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GMO Safety and LL601 Rice

April 14, 2007 Biotechnology, Commentaries, Health Comments Off on GMO Safety and LL601 Rice

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

LL601, the genetically engineered rice variety that has contaminated the US rice supply, is safe. The USDA says so. The UK Food Standards Agency says so. The US Food and Drug Administration, on 12 Sept, stated that: “LL601 rice poses no risk to human health and does not raise any food, feed safety or environmental concerns.” These assertions have been echoed by other organisations such as the USA Rice Federation: “We understand the EU sensibilities are a little different than the United States but nonetheless the product is a safe one”.
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US Beef may cause Infertility in Males: A Hormone Link?

March 30, 2007 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Health, News Comments Off on US Beef may cause Infertility in Males: A Hormone Link?

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Pregnant women who eat beef from cattle treated with growth-promoting hormones may be damaging the future fertility of their unborn sons.

New findings suggest that hormones widely given to American cattle could be affecting the development of male foetuses. The study will provide the EU with fresh evidence to support its ban on imported hormone-treated beef and which has been challenged by the US Government. The EU ban has been in place since 1988.
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Study Questions Application of Animal Experiments to Humans

March 30, 2007 Health, News Comments Off on Study Questions Application of Animal Experiments to Humans

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Much of science, including healthcare research and important fields of risk assessment, depend, in part or in whole, on the presumption that animal models can usefully predict human responses to treatments. However, relatively little research has been done to test this assumption. A new study has compared the results of animal experiments and human clinical trials. The study selected six treatments in which the human clinical trials had shown a clear result (either benefit or harm). They compared these to the results of animal tests. In three cases the results were in concordance while in the other three they were not.
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FOE Report Criticises EU Biotechnology Strategy as ill-focussed and not evidence-based

March 20, 2007 (Un)Sustainable Farming, Biotechnology, Environment, Health, News Comments Off on FOE Report Criticises EU Biotechnology Strategy as ill-focussed and not evidence-based

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

A major stated goal of the European Union is to integrate and support ecological sustainability, job creation and competitiveness as stated in the form of the Lisbon objectives. These goals are supposed to be reached by means of research programmes and incentives, including programmes on biotechnology, but how plausibly does research in fact support these objectives? The EU biotech strategy is due for review in 2007, and to coincide with this Friends of The Earth (FOE Europe) has published a new report: The EU’s Biotechnology Strategy: mid-term review or mid-life crisis? which questions the likely contribution of EU biotech programmes to the Lisbon objectives.
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Conflicts of Interest: In Agriculture too?

March 15, 2007 Commentaries, Environment, Health, Science Media Comments Off on Conflicts of Interest: In Agriculture too?

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Failure to declare a conflict of interest, as Lester Crawford has been reminded (see news item), is a federal offence for United States Government employees, punishable by a prison term. To many scientists however, conflicts of interest are a fact of life. Members of hundreds of government advisory panels hold shares in, consult for, or are employed by, the companies about whose products they are supposed to provide ‘independent’ guidance (Krimsky, 2003). Similarly, many public interest organisations, notably patient groups and charities, are in the similar position of receiving money from corporations affected by their policies, conduct and advice. The prevailing attitude in science is that these conflicts either are unavoidable, because most successful scientists have them, or that they do not matter because scientists are sufficiently objective to discount them. In the words of numerous editorials and official guidelines, these conflicts are ‘apparent’ rather than real. None of these arguments should carry much weight.
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The Agenda Gap in Science

February 28, 2007 Commentaries, Environment, Health, Science Media Comments Off on The Agenda Gap in Science

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Writing in New Scientist recently (New Scientist 06-01-07), Bernard Dixon, a former editor, bemoaned the lack of dialogue between scientists and the public and warned of the dangers of disengagement. Unfortunately, like many people, both in and out of science, his conception of the relationship between science and society lacks clarity and this is a pity because this relationship is ultimately what sustains science. Nevertheless, he does identify one exceptionally important point: it is not lack of public enthusiasm that undermines the engagement process, it is lack of enthusiasm on the part of scientists and policymakers. But, despite this acknowledgement Bernard Dixon never manages to answer why efforts to sustain dialogue have never succeeded. Maybe we can propose an answer?

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Cisgenic Plants: Just Schouten from the Hip?

February 23, 2007 Biotechnology, Commentaries, Environment, Health Comments Off on Cisgenic Plants: Just Schouten from the Hip?

Allison Wilson and Jonathan Latham

Many genetic engineers have long resented the regulatory procedures imposed on transgenic crop plants, often arguing that there is no difference between the risks arising from transgenic plants and plants bred using ‘conventional’ methods. A recent proposal calls for complete deregulation of transgenic plants which have only plant DNA inserted into their genomes (Schouten et al., 2006a,b). The term cisgenic has been coined for such plants in order to highlight the origins of the transferred DNA. Other terms for plant-derived transgenes include ‘all-native DNA’ and ‘P-DNA’ (Rommens, 2004).

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Conflicted FDA Obesity Chair Faces Jail Sentence

January 10, 2007 Health, News Comments Off on Conflicted FDA Obesity Chair Faces Jail Sentence

Jonathan Latham and Allison Wilson

Lester Crawford, ex-chairman of the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) Obesity Working Group faces the likelihood of a jail sentence in the new year. His offence was making false statements to the US senate under conflict of interest rules for which he should have admitted that he and his wife owned significant shareholdings in Pepsico, Kimberley-Clarke, Sysco and Embrex, which are companies regulated by the FDA. He has pleaded guilty and will be sentenced in January.
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Commentaries

The Meaning of Life (Part I)

DNA double helix

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Many people date the DNA revolution to the discovery of its structure by James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953. But really it began thirty years before, conceived by the mind of John D Rockefeller, Sr. Thus it is fitting that DNA is named after him. …

The War Over Mangoes

Mangoes from Mexico

by Meredith Rector (Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)) Growing mangoes in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca has racked up an enormous socio-political expense for the region far greater than the price tag on the fruit in the supermarket. For a Mexican drug cartel desperate to move product, hiding …

Gene Drives: A Scientific Case for a Complete and Perpetual Ban

Mosquito and DNA

by Jonathan Latham, PhD One of the central issues of our day is how to safely manage the outputs of industrial innovation. Novel products incorporating nanotechnology, biotechnology, rare metals, microwaves, novel chemicals, and more, enter the market on a daily basis. Yet none of these products come with an adequate …

Genetics Is Giving Way to a New Science of Life

Phytoplankton

by Jonathan Latham, PhD Test your understanding of the living world with this simple question. What kind of biomolecule is found in all living organisms? If your answer is “DNA”, you are incorrect. The mistake is very forgiveable though. The standard English-language biology education casts DNA (DeoxyriboNucleic Acid) as the …

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Reviews

Poison Spring: The Secret History of Pollution and the EPA

Poison Spring Evaggelos Valllianatos

Book Author: Evaggelos Vallianatos with McKay Jenkins Reviewed by: Carol Van Strum “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts,” Richard Feynman famously declared in 1966. Ever quick to challenge accepted wisdom, he distinguished the laudable ignorance of science, forever seeking unattainable certainties, from the dangerous ignorance of experts …

The Real Cost of Fracking: How America’s Shale Gas Boom Is Threatening Our Families, Pets, and Food

The Real Cost of Fracking book cover

Book Authors: Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald Reviewed by Allison Wilson (The Bioscience Resource Project) The first researchers to systematically document ill health in livestock, pets, and people living near fracking drill sites were Michelle Bamberger and Robert Oswald. Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at …

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