Oil Prices Continue to Plummet

So far 1998 is turning into OPEC’s worst nightmare. On June 11, crude
oil set a 10-year low when it fell to $12.75 a barrel. A week later it promptly
set a 12-year low by plummeting to an average price of $10.11 per barrel —
half of the official OPEC target of $21. Adjust that selling price for inflation
and oil is near its low for the 20th century.

This after OPEC nations pledge in March to cut production by 1.72 million
barrels. The precipitous fall induced OPEC nations to pledge once again to cut
oil production, though most analysts again doubt whether OPEC has the ability
or will to do so.

The situation is not likely to brighten for OPEC nations anytime soon. The
United Nations clearly seems on a path of removing economic sanctions from Iraq,
perhaps as early as October, which is likely to flood the world market with
even more oil. Meanwhile demand from Asia is likely to remain depressed as the
economic crisis there continues.

As one trader in a Reuters story was quoted as saying, “It doesn’t
look very good. It might go lower. There s nothing supporting the market right
now. Unless we get some bullish news, this is going to continue to drop.”

Despite the drop in oil prices, however, gasoline prices in the United States
were up slightly to $1.14 a gallon nationwide as seasonal demand exerts an effect.

Most analysts agree that about the only thing that could help OPEC now would
be a coordinated drastic cut in oil output. Unfortunately time is working against
the success of such a move. Since so much oil is already in the pipeline, so
to speak, even a cut of 1 million barrels per day might take several months
to register significant price increases.

Sources:

Crude oil futures drop to lowest level in nearly decade. Herbert G. McCann,
Associated Press, June 11, 1998.

OPEC faces uphill battle against worst crude oil market in years. Dirk Beveridge,
Associated Press, June 17, 1998.

Oil prices drop to lowest point since 1986. Reuters News Service, June 15,
1998.

Lundberg: gas prices up, not down. Associated Press, June 15, 1998.

Gulf oil states hesitant on more output cuts. Steven Swindells, Reuters, June
14, 1998.

Oil stagnates at $13. Reuters, June 12, 1998

Dropping crude oil prices hit 12-year lows this week. Andrew Kelly, Reuters,
June 18, 1998.

Dr. Spock, AntiDairy Coalition take aim at milk

In the latest (posthumous) edition
of Benjamin Spock’s Baby and Child Care, the famous pediatrician
attacks meat and milk arguing that, “children can get plenty of protein
and iron from vegetables, beans and other plant foods that avoid the fat
and cholesterol that are in animal products.” Meanwhile a newly formed
group called the AntiDairy Coalition made its debut in June decrying “the
health and nutritional risks of consuming dairy products.”

What’s going on here? I tend
to agree with one of Spock’s friends, pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton,
who described Spock’s recommendations as “absolutely insane.”
Much the same applies to the AntiDairy Coalition.

Lets tackle Spock first. According
to Spock’s co-author, Steven J. Parker (who also believes Spock’s
dietary advice is too extreme), the famous pediatrician believed his conversion
to vegetarianism helped extend his life. But Spock didn’t become
a vegetarian until he was 87 years old. Clearly his meat and dairy eating
did not interfere with his longevity in any meaningful way.

Second, as Brazelton told the New
York Times
, “Meat is an excellent source of the iron and protein
children need, and to take away milk from children, I think that’s
really dangerous. Milk is needed for calcium and vitamin D.”

As junk science debunker Steve Milloy noted, after becoming
a vegetarian Spock lost 50 pounds (a phenomenon which most vegetarians
claim to be a beneficial result from a vegetarian diet), but for children
the most important dietary need is ensuring steady weight gain.

Besides, ever try to get a toddler
to eat kale?

As for the AntiDairy Coalition,
this group merely repeated the same old unsubstantiated conjectures about
milk that have become articles of faith among animal rights activists.

For example, take the AntiDairy
Coalition’s claims about milk’s ability to cause allergies.
According to the Coalition, since milk is full of protein and proteins
can trigger allergies, the large increase in asthma over the last 20 years
or so must be caused by protein in milk. Can someone say post hoc?

Similarly the Coalition notes that women in the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Sweden both a) consume
lots of milk and b) have high rates of breast cancer. Milk consumption, therefore,
must cause breast cancer. Again, this is classic post hoc reasoning that
is unsupported by any evidence. Readers should want and expect the ADC
to present serious epidemiological studies documenting these effect.

Certainly a diet excessively high
in dairy products may be harmful and some people do suffer from lactose
intolerance. In its attempts at scare mongering, however, the ADC vastly
exaggerates the problem — moderate milk and dairy consumption can be
part of a healthy lifestyle.

Mad Cow Hysteria Nears End

Despite the efforts of animal
rights activists such as Howard Lyman to keep it going, the Mad Cow Disease hysteria continues to recede. The European Commission is currently studying
a proposal to lift its ban on British beef which most observers expect
to occur by the autumn of 1998.

The EC banned British beef in March
1996 after the British government linked bovine spongiform enceophalopathy
(BSE) to a new variant of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD).

Two years later, Great Britain
has gone to extraordinary lengths to remove BSE-infected cattle from its
food supply, and the link between BSE and CJD grows ever more suspect.

There never was much more than
speculation and inference behind the alleged connection between the two
diseases. There hasn’t yet been a single verified case of an individual
eating meat from a BSE-infected animal and subsequently contracting any
form of CJD. In addition, so far there is no evidence that the prion believed
to be the cause of BSE exists in the muscle tissue of cows — so far it
has been found only in the brains of the animals.

In fact the sixth annual report
by the UK’s National CJD Surveillance Unit reported that rates of CJD
in Great Britain are consistent with CJD rates in other countries around
the world, including those that are free of BSE. Unlike some animal rights
extremists, the CJD Surveillance report does not rule out the possibility
that the rise in CJD cases in the UK is due to improvements in diagnoses
techniques, concluding, “It is impossible to say with certainty to
what extent these changes reflect an improvement in case ascertainment
and to what extent, if any, changes in incidence.”

Sources:

“Cretuzfeldt-Jakob Disease Surveillance in the UK, 6th report,” The
National CJD Surveillance Unit, 1997.

David Evans, “Mainland British beef exports ban could be lifted,”
Reuters News Service, June 10, 1998.

Scientists find DNA cure for genetic deafness in mice

Researchers at the University of
Michigan Medical School recently accomplished the first permanent correction
of a deafness-related genetic mutation. The experiment was performed with shaker-2
mice — a strain of mice born that is born deaf due to genetic defects.

Scientists used a Genetic Engineering technology
to first locate the gene responsible for the deafness and then injected
short sections of normal cloned DNA into fertilized mouse eggs. On June
23, 1997 the first shaker-2 mouse without the genetic defects was born.
The results were reported in the May 29, 1998 issue of Science.

The discovery of the defective
gene in mice quickly led researchers to find a nearly identical gene in
human beings that may be responsible for some cases of congenital deafness
in human beings.

“Interaction between scientists
working with the mouse genome and the human genome made it possible to
locate these genes so quickly,” said Sally A. Camper, associate professor
of human genetics at the U-M Medical School. “It’s a perfect
example of how transgenic technology in mice can contribute to research
with the potential to help people.”

Camper noted that there are 12
other related forms of deafness-related mutations in which the responsible
gene remains unknown and that “finding the defective gene is the
first step toward developing new treatments which someday could restore
hearing in children and adults.”

The UM scientist now hope to find
a way to deliver the normal gene into the cells of adult animals. “The
next step is to develop delivery vehicles to introduce the normal gene
into inner ear cells of individuals who carry these deafness genes,”
said Yehoash Raphael, assistant professor of otolaryngology at the UM
Medical school. “Once adequate vectors are available, gene therapy
for genetic-based deafness will become a reality.”

Source:

“DNA cure of genetic deafness in mice helps human research,” UniSci
Science and Research News, May 29, 1998.

Switzerland overwhelmingly rejects ban on genetic engineering of animals, plants

Opponents of Genetic Engineering
of animals and plants had been cautiously optimistic about the chances
of Switzerland becoming the first nation to pass a referendum banning
genetic engineering. Instead more than 65 percent of Swiss citizens voted
no on the proposed constitutional change, sending it down to a huge defeat.

Switzerland is home to close to
200 firms that conduct genetic research, including pharmaceutical giants
Novartis and Roche who aggressively opposed the proposed ban.

Source:

“Swiss oppose ban on genetic research and production,” Nando.net,
June 7, 1998.

“Swiss voters reject curbs on genetic engineering,” CNN, June 7, 1998.

Future promises more genetically engineered animals

As animal rights activists point
out ad nauseum, animal models are not completely analogous to human beings.
Substances which cause cancer in rats sometime fail to cause cancer in
human beings and vice versa. But what if researchers genetically engineered mice and rats to suffer from the same illnesses human beings suffer from?
Well now they can, which is creating an enormous debate about the ethics
of such animal research.

Until recently, scientists relied on
finding mutant strains of mice which suffered from diseases or symptoms
similar to those experienced by human beings. Mice commonly used to test
cancer treatments, for example, are specially bred to be highly prone
to developing cancer.

Advances in biotechnology take
that one step further and allow scientists to alter the genes in mice
embryos so they are born with specific defects such as cystic fibrosis
or arthritis. As National Institutes of Health immunologist Ronald Schwartz
recently told the Washington Post, such animal models should be incredibly
powerful.

John Sharp, superintendent of induced
mutant resource at the Jackson Laboratory, put it bluntly. “More and
more research is moving toward the use of these mice. It’s where
the future of research is headed.”

And it is not just mice. Researchers
at laboratories around the world are genetically altering pigs, goats
and sheep to do everything from produce more easily transplantable organs
to providing delivery mechanisms for medicine in their milk.

As genetic engineering of animals
spreads, so does the opposition movements aimed at limiting or banning it. Those
opposed to such genetic engineering complain it is wrong to design animals
to suffer.

“There really is something
primordially horrible about replicating animals that will suffer endlessly,”
|Bernard Rollin|, a Colorado State University physiologist, told the Washington Post. Other attack genetic engineering as challenging our notions of life
as inherently sacred.

The biggest opposition in recent
years came in Switzerland, where 112,000 Swiss citizens signed a petition
to put a ban on research on genetically altered animals on the ballot.

Failing to use these genetically
engineered animals, however, will mean ignoring an excellent source of
medical information. Genetically engineered mice have already yielded
important information about deadly human illnesses such as |Huntington’s| disease. When scientists removed a gene in mice which corresponds to the
defective human gene that causes Huntington’s, researchers noticed
small protein deposits in the brains of the mice; something that had not
been observed in Huntington’s patients. Upon reexamining the brains
of Huntington’s victims, however, researchers indeed found the protein
deposits, which are now suspected as one of the primary causes of the
diseases’ symptoms.

Source:

Rick Weiss, “Creation of flawed animals raises new ethics issues,”
Washington Post, June 7, 1998.