Friday, February 27


Wow, what a piece of new this is - and how appropos that it comes from our slightly more civilized neighbors across the Atlantic. "Many animal experiments may be of little benefit to treating human disease, according to experts. Much of the research is poorly conducted and not thoroughly evaluated, say scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. They are now urging a systematic review of all existing animal research before new experiments are carried out." - My emphasis, to say, this sounds like they're saying "Stop Animal Testing Now - we'll decide whether to take it up again later." That's pretty big. "In reaching their conclusions," the BBC continues, "the London team carried out a systematic review of all animal experiments which purported to have clinical relevance to humans. They found many weaknesses and believe animal testing needs to be reviewed." Fortunately, they may have an alternative: A plan for a national centre to research and develop alternatives to using animals in medical experiments was announced by the British government, to be "based on a facility at Johns Hopkins University in the US that coordinates research into the so-called three Rs: replacement, refinement and reduction of animals in research.

UPDATE 3/4: University of Virginia: Stop Dog Lab Teaching.

Thursday, February 26


Whether intentionally or not, Slate has a few wide-ranging stories on animal issues today, all of which are at least to be commended for bringing crucial issues to mainstream web surfers' attention. But they don't all do quite the same job - while "Whence the Beef?" proclaims "there's plenty about the way meat is raised in the United States that can turn the stomach of even the heartiest carnivore," and proceeds to present an eye-opening (for most readers) "guide to what happens to your meat - whether it's beef, pork, or poultry - on its way to the table," a related piece on CWD ("Oh, deer") dances around its own central point.

"These days," it begins, "every disease has its animal mascot: There's the civet for SARS, the chicken for the avian flu, the prairie dog for monkeypox, and, of course, the cow for mad cow disease (also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy)." Awww. Isn't that cute? Animal mascots. Wonder why these diseases have animals as "mascots"? Then wayyyy down in the story (long after identifying deer as the "mascots" of CWD, the article mentions that the cause of CWD's spread was "the interstate traffic of live deer and elk to stock game farms, which increased in the '90s as a result of the high demand for game meat on upscale menus... In some states, too, transmission was likely encouraged by 'canned hunts,' where fences and a high concentration of animals ensure a shooter's success." Maybe idiot animal exploiters should be the mascots. Then we wouldn't need different ones for all these diseases with the same common cause.

Then there's Alex Frangos's coverage of Rynn Berry's new book "Hitler: Neither Vegetarian nor Animal Lover," which amplifies Berry's earlier work debunking the oft-repeated trope that "Hitler Was a Vegetarian." While it's good that the issue is getting aired at all, the writer dismisses the entire point as irrelevant, with such knowing quotes as "other than Berry, none of the vegetarian activists I spoke to could recall a specific example of being taunted with the 'Hitler was a vegetarian' line." Huh. Guess it was all in Berry's head, then - just some mysterious interior voices saying that over and over. That must be what happened to me too. But Frangos is of course a better expert than Berry or me both on what vegetarians encounter and what they eat: Reducing the book's premise to the idea that Hitler was a vegetarian who cheated, Frangos blithely adds, "After all, what vegetarian doesn't cheat?" and cites friends who, say, stay vegetarian for years, stop to have a ham and cheese sandwich, then go back to being veggie for years. Yep, that's the norm, all right. At least I assume it is: I've only met a hundred or so vegetarians - none of them Frangos's pals, apparently - so how can I judge?


The American Anti-Vivisection Society and a patent watchdog group are fighting to revoke a University of Texas patent involving beagles, calling the patenting of animals for medical experiments "neither legally valid nor morally acceptable." They say the University is trying to patent beagles that have been modified to die from lung infections. The University claims the patent only covers a process, but Andrew Kimbrell, director of the International Center for Technology Assessment, said the patent's repeated use of the words "beagle" and "canine" indicate that it covers the use of the animals, not the method.

Wednesday, February 25


The Washington Post reports that "After doubling its testing for mad cow disease in response to the first case in the United States, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says the government may expand its survey beyond the 40,000 animals now planned." Great. Obliquely addressing the Mad-Cow-Not-a-Downer issue, Veneman said the new plan "will include some apparently healthy animals," but ominously, "Veneman did not specify how many more animals might be tested."

Hmmm. Wonder how many more? Maybe something like negative 20,000? Because that's what they're on track for with January's numbers. Yes, immediately after the first Mad Cow was found in the US, "testing has plummeted," this Seattle Times piece tells us. Outside of the tests done specifically on herdmates as part of the 2003 investigation, "only 1,608 animals were tested in January, down from 3,064 in December." Eleven more months at that rate will bring us up short of even the 20,000 the USDA claims to have tested in 2003. Does that make sense?

Sure it does, if you're the USDA and don't want to find any more Mad Cows. "USDA requested us to stop taking samples," Tom Ellestad said in the same story, adding that he didn't know why they told him to stop. And I love this: "[USDA] spokesman Jim Rogers said he wasn't familiar with the situation at Vern's." Vern's? Nope, doesn't ring a bell. We have so very many plants we deal with, how can we keep track of them all?

Messing with the data to get the results they want (or lack thereof) seems to be the USDA's M.O., as a top scientist there just blew the whistle (to the New York Times) on the practice of fast-tracking "safety" approval before the science could back it up. The story, headlined Scientist pressured to OK meat, continues: "In particular, the scientist said, approval to resume importing Canadian beef was given in August before a study could be done confirming that it was safe." Subpar for the course.

UPDATE 2/26: However you add up all of the above, Japan ain't buyin' it, which is the bottom line. And it doesn't look so good that not only is the USDA itself resisting increased testing, the agency is willfully blocking small beef packing companies and ranchers from testing their own cattle for Mad Cow.


Finally, Lucy Spelman has taken responsibility for the absurd and cruel deaths of animals at the National Zoo that have occurred on her watch. After a report from the National Research Council pinned the blame for these needless deaths on bad management, Spelman stepped up to the plate and resigned - as of the end of the year. In typical public-resignation rhetoric, the zoo director complained that she'd become "a lightning rod for too much attention" without directly admitting that the attention was warranted. But her implication, at least, is right: Removing her doesn't remove the problem, which is a huge population of exotic wild animals being kept in close confinement in the middle of a city. The problem, in other words, is spelled Z-O-O.


Once feared and fought valiantly in the famous War on E.Coli, now still working hard, sickening people overseas eating last summer's American beef, but does anyone care about a recall of 45 tons of beef? They're too busy Not Being Worried about Mad Cow to notice.

Tuesday, February 24


"Diets high in plant-based fibers seem to stave off coronary problems," are the findings of a scientific survey headlined 'Good' Carbs Cut Heart Disease Risk. Data on 350,000 men and women from 10 different studies showed that for each 10 grams of fiber consumed a day, the risk of heart disease was reduced by 14 percent, and the risk of dying from heart disease by 27 percent. "If you are concerned about your risk for heart disease, one of the key features of your diet should be plant-based foods," says the author. "In order to include 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, your diet has to be primarily high-quality carbohydrates."

UPDATE 2/25: Oh, and you know that short-term study where people on Atkins not only lost weight but increased their "good" cholesterol? One nutrition professor believes that's because the test subjects weren't really doing Atkins.

    Dr. Carol Johnston, a professor of nutrition at Arizona State University, said the Foster study was fatally flawed, invalidating its "questionable" results.

    The biggest problem, Johnston said, was that participants were not rigorously monitored, allowing them to cheat on the diets. Her suspicion was borne out when Johnston, who analyzed Foster's study, found that 40 percent of the Atkins dieters were not in ketosis, a condition in which the body burns fat because there are no energy stores supplied by carbohydrates. Atkins depends on ketosis for weight loss.

    "The fact so many people were not in ketosis shows me they weren't following Atkins to the letter," Johnston said. "They were getting their carbs, making the study almost meaningless."
Another dietician adds that long-term effects from Atkins are probably not a concern because "Nearly everyone I know who started Atkins quit after a few months. They didn't like giving up so many carbs."

UPDATE 2/26: Good news about Atkins: Its popularity is a windfall for makers of laxatives. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

UPDATE 3/2: Bad news about Atkins: It puts you in a lousy mood. "A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found carbohydrates help to stimulate production of a key brain chemical called serotonin." And if someone craving carbohydrates "eats protein instead, he or she will become grumpy, irritable or restless. Filling up on fatty foods like bacon or cheese is no answer. That will just make you tired, lethargic and apathetic." Choice quote: "When you take away the carbohydrates, it's like taking away water from someone hiking in the desert."


UPI's Steve Mitchell is once again rocking the house with new revelations - he's found documents showing that neither a test for illegal antibiotics nor a temperature reading - both required to be performed on all downer animals - were performed on the Mad Cow, which it's now quite clear was not a downer. Mitchell even spells it out for the slow-of-dot-connecting: "If the Washington cow was not a downer, it raises the question of how many other, seemingly healthy animals infected with mad cow went undetected and were approved for human consumption." Yes, it does.

Mitchell also identifies - or at least reports Louthan identifying - the USDA vet who inspected the cow in question: Rodney Thompson, who may be a) scapegoated by the USDA for neglect of duty or b) one of the organizers of this hoax, and thus due for a promotion. There's a strong case to be made, though, for "neglect of duty," and ex-USDA vets such as Lester Friedlander and Tom D'Amura go on record with it, using the phrase. In typical USDA fashion, Steve Cohen first evades questions about the discrepancies, then goes ahead with the outright lies: "It's not a requirement to get a temperature," Cohen said. But this is directly contradicted by a training course FSIS gives to its new meat inspectors to assist them in conducting inspection of live animals. "The course document, obtained by UPI, advises inspectors: 'You must take the temperature of all downers.'" Gosh, that seems pretty clear. The training documents also blow apart the No-Temp-Cause-the-Cow-Was-Lying-Down defense. To recap: USDA lied about cow being a downer, they lied about USDA procedure, they'll lie again tomorrow, most likely. What a country.
UPDATE 2/25: Now they're trying to fudge this crucial issue: DeHaven is floating the line that "both accounts [USDA's and Vern's] could in fact be true." Don't let him get away with that BS, Steve.

Monday, February 23


Michael Fumento, no friend of the Atkins plan, lays into the bloated-corpse issue like a hot knife through saturated fat in this latest column. First he echoes the incredulity of many respectable pathologists that someone could gain over 60 pounds in nine days, even from "fluid retention." Even the company's main apologist, Stuart Trager, seems to have a hard time believing this:

    On "Larry King Live," King asked Trager incredulously, "You can have that much fluid retention, like, gaining 50, 60 pounds?" Trager faltered. "I know people don't gain that much weight in nine days," he said, whereupon he switched the topic to once again bashing the Physicians Committee [for Responsible Medicine].
Fumento then notes that the doctor's "real" weight at the time of his fall, 195 pounds, is
    from an echocardiogram report, not admittance documents as one might expect. Conspicuously, the blood pressure numbers were covered. Trager lamely insisted it was to protect Atkins' privacy. Yet much of the media fuss over the M.E. report was its having said Atkins suffered hypertension. Atkins Nutritionals had squealed this was false, but then literally covered it up. The echocardiogram report did show Atkins' weight at 195, but the head of the echocardiography laboratory told me they don't even have a scale. "Sometimes we get the weight from ER, and sometimes we don't and don't put anything down," he said. "Do you ever just estimate?" I asked. "Yup," he replied.
Even fudging around with bogus BMI claims (which Fumento also blasts) can't change the fact that the man who was (supposedly) on the Atkins plan the longest ended his life as a big ol' fat guy.

UPDATE 3/3: Dr. John McDougall follows up on the Fumento piece with some observations of his own: "The man was grossly overweight for all of the 10 years that I knew him and I had met with him personally on several occasions. He looked very unhealthy to me every time we met - and his medical reports and the history that has been released by his organization confirm this. At the very least he suffered from severe heart damage known as cardiomyopathy. The Atkins organization says this was due to a virus - this is possible, but is an extremely rare cause for this condition. The most common reason for this severe loss of heart muscle is coronary artery disease due to a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet." And as to that amazing weight gain in his last nine days, McDougall says that would mean "60 to 80 pounds of fluid, equal to 8 to 10 gallons of water, would have been added to his body. Any medical doctor who allowed this much fluid accumulation in a patient in 9 days should have his medical practices reviewed."

As to the ethics and relevance of looking so closely at the bloated corpse of this poor fellow, McDougall reminds us, "Atkins' image is alive and well on TV, radio, newspapers, fast food restaurant menus, and supermarket shelves - making $100 million a year for Atkins Nutritionals Inc., selling people worldwide a program that results in short term weight loss (at best), is nearly impossible to follow, and eventually causes extremely poor health - the diet's founder, Dr. Atkins, is one important piece of the proof. When the Atkins business stops promoting him, I will stop criticizing him."


The news that Texas had become the fourth US state this year to be harboring avian flu emerged late last week, but the USDA assured us there was only a "low threat" to human health. Today, though, it turns out the flu found on a chicken farm in Gonzales County, TX is "far deadlier than originally thought and it had spread to live bird markets in Houston." As always, the USDA's motto: "First, claim no harm." Then look at the facts.
UPDATE 2/24: Even though there's no threat to human health, U.S. watches Texas farmworkers for bird flu symptoms. Huh? How could they possibly get those? And the EU joins the list of those banning U.S. chicken.