Happy holidays from barfblog.com

We didn’t write a letter last year, because it wasn’t a good year: I got fired as a full professor for bad attendance (it’s a long commute from Brisbane) but did get my U.S. citizenship.

sorenne goannas.3This year was better.

I’m writing lots at barfblog.com and Amy is doing the professoring thing.

Sorenne turned six, and continues to amaze.

Ben is hitting his stride as a professoring thing, and we continue to collaborate and occasionally write something of interest.

sorenne.goannas.2.dec.14I’m coaching hockey and skating, and volunteering as the food safety specialist at Sorenne’s school, as well as at swimming (I don’t get in the pool, my role is to get the boys dressed on time, and make sure kids don’t do dumb things in the pool).

It’s a different lifestyle but one I am finally growing used to.


sorenne.goannas.dec.14

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First successful vaccination against ‘mad cow’-like wasting disease in deer

Researchers at NYU Langone Medical Center and elsewhere say that a vaccination they have developed to fight a brain-based, wasting syndrome among deer and other animals may hold promise on two additional fronts: Protecting U.S. livestock from contracting the disease, and preventing similar brain infections in humans.

deerThe study, to be published in Vaccine online Dec. 21, documents a scientific milestone: The first successful vaccination of deer against chronic wasting disease (CWD), a fatal brain disorder caused by unusual infectious proteins known as prions. Prions propagate by converting otherwise healthy proteins into a disease state.

Equally important, the researchers say, this study may hold promise against human diseases suspected to be caused by prion infections, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, kuru, familial insomnia, and variably protease-sensitive prionopathy. Some studies also have associated prion-like infections with Alzheimer’s disease.

“Now that we have found that preventing prion infection is possible in animals, it’s likely feasible in humans as well,” says senior study investigator and neurologist Thomas Wisniewski, MD, a professor at NYU Langone.

CWD afflicts as much as 100 percent of North America’s captive deer population, as well as large numbers of other cervids that populate the plains and forests of the Northern Hemisphere, including wild deer, elk, caribou and moose. There is growing concern among scientists that CWD could possibly spread to livestock in the same regions, especially cattle, a major life stream for the U.S. economy, in much the same manner that bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or Mad Cow Disease, another prion-based infection, spread through the United Kingdom almost two decades ago.

According to Dr. Wisniewski and his research team, if further vaccine experiments prove successful, a relatively small number of animals (as few as 10 percent) could be inoculated to induce herd immunity, in which disease transmission is essentially stopped in a much larger group.

For the study, five deer were given the vaccine; another six were given a placebo. All of the deer were exposed to prion-infected brain tissue; they also were housed together, engaging in group activities similar to those in the wild. Scientists say this kept them in constant exposure to the infectious prions. The animals receiving the vaccine were given eight boosters over 11 months until key immune antibodies were detectable in blood, saliva, and feces. The deer also were monitored daily for signs of illness, and investigators performed biopsies of the animals’ tonsils and gut tissue every three months to search for signs of CWD infection.

Within two years, all of the deer given the placebo developed CWD. Four deer given the real vaccine took significantly longer to develop infection—and the fifth one continues to remain infection free.

Wisniewski and his team made the vaccine using Salmonella bacteria, which easily enters the gut, to mirror the most common mode of natural infection—ingestion of prion-contaminated food or feces. To prepare the vaccine, the team inserted a prion-like protein into the genome of an attenuated, or no longer dangerous, Salmonella bacterium. This engineered the Salmonella to induce an immune response in the gut, producing anti-prion antibodies.

“Although our anti-prion vaccine experiments have so far been successful on mice and deer, we predict that the method and concept could become a widespread technique for not only preventing, but potentially treating many prion diseases,” says lead study investigator Fernando Goni, PhD, an associate professor at NYU Langone.

 

UK food scare of the year: Campylobacter gets the FSA in a right old flap

I’m not sure who talks like that, except the Brits.

campy.grocer.dec.14So while The Grocer blames consumers for Campylobacter outbreaks, Walmart Frank has taken steps to implement enhanced poultry safety measures for suppliers designed to further protect customers against foodborne illnesses. The new guidelines are in addition to Walmart’s food safety program that requires poultry suppliers to achieve prevention-based certification against one of the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) internationally recognized standards.

“At Walmart and Sam’s Club, we are committed to providing our customers with safe, quality foods,” said vice president for food safety, Frank Yiannas. “As part of our continuous improvement process, we determined it was important to require additional layers of protection for our customers.”

The new program requires Walmart and Sam’s Club U.S. poultry suppliers to implement holistic controls from farm to fork designed to significantly reduce potential contamination levels, including chicken parts. It also requires suppliers to undergo specialized testing to validate that the measures they have implemented are effective. All poultry suppliers must be in compliance with the new requirements by June 2016.

The enhanced protocol has been reviewed with numerous stakeholders including consumer groups, regulators, academicians, poultry suppliers and industry associations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has partnered with Walmart on this initiative to advance food safety and decrease foodborne illnesses among consumers.

frank.amy.doug.jun.11dDr. Chris Braden, director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases said, “CDC, along with Walmart, recognizes that reducing Salmonella and other pathogen contamination in poultry products is a crucial step towards decreasing the burden of foodborne illnesses. Walmart and CDC working together to protect public health and advance food safety is a great example of a public-private partnership that benefits everyone”  

Dr. Gary R. Acuff, director of the Texas A&M Center for Food Safety applauded the company’s work: “Walmart’s implementation of enhanced safety measures for poultry products provides leadership for the food industry and continues a progressive approach to providing the safest possible food. This is a smart, science-supported move that will greatly benefit consumers.”

‘It refers to any manufacturer of dairy products’: blessed are the cheesemakers

As a turophile planning out my holiday cheese plate, I recently read with consternation a report by a Washington, D.C., environmental research organization that found cheese to have the third largest carbon footprint among all sources of protein. It stands behind beef (No. 2) and lamb (No. 1).

CheezwhizThe carbon released to transport animal feed, the methane belched by dairy animals, the energy expended to transform a gallon of milk into roughly a pound of cheese, and the fuel used to truck the finished product to stores combine to make the commercial cheese industry a major agricultural contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, the 2011 report by the Environmental Working Group found. For every 2.2 pounds of cheese produced, 29.7 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalents are released into the atmosphere, the report said.

Buying Maine-made cheese – the state has more than 70 registered cheesemakers, so there are plenty of options – obviously cuts down on transportation-related emissions. And Maine Cheese Guild President Eric Rector, cheesemaker and owner of the Monroe Cheese Studio, says there are questions a cheese eater can ask of suppliers to make sure they are buying greener local cheese.

In her white lab coat and sensible crocs (there is no such thing), Sayer Dion Smyczek doesn’t look like a typical food revolutionary, but she is helping to upend the world of artisan cheesemaking.

For the past few months, Smyczek has worked as the nation’s first and only full-time microbiologist at the Cellars at Jasper Hill, a small creamery in northeastern Vermont. Although it sits above a cheese cellar, her state-of-the-art workspace would make any microbiologist feel at home.

Making cheese has typically been more art than science, relying on trial and error to create the perfect taste and texture. With their high-tech microbiology lab, Jasper Hill is changing all of that. They are turning cheesemaking into a science, giving artisans a chance to harness microbes in order to nurture new flavors and textures.

The Oz effect

More than half of the health advice Dr. Oz gives is either baseless — there’s no evidence for his claims — or wrong — there is evidence, and it contradicts what he says. Julia Belluz tells us not to be surprised:

dr.ozHe is, after all, in the business of entertainment.

But the thing is, there are a lot of Ozzes out there, including in areas you might not consider the entertainment business.

Recently some conference planners tried to recruit me for an event in which I would be presenting the alternative view to the main experts — Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. This would be the Art Laffer who among other things warned about soaring inflation and interest rates thanks to the rapid growth in the monetary base (ask the Swiss), and the Stephen Moore who was caught using fake numbers to promote state-level tax cuts.

Obviously these “experts” appeal to the political prejudices of a business audience, but taking their advice would have cost you a lot of money. So why isn’t their popularity dented by the repeated pratfalls? Are they, also, in the entertainment business?

To some extent, the answer is yes. Simon Wren-Lewis had an interesting piece on why the financial sector buys into really bad macroeconomics; he suggested that financial firms aren’t really interested in anything but very short-term forecasting, and that economists working for financial institutions spend rather more time talking to their institution’s clients than to market traders. They earn their money by telling stories that interest and impress their clients. To do that it helps if they have the same worldview as their clients.

Thinking about Dr. Oz also, I’d suggest, helps explain a related puzzle: even if you grant that the right wants alleged experts who toe the ideological line, why can’t it get guys who are at least competent? Why do they recruit and continue to employ people who can’t do basic job calculations, or read their own tables and notice that they’re making ridiculous unemployment projections, and so on?

My answer has been that anyone competent enough to avoid these mistakes would also be unreliable — he or she might at some point actually take a stand on principle, or at least balk at completely abandoning professional ethics. And I still think that’s part of the story.

But I now also suspect that the personality traits you need to be an effective entertainer on inherently not-so-much-fun subjects like health or monetary policy are inherently at odds with the traits you need to be even halfway competent. If Dr. Oz were the kind of guy who pores over medical evidence to be sure he knows what he’s talking about, he probably couldn’t project the persona that wins him such a large audience. Similarly, a hired-gun economist who actually knows how to download charts from FRED probably wouldn’t have the kind of blithe certainty in right-wing dogma his employers want.

So how do those of us who aren’t so glib respond? With ridicule, obviously. It’s not cruelty; it’s strategy.

Push to lift raw milk ban in Australia despite the death of 3-year-old

I used to be self-described lots of things, now I’m not so sure.

the.raw.storeSelf-described food activist Rebecca Freer, who owns an organic store in Thornbury in Victoria (that’s in Australia) claims her rights are being infringed and has begun a petition to legalize it even after the product was linked to the death of a three-year-old child.

“We have a long, long way to go to get the numbers required to be taken seriously … our human rights are at risk if we let the government make the decision on this issue,” she wrote.

The petition on change.org only had 100 supporters on December 12 when news broke of the child’s tragic death, but grew to 250 followers overnight and up to 500 by this week.

Supporters argued raw milk is completely safe and full of “beneficial” bacteria.

Current laws only allow the sale of raw milk as cosmetic or as “bath milk” and labelled “not fit for human consumption”.

Ms Freer said she drank raw milk herself and also gave it to her children.

Please, keep the children out of it, just like you wouldn’t share a scotch and a smoke with your six-year-old.

It’s always the kids who suffer.

Celebrity food porn, NBC style

A food safety type from the U.S. writes that the average viewer of these celebrity chefs are ignorant of safe food handling practices. They are blinded because of the celebrity status of these chefs.

 celebrity.chefsThis past Thanksgiving, I tuned into “Today” and watched celebrity chef Giada prepare ready to eat foods with her bare hands. But worse than that is that she had a bandaid on her finger. At the very least she could have used a finger cot. I emailed the “Food Network three times with no response.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Taiwan recalls tainted dried tofu in fresh food scare

In Taiwan’s latest food scandal, almost 40 types of flavored dried tofu (bean curd) involving ten different companies are suspected to have become contaminated with dimethyl yellow, which is linked to cancer in animals.

UnknownTaiwanese authorities ordered more than two tonnes of tofu (bean curd) be removed from shelves on Wednesday (Dec 17) over fears it could contain a banned industrial dye, in the island’s latest food scandal. 

Almost 40 types of flavoured dried tofu involving ten different companies are suspected to have become contaminated with dimethyl yellow, which is linked to cancer in animals, the Food and Drug Administration said. The administration ordered any manufacturer that used ingredients supplied by the Chien Hsin company that they suspect of being contaminated to recall their products by Saturday or risk a maximum fine of NT$200 million (US$6.3 million).

Chien Hsin is accused of selling soybean emulsifiers that were adulterated with the industrial dye, which is banned from food products, to at least 44 manufacturers.

Televised medical talk shows—they’re just BS

I’ve written before about how I was unceremoniously relegated to the cheap seats because I wouldn’t go along with the story line on Dr. Oz a couple of years ago; it wasn’t factual and they weren’t interested in facts.

powell.costa.dr.oz.09Now, researchers report in the British Medical Journal that TV talk shows like Dr. Oz and The Doctors are full of it at least 50 per cent of the time.

Objective To determine the quality of health recommendations and claims made on popular medical talk shows.

Design Prospective observational study.

Setting Mainstream television media.

Sources Internationally syndicated medical television talk shows that air daily (The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors).

Interventions Investigators randomly selected 40 episodes of each of The Dr Oz Show and The Doctors from early 2013 and identified and evaluated all recommendations made on each program. A group of experienced evidence reviewers independently searched for, and evaluated as a team, evidence to support 80 randomly selected recommendations from each show.

Main outcomes measures Percentage of recommendations that are supported by evidence as determined by a team of experienced evidence reviewers. Secondary outcomes included topics discussed, the number of recommendations made on the shows, and the types and details of recommendations that were made.

Results We could find at least a case study or better evidence to support 54% (95% confidence interval 47% to 62%) of the 160 recommendations (80 from each show). For recommendations in The Dr Oz Show, evidence supported 46%, contradicted 15%, and was not found for 39%. For recommendations in The Doctors, evidence supported 63%, contradicted 14%, and was not found for 24%. Believable or somewhat believable evidence supported 33% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 53% on The Doctors. On average, The Dr Oz Show had 12 recommendations per episode and The Doctors 11. The most common recommendation category on The Dr Oz Show was dietary advice (39%) and on The Doctors was to consult a healthcare provider (18%). A specific benefit was described for 43% and 41% of the recommendations made on the shows respectively. The magnitude of benefit was described for 17% of the recommendations on The Dr Oz Show and 11% on The Doctors. Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest accompanied 0.4% of recommendations.

Conclusions Recommendations made on medical talk shows often lack adequate information on specific benefits or the magnitude of the effects of these benefits. Approximately half of the recommendations have either no evidence or are contradicted by the best available evidence. Potential conflicts of interest are rarely addressed. The public should be skeptical about recommendations made on medical talk shows.

UK ice cream parlor fined after boy’s mouth injuries

An ice cream parlour has been landed with a £12,000 fine after a boy sliced his tongue on a shard of glass hidden inside a chocolate sundae.

2381345411The 11-year-old was tucking into the dessert at Scoops Gelato, in Elm Grove, Southsea, during a trip with his mum when he was left in agony and bleeding from the mouth.

The boy needed stitches at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, Portsmouth, as a result of the ordeal.

Portsmouth City Council’s trading standards team, prosecuting Scoops Gelato at Portsmouth Magistrates’ Court yesterday, revealed an error made by staff resulted in the accident.

A worker preparing the dessert tapped the glass with a scoop to pour in the ice cream, unwittingly causing part of it to break and fall in.

Victoria Putnam, council prosecutor, said the cut in the boy’s mouth was ‘severe’ and ‘deep’ – and blamed the firm’s failure to adopt the basic safety procedures of a normal food business for the accident, which happened on June 21 this year.

‘Had the businesses put steps in place – which it has put in place since that incident – it would never have happened,’ she said.