in the number of cases of vCJD, the human form of "mad cow disease", is a cause for concern, but not - yet - for alarm. The word "sharp" in this instance means a 20 per cent jump between 1999 and 2000. It sounds huge, but the actual figure remains small. Independent.

Unearthing the truth about organic food. The Soil Association finally admitted in August 2001 that the 'perception that organic food "is better for you" appears to have been largely based on intuition rather than conclusive evidence'. But now the organic-promoting organisation claims that it has 'indicative evidence suggesting' that organic foods might have slightly more nutrients than non-organic food. If you thought it couldn't get any more wishy-washy than 'indicative evidence suggesting', think again. To reach this conclusion the Soil Association had to ignore more than two thirds of the research on organic foods published in scientific journals. The association considered 99 reports – and of these, just 29 were deemed 'valid' and not 'flawed'. So on the criteria set by the Soil Association, 70 percent of the papers were tossed aside. Spiked!. See also SIRC's Organic (double) standards.

GM protesters favoured. Ideological pressure groups are getting too much say in the genetically-modified crops debate said a Scottish scientist at the science festival in Glasgow. By obscuring the distinction between ideology and science to confuse the public, said Professor Joyce Tait, organisations such as the organic-farming Soil Association were effectively dictating terms. Scotsman.

Health Check: I think I'm sick, therefore I am. Like thousands of others, when walking home in the dark, I found myself glancing over my shoulder, checking who was coming towards me, flinching at sudden sounds. Fear of crime, as we know, is infectious - and now I was infected. It is often impossible to resist these fears. In March 1996, we gave up eating beef in our household after the Government announced that BSE had spread to humans. In spite of the fact that the period of maximum risk up to 1989 had long since passed, when the use of the spinal cord and other unsavoury bits was banned, we chose to remove steak from the menu. It was against my better judgement, but the family prevailed. In the years since, I am glad to say, beef has made a reappearance on the household shopping list, as the public commotion around it has abated. The risk hasn't changed, but our fears have. Independent.