Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

Natural Skepticism

I was strolling through a lounge one day…

When I saw this lying on a table:

I became suspicious at once. I’ve never quite understood how the word “natural” makes something automatically better than another thing.

Natural steaks, natural food, natural medicine.

Hell, my mum buys Arrowhead water instead of the generic brand because she thinks it has more “natural water”.

I once saw a bottle of sparkling mineral water that said that it was made with “natural CO2″. Apparently being natural carbon dioxide doesn’t change the chemical formula of carbon dioxide anyway if it’s still “natural CO2″ so what’s so great about it?

Maybe if I changed my blog’s sub-title to “All-Natural” I’d get more traffic.

Now, obviously there are some artificial things that are bad for you (though a lot of them are fine when taken in moderation). There are also some natural things that are bad for you.

Arsenic occurs naturally.

Uranium occurs naturally.

Mercury occurs naturally.

And that’s just a few things I pulled off the Periodic Table.

But it turns out that Kevin Trudeau is even more of a flat-out liar than my original suspicions let on when I found this YouTube video by Googling his name:

As wonderful a job as John Stossel (we need more journalists who have half as much skepticism as him) did exposing Trudeau, I still have to bang my head into a wall after reading this YouTube comment:

Trudeau is NOT a crook. I have tried several things in his book and they worked for me. Like Magnesium tablets for stress relief. They work better for me than ANY antidepressant or antianxiety that doctors have given me. FDA is out to KILL!

Thank you for your anecdotal scientific assertion that magnesium tablets work for stress relief (I personally have found that a hot bath and some chocolate works well enough, and yours can’t possibly be a placebo effect!) and that the FDA wants to kill us all.

Advice for the FDA: it would go a lot quicker if you let us use China’s tainted milk products.

By Splendid Elles

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Medicine, Pseudomedicine, Pseudoscience, splendid elles | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The truths and myths about the anti-vaccine movement

Thanks to the A-Team for this blog

I don’t usually ask, but if you agree with this blog, Please give kudos and comment. I want as many people to see this blog as possible.

The following paragraph was written by Myspace user “TPO” as an introduction to his blog that reposted the same article:

“I am posting this to counter the rash of QUACKERY, CONSPIRACY THEORIES, and DOWNRIGHT DECEIT about vaccinations the public has been spoon fed by the mainstream media lately. I’ve also seen this misinformation posted in forums, bulletin boards and other venues throughout the web and nowhere is it more prominent than here in the MySpace community. Not only is it irresponsible to spread this nonsense, it is downright dangerous to the health and wellbeing of people all around the world. If you agree, then please post this article in a blog of your own or post a bulletin with a link to it.

Peace, love and all that other good stuff…TPO”

————————————————————-

VACCINES & AUTISM: Myths and Misconceptions

The Anti-Vaccination Movement

Despite the growing scientific consensus that vaccines are safe and that neither vaccines nor mercury cause autism, a stubborn vocal minority claims otherwise, threatening the effectiveness of this public health program.

STEVEN NOVELLA

Steven Novella, MD, is an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University School of Medicine. He is the host of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, a weekly science podcast (www.theskepticsguide.org), author of the NeuroLogica blog (www.theness.com/ NeuroLogicaBlog), and president of the New England Skeptical Society www.theness.com).


Michelle Cedillo has autism, which her parents believe is the result of her childhood vaccines. In June 2007 they had the opportunity, along with eight other families, to make their case to the Autism Omnibus—a U.S. Court of Federal Claims that was presided over by three “special masters” appointed for the purpose. These nine cases are the first test cases that will likely determine the fate of 4,800 other claims made over the past eight years for compensation for injuries allegedly due to childhood vaccines.

Vaccines are one of the most successful programs in modern health care, reducing, and in some cases even eliminating, serious infectious diseases. Public support for the vaccination program remains strong, especially in the United States where vaccination rates are currently at an all-time high of >95 percent (CDC 2004). Yet, despite a long history of safety and effectiveness, vaccines have always had their critics: some parents and a tiny fringe of doctors question whether vaccinating children is worth what they perceive as the risks. In recent years, the anti-vaccination movement, largely based on poor science and fear-mongering, has become more vocal and even hostile (Hughes 2007).

Of course, vaccines are not without risk (no medical intervention is), although the benefits far outweigh those risks. Because vaccines are somewhat compulsory in the United States—although opting out is increasingly easy—a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was established to streamline the process for compensation for those who are injured due to vaccines (USDOJ 2007). It is this program to which the Cedillo and 4,800 other families are applying for compensation.

In the last decade, the anti-vaccine movement, which includes those who blame the MMR (mumps-measles-rubella) vaccine for autism, has largely merged with those who warn that mercury toxicity is the cause of many of the ills that plague mankind. The two groups have come together over the issue of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative in some vaccines. They believe that it was the use of thimerosal in childhood vaccines that led to the apparent autism epidemic beginning in the 1990s.

Autism is a complex neurological disorder that typically manifests in the first few years of life and primarily involves a deficiency of typical social skills and behavior. In the 1990′s, the number of autism diagnoses significantly increased, from between one and three to about fifteen cases per ten thousand, although the true incidence is probably between thirty and sixty per ten thousand (Rutter 2005). During this same period, the number of vaccines given in the routine childhood schedule also increased. This led some to assume, or at least speculate, causation from correlation—perhaps the vaccines or something in them created this “epidemic” of autism.

We can now say, from multiple independent lines of evidence, that vaccines do not cause autism. For one thing, the autism “epidemic” probably does not represent a true increase in the disorder, but rather an artifact of expanding the diagnosis (now referred to as autism spectrum disorder, ASD) and increased surveillance (Taylor 2006).

In 1998, researcher Andrew Wakefield and some of his colleagues published a study in the prestigious English medical journal Lancet that claimed to show a connection between the MMR vaccine and autism (Wakefield 1998). Wakefield’s theory was that the MMR vaccine, which contains a live virus, can cause in susceptible children a chronic measles infection. This in turn leads to gastrointestinal disturbances, including what he calls a “leaky gut” syndrome, which then allows for certain toxins and chemicals, like those from bread and dairy that are normally broken down by the gut, to enter the bloodstream where they can access and damage the developing brain.

Although the study was small and the evidence was considered preliminary, this article sparked a firestorm. As a result of the study and the media coverage that followed (and continues to this day), MMR compliance in Great Britain plummeted, resulting in a surge of preventable disease (Friederichs 2006).

Subsequent to the seminal article in the Lancet, many follow-up studies were performed testing the autism-MMR vaccine correlation. As the follow-up studies began to be published, however, it became increasingly clear that there was no link between MMR and autism. For example, a study in the British Medical Journal found that autism rates continued to climb in areas where MMR vaccination rates were not increasing (Taylor 1999). Another study found no association with MMR and autism or GI (gastrointestinal) disorders (Taylor 2002). Other studies showed no difference in the diagnosis rate of autism either before or after the MMR vaccine was administered (Honda 2005), or between vaccinated and unvaccinated children (Madsen 2002). Most recently, a study found that there was no decrease in autism rates following removal of the MMR vaccine in Japan (Honda 2005).

In 2001, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) reviewed all of the MMR-autism data available to date and concluded that there was no association and essentially closed the case (IOM 2001)—a conclusion confirmed by still later studies, such as the Honda study in Japan cited above.

If Wakefield had simply been wrong in his preliminary findings, he would be innocent of any wrongdoing—scientists are not faulted if their early findings are not later vindicated. However, in May 2004, ten of Wakefield’s co-authors on his original paper withdrew their support for its conclusions. The editors of Lancet also announced that they withdrew their endorsement of the paper and cited as part of the reason an undisclosed potential conflict of interest for Wakefield, namely that at the time of its publication he was conducting research for a group of parents of autistic children seeking to sue for damages from MMR vaccine producers (Lancet 2004).

It gets worse. Investigative reporter Brian Deer has uncovered greater depths to Wakefield’s apparent malfeasance. Wakefield had applied for patents for an MMR vaccine substitute and treatments for his alleged MMR vaccine-induced gut disorder (Deer 2007). So, not only was he allegedly paid by lawyers to cast doubt on the MMR vaccine, but he stood to personally gain from the outcome of his research.


Andrew Wakefield. (Credit: Tom Miller) [Photo via Newscom]

Further, during the Cedillo case testimony, Stephen Bustin, a world expert in the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), testified that the lab Wakefield used to obtain the results for his original paper was contaminated with measles virus RNA. It was therefore likely, Bustin implied, that the PCR used by Wakefield was detecting this contamination and not evidence for measles infection in the guts of children with autism who had been vaccinated, as Wakefield claimed. And finally, Nicholas Chadwick testified that the measles RNA Wakefield found matched the laboratory contamination and did not match either any naturally occurring strain or the strain used in the MMR vaccine—a fact of which he had informed Wakefield (USCFC 2007).

All of this, plus other allegations still coming out, has caused Britain’s General Medical Council to call Wakefield before its “Fitness to Practice” panel for review of his alleged professional misconduct (GMC 2007).

Believers in the MMR-autism hypothesis dismiss the findings of the larger and more powerful epidemiological studies that contradict a link. Instead, they have turned Andrew Wakefield into a martyr, dismissing the evidence of his wrongdoing as a conspiracy against him designed to hide the true cause of autism from the public. Wakefield is unrepentant and maintains his innocence (Gorski 2007).

With the MMR-autism hypothesis scientifically dead, attention soon shifted to thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative found in some childhood vaccines (although not the MMR vaccine). There is little doubt, and no controversy, that mercury, the major component of thimerosal, is a powerful neurotoxin, or poison to the brain. However, toxicity is always a matter of dose. Everything becomes toxic in a high enough dose; even too much water or vitamin C can kill you. So the real question is whether the amount of mercury given to children in vaccines containing thimerosal was enough to cause neurological damage.


Author of the book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic David Kirby (center) speaks as president Harvey Fineberg (left) of the Institute of Medicine listens during an interview by moderator Tim Russert (right) on NBC‘s Meet the Press August 7, 2005, at the NBC studios in Washington, D.C. Fineberg and Kirby talked about the rising number of autism diagnoses among children and the controversial charges of a government conspiracy to allow mercury exposures from childhood vaccines to more than double between 1988 and 1992. The Institute of Medicine reviewed all MMR-autism data and concluded that there was no association. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images for Meet the Press) [Photo via Newscom]

Proponents of the mercury hypothesis argue that the ethylmercury found in thimerosal was given in doses exceeding Environmental Protection Agency limits. This load of mercury should be considered with prenatal vaccine loads possibly given to mothers, and to other environmental sources of mercury, such as seafood. Furthermore, underweight or premature infants received a higher dose by weight than larger children. Some children, they argue, may have a specific inability to metabolize mercury, and perhaps these are the children who become autistic.

Fear over thimerosal and autism was given a huge boost by journalist David Kirby with his book Evidence of Harm (Kirby 2005). Kirby tells the clichéd tale of courageous families searching for help for their sick children and facing a blind medical establishment and a federal government rife with corruption from corporate dollars. Kirby echoes the core claim that as the childhood vaccine schedule increased in the 1990s, leading to an increased cumulative dose of thimerosal, autism diagnoses skyrocketed.

In the end, Evidence of Harm is an example of terrible reporting that grossly misrepresents the science and the relevant institutions. As bad as Kirby’s position was in 2005, in the last two years the evidence has been piling up that thimerosal does not cause autism. Rather than adjusting his claims to the evidence, Kirby has held fast to his claims, which has made him a hero alongside Wakefield of the mercury-autism-connection crowd as he has squandered his credibility.

There have now been a number of epidemiological and ecological studies that have all shown no correlation between thimerosal and autism (Parker 2004 and Doja 2006). I have already mentioned that the current consensus holds that there is no real autism epidemic, just an artifact of how the diagnosis is made. If there’s no epidemic, there’s no reason to look for a correlation between thimerosal and autism. This has been backed up by The Institute of Medicine, which has also reviewed all the available evidence (both epidemiological and toxicological) and concluded that the evidence does not support the conclusion that thimerosal causes autism (IOM 2004).

Especially damning for the thimerosal hypothesis are the recent studies that clearly demonstrate that early detection of autism is possible long before the diagnosis is officially made. Part of the belief that vaccines may cause autism is driven by the anecdotal observation by many parents that their children were normal until after they were vaccinated—autism is typically diagnosed around age two or three. However, more careful observations indicate that signs of autism are present much earlier, even before twelve months of age, before exposure to thimerosal (Mitchell 2006). In fact, autism expert Eric Fombonne testified in the Autism Omnibus hearings that Michelle Cedillo displayed early signs of autism clearly visibly on family video taken prior to her receiving the MMR vaccine (USCFC 2007).

Meanwhile, evidence is accumulating that autism is largely a genetic disorder (Szatmari 2007). This by itself does not rule out an environmental factor, but it is telling that genetic research in autism has proven so fruitful.

Mercury alarmists, in the face of this negative evidence, have been looking for rationalizations. Some have argued that the thimerosal in prenatal vaccines may be to blame, but recent evidence has shown a negative correlation there as well (Miles 2007).

What we have are the makings of a solid scientific consensus. Multiple independent lines of evidence all point in the same direction: vaccines in general, and thimerosal in particular, do not cause autism, which rather likely has its roots in genetics. Furthermore, true autism rates are probably static and not rising.


A demonstrator carries a sign protesting the use of mercury in vaccines past the U.S. Capitol in Washington July 20, 2005. Some three hundred people marched demanding that mercury not be used in vaccines anymore amid concern that it is the cause of autism and other neurological diseases in children. However, numerous studies show no correlation between Thimerosol and autism. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images) [Photo via Newscom]

The only researchers who are publishing data that contradicts this consensus are the father-and-son team of Mark and David Geier. They have looked at the same data and concluded that thimerosal does correlate with autism. However, the hammer of peer-review has come down on their methods and declared them fatally flawed, thus rendering their conclusions invalid or uninterpretable (Parker 2004). Also, like Wakefield, their reputations are far from clean. They have made something of a career out of testifying for lawyers and families claiming that vaccines caused their child’s autism, even though the Geiers’ testimony is often excluded on the basis that they lack the proper expertise (Goldacre 2007). The Geiers were not even called as experts in the Autism Omnibus hearings.

The Geiers are now undertaking an ethically suspect study in which they are administering chelation therapy to children with autism in conjunction with powerful hormonal therapy allegedly designed to reduce testosterone levels. Chelation therapy removes mercury, and so it is dependent upon the mercury hypothesis, which is all but disproved. Moreover, there is no clinical evidence for the efficacy of chelation therapy. The treatment is far from benign and is even associated with occasional deaths (Brown 2006).

With the scientific evidence so solidly against the mercury hypothesis of autism, proponents maintain their belief largely through the generous application of conspiracy thinking. The conspiracy claim has been made the loudest by Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in two conspiracy-mongering articles: Deadly Immunity published on Salon.com in 2005 (Kennedy 2005), and more recently Attack on Mothers (Kennedy 2007). In these articles, RFK Jr. completely misrepresents and selectively quotes the scientific evidence, dismisses inconvenient evidence as fraudulent, accuses the government, doctors, and the pharmaceutical industry of conspiring to neurologically damage America’s children, and accuses scientists who are skeptical of the mercury claims of attacking the mothers of children with autism.

Despite the lack of evidence for any safety concern, the FDA decided to remove all thimerosal from childhood vaccines, and by 2002 no new childhood vaccines with thimerosal were being sold in the U.S. This was not an admission of prior error, as some mercury proponents claimed; instead, the FDA was playing it safe by minimizing human exposure to mercury wherever possible. The move was also likely calculated to maintain public confidence in vaccines.

This created the opportunity to have the ultimate test of the thimerosal autism hypothesis. If rising thimerosal doses in the 1990s led to increasing rates of autism diagnosis, then the removal of thimerosal should be followed within a few years by a similar drop in new autism diagnoses. If, on the other hand, thimerosal did not cause autism, then the incidence of new diagnoses should continue to increase and eventually level off at or near the true rate of incidence. In 2005, I personally interviewed David Kirby on the topic, and we both agreed that this would be a fair test of our respective positions. Also, in an e-mail to science blogger Citizen Cain, Kirby wrote, “If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS [Department of Developmental Services] system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis” (Cain 2005).

Well, five years after the removal of thimerosal, autism diagnosis rates have continued to increase (IDIC 2007). That is the final nail in the coffin in the thimerosal-vaccine-autism hypothesis. The believers, however, are in full rationalization mode. David Kirby and others have charged that although no new vaccines with thimerosal were sold after 2001, there was no recall, so pediatricians may have had a stockpile of thimerosal-laden vaccines—even though a published inspection of 447 pediatric clinics and offices found only 1.9 percent of relevant vaccines still had thimerosal by February 2002, a tiny fraction that was either exchanged, used, or expired soon after (CDCP/ACIP 2002).

Those who argue for the link have put forth increasingly desperate notions. Kirby has argued that mercury from cremations was increasing environmental mercury toxicity and offsetting the decrease in mercury from thimerosal. The Geiers simply reinterpreted the data using bad statistics to create the illusion of a downward trend where none exists (Geier 2006). Robert Kennedy Jr. dodges the issue altogether by asking for more studies, despite the fact that the evidence he asks for already exists. He just doesn’t like the answer. Kennedy and others also point to dubious evidence, such as the myth that the Amish do not vaccinate and do not get autism. Both of these claims are not true, and the data RFK Jr. refers to is nothing more than a very unscientific phone survey (Leitch 2007).

The Autism Omnibus hearings have concluded, and while we await the decision due early next year, I am optimistic that science and reason will win the day. Just as shown in the 2005 Dover trial of intelligent design where the full body of scientific evidence was given a thorough airing in court and subjected to rules of evidence and the critical eyes of experienced judges, science tends to win out over nonsense. By all accounts, the lawyers for those claiming that vaccines caused their children’s autism put on pathetic performances with transparently shoddy science, while the other side marshaled genuine experts and put forth an impressive case.

But the stakes are high, and not just for the 4,800 families. If the petitioners win these test cases despite the evidence, it will open the floodgates for the rest of the 4,800 petitioners. This will likely bankrupt the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and will also risk our vaccine infrastructure. Pharmaceutical companies will be reluctant to subject themselves to the liability of selling vaccines if even the truth cannot protect them from lawsuits.

Thimerosal still exists as a necessary preservative in multi-shot vaccines outside the United States, especially in poor third-world countries that cannot afford stockpiles of single-shot vaccines. Anti-thimerosal hysteria therefore also threatens the health of children in poor countries.

And of course a victory for the anti-vaccination activists would undermine public confidence in what is arguably the single most effective public health measure devised by modern science. This decrease in confidence will lead, as it has before, to declining compliance and an increase in infectious disease.

The forces of irrationality are arrayed on this issue. There are conspiracy theorists, well-meaning but misguided citizen groups who are becoming increasingly desperate and hostile, irresponsible journalists, and ethically compromised or incompetent scientists. The science itself is complex, making it difficult for the average person to sift through all the misdirection and misinformation. Standing against all this is simple respect for scientific integrity and the dedication to follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Right now the evidence leads to the firm conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism. Yet, if history is any guide, the myth that they do cause autism will likely endure even in the face of increasing contradictory evidence.

References

Brown, M.J., T. Willis, B. Omalu, and R. Leiker. 2006. Deaths resulting from hypocalcemia after administration of edetate disodium: 2003–2005. Pediatrics. 118(2):e534–36.

Centers for Disease Control. 2004. MMWR Weekly, November 12. 53(44):1041–1044. Available at www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5344a4.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advisory Committee on Immunization. 2002. Practice Records of the meeting held on February 20–21, 2002, Atlanta Marriott North Central Hotel. Available at www.kevinleitch.co.uk/grabit/acip-min-feb.pdf.

Citizen Cain. 2005. Slouching Toward Truth—Autism and Mercury, November 30. Available at http://citizencain.blogspot.com/2005/11/slouching-toward-truth-autism-and_30.html.

Deer, B. 2007. Andrew Wakefield & the MMR scare: part 2. Available at http://briandeer.com/wakefield-deer.htm.

Doja, A., and W. Roberts. 2006. Immunizations and autism: a review of the literature. Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences 33(4):341–46.

Friederichs, V., J.C. Cameron, and C. Robertson. 2006. Impact of adverse publicity on MMR vaccine uptake: a population based analysis of vaccine uptake records for one million children, born 1987–2004. Archives of Diseases of Children 200691(6):465–68. Epub 2006 April 25.

Geier, D.A., and M.R. Geier. 2006. An assessment of downward trends in neurodevelopmental disorders in the United States following removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines. Medical Science Monitor 12(6):CR231–9. Epub 2006 May 29.

General Medical Council. 2007. July 16. Available at www.gmcpressoffice.org.uk/apps/news/events/index.php?month=7&year=2007&submit=Submit.

Goldacre B. 2007. Opinions from the medical fringe should come with a health warning. The Guardian, Saturday, February 24. Available at www.guardian.co.uk/science/2007/feb/24/badscience.uknews.

Gorski, D. 2007. Andrew Wakefield: The Galileo gambit writ large in The Observer. Respectful Insolence, July 9, 2007. Available at http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2007/07/andrew_wakefield_the_galileo_gambit_writ.php.

Honda, H., Y. Shimizu, and M. Rutter. 2005. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 46(6):572–79.

Hughes, V. 2007. Mercury Rising. Nature Medicine 13(8):896–7. Epub 2007 August 31.

Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee, Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS). 2007. Autistic spectrum disorder: No causal relationship with vaccines. Paediatrics & Child Health 12(5): 393–95. Available at www.cps.ca/english/statements/ID/pidnote_jun07.htm.

Institute of Medicine. 2001. Immunization Safety Review: Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism. April 23. Available at www.iom.edu/CMS/3793/4705/4715.aspx.

Institute of Medicine. 2004. Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. May 17. Available at www.iom.edu/CMS/3793/4705/20155.aspx.

Kennedy, R.F. 2005. Deadly immunity. June 16. Salon.com. Available at http://dir.salon.com/story/news/feature/2005/06/16/thimerosal/index3.html?pn=1.

———. 2007. Attack on mothers. June 19. The Huffington Post. Available at www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/attack-on-mothers_b_52894.html.

Kirby, David. 2005. Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Lancet Editors, 2004. Lancet 363(9411).

Leitch K. 2007. Autism amongst the Amish. Left Brain/Right Brain. 22. Available at www.kevinleitch.co.uk/wp/?p=5353.

Madsen, K.M., A. Hviid, M. Vestergaard, D. Schendel, J. Wohlfahrt, P. Thorsen, J. Olsen, and M. Melbye. 2002. A population-based study of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and autism. New England Journal of Medicine 347(19):1477–1482.

Miles, J.H., and T.N. Takahashi. 2007. Lack of association between Rh status, Rh immune globulin in pregnancy and autism. American Journal of Medical Genetics, Part A1. 143(13):1397–407.

Mitchell, S., J. Brian, L. Zwaigenbaum, W. Roberts, P. Szatmari, I. Smith, and S. Bryson. 2006. Early language and communication development of infants later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics 27(2 Suppl):S69–78.

Parker, S.K., B. Schwartz, J. Todd, and L.K. Pickering. 2004. Thimerosal-containing vaccines and autistic spectrum disorder: a critical review of published original data. Pediatrics 114(3):793–804.

Rutter, M. 2005. Incidence of autism spectrum disorders: changes over time and their meaning. Acta Paediatrica 94(1):2–15.

Szatmari, P., et. al. 2007. Mapping autism risk loci using genetic linkage and chromosomal rearrangements. Nature Genetics 39, 319–28.

Taylor, B. 2006. Vaccines and the changing epidemiology of autism. Child Care, Health, and Development 32(5):511–19.

Taylor, B., E. Miller, C.P. Farrington, M.C. Petropoulos, I. Favot-Mayaud, J. Li, and P.A. Waight. 1999. Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association. Lancet 12;353(9169):2026–2029.

Taylor, B., E. Miller, R. Lingam, N. Andrews, A. Simmons, and J. Stowe. 2002. Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study. British Medical Journal 16; 324(7334):393–96.

United States Court of Federal Claims. 2007. Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Transcript of Day 6. June 18, 2007. Available at ftp://autism.uscfc.uscourts.gov/autism/transcripts/day06.pdf.

United States Court of Federal Claims, 2007. Cedillo v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, Transcript of Day 8. June 20, 2007. Available at ftp://autism.uscfc.uscourts.gov/autism/transcripts/day08.pdf.

USDOJ, About the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Available at www.usdoj.gov/civil/torts/const/vicp/about.htm.

Wakefield, A.J., S.H. Murch, A. Anthony, J. Linnell, D.M. Casson, M. Malik, M. Berelowitz, A.P. Dhillon, M.A. Thomson, P. Harvey, A. Valentine, S.E. Davies, and J.A. Walker-Smith. 1998. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 351(9103):637–41.

October 1, 2008 Posted by | Medicine, Pseudomedicine, Pseudoscience, science | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cloned Meat and Social Paranoia

Cloned Meat and Social Paranoia

According to a recent report released this January by the Food and Drug administration “Extensive evaluation of the available data has not identified any food consumption risks or subtle hazards in healthy clones of cattle, swine, or goats.” The FDA also says it will not require the labeling of cloned products intended for consumers. This has sparked considerable controversy and many are still remain uncertain about the safety of consuming cloned animal products. In a review of the FDA’s risk assessment the Center for Food Safety (CSF) claims that the FDA’s position on the consumption of cloned animal products being safe is based on “flawed assumptions and misrepresented findings”. A pool taken by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) indicated that 59% of Americans said they wouldn’t purchase food derived from cloned animal or their offspring. Despite opposition from the CSF, as well as other organizations such organizations as the Consumers Union and the Consumer federation of America, over 200 scientists signed a public statement issues by the Federation of Animal Science Societies (FASS) supporting the FDA’s risk assessment. FASS claims that “the scientific evidence is absolutely, robustly clear. There is no food safety risk from the meat or milk from clones, or from their conventionally bred offspring.” In light all these contradicting claims, it can be hard for the lay person or the uninformed to form a meaningful opinion. Experts from a variety of backgrounds and organizations both support and reject cloned animal products as safe. In this blog I intend to address some of the primary concerns directly, provide general information about the concerns, and shed some light on the controversy. For now, I am going to disregard most ethical concerns about animal cloning and address primarily concerns about its safety for consumption.

Are They Different From Normal Animals?

One common concern is the relatively lower health expectations of cloned animals. The majority of cloning attempts fail and many clones display a variety of ailments. The reason behind these abnormalities is largely due to epigenetic factors. The term epigenetic refers essentially to the means by which DNA expression is controlled. While the DNA contains all the information, or the blue print, for a living organism, how that information is expressed depends on the type of cell and its stage of development. Although every single cell in your body houses the same genetic information as every other, there is a clear difference between the cells of your skin and those of your brain. During cloning, a certain amount of the epigenetic program in a cell can remain. If a cloned organism retains these epigenetic factors, it could lead to abnormal gene expression. Because epigenetic factors can affect a large portion of the genome, especially those involved in cellular differentiation, they can lead to a massive number of defects.

The primary concern here is not the horribly disfigured unfortunate ones that would never make it to the food supply anyway, but the few clones that appear to be totally and completely healthy to an outside observer. Some residual epigenetic traits remain even in healthy clones. These differences do not appear to inhibit the animal’s normal biological functions. But lets be clear about exactly what the risk might be here. Now, the abnormal gene expression in clones is due to loss of expression products. In other words, cloned animals produce no new gene products. One potential problem might be that proteins are not properly modified, or that they are produced in large enough quantities, as to produce and allergenic response. Because these products would be very similar to the intended biochemical process, this is unlikely. While I have come across no studies that indicate this to be the case, it is at least hypothetically possible. Proteins that have been inappropriately modified would very likely affect the cloned organism adversely either by its loss of function or in producing an immune response. This is an as yet unobserved and improbable risk. As for new and potentially deadly products being formed in the cloned animal, it’s not really conceivably possible. Those kinds of things are the results of mutations, which directly alter the genetic code, while epigenetic alters only which genes are being expressed. Despite this risk being small, consumers with a history of strong food allergies to cloned animal products, such as an allergy to milk, should take this risk more serious than the general population.

It is also reasonable to conclude that, as our understanding of epigenetics increases, scientist may be able to eliminate the concerns associated with variable gene expression, including those to the suffering and well-being of the animal. So if this is your only concern, it might be dealt with eventually. Also, some of the health risks are not so much a result of the abnormal clone, but the large amount of antibiotic and hormones supplements these could potentially need. Given our ability to clone now, it is not yet very practical for the food industry and, in spite of the FDA approval, it is unlikely it will be implemented on any grand scale due to its expense and failure rate, at least until the method is refined. So, the consumption cloned meat, by itself, poses no significant threat greater than that of normal meat. Risks I have not discussed, or may have alluded to, in this blog do warrant consideration though. They include but are not limited to biodiversity, antibiotic and hormone supplementation, practical implementation, and ethical considerations. I intend to address these issues in follow up blogs.

-Chalmer

http://www.fda.gov/cvm/CloneRiskAssessment.htm

http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/cloned_animals.cfm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epigenetics

September 25, 2008 Posted by | Pseudoscience, science | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.