Easter Seals gets PETA "Seal of Approval"

    A December 22 press release
from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that Easter
Seals has been given PETA’s seal of approval for signing an agreement
with the Physicians’ Committee for Responsible Medicine certifying it
“does not conduct, commission, or in any way fund experiments on animals
and will not do so in the future.”

    Oddly enough, although PETA
announced this deal, neither PCRM nor Easter Seals has any mention of
such an agreement on their respective web sites.

Reference:

Easter Seals Confirms “No Animal Tests” Policy, Gets PETA “Seal
of Approval”. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals press release,
December 22, 1999.

Researchers stop BSE in mice

    A couple months ago, animal
rights activists trumpeted research providing the closest thing yet to
proof that bovine spongiform disease likely causes the human spongiform
disease CJD. Of course, the research in that case was done in mice which,
according to animal rights activists and groups, can never be accurately
applied to human beings. Now comes word of more such “useless” spongiform
research. An article in The Lancet reports that experiments in mice conducted
by scientists at the Serano Pharmaceutical Research Institute managed
to stop transplanted CJD from growing in mice.

    Spongiform diseases cause nerve
tissue proteins in the brain to fold abnormally, leading to the build
up of a destructive “beta sheet.” The Serano researchers exposed tissue
from the brains of CJD-infected mice to peptides which reversed the structure
of the proteins back to a form similar to the safe original.

Reference:

CJD treatment ‘draws closer.’ The BBC, January 14, 2000.

 

WorldWatch Kicks Off a New Millennium of Doomsaying

       In this century the material
well-being of human beings around the world increased more than in the
previous 40,000+ years. So how did the perennial doomsayers at WorldWatch
choose to greet the new century — by again predicting a coming apocalypse.

       The latest installment in the
ongoing WorldWatch soap opera has an interesting twist — with its past
major predictions of worldwide famine and other disasters consistently
failing to come to pass, WorldWatch smartly chose to make its message
of gloom as vague as possible this time around. WorldWatch’s Chris Bright
told the BBC that,

As pressures on the Earth’s natural systems build, there may
be some disconcerting surprises as trends interact, reinforcing each other
and triggering abrupt changes…

       Translation: they don’t have
a good disaster story of the week on hand, but certainly after decades
of such prophecising something, anything, must go wrong at some
point in the next century. This is, after all, a strategy that has worked
rather well for numerous failed religious prophets and psychics (in my
crystal ball, I see the assassination of an important world leader and
a deadly natural disaster sometime in the next century as well).

       According to WorldWatch’s Lester
Brown, the two major threats to the environment are global climate change
and population growth (which, of course, makes climate change worse).
The interesting thing about these threats is the level of uncertainty
in them. On the climate change fonrt, the amount of temperature increase
is constantly being revised downward (remember when environmentalists
were saying world temperatures were going to rise 5 to 7 degrees? Now
we’re talking about at most a 2 to 3 degree rise and there is an incredible
amount of uncertainty in that figure). More importantly, nobody has any
idea of exactly what a rise in temperature will mean for human beings.
Speculation about different scenarios that might happen abounds, but hard
facts about the implications of a temperature rise are rare — scientists
can’t even agree whether rising temperatures will cause a rise in sea
levels around the world.

       The same holds true for population
growth. The world is well on it sway to achieving a stable population
of somewhere between 8 and 10 billion people. Brown claims universal access
to family planning services sna decuation for women are key requirements
for achieving population stability. This is quite a heady retreat from
Brown’s days of predicting imminent famine and from when population advocates
shrilly called for everything from military intervention to boycotts of
food aid to certain parts of the world.

       The world certainly faces challenges
in the coming century, but we are not on the verge of an environmental
apocalypse. Policies designed to avert such an apocalypse will likely
be counterproductive as they divert resources away from pressing and easily
solved problems that don’t fit in the environmentalist paradigm, while
focusing resources on exotic problems where it’s still difficult to know
exactly what impact human intervention will have.

       The true environmental apocalypse
is not some vague “surprise” that may happen 50 years from now, but the
millison of Africans infected with malaria today and the millions
of children suffering from malnutrition, and the hundreds of thousands
of women dying from pregnancy-related complications.

Reference:

World ‘faces environmental upsets.’ The BBC, January 15, 2000.

U.S. President Wants to Lift Ban on International Aid Spending on Abortion

       In a speech calling for increased
funding for family planning services in the United States, US President
Bill Clinton urged Congress to remove restrictions on international family
planning funds that prevent such monies from being spent to perform abortions.
Clinton and others maintain that increased family planning services actually
reduces the number of abortions by allowing women to better control whether
or not they get pregnant.

       Clinton wants to increase overseas
family planning spending by $169 million — a 45 percent increase over
the international family spending level in the 2000 budget.

       “I am asking Congress to support
these funds, and to provide them without restrictions that hamper the
work of family planning organizations, and even bar them from discussing
or debating reproductive health policies,” Clinton said.

       The odds of removing such barriers
are almost zero. Several months ago Clinton had to cave on the abortion
issue to get Republican support for paying the United States’ debt to
the United Nations. Given the importance of the abortion issue to core
Republican voters, it is all but inconceivable that such a change would
happen in an election year.

Reference:

Clinton calls for $35 million increase in family-planning funds. Associated
Press, January 9, 2000.

600,000 Women die worldwide from pregnancy complications

       A joint report by the World
Health Organization, the World Bank and other agencies estimates that
nearly 600,000 women die every year due to complications from pregnancy.
Most of those deaths occur in the developing world where 480 women die
per 100,000 live births. By comparison, in developed countries only 27
women die per 100,000 live births.

       In several countries, maternal
mortality rates are sky high. In Ethiopia, Somalia, Niger, Benin and Angola,
for example, over 1 percent of pregnant women die from pregnancy-related
complications, and numerous other countries have maternal mortality rates
higher than 0.5 percent. In addition to the hundreds of thousands of deaths,
literally millions of women are injured and disabled from pregnancy-related
problems, again largely concentrated in the developing world.

       According to the report, neglect
of women’s health (itself caused by neglect of women’s lack of education,
poverty and other factors) is the major contributing cause of high levels
of maternal mortality. For example, about 25 percent of all maternal deaths
are cause by hemorrhaging. Women in developing world are especially vulnerable
to hemorrhaging because of extremely high levels of anemia (about half
of all women worldwide suffer from anemia caused by iron-deficient diets,
and in some developing countries countries more than 80 percent of women
are believed to be anemic).

       Another 15 percent of maternal
deaths are caused by poor hygiene during delivery and untreated sexually
transmitted diseases. Thirteen percent of maternal deaths are caused by
abortions performed in an unsafe manner.

       Overpopulation.Com has a complete
breakdown of maternal mortality statistics.

Reference:

600,000 women die from pregnancy complications. Joseph K’Amolo, All Africa
News Agency, January 14, 2000.

Genetically Modified Rice Could Save Hundreds of Millions of Lives

       Today more than 100 million
children around the world eat diets that lack sufficient vitamin A. Vitamin
A deficiency can cause a number of serious aliments up to and including
blindness. The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich recently
introduced a possible solution — it developed a genetically modified
strain of rice that makes the rice rich in beta-carotene. According to
a report in Science, breeding lines for the rice are currently being established
and the Swiss Federal Institute will make the sees available for free
to farmers in developing countries.

       According to Professor Ingo
Potrykus, the vitamin A enriched rice may only be the beginning. “When
we started this project, and throughout the progress of this project,
the scientific community was convinced that it could not work because
nobody previously had been able to engineer a complete biochemical pathway,”
Dr. Potrykus told the BBC. “We are already starting to do the same with
wheat. We are close to doing the same with cassava. … We will probably
also introduce it to barley. … We have initiated collaborations to put
the same genes into banana and sweet potato. The number of important core
plants which don’t have enough or any provitamin A can be engineered now
to achieve the same.”

       Potrykus and his colleagues
don’t plan on stopping at simply correcting vitamin A deficiency. They
have managed to insert a gene into rice to make it more rich in iron.
This, unfortunately, doesn’t have the same possibilities as the vitamin
A advance because a chemical in rice neutralizes the body’s ability to
absorb the extra iron during digestion, but it could be applied other
plants that don’t have this problem. Increasing the iron content in diets
is extremely important in developing countries, where up to 20 percent
of women suffer from anemia which contributes to a number of health problems.

       Any improvements in rice are
extremely important to the half of the world’s population which relies
on rice as a main staple food. Almost everyone in East and Southeast Asia
depends a great deal on rice as a major source of calories. Improving
the nutritional value of rice could help solve a number of lingering health
problems in the developing world.

References:

Yellow rice gives dietary boost. The BBC, January 14, 2000.

Biotech rice could solve major nutrition problem, scientists say. The
Associated Press, January 14, 2000.