Category Archives: politics

Aspartame now known as AminoSweet

When I started to see the various stories and alerts roll in saying that Ajinomoto had re-branded aspartame as AminoSweet, my first thought was Ajinomoto- who’s that? The next was concern that consumers might be duped into consuming aspartame again after finally coming to the realization that it is just not good for you.

The PR spin on this one is that, “Ajinomoto believes that the time is right to remind the industry that aspartame tastes just like sugar, and that it’s made from amino acids – the building blocks of protein that are abundant in our diet.”

In other words, they have figured out that consumers are wising up to the fact that their product may be harmful. They’ve decided to switch their name in an attempt to avoid the ill effects of past bad press and other attacks on their reputation (boo hoo!) and convince people anew to buy items containing their chemical concoction.

Ajinomoto doesn’t just say that their product is safe, they actually call it healthy! I don’t know how they dare say it’s beneficial, but they do. Claims on their web site include that it it can help you achieve a healthy diet, that its role in this area is increasingly important, it’s tooth friendly. Apparently it does not bring anything new into your diet because it’s “just like those found in everyday foods such as meat, fish, cheese, eggs and milk” and is digested by the body the same way as other proteins. To that I saw pfffffht.

Aspartame is about as far away as one can get from a healthy ingredient, simple construction or not. The fact that it is “constructed” and not found in nature should be the first red flag. Then consider that aspartame accounts for over 75 percent of the adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA. Combine this with studies showing aspartame as carcinogenic, the possibility it is an immune system disrupter, responsible for seizures, vision loss, etc. and you can easily see why consumers are shying away from their product. There are other reasons that aspartame has been under attack since the 70s too, and the story includes corrupt FDA officials, fabricated lab results, and more.

(Before people bring it up, I do realize that there are studies showing that it is OK  to consume aspartame in moderation. It’s sometimes said that it’s one of the most studied products in history. However, I look at this similar to other things the FDA has approved for use that are also harmful, such as BPA, mercury, fluouride, etc . When you add in the history behind the FDA approval, and look at how many of the positive studies have industry ties,  I am just not comfortable with the product.)

Add to this that I know lots of people that have problems with aspartame, myself included. Years ago before I stopped consuming soda, every time I had a drink containing it I got a headache. Other diet products, or other sodas from the same manufacturer were not a problem for me, just the ones containing aspartame. There are many such stories, and even some books, that lay it all out.  It seems particularly harmful when given to kids (which is probably why it is banned from children’s products in Europe).

And a final minor point, but as far as the actual name goes from a marketing standpoint, I disagree with their contention the name AminoSweet is either appealing or memorable. It’s not like the average person even knows what an amino acid is, let alone considers it a positive thing.  I think they’re overestimating their audience’s ability to make that association. And it might become memorable to those downing their several diet soft drinks a day, but that’s only if their memories aren’t compromised by the affects of the ever-so-healthy protein!

Let’s hope the mainstream media decides to inform consumers of this name change so people can continue to make educated decisions.

100 years of science and medicine

A couple of recent NPR radio pieces talked about the state of medicine in the late 19th century, how doctors were educated largely by private medical schools that let anyone in that could pay tuition. Those doctors were not trained in the scientific method, had no labs, and did not necessarily study anatomy or physiology. Going to them had about a 50% chance of being beneficial for the patient!

It was after the automobile, the airplane, the telephone and other discoveries that people begin to see the value of science and started to believe in the use of a learned medical professional. Doctors eventually became ingrained in our culture and known as respected members of a community rather than as snake oil salesmen.

One of the main things that started to change medical schools for the better was the Flexner Report. This was a comprehensive report commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation that reviewed all the major American medical schools at the time. It was a game changer. It brought curriculum that was based on science, created standards and pushed medical education to the realm of universities.

I think lately we’re seeing the reversing trend. After 100 years faith in experts many people are increasingly skeptical of those who claim to know it all. (I find myself among that group.)  Medicine seems to be based on science less and less, with business influence and profit taking a lead again. A negative outcome from going to the doctor is still a very real possibility, with an increasingly likely chance of picking up some nasty bug at a hospital or getting the wrong dose of prescription drug.

On the 100th anniversary of the Flexner report, academics are wondering what the focus would be if a similar study were underway today.  I surmise a new report might include information on how doctors should deal with patients who disagree with them or bring them research they find on the Internet. There would be a recommendation for training on complementary and alternative therapies (if nothing else but to better converse with their patients on these topics). There should also be a major focus on wellness and prevention rather than just treatment. Good science would take precedent over the recommendations of professional organizations, lobbyists or big business.

A rethink of medical education is in order and I’m remaining hopeful that we’ll eventually see a trend towards better care  that takes a holistic approach to health.

Mad as Hellers

An interesting radio piece from a couple of days ago commented on a new group U.S. President Obama should pay attention to in his State of the Union speech, the Mad as Hellers. The presenter was talking about how there are essentially two groups- those on the right who are worried about big government and those on the left who are worried about big business and finance. Personally, I’m worried about both. But what I find even worse is the collusion of the two.

When the former head of the CDC goes on to lead the vaccine divison at Merck or the former Monstanto exec gets nominated to negotiate agricultural policy, this hardly seems like coincidence.

I’ve heard some say that it’s because these folks are highly trained in their field and have industry experience, so are desirable recruits for the administration. That could be true. However, it doesn’t give me much faith that they’ll focus on doing the right thing. We need to be able to trust watchdog groups, like the Center for Food Safety or the FDA, will safeguard the public interest. How can this leadership come from people who spent their careers aligned so strongly with one side of an issue over another?

Getting money out of politics in the way of campaign finance reform, Robert Reich’s solution at the end of his piece, is likely to help. However, I think it’s going to take a much bigger change to shake the foundations of our current system. Americans are starting to wake up, but what is that really going to do? Just being mad as hell is not enough. It’s going to require action, and at this point nobody seems to have the pull to bring the various groups together towards any meaningful consensus.

Vaccine safety debate

The appearance of H1N1, and the resulting vaccine, has brought the issue of vaccine safety to the public square. Unfortunately, it is also bringing out the worst in people on both sides of the fight. The arguments are heated and vitriolic. We see little in the way of balanced, rational, and scientific points of view.

I’ve grown tired of the lies, propaganda and fear tactics I’m seeing on both sides. The pro-vaccine side does not allow any room for criticism, doubt or deviation from their position that all vaccines are a godsend and beyond reproach. The anti-vaccine side often gets their facts wrong and discounts science. (For the millionth time already, the U.S. flu vaccines do NOT contain squalene. Read the package inserts.) Both sides have resorted to name-calling, fear-mongering, and even threats!

Here’s a round up in case you’ve missed out on the fun:

“The anti-vac loonies are killing our kids”

“Because of vaccines, diseases that once killed millions are now invisible. But if only a few families stop vaccinating, the illnesses could reemerge in a community.”

“one drop of mercury on your skin is fatal, we know who owns and runs the FDA…the less shots, the less money they make and they have shareholders that dont care if you or your kids has an allergic reaction, gets sick and dies”

“We’re one mutation away from something that virulent and we live in a world with VASTLY more possible methods of propagation. The next flu we have as deadly as the 1918 flu will kill 100s of millions.”

“The flat-earthers are back! Well, not exactly, but their descendants have come up with the flat-earth equivalent for the 21st century. They reject vaccination.”

” Schoolchildren = guinea pigs. Results to be fully know in ten years. Profit to Glaxo/Smith/Kline? Right now.”

“In the case of vaccinations, insurance companies should deny coverage for vaccine preventable diseases and their complications in anyone who did not get the recommended vaccinations.”

“The H1N1 vaccination program is the equivalent of a day trip to a neo-death camp.”

“It is downright scary to see the US heading back to the Dark Ages. The reappearance of some horrible diseases once thought eradicated is downright criminal and is totally the fault of these lunatics.”

Comments like this hardly help advance debate and are unlikely to win converts for either side. The commenters constantly include accusations that the anti-vax side is not willing to look at, or doesn’t understand, science.  However, by arguing that vaccines are completely safe, the pro-vaxers are also eschewing science.

Doubts and skepticism are at the core of the scientific movement! True scientists should be willing to look at empirical evidence on both sides. They realize that science is not meant to be prescriptive, and what we know as “the truth” can change.

This means letting go of the idea that vaccines are infallible. We already know they don’t work in all cases. Why? There is evidence to show that sometimes vaccines do harm people. Why? If we pay attention to the concerns of parents of vaccine damaged children, rather than dismissing them out of hand, maybe scientists could find out if something is happening to them and if so what the cause might be. Can a test be developed to determine genetic susceptibility to severe reaction?

Further questions raised by mass vaccination programs could also use investigation. For instance, what effects are vaccinations having on virus and bacteria development? (E.g. the pneumo vaccines like PPSV23 and Prevnar have resulted in serotype replacement. How likely is it that this will happen with others, like the HPV vaccines?) Is there a way to make vaccine production safer or more efficient? (We’ve seen the delays in both seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines due to problems getting the egg embryos to proliferate.) Is there a way to formulate vaccines that doesn’t require the dangerous additives or animal derived ingredients? Why are we seeing a rise in immune system disorders, and is it really related to vaccines?

If the CDC and FDA are meant to be the safety watchdogs, looking out for the public health, why are they not looking into these issues instead of undertaking multi- million dollar campaigns promoting vaccines as perfectly safe? If studies aren’t being done to truly understand the issues and make the public safer, why not?

The governmental agencies are far from influence free, and while it makes sense that pharmaceutical groups would do best to remain unbiased, profit clearly plays a role in their work. We need to see more independent, non-biased research undertaken. We need to see more agencies like the Cochrane Collaboration that are looking at all the studies and data on both sides with a more balanced viewpoint.

This debate is not going to disappear any time soon, but by addressing some of the core issues using science we might have a chance to improve safety and put some of the arguments to rest. Both the pro and anti-vax groups need to let go of their beliefs and work together for the benefit of all.

Corporal punishment in schools

A recent New York Times piece brought it to my attention that corporal punishment is still used in schools, stating that, “More than 200,000 schoolchildren are paddled, spanked or subjected to other physical punishment each year.”

I have to say that I was shocked to realize that it’s still allowed anywhere within the US public school system! In fact, 20 states do not prohibit physical punishment, with some places using it much more often than others.

While the piece focused on how disabled students are subjected to this type of punishment more frequently, I find it a travesty that children are subjected to it all, and worse yet that it is condoned by the state. By allowing this in schools, it gives the subtle message that this is an OK behavior for those in authority.

Many comments, including those within the article and attached to the article, argued basically that “It happened to me and I’m fine, so why not?” I find this cowardly and certainly no excuse or argument for something so abhorrent. Perpetuating the cycle of physical and emotional abuse will not bring about positive change.

Again from the article – “Corporal punishment is just not an effective method of punishment, especially for disabled children, who may not even understand why they’re being hit,” said Alice Farmer, who wrote the report.

I’d argue that it’s not effective for ANY child, and that many don’t know why it’s happening to them, disabled or otherwise. It’s not a logical or natural consequence for their misbehavior.

Punitive discipline may make the behavior issues disappear, at least initially. Kids that are hit learn to do what they can to avoid being hit! They don’t learn what exactly they did that was wrong, how to avoid or fix it. It stops them from developing their own inner conscience that tells them right from wrong. All that’s remembered is the punishment and the upset with the person that inflicted it.

What they do see instead is that the more powerful person should feel free to take the upper hand and that if you don’t know what else to do to gain control, hit! This can be very damaging to the relationship with the authority figure, and set the children up to themselves use violence in the future.

As The Natural Child Project web site says, children reflect the treatment they receive. No child should be mistreated this way, NONE.  Children, like all beings, should be treated with dignity, understanding, respect and compassion.

Hitting children for misbehaving does not bring out the best in the children, or humanity.

Safest place to birth? Your choice.

The American Medical Association has introduced a resolution decrying home births and is now out to “develop model legislation in support of the concept that the safest setting for labor, delivery, and the immediate post-partum period is in the hospital, or a birthing center within a hospital complex…”.

The natural living community is rightly up at arms in pointing out potential legislation to this effect is contrary to scientific evidence and would be an egregious violation of women’s civil rights. A petition to keep home birth legal was created and has subsequently garnered over 10,000 signatures.

I did not have, nor did I want, a homebirth, but still find this outrageous. Studies have shown that homebirths are as safe as hospital births. Birth is not an illness, it is a natural and normal process, and in most cases doesn’t have to be a medical event. In other countries, including many with better birth outcomes than our own, midwives attend births at home on a regular basis. In addition, some people give birth unattended. There is little scientific evidence to suggest the hospital is the ideal location for birth, and in fact there is evidence to suggest otherwise!

More than likely this comes down to the AMA attempting to protect their interests rather than consider the best outcome for the patients. Why is the medical community so opposed to anything that doesn’t fit their model?

Just as they do not have control over where and how we reproduce, our government should not have control over birthing options. The decision of where to birth is a choice best left to the parents-to-be, ideally made with the full support of their doctor or midwife.

Green your diet

Even if you’re not concerned about animal welfare or the potential health benefits of a vegetarian diet, there is yet another reason to reconsider your animal product consumption – the environmental impact.

Several great articles followed a lengthy UN report issued late last year that said raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg! The facts and figures surrounding this topic are astounding. Here are a few that I’ve pulled out of my recent readings:

  • A 10-acre farm can support 60 people growing soybeans, 24 people growing wheat, 10 people growing corn and only two producing cattle.
  • More than 1/3 of all fossil fuels are used in animal production.
  • Farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the corn, wheat, and other grains grown in the U.S.
  • Because of deforestation to create grazing land, each vegetarian saves an acre of trees per year.
  • Producing a single hamburger patty uses enough fuel to drive 20 miles.
  • The livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher amount than the transportation sector.
  • Reducing meat production by just 10 percent in the U.S. would free enough grain to feed 60 million people.
  • You could spend more than $20,000 on a Prius and still emit 50 percent more carbon dioxide than you would if you just gave up eating meat and other animal products.
  • Waste from animal production pollutes American waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
  • Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year.
  • You’d save more water by not eating a pound of beef than not showering for a year.
  • Chickens raised for KFC and other companies are fed crops that are grown in the Amazon rain forest.
  • More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals.
  • Almost half of the water and 80 percent of the agricultural land in the U.S. are used to raise animals for food.

With the recent media focus on “going green”, I find it somewhat surprising that we’re not hearing more about this. It’s all over the news in other countries, and in the UK official government sources have encouraged people to examine their meat consumption and eat and drink in a greener way. So why is this a non-issue in the US to the point that even Al Gore does not mention it??

Recent research has shown that a majority of people are concerned about climate change and want to do something to feel like they’re a part of the solution, but the recommendations our government and media gives to the average consumer are limited. In addition to driving a hybrid, switching to energy efficient appliances, or turning off lights, we need to better communicate the message that reducing your animal product consumption is something you can do every day that will have a huge impact on the environment and global warming.

Want to make a transition to eating less meat? Check out One Bite at a Time: A Beginner’s Guide to Conscious Eating, participate in Meatless Monday, get a starter pack from Vegan Outreach, find a vegetarian friendly restaurant, or do whatever it takes to stop global warming one bite at a time.