Month: July 2016

‘The Invisible Hand” opens at Westport Country Playhouse

3_WCP_InvisibleHand_RajeshBose_FajerKaisi_EricBryant_JamealAli_byCRosegg314“The Invisible Hand,” by award-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar opened last night at the Westport Country Playhouse. The phrase “the invisible hand” refers to Adam Smith’s theory that the market adjusts itself automatically when irregularities occur because of the self-interest of all the other investors.

In this unusual thriller, financial trader Nick Bright (the excellent Eric Bryant) is kidnapped by a group of Pakistanis who mistook him for his boss, and wanted a $10 million ransom which they planned to use to help their people. Bryant carries off the role of a genial financial tutor and contrasts it with his growing terror and frustration that he’ll never see his family again.

At the outset the set (by Adam Rigg) seems to be the outer edges of a gray cube, but during the blackout that precedes each act, the featureless gray walls slide aside to reveal a dingy prison room where Bryant is being kept. The set is just two chairs, a table, a bed, a slop bucket and a steel cage that provides a secure exit from the room.

While Bright is nominally handcuffed, he has befriended the guard Dar (Jameal Ali) and persuaded him to remove the cuffs when the supervisors are absent. He also explains to Dar how to manipulate the market to do better selling potatoes than he had been doing. You get the idea, but the accent Dar uses makes this a little hard to follow.

We then meet Bashir (Fajer Kaisi), the real captor, and Dar’s boss who is the one demanding the $10 million ransom. Nick explains that he isn’t worth that much to his employers, but that he might be able to make a few million dollars through financial trading if they give him access to information such as Lexis/Nexis and the internet. Bashir is urbane and apparently Western educated and mentions that he had spent time in Trenton, near where Nick went to school (at Princeton). He even has downloaded Nick’s senior thesis on the Bretton Woods agreement. Kaisi as Bashir balances beautifully the hint of a growing friendship with Nick with his essentially terrorist objectives as a kidnapper.

Nick and Bashir work cooperatively to make money, but Bashir’s supervisor, the Imam is skeptical and has a cruel and violent streak that keeps us on edge. Rajesh Bose as the Imam gives a powerful  and menacing performance that keeps you glued to him whenever he is on stage.

By now, you realize that Akhtar has actually written a suspense thriller, with both financial and violent aspects to keep us guessing. The play takes place in short scenes separated by blackouts with the four characters sparring and trying to gain the advantage.  By the end of the longish first act, Nick’s life has been threatened and he has attempted an escape.

The shorter second act moves like wildfire, with new complexities and problems in every scene. The question in our minds is whether Nick will survive and escape and whether they will raise the money they want for humanitarian purposes.  That, you will have to see the play to find out. The ending is quite surprising, but the playwright has subtly prepared us for it if you think back through the story.

“The Invisible Hand” had an Off Broadway run at the New York Theater Workshop, where Akhtar won and Obie and an Outer Critics Circle award as best playwright.  Jameal Ali is repeating his role as Dar from that production.

The audience was thoroughly engaged in the story, and gave the four excellent actors a standing ovation. “The Invisible Hand” continues through August 6 at the Westport Country Playhouse.

This review was written a week ago for Onstage Blog but somehow never appeared. Sorry. You still have a week to see the show.

 

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Jeffrey Smith admits GMO labeling was never his goal

Jeffrey Smith admits GMO labeling was never his goal

In a letter sent out yesterday, anti-GMO activist Jeffrey Smith admits what we have suspected all along.

“Labeling GMOs was never the end goal for us. It was a tactic. Labels make it easier for shoppers to make healthier non-GMO choices. When enough people avoid GMOs, food companies rush to eliminate them. Labeling can speed up that tipping point—but only if consumers are motivated to use labels to avoid GMOs.” 

Here’s that segment of the actual letter.

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And noting that President Obama’s signing S.764 restricts states from requiring stringent (and meaningless) GMO labels, he writes:

Although this is clearly a defeat in our campaigns for getting mandatory labeling in the United States, we are still winning the bigger, more important effort to ELIMINATE GMOs from the market altogether.

In other words, the whole edifice of moral claims that “we have the right to know what we are eating” has just collapsed! Smith admits that his goal was to eliminate a perfectly safe breeding technology, presumably forcing people towards the more expensive organic products whose producers support Smith’s scare campaign.

Smith, who has no scientific training, has been writing scary articles and giving paid speeches about the alleged dangers of GMOs for years now. Running the Institute for Responsible Technology out of his house in Fairfield, IA (and just across the street from Maharishi University, and two blocks from Genetic ID) he is a one man misinformation institute. He is or has been supported by Nature’s Path, Organic Valley, Earth Balance, Natural News, Nutiva, Joe Mercola and the Organic Consumer Association.

He has two self-published books, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette, which was roundly debunked by Professors Bruce Chassy and David Tribe on their site academicsreview.org. He also made a film on this same topic, Genetic Roulette, the Movie which we have reviewed and found ridiculous.

To a large degree, this bill (S. 764) is  a victory for science, since it specifically notes that products which do not contain genetic material such as sugars, oils and starches are exempted from such ridiculous labeling. Labels can be a QR code or phone number rather than a scary and inaccurate warning, when there has never been any adverse reaction reported to any GM product.

Here’s Smith’s entire letter, complete with all his misleading claims, to show we are not taking anything out of context:


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Dear Friends,

As you may know by now, Congress passed legislation (S.764) that wipes out Vermont’s excellent GMO labeling law and substitutes a fake national GMO labeling regime. President Obama signed the bill into law Friday, July 29th. This sham labeling bill:

1.       Excludes most processed foods from requiring a label;

2.       Defines genetic engineering so narrowly, that most GMOs on the market don’t qualify; and

3.       Gives the USDA two years to come up with additional criteria for labeling, which will likely contain even more loopholes.

For products that will require labeling, companies can avoid actually stating on the package that it contains GMOs. Rather, they can force consumers to go on a wild goose chase by calling a listed 800 number to find the answer, or using their smart phones—if they have one—to scan a QR code and then navigate a website.

And to make this law even more irrelevant, if companies decide to ignore the labeling requirements altogether, there is no enforcement or penalty.

Although this is clearly a defeat in our campaigns for getting mandatory labeling in the United States, we are still winning the bigger, more important effort to ELIMINATE GMOs from the market altogether.

Mandatory Labels are not Required for Victory

Labeling GMOs was never the end goal for us. It was a tactic. Labels make it easier for shoppers to make healthier non-GMO choices. When enough people avoid GMOs, food companies rush to eliminate them. Labeling can speed up that tipping point—but only if consumers are motivated to use labels to avoid GMOs.

Therefore, if mandatory labels had been put into place, we would still be required to educate and motivate consumers.

The good news is that the tipping point is already underway based on the voluntary non-GMO labels being put on packages. Major food companies already realize that making non-GMO claims gives them a competitive edge. Why else would Nestles dedicate time during their extremely expensive TV commercials to brag that their coffee creamer is non-GMO? Why else would Dannon announce that their feed for dairy cows will be non-GMO within three years? And why else would Del Monte, Campbell’s, Hershey’s, Post, General Mills, Red Gold, Applegate, and so many others make similar non-GMO commitments? They are scrambling to get the non-GMO sales advantage before their competitors. The flood gates are opening. We are totally winning. Let that sink in.

Behavior-Change Messaging is the Key Success Factor

This major shift in the marketplace has come about due to compelling, behavior-change messaging.  And that’s IRT’s specialty. It involves:

1.       Accurately conveying the health dangers of GMOs in compelling ways, and

2.       Exposing the lies, cover-ups, and outrageous behavior of the pro-GMO forces.

IRT participated in labeling campaigns around the country using these potent behavior-change messages.

We think it was an unfortunate decision by several of the state and national labeling groups to focus almost exclusively on the “Right to Know” message, which, by itself, doesn’t motivate healthier non-GMO choices. In fact, the vast majority of the money raised for labeling was used to support the Right to Know platform.

If there is a silver lining to the recent defeat of mandatory labeling, it is that our movement can now put our collective attention back on the key success factor—tell people the truth about GMOs and how they can protect themselves and their families from the dangers.

We’d like to thank and celebrate the thousands of GMO labeling campaigners and supporters who have worked so hard for these years. Our collective efforts alerted tens of millions of people that GMOs were indeed in the food supply and we created a national conversation about the topic.

Our ultimate goal, to eliminate GMOs, is happening more and more with each non-GMO announcement. Now let’s focus our attention on getting the word out in the most effective manner, and achieve final victory.

Safe eating,
Jeffrey

The  just signed S.764 is a serious defeat for the forces of scientific misinformation, and Smith and his fellow travelers are struggling to resurrect their mendatious claims!

‘Genetic Roulette the movie’: a review

JeffreySmith genetic roulete
Jeffrey Smith in “Genetic Roulette”

Genetic Roulette” is activist Jeffrey Smith’s film version of the arguments he puts forward in his eponymous self-published book. Smith has no scientific training and he relies on a number of “experts” to make his case that GM foods are somehow bad for you.

“Americas are getting sicker, and one reason may be GMOs.”

This is as close to causality as the film ever reaches:  his evidence is anecdotal and not the result of rigorous scientific investigations. His experts for the most part are not scientists at all, but drawn from parents, activists, pseudo-scientists and members of the alternative medicine community.

We hear from the owner of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soaps, osteopath Arden Anderson, lawyer and Maharishi University faculty member Steven Druker, Lawrence Plumlee, MD, an alternative medicine specialist, Garry Gordon, an osteopath, Robyn O’Brien, the author of a nonscientific alarmist book we have already reviewed, Bob Street, MS, an agronomy consultant, Dan Skow, DVM who represents the discredited Albrecht and Reams school of agricultural theory, Michael W Fox, DVM who dabbles in homeopathy and acupuncture, Shiv Chopra who was fired from Health Canada for his unsupported views on bovine growth hormone, Analiese Behling ND, Michelle Perro, MD a specialist in complimentary and integrative medicine, Doris Rapp, a homeopath, Michael Visconti, ND, William Cowden, MD, a homeopath who was reprimanded twice in Texas and Russell Maur, ND.

Smith claims that “chronic illnesses are now epidemic,” and would like to connect this assertion with consumption of GMO foods. However, it is well known that the causes are the aging of the population, poor access to affordable care, and increases in diabetes associated with excess caloric intake. For example, recent surveys suggest that fewer than half of U.S. patients with hypertension, depression, diabetes, and asthma are receiving appropriate treatment.

Smith also claims that transgenic plant breeding amounts to genes being randomly forced into DNA. In fact insertion of transgenes is less disruptive than conventional plant breeding, as shown in papers by Di Carli, and by Catchpole.

He also claims a significant increase in digestive disorders but is unable to make any actual connection to consumption of GM foods. In fact, digestive disorders are mostly associated primarily with poor dietary practices.

His claim that there is an increase in “leaky gut syndrome” is particularly specious, since this is not a recognized diagnosis. And his attempts to tie this diagnosis to autism spectrum disorder are ridiculous, since this entire theory was put forth by the discredited Andrew Wakefield and has been retracted.

And a statement suggesting that autism spectrum disorder “may be” increasing because of GMOs, but “we can’t say for sure,” is simply irresponsible. Further, the Center for Disease Control has noted that while there has been an increase in the reporting of autism spectrum disorders, it is not entirely clear whether there has been an actual increase in the disorder itself.

Anecdotal evidence versus peer-reviewed research

Nearly all of the “evidence” put forward in this alarmist film is in the form of anecdotal evidence: one farmer or parent telling a story about how GM crops hurt their farm animals or children. But there is simply no peer-reviewed research to support any of these findings. There are no carefully measured feedings or double blind studies to support their anecdotes.

Alleged dangers of Bt crops

Much of the focus of this film has to do with corn and other crops that contain a gene that causes generation of Bt (bacillus thuringiensis) insecticide. The thesis of these segments it that this bacterium, toxic only to lepidoptera, is dangerous to humans and to livestock.

However, Bt has been sprayed on crops for over 50 years, and is preferentially used by organic farmers. If there were human reactions or effects on livestock, nearly every farmer would be reporting them In fact, there are just about no research papers at all reporting any such problems.

In fact, Siegel reviewed a large number of papers on Bt products in 2001, finding that they have an excellent safety record in labs and in the field.

Exceptions are the papers of French bio-activist Giles-Eric Seralini, who claimed to find tumors in rats fed with Bt treated feed. One of these is briefly flashed on the screen The only trouble was that he used Sprague Dawley rats that develop tumors in later about 71% of the time. And guess what: Seralini’s rats developed tumors about 72% of the time. His work was debunked by Campbell and by Chassy and Miller. It’s also worth noting that Seralini is hardly unbiased, as he is the principal scientist  of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which exists to oppose the use of GM crops. And his work is funded by Greenpeace, which also takes an anti-GMO stance.

The film also briefly flashes a paper by Aris and LeBlanc alleging maternal and fetal exposure to Bt from GMO corn, but the paper actually reports possible detection of the Cry1Ab protein. But the Food Standards Institute points out that the detection method has not been validated for this protein, and the Cry1Ab protein could also come from spraying of crops with Bt pesticides. And the paper does not in fact imply that there is any human safety issue here. Tribe has similar observations.

On the other hand, an extensive review of animal feeding studies by the European food Safety Authority found that the GM crops were comparable to traditional crops.

In another segment, the film asserts that Indian farms develop allergies after working in Bt fields, that thousands of animals got sick and that buffalo died after grazing on Bt cotton plants. There are no published claims or research confirming these stories, nor is there any medical evidence confirming these claims. Again, if there were such serious effects, they would be reported world-wide rather than in one or two farms in India. It is more likely that the feed was contaminated.

Numerous safety studies have confirmed the safety of Bt cotton, (see Brookes and Barfoot)  and it now comprises more than half of all cotton grown world wide.  Academicsreview.org notes that many of these claims

come from a self-proclaimed anti-GM activist organization, however, they do label their report as preliminary and note that it is only based on interviews with a very small number of people. Smith is more bold in his claims than self-admitted opponents of the technology.

Genetically modified soy is safe for animals

 The movie suggests that feeding animal GM soy products causes rat testicular changes, causes a fertility decline and is nutrient deficient. However, dozens of published peer-reviewed studies such as Flachowsky (2005) and Flachowsky, Aulrich, Bohme and Hall (2007) have concluded that there are “no significant differences in safety or nutritional value between Gm feeds and conventional feeds.”  And findings reported in the press but never published by Ermakova have been studied and found to “defy logic.”

Don Huber’s strange organism

One of the few actual scientists represented in this film is Emeritus Professor of Plant Pathology (Purdue) Don Huber. Huber had an extensive career in 1980s and 1990s, but has published nothing since 2005. In fact, we find a total of only 4 papers of his in all of PubMed. Huber’s expertise is/was in the manganese uptake in plants and its relation to glyphosate (Roundup).

However, within this film he is more concerned with his “discovery” of an “electron microscopic pathogen… new to science.” This pathogen is apparently found in plants treated with Roundup, or perhaps in the Roundup resistance gene. Other than his letter to the USDA expressing his concern, there is no research, no paper and, it would seem, no science whatever. While, this certainly could be possible, the proof remains with Dr Huber, who has provided no evidence for this extraordinary claim. His claims have been seriously questioned by Anastasia on Biofortified.org.

Huber also claims that Roundup weakens plants by preventing their uptake of manganese and other minerals. He has published a number of articles as part of fertilizer advertisements suggesting addition of the missing minerals may be beneficial. However, a team of Iowa state agronomists studied all the available literature in this area and concluded that it was possible that some Roundup Ready (RR) varieties are somewhat less effective in taking up manganese compared to non RR varieties, but that it was just as likely that some other difference between the plant varieties give rise to this observation.

In other words, there is little or no evidence that RR crops take up minerals less efficiently than non-RR varieties. And there is no evidence of a mysterious new organism!

rBST Milk is just the same as any other milk

The treatment of cows with rBST bovine growth hormone to increase milk production has been the subject of more misinformation than any other issue. The propaganda against rBST in the press as well as in Smith’s movie and books is so intense, that a group of scientists got together to debunk all of these bizarre claims.

To summarize:

  • Milk from rBST treated cows contains no more IGF-1 than conventional milk.
  • All milk contains hormones, and rBST treated milk contains no more than conventional milk.
  • rBST milk is just as nutritious as conventional milk.
  • rBST milk does not contain antibiotics
  • Regulators were not bribed to approve rBST milk
  • rBST allows for more efficient production and is thus better for the environment.

 

Roundup is one of the safest herbicides ever developed

Roundup is the trade name for the chemical glyphosate, brought to market in the 1970s. Its patent expired in 2000 and it is available from a number of suppliers. A review by Duke in Powles in 2008 summarized the research on glyphosate, noting that it has become the dominant herbicide worldwide, and was in wide use long before glyphosate-resistant (Roundup Ready) crops were developed.

It is one of the least toxic pesticides to animals, being less toxic than salt or aspirin. It is environmentally benign since it binds tightly to the soil and does not move in soil groundwater. It also has a short environmental half-life since it breaks down by microbial degradation in the soil. It does not cause mutations. This is confirmed in the latest EPA registration materials.

Like all herbicides, there is always danger of weeds developing glyphosate resistance, and the above review describes strategies for avoiding this.

 

Smith does not understand basic chemistry

The preponderance of sugar beets grown in the US are genetically modified and Roundup Ready. However, there is no evidence whatever that such sugar beets are harmful. Moreover, the final product is pure sugar (sucrose) much as it is from sugar cane. Since sugar is a pure compound, the source of that sugar is irrelevant, and making health claims about one source of pure sugar over another is simply ridiculous.

Along the same lines, the artificial sweetener aspartame is not a genetically modified food in any way. However, aspartame is created from aspartic acid and phenylalanine, and the phenylalanine may be made using genetically modified E-coli bacteria. Regardless of how it is made, aspartame is still a pure compound and its ancestry is irrelevant!

This is not a grass roots movement

Jeffrey Smith is the sole employee of the Institute for Responsible Technology (IRT), located at his home in Fairfield, Iowa. This institute provides funding for much of the anti-biotechnology movement, such as, for example, GMO Free Connecticut and other similar state groups. The IRT, in turn, is pretty much entirely supported by the organic food industry, acknowledging support from Eden, Organic Valley, Frey Vineyards, Nutiva, Nature’s Path, Sun Ridge Farms, Mercola.com, Beanitos, Earth Balance, Whole Soy Co., Earth’s Best, New Chapter Organics, Rudi’s Organic Bakery, Natural News, and Kamut-Khorasan. It is thus an Astro-turf organization.

The idea that GM foods are in any way dangerous is what Paul Krugman calls a “zombie idea,” an idea that has been thoroughly disproven but still won’t die. Not only have over three trillion meals been served over 15 years without any reported effects, but prominent former GM opponent Mark Lynas has reversed himself, calling GM opposition an “anti-science movement.” He noted that

 You are more likely to get hit by an asteroid than to get hurt by GM food.

Final review

About one hour of the film presents various alleged problems with GM crops and about half an hour is devoted to anti-transgenic evangelism. In fact, it attempts to scare you with these terrible examples. You can rent or buy the film from Smith and the anti-GMO campaigns are scheduling showings of the film in every state where their campaign is attempting to force GMO labeling laws.

Overall, the film is misleading and untruthful and best watched with a very skeptical eye or simply avoided. Sadly, the Greenwich Audubon Society ihosted a showing of this movie. They should be ashamed of themselves.

Acknowledgements

Many of the references in this article are taken from the helpful site academicsreview.org, where working professional biologists have used peer-reviewed science to debunk every single claim in Smith’s book Genetic Roulette. We also want to acknowledge helpful discussions with Professor Bruce Chassey.

Apple cider vinegar: another huge scam!

bottleLast fall I had a pretty obnoxious cold, and since I was part of a singing group, I soon got advice from a lot of other singers on how to treat it or at least diminish the symptoms. One thing that seemed to come up a lot was various uses of apple cider vinegar.  While this was new to me, there seems to be a large population of vinegar-o-philes who use this folk remedy for treating all kinds of things. Of course, this means it was something to look into and write about.

Vinegar is made in two stages: first you ferment fruit juice (apple or several other fruits) to make alcohol. Various yeasts speed up the fermentation process. Under the right careful conditions you can make wines or apple jack this way. Essentially, the sugars are broken down to make ethanol (ethyl alcohol, CH3CH2OH). However, if you expose that solution to oxidation or let the fermentation proceed further, the ethyl alcohol is oxidized to acetic acid: CH3COOH. It is this acetic acid that gives vinegars their acrid smell and taste.

If you don’t filter the vinegar, it remains somewhat cloudy, and this may add slightly to the flavor. If you do filter it, you are left with a clear, but colored, liquid.  If you distill that vinegar, you are purifying the acetic acid, and this ends up giving the pure white vinegar used in some recipes. You usually use that in sweet-and-sour dishes and the like, but with little subtlety of taste.

Right now our pantry contains white vinegar, cider vinegar, malt vinegar, raspberry vinegar, balsamic and rice wine vinegar, each with different flavors for various kinds of cooking. You could use any of them to make a sour drink, but it really isn’t all that good for you.

Folk remedy claims

You will find a plethora of claims for the health benefits of apple cider vinegar (ACV) in articles like this wildly inaccurate  one in Healthy and Natural World. Here the authors claim you can use it for sore throats (mixed with honey, I think) , joint pain, acid reflux, weight loss, reduced cholesterol and several other completely unsupported claims.

Now, here is why we know they are nuts: they correctly note that ACV (which is mostly acetic acid) is acidic (low pH), so using for heartburn and the like seems silly. But they then claim that when vinegar is consumed, it turns alkaline (high pH). Holy smoke! Is this some sort of magical transmutation? No, it is just plain wrong.  This article also claims that honey is acidic (no it isn’t) but becomes alkaline in the body (no it doesn’t).

In fact ACV can be dangerous, since taking something so acidic, even diluted, it could harm your esophagus and damage your tooth enamel.  WebMD says there is insufficient evidence for any of the claimed uses being effective.

Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar

One of the largest promoters of health effects of ACV is Bragg, a small company founded by two naturopaths, which makes unsupported and downright crazy claims on their cluttered web site, reminiscent of tabloids and the Wretched Mess News. Those claiming to be naturopaths are simply quacks, and are not practicing anything like science-based medicine.  You can read a critical description of naturopathy here, in an article by a former naturopath.

Bragg ACV is organic, which is just a marketing term, gluten free (which apples contain gluten?), un- pasteurized  (why?), and Non GMO (no GMO apples have yet reached the market anyway). They call the cloudy pulp that remains in the vinegar “the Mother,” but it has no particular nutritional value. This is in reference to Kombucha which has a similar culture of bacteria and yeast also called “the Mother.” It doesn’t have any real health benefits either.

As a company, Bragg promotes every kind of pseudo-science you can think of. The web site has links to why cell phones cause cancer (they don’t: microwaves are not energetic enough to break any chemical bonds), dangers of water fluoridation, GMOs, Monsanto’s Terminator seed (which does not exist) and, most disturbingly, a diet for preventing suicide. They also claim MSG is dangerous, while recognizing the glutamates are naturally occurring in our body.

Finally, if you wonder if there is any nutritional advantage to ACV, here is the USDA analysis of apple cider vinegar: there isn’t much to it.

It seems that much of the apple cider vinegar myths are being pushed by two crackpot naturopaths, who have made a successful business out of making up new folk remedy treatments. There is not a shred of evidence they work, and you would do better with conventional and much safer nostrums.

Does MSG cause brain lesions or just improve taste?

foods with msg
Tomatoes, broccoli, soy sauce, bleu cheese and Marmite all contain MSG

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer that has been used in Japanese and Chinese cooking since about 1908. Dr Kikunae Ikeda recognized that seaweed broth had been used as a flavor enhancer and set about to isolate the substance that caused this brothy flavor that he called umami. He published this work in the Journal of the Chemical Society of Tokyo in 1909 and it was translated and republished in English in 2002 in the journal Chemical Senses. The paper is a fascinating little piece of detective work in which he eventually concluded that the umami flavor was caused by glutamate, the sodium salt of glutamic acid. He later developed and patented a process for extracting MSG from seaweed. Today, MSG is produced by fermenting starch, sugar cane, sugar beets and molasses. It is also an integral part of soy sauce(1090 mg.ml), also made from fermented vegetable protein.

Once isolated, MSG became a popular additive in Japanese and Chinese cooking and more recently has come under scrutiny as being the cause of all sorts of disorders from “Chinese restaurant syndrome” to brain lesions and various behavioral and physical disabilities. People have called it an “evil chemical” that is added to poison us and our children and other similar epithets. Always ready to spout nonsense, the redoubtable Joseph Mercola has called it a “silent killer lurking in your kitchen cabinets.”

Around 1968, reports of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS) began to appear, where a cluster of symptoms were described including flushing, headache and dry mouth. However numerous double blind studies have failed to confirm any relation between MSG and these symptoms.  In one such study volunteers were given either MSG or a placebo. Symptoms attributed to CRS did not appear more frequently in the MSG group than in the placebo group, and most subjects had no responses at all.

Another recent review article noted that while there have been reports of an MSG sensitive subset of the population, this has not been confirmed in placebo-controlled trials.

It is very important to note that this is not an evil chemical additive, but a naturally occurring substance, easily extracted from plants. Just as important, MSG can be found in large quantities in foods such as the bleu cheese in the picture (1280 mg/ml), obtained from Stop and Shop. You will also find it naturally in Parmesan cheese(1200 mg/ml), the British Marmite spread (1960 mg/ml), soy sauce, and in broccoli, peas and tomatoes.

It is also worth noting that the Japanese consume the largest amounts of MSG and they are considered one of the healthiest populations in the world.

Some have tried to argue that MSG as an additive is somehow different than that found naturally in foods. However, since MSG is a single compound and easily purified, it is clear that its source does not matter. This argument is rather like suggesting that the pure MSG from the red bottle is worse than the pure MSG in the green bottle.

In 2005, the journal Nature published a consensus following a meeting on the current state of MSG research, concluding that “the general use of glutamate salts (monosodium-l-glutamate and others) as food additive can, thus, be regarded as harmless for the whole population. Even in unphysiologically high doses GLU will not trespass into fetal circulation.”

In conclusion, the scientific consensus after years of study is that MSG is harmless and that no cluster of allergic symptoms has been observed. MSG is extracted from fermented plant products and occurs naturally in a wide variety of foods: it is not a synthetic additive.

Nonetheless, there are a variety of hoax sites that call into question the safety of MSG, such as truthinlabeling.org, msgtruth.org and probably any of a number of others. They can and should be ignored.

The safety of MSG is firmly established and need not trouble us further.

Related articles

  1. Science is so inconvenient to food scares – Sandy Swarc, JunkfoodScience
  2. New Seasonings – K. Ikeda
  3. Reconsidering the effects of monosodium glutamate – M Freeman, J Am Acad Nurse Proc.
  4. Monosodium L-glutamate: a double blind study and review – L Tarasoff and MF Kelley, Food Chem Toxicol
  5. What’s the story on MSG? – Marion Nestle Foodpolitics
  6. Consensus meeting – monosodium glutamate: an update – P Stehle, Nature
  7. If MSG is bad for you why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache? Alex Renton, The Guardian

 

ConnFACT lies about fluoridation

ConnFACT lies about fluoridation

We hadn’t heard of anyone actually opposed to water fluoridation since Colonel Jack D Ripper (Sterling Hayden) complained to Colonel Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) in his famous “precious bodily fluids” rant in Dr. Strangelove.

But we heard a great deal in a talk given last spring by members of ConnFACT about the dangers of mandatory water fluoridation. We had already interviewed the speakers, Carol Peringer and Christine O’Day, noting that ConnFACT stands for Connecticut Families Against Chemical Trespass, a group that seems to specialize in taking positions contrary to all accepted science. In fact, you have to wonder what rational group would talk about “chemical trespass.” What chemicals? How about water or salt?

The sparsely attended meeting featured a half-hour film “Professional Perspectives on Water Fluoridation,” full of quotes from marginal and fringe scientists decrying the use of fluoridation. A few were actually qualified, but many, like the Earl Baldwin of Bewley were just spouting nonsense. Also in attendance were representatives of Professional Water Systems, who subsidized the printing of the slick handouts.

Fluoridation works by having fluoride ions replace some of the hydroxyl ions in the mineral making up our teeth: hydroxyapatite becomes fluoroapatite, which is harder and resistant to tooth decay. Fluoride, furthermore is naturally occurring in our soil and in most drinking water: it is only the concentration that is adjusted to a level determined to do the most good. Moreover, water fluoridation is considered the single greatest public health advance of the 20th century.

Erroneous Assertions

However, the overriding problem with their presentation was nearly every statement they made was easily determined to be untrue.

Fluoride causes bone cancer:  Not according to the American Cancer Society

Fluoride increases risk of bone fracture: Not according to the paper in Nature by Thomas.

Fluoride decreases brain function: There is one study of naturally occurring high levels of fluoride in China where there may be some effect, but their control groups had the same level of fluoride as are recommended in the US. Thus standard fluoridation levels are perfectly safe.  And, as Steve Novella pointed out in Science Based Medicine, these were not experiments, but retrospective studies.

Fluoride causes diabetes: The American Diabetes Association recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and the CDC finds no problem for diabetics drinking fluoridated water.

Fluoride causes kidney disease: According to reviews by the American Kidney Foundation, there is no evidence that drinking fluoridated water is harmful to or causes kidney disease.

Fluoride is an endocrine disruptor: The WHO’s extensive report on fluoride’s effects on humans specifically says that no endocrine effects are observed in rats at any concentration (pp 95-96).

Fluoride accumulates in the body; the benefit is topical, not systemic. Contradictory and both wrong. The European Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks says that fluoride builds up in the plasma and is eventually excreted. Some ends up in the saliva where it can react to protect the teeth. Some will end up in the bones, but does not stay there.

Dental Fluorosis

By far the biggest objection that anti-fluoridation crowd makes is that fluoride can cause a sort of tooth enamel mottling called fluorosis.  Fluorosis is caused by excess fluoride consumption before the teeth erupt, and is divided into Questionable, Very Mild, Mild, Moderate and Severe. The first three categories are only apparent to a specialist, and while Moderate may involve brown staining, the teeth are still healthy and resistant to decay.  Only about 1-2% of all patients show Moderate and Severe fluorosis, and that is cause by very high dosages of naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply, far higher than would ever occur in water fluoridated for dental health.

According to the CDC: among persons aged 6-49, 16.5% had questionable fluorosis, 16.0% had very mild fluorosis, 4.8% had mild fluorosis, 2.0% had moderate fluorosis, and less than 1% had severe fluorosis. Adding these up gives you the relatively meaningless number of about 39%. And in the teenager sub-category, that number is 41%. However, claiming that 41% of teenagers have dental fluorosis is seriously misleading, because the lower categories aren’t even visible, let aloneharmful. Using this scary number in their literature as ConnFACT has done is intentionally misleading at the very least.

Fertilizer byproduct

One of the most mendacious assertions of the anti-fluoridation crowd is in their description of how water is fluoridated. Fluoride is obtained as a byproduct of fertilizer manufacture mostly in the form of fluorosilicic acid. They claim without any evidence that these byproducts are contaminated with heavy metals and are just “dumped” into the drinking water supply. This is simply false. Any additive to our drinking water must pass safety standards of the American Waterworks Association, the EPA, and NSF International (page 42). Opponents have made up this lie to make fluoridation seem dangerous or contaminated. This is simply untrue.

Misrepresentation of Fluoridation Facts in Europe

Their handout suggests that “most other countries banned fluoridation,” which is demonstrably false. In fact, most European water supplies are not fluoridated because of their size and age, and because of multiple water sources. Instead fluoride is provided in their table salt.

They suggest that Cuba discontinued fluoridation and caries did not increase, but in fact Cuban children receive fluoride mouth rinses regularly  and fluoride varnish treatments several times a year.

They suggest that water fluoridation in Kuopio, Finland was ceased in 1992, but that caries has decreased or remained the same. In fact, virtually all children took advantage of government dental care which included topical fluoride and dental sealant programs.

They suggest that two towns in East Germany, Chemniz and Plauen, saw a significant fall in caries after fluoridation was stopped, but again neglect to mention fluoridated salt, rinses and sealants.

Each of these cases is also summarized (in that same order) in the ADA report Fluoridation Facts, where they may well have drawn their summary from, conveniently leaving out the facts that fluoride treatments of other types replaced fluoridation. In other words, they are lying.

They also mention Landrigan and Grandjean’s discredited Lancet Neurology paper which calls fluoride a neurotoxin. Critics have called the authors “long time toxic terrorists,” who completely ignore dose-response information in order to write papers calculated to scare people. They also confuse correlation and causation.

Finally, the ConnFACT handout asserts that there are studies showing that there is no link between fluoride and cavity reduction. They cite this study by Warrren et. al.  to prove that assertion, but Warren’s study was on the optimum fluoride level to minimize dental fluorosis among caries-free children. But they did note that children with caries had slightly lower fluoride intakes (as you might expect). The ConnFACT handout also claims that Cheng’s study in the British Medical Journal concludes there is a lack of strong evidence for fluoride’s benefits. That isn’t true either. Cheng asserts that the optimum fluoride level is difficult to establish exactly.

They also state that there have never been any randomized clinical trials demonstrating fluoridation effectiveness.  Another fib. Just read the summary of studies on this early CDC page.

Conclusions

No matter how well intended the speakers were, the materials they were working from can best be described as a tissue of lies. And when we discovered that their assertions were cribbed from an ADA Report with critical facts removed, it is clear that this lying was intentional.

  • None of the health assertions they make are true.
  • None of the papers they quote say what they say they do.
  • None of the assertions about dangers of fluoridation are true.

Like Joe Isuzu, knowingly or not, they are lying about every aspect of fluoridation.

 

 

Medical science says cleanses are bogus

Medical science says cleanses are bogus

This time of year we try to recover from our vacation excesses by eating more sensibly.  Fine. Good idea. But Bon Appetit has gone a little over the deep end by recommending a “juice cleanse” and a two week long “cleansing diet.”

Juice cleanses are a scam, calculated to part you from your money by selling you weird vegetable juices at high prices. The Mayo Clinic notes that such “detox diets” have no real effect.

However, there’s little evidence that detox diets actually remove toxins from the body. Indeed, the kidneys and liver effectively filter and eliminate most ingested toxins

And the Cleveland Clinic notes that while there may be some useful vitamins and minerals in juices, much of the benefits of these vegetables and fruits is in the skin, which is normally discarded. If you make your own juices, you could include these, but a well-balanced diet will give you the same effect.

You will find the same advice on WebMD:

As for detoxification, your liver already does that. There is no medical evidence that fasting or “cleansing” diets actually rid the body of any toxins not otherwise discarded in bodily waste.

And Robert Lamberts, MD wrote in MedHelp that Body Detoxification is a Hoax

  1. Your body is not “full of toxins.”  When it is, your liver and kidneys are designed to handle those “toxins” and will do so far better than anything someone tries to sell you.
  2. Diets only work when they restrict calories.
  3. Your colon is fine and does not deserve to be regularly “cleansed.”  Colonics have been around since the early 1900’s (maybe earlier) and the fact that they are still being used is only evidence of the gullibility of humans.

Of course, eating nutritious foods is a good idea any time, although some of their recipes border on somewhat disgusting, like Pistachio Quinoa with Spinach and  Egg and Orange Breakfast Bulgur with Pumpkin Seeds.

But bear in mind: there is nothing to cleanse.  Your body does not ever need cleansing. That is what the liver and kidneys do.

And if you have been overindulging during the holidays, just stop and eat a normal, healthy diet. You don’t have to go for anyone’s fad diet, just cut down on fats and sugars.

And enjoy the summer! Read Bon Appetit for their recipes, not their pseudo medical advice.

Zucchini bread: make four loaves at a time

Zucchini bread: make four loaves at a time

Zucchini bread is a delicious breakfast or snack and an ideal use for those “garden tumors” that start coming to a fruition with a vengeance this time of year. Making these great loaves isn’t very difficult, but it can get a lot of dishes dirty.

We set out to show how you can double the usual recipe, and make four loaves at a time. If you have a stand mixer and a food processor for chopping, you can make up the batter for the bread in about 10 minutes and have the loaves in hand an hour later. The order of steps in this recipe tries to optimize use of the food processor and mixer.

If you have a 5 quart stand mixer, you may want to use the plastic splash guard to keep the bowl from overflowing. If you have a 6 quart stand mixer, spilling over is much less likely: just start the mixer at low speed and then slowly increase it.

  • 2 cups pecans or walnuts
  • 2 medium or 1 large zucchini
  • 8 eggs
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 2 cups vegetable oil
  • 7 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 2 cups raisins
  • 4 loaf pins
  • Nonstick spray

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F

2. Chop the nuts in the food processor and set aside.

3. Using a shredding disk, shred the zucchini until you have more than 4 cups of zucchini.

4. Break the eggs into the mixing bowl of the stand mixer.

5. Add the sugar and mix.

6. Add the oil and mix.

7. Add the flour, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and baking powder and mix very slowly until the flour is taken up into the batter, then increase the speed and mix until uniform.

8. Take a fistful of shredded zucchini at a time and wring it out to remove excess water and add to a 2 cup pitcher until full. Add to the batter.

9. Repeat with 2 more cups of zucchini.

10. Slowly mix the zucchini into the batter. Some stand mixers have a collar to prevent splashing over. You can use it if you want, but if you mix things in slowly it should all fit.

raisins11. Add the raisins and nuts and mix until uniform.

12. Spray the loaf pans with the nonstick spray.

13. Divide the batter among the four pans and bake for 55-60 minutes at 350.

14.The loaves are done with a toothpick comes out clean.

15. Cool and remove from the pans.

These loaves freeze very well. We generally wrap each in foil and then place in a plastic zipper bag to prevent them drying out in the freezer.

During peak zucchini season, we usually make this recipe 3-4 times and have bread for the whole year.

A neat trick for dividing up the batter

Getting the batter evenly divided among the four loaf pans is a little harder than it seems and since the batter is lumpy, it is hard to eyeball.

Instead, we weighed the empty mixing bowl (ours weighed 1014 g) and then weighed the batter-filled bowl. (You can use the Tare button to zero the scale with the empty bowl on it.) It weighed 4792 g, making the contents weigh 3778 g. Thus, dividing by 4, each loaf pan should get 944 g of batter.

So we put each loaf pan on the scale, pressed the Tare button to zero it, and spooned in about 944 g of batter. This worked way better than we’ve ever been able to to by estimating, and we’ve been baking these for years.

Your kitchen scale is your friend!

Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

Organic Valley highlights inauthenticity with the usual lies

The New York Times yesterday highlighted the farmer’s co-op Organic Valley, talking about their new half million dollar web site and their emphasis on “highlighting their authenticity.” Well, we had to take a look at the web site that the Times referred to, and found a number of lovely feel-good pictures of rural bliss (and $9 a gallon organic milk). And the usual misinformation with better lipstick on all the pigs, er, cows.

Their whole campaign boils down to the specious claims of “Why Organic?” which are the same old hokum:

Research shows that organic foods are higher in antioxidants and other nutrients

Actually, papers by Brevata and Smith-Spangler and earlier by Dangour, et. al. found no nutritional differences between conventional and organic crops. And the paper that Organic Valley refers to by Baranski et al  was published at the University of Newcastle by  a series of authors associated with the organic industry, and sponsored by the organic funder the Sheepdrove Trust. Further, organic advocate Charles Benbrook is one of the study’s principal authors.  It has been attacked and discredited in Campbell’s article here. Further, they hype the presence of antioxidants, which have not been found to be at all healthful.

Because chemicals are bad for you

You don’t think that is overstatement, do you? Water is a chemical (wags call it dihydrogen monoxide). Then they say organic food keeps pesticides out of kid’s bodies. Hold it there, Casey! Organic farmers spray with pesticides, too, and many of them are really toxic, just naturally occurring. Here’s an article with a list of some of the worst.  Here’s a complete list.  But probably the most damning evidence against these “evil chemical” claims is Bruce Ames’ classic paper in PNAS, showing that the pesticides plants produce on their own (many quite toxic) are present in concentrations 10,000 times greater than those detected as pesticide residues. In other words, you can stop worrying, there just aren’t any dangerous chemical residues on our food: our food, whether conventional or organic is perfectly safe.

The web page also cites the discredited report by the IARC claiming that Roundup is carcinogenic. The WHO and the UN, as well as the EFSA have reported that in fact Roundup is perfectly safe

Kids and cows should not be exposed to synthetic hormones and antibiotics.

Well they aren’t. In fact they cite no scientific papers here on this issue. But we have some. Some farms use synthetic rBst to increase milk production, currently maybe 17%. But it has been found that the milk from rBst treated cows is in all ways identical to that from cows not given that hormone.
And as far as antibiotics go, no milk is allowed to contain antibiotics by FDA regulation. If any are found in testing, the entire load is discarded at great financial loss to the farmer.

Antibiotic resistant infections are very real

So, the claim instead of treating their sick animals with antibiotics, they use “natural holistic measures” to treat their animals. This sounds like animal cruelty. Animal’s milk cannot be shipped until after a washout period so no antibiotics are ever found in milk. If you believe that not treating sick animals is good farming practice, please come buy the large bridge I have for sale!

We’ve all heard GMOs are bad

Here is where the mendacity reaches a fever pitch. Because since organic foods are no healthier and actually have a lower yield, let’s demonize a perfectly safe crop breeding technique. GMOs are, of course, not an ingredient at all, but a way to create new crop varieties with desirable traits, tested on average for over 10 years before they can be marketed.

No one really knows if GMOs are safe for human consumption

Actually, we have a pretty good idea. Biotechnology in plant breeding has been declared no more harmful than conventional agriculture by the National Academies of Science, the Royal Society, the European Food Safety Association and the WHO among hundreds of other scientific organizations. And there has never been a verified case of any ill effect from a GM crop.

GMOs increase superweeds. No, they don’t. Overuse of herbicides can cause herbicide resistance over time. That is called evolution and is usually solved by crop and herbicide rotation.

Oh, and worse yet, they link to a YouTube video from discredited charlatan Vandana Shiva, who likes to call herself a PhD physicist, when her degree is in philosophy. Michael Specter took down her crazy claims in this elegant piece in The New Yorker.

Organic Valley’s new, beautified web site just perpetuates the same wrong-headed claims (lies) they’ve been spreading for years. Organic isn’t better: it is a marketing slogan.

 

 

 

Are antioxidants any good?

Are antioxidants any good?

We know that people who eat a lot of fruits and vegetables are generally more healthy than those who don’t and people have hypothesized that the antioxidants in those fruits are the reason. According to this hypothesis, free radicals in the body can do damage to cells and genes and even cause cancer. And antioxidants can vacuum up free radicals by combining with them.

This time of year, we get our antioxidants from eating fresh New Jersey blueberries from Stop and Shop.

The trouble is, we really don’t have any idea what those free radicals are there for and whether they really should be Hoovered up. This discussion comes from one I found in Ben Goldacre’s delightful book “Bad Science.”

You can buy all kinds of antioxidants in pharmacies and health food stores, pretty much unregulated, and to hear the pill peddler talk, they might do some good and can’t do any harm, but we don’t know for sure.

Actually we do know. There have been a number of very good studies on these issues and the results are not encouraging.

In a 1996 Finnish study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of 29,133 male smokers were randomly assigned to receive the antioxidants alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, both or a placebo for 5-8 years. The study followed incidence of lung cancer in the subjects, and it was found that

No overall effect was observed for lung cancer from α-tocopherol supplementation, and

β-carotene supplementation was associated with increased lung cancer risk.In another trial called CARET for Carotene and Retinol Efficiency Trial, the results were worse. They followed 18,314 smokers, former smokers and workers exposed to asbestos, giving them a combination of beta-carotene and retinol (Vitamin A) daily, or a placebo. They found that the risk of death from lung cancer was 1.46 times greater in the active treatment group than in the placebo group, and the trial was stopped 21 months early.

The Cochrane Database is a collection of reviews of papers on hundreds of medical topics, and is a major destination for scientists seeking to review the work in any medical area. The review Antioxidant supplements for prevention of mortality in healthy participants and patients with various diseases was published this March and finds similar conclusions:

The current evidence does not support the use of antioxidant supplements in the general population or in patients with various diseases.

So, it would seem that eating your fruits and veggies is still a great idea, but antioxidant supplements are useless or even worse.