Friday, February 23, 2007

Something to read about if ure interested...

Im in the library now..doing some research online for my lecture on Monday...the module is called The Sociology of Risk...and this monday we will be discussing about Food scares around the globe and our main discussion will be regarding the Mad Cow Disease.

Anyway, I found some interesting facts on the net...and since we Bruneians love food and cant resist some of them...thought we should know some findings made on certain food in random countries around the world...enjoy the reading ;)

Can prawns give you cancer? Is Scottish salmon deadly? Will chicken from the Far East kill you? OFM uncovers the truth about food scares

Sunday February 15, 2004
The Observer

When 40,000 people died of ergotism (caused by a toxic mould on wheat) in southern France in AD944, nobody would have described it as a 'food scare' (or even une panique alimentaire). The word 'scare', with all its histrionics, is part of a vocabulary of fear developed in the late twentieth century by the healthy, wealthy, comfortable middle classes. It belongs to a world where war, plague and impromptu death have largely been forgotten, where the food we eat - not the absence of food - is perceived as a mass killer.

Everyday there is a new danger to worry about (dioxins in salmon, caffeine in pregnancy, beef DNA in chicken). Why are there so many more scares today than there were 20 years ago? Reasons are many..such as the steady march towards cut-price food and intensive factory farming....more fastidious public health initiatives (microbiological testing of food on shelves, routine screening of imported produce) alert us to small theoretical risks based on studies of, say, a 'known' carcinogen in rats. Though there may have been no deaths and the outcome in humans is unproven, a new food scare is born.

Food scares are rarely left to chance; a plethora of organisations, the news media included, have a vested interest in making the story run and run. A vegan pressure group might commission a study proving all meat is unsafe; an academic institute might receive funding from a charitable trust with an anti-pollution agenda - and the institute may hire a powerful PR company to publicise the convenient 'findings' that intensive farming causes pollution.

Mutton report: Are we really at risk?

1. Death by chicken

When? January 2004
The headlines: 'Bird flu could be worse than Sars' (Times); 'EU bans chicken imports from Thailand' (FT).

The story: The H5N1 strain of the virus spread rapidly from Vietnam to Japan, Thailand to China. Experts said that, by latching onto the human flu virus, H5N1 could cause a pandemic of influenza. Within a fortnight, nine people had died from contact with infected birds and millions of chickens had been culled.

The spin: EU banned imports of chicken from Thailand, creating the impression that the meat was unsafe. About 50,000 tonnes of Thai chicken are eaten in UK every year, in the form of frozen or chilled breast meat in ready meals. Curries, nuggets and breaded portions in supermarkets today may contain chicken from Thailand. It's cheap, so popular with school, pub, and hospital caterers.

The facts: As the Food Standards Agency was quick to point out, avian flu has never been known to pass to humans who have eaten infected chicken. It is picked up from live birds, by contact with their saliva, faeces or feathers.

The twist: Bird flu virus can survive freezing and chilling, though infected meat is rendered safe by cooking. However, during an outbreak in the Netherlands last year, farmers put forward a scenario: a piece of thawed, previously frozen raw chicken, infected with the virus, is dumped at a landfill site and carried off by seagulls, infecting a UK poultry flock.

2. Salmon gives you cancer

When? January 2004
The headlines: 'Scottish farmed salmon is full of cancer toxins' (Daily Telegraph); 'What's in your dinner? PCBs, dioxins, pesticides, chemicals, radioactive waste and malachite green' (Daily Mail).

The story: A study in an American journal found farmed salmon to contain 'significantly higher' levels of cancer-causing pollutants than wild salmon.

The spin: Scottish Quality Salmon (SQS) said the findings were 'misleading'; contamination fell well within levels set by the WHO and EU. SQS said the research was 'a deliberately engineered food scare orchestrated to attack the Scottish salmon farming industry'. Stories emerged that it was funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, a research body with an anti-pollution agenda.

The facts: Nobody disputes the figures. What has been contested is the level of risk, since the study uses guidelines on 'safe' chemical intake set by the Environmental Protection Agency. These are hundreds of times more cautious than those of other agencies. By EPA standards, even breast milk would contain 'dangerous' levels of dioxins.

The twist: Farmed salmon sales were up that weekend, probably because the shops drastically reduced the price!

3. Coffee increases miscarriage risk!

When? October 2003
The headlines: 'Coffee drinking linked to higher miscarriage risk'(Daily Telegraph).

The story: Two studies found that women who drank four cups of coffee a day (300mg of caffeine) were twice as likely to miscarry as those whose intake was low. Mothers who gave birth to small babies were almost twice as likely to have drunk 205mg of caffeine a day as those who had larger babies.

The spin: In 2000, when identical findings were published by a Swedish team, the industry was swift to react. The coffee industry released a statement saying that 240-300mg was a safe intake for pregnant and breast-feeding women; this was based on guidelines drawn up by the independent Centre for Pregnancy Nutrition at the University of Sheffield. 'A cup of instant coffee contains 60mg,' it pointed out, 'which means that five cups a day are within recommended limits.'

The facts: The FSA disagrees. It says an average cup of instant contains 75mg of caffeine, so four cups (or three mugs) is the daily limit. The average cup of brewed coffee contains 100mg, so intake should be no more than three cups - less if you buy the largest size coffee from Starbucks. What's more, tea, cola, and energy drinks contain caffeine.

The twist: For potential fathers, coffee is a good thing. A Brazilian study found that the strength and endurance of sperm is far higher in moderate to heavy coffee drinkers than in those who abstain.

4. Are your child's chicken nuggets dangerous?

When? May 2003
The headlines: 'Scandal of beef waste in chicken' (Guardian).

The story: A BBC Panorama team, working with the Guardian, filmed Dutch and German food workers boasting about ways of injecting chicken with beef protein without being detected. The protein absorbs water, adding bulk cheaply. Chicken nuggets from Sainsbury's were shown to contain pork and bovine DNA.

The spin: Pre-publicity for the BBC film predicted 'a major food scandal'.

The facts: Despite the BBC's findings (including 'several' samples out of 12 testing positive for beef DNA), the FSA has found only one. Sainsbury's said the beef DNA in its nuggets came from milk protein, shown as an ingredient on the label; in its own tests it found no pork DNA in any sample, and concluded that the Panorama chicken must have been contaminated in the lab.

The twist: If the Dutch producers can now conceal beef adulteration from the authorities, it wouldn't show up on the DNA tests, would it?

5. Swordfish can give you mercury poisoning!

When? May 2002
The headlines: 'Predatory fish health warning' (BBC).

The story: The FSA advised that pregnant women, those wishing to become pregnant and children under 16 should avoid these fish due to high levels of methylmercury found in their flesh.

The spin: British shoppers rushed to health websites to find out about mercury poisoning. 'Mercury is known to be neurotoxic to humans,' reads one entry. 'It can harm the nervous system of an unborn child. Children may be at greater risk because they eat more food relative to body size.'

The facts: Being high in the food chain (and consuming other fish), the large deep sea species do absorb more mercury - a byproduct of industry - than others. They also live longer, absorbing more pollutants.

The twist: Exactly one year after the ban, a study appeared in The Lancet, saying that pregnant women had little to worry about. Research conducted on mothers and children in the Seychelles, who eat 12 fish meals per week, found no evidence of abnormalities.

A further twist: The FSA still advises pregnant women, breast-feeding mothers and children not to eat swordfish, marlin and shark. Indeed, its advice has been extended to include tuna (no more than two cans or one fresh tuna steak per week).

6. Prawns could give you cancer

When? March 2002
The headlines: 'Natural prawn killers' (Sun).

The story: Warm-water prawns from Asia were withdrawn from supermarkets amid fears about the illegal drug nitrofurans - used to kill micro-organisms in overcrowded shrimp farms and believed to cause cancer in humans. Nine UK retailers, including Sainsbury's, Tesco, Safeway, Iceland and the Co-op were asked to remove suspect batches from their shelves. Sales of tiger prawns fell.

The spin: The news was yet more ammunition for the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), opposed to the intensive farming of prawns. In June 2003, it launched a campaign based on its report 'Smash and Grab', a damning exposé of the industry. It made headline news.

The facts: In tests conducted by the FSA in March 2002, 16 out of 77 samples tested contained nitrofurans.

The twist: No one died and the scare was quickly forgotten. However, the EJF campaign stuck in people's minds. Most people know there is problem with prawns but few can remember what it is!

8. Coca-cola is banned!

When? June 1999
The headlines: 'Coke is banned after safety scare' (Guardian).

The story: Coca-cola withdrew 30m cans and bottles from sale in Belgium after nearly 100 people suffered attacks of nausea and stomach cramps. Bans followed in France, Luxembourg and Holland. The company reassured consumers that UK consignments were untainted, but fears remained that small retailers may have bought cases of Coke on the Continent where it was cheaper.

The spin: A statement was issued, saying the gas used to carbonate drinks in Antwerp had been 'of bad quality'. In Dunkirk, lacquered cans had absorbed some spilled pesticide which the victims may have inhaled.

The facts: Chemical analysis had found nothing wrong with the drinks and executives were struggling to find an explanation.

The twist: In early July, a letter appeared in The Lancet signed by four Belgian academics. They believed the Coke episode had been an outbreak of mass hysteria, triggered by another, more serious food scare involving dioxins in meat and poultry, a scandal that brought down the Belgian government. In the highly-charged atmosphere and media frenzy, people had fallen ill because they believed they would. There may have been hydrogen sulphide in bottles, imparting an odd smell, but the illness 'was in their minds'.

10. Perrier - it's lethal!

When? February 1990
The headlines: 'Perrier expands North American recall to rest of globe' (Wall Street Journal).

The story: In North Carolina, bottles of Perrier were found to be contaminated with benzene, a poisonous liquid shown to cause cancer in lab animals. The company withdrew 70 million bottles from sale in the US and Canada, the start of a well-charted PR disaster.

The spin: Initially, Perrier claimed the problem was unique to the US, caused by an employee cleaning machinery with a fluid containing benzene. When contaminated bottles showed up in Denmark and the Netherlands (bringing the total to 13), the story changed: benzene, the spin doctors now said, was naturally present in carbon dioxide (the gas that makes Perrier bubbly) but filtered out. The real problem had been a blocked filter. Amid growing consumer mistrust, a further 90 million bottles were withdrawn globally at an estimated loss of $263million.

The facts: The contamination level of 22 parts per billion did not pose 'a significant short-term health risk', according to the US Food and Drug Administration, but the company acted to protect its brand, which was marketed on purity.

The twist: The plan backfired. Investigators found that Perrier was not 'Naturally Sparkling', but carbonated above ground. By 1995, sales had dropped to half their 1989 peak.

11. Salmonella with eggs!

When? December 1985
The headlines: 'Egg industry fury over salmonella claim' (BBC).

The story: Health minister Edwina Currie provoked outrage by claiming: 'Most of the egg production in this country, is now affected with salmonella.' Everybody stopped eating eggs, the industry faced bankruptcy and farmers demanded compensation. Two weeks later Currie was forced to resign.

The spin: The Ministry of Agriculture said eggs were fine, as long as they were cooked until solid.

The facts: In Britain, there are 4,000 cases every year of infection from salmonella DT104, the most dangerous strain of the food bug, of whom about three per cent die. Though eggs destroyed Currie, the most common source of infection is meat. In 2000, the Government reported that 23 per cent of pigs taken for slaughter are infected.

The twist: A study conducted months after Currie's 'gaffe' proved she was nearly right on all her findings.

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