School lunches have always been, and always will be, a controversial topic. The Reagan administration led to a brief policy that included ketchup as a vegetable, while the Obama administration seemed to be under the impression that school lunches are a leading contributor to childhood obesity.
Low income students are unfortunately caught in the middle of this food fight. Relying on federal aid programs for free and reduced lunch, these students have become political guinea pigs for extremists on both sides of the issue.
These students are more likely to suffer from obesity, and it would be easy to find a correlation with the fact that these students are more likely to eat school lunches. Leading factors of this is a lack of recreational programs and not having access to full service grocery stores. So what Michelle Obama got right was the need for more physical activity.
This is not to discount the importance of making sure students are eating properly. Not eating breakfast, for example, has a detrimental impact on student focus and performance. Conservatives will be quick to put the responsibility on parents, but as a teacher I could care less who should be responsible for feeding them. I just want my students fed.
Unfortunately some corporations are taking advantage of the public controversy. The Conscious Kitchen program (funded by Patagonia, Clif Bar, Whole Foods, Annie’s and Dr. Bronner’s) on its face appears to be an innocent attempt to expose low-income students to healthy food options they may not have access to at home. A look at the lesson plans teachers are assigned to use to go along with the meals reveal a Trojan Horse containing pseudo-science.
The section of the plans titled “Non-GMO” fortunately avoids any claims about GMOs causing cancer, but instead relies on a red herring about seed saving. Students are asked questions about why it is important for farmers to save seed, and what it means when they can’t.
Not surprisingly, the lesson involving organic food also contains falsehoods. Students are asked to act out the different parts of a food chain “and watch as pesticides accumulate for the top predators”. The lesson leaves out the fact that organic farming also uses pesticides, some of which are more toxic than what conventional farmers use.
Attempts to encourage better eating habits for students should certainly be applauded. But low income students being treated to a week of healthy options should not come with corporate strings and propaganda based lesson plans attached to them. Pepsi is on the record stating that consumers will happily consume “high salt, high sugar, high fat” products when sold as organic and non-GMO.
Are students being left with the impression that Clif Bar’s organic peanut butter bars (with more calories per ounce than a Snicker’s bar) is healthy just because they say “organic”?
Take action. Contact Clif Bar and tell them to stop funding anti-science lesson plans.
The anti-GMO movement has perfected the art of cherry picking. They can be provided with mountains of evidence against their case, but if the slightest word or phrase is out of order they latch onto it to deny everything.
Take the mainstream media headlines that scream “GMOs are safe!”. The articles are generally very fact based and provide all the citations one could ever hope for. Unfortunately because doubt is their product, these extremists only need to refute the headline and not the rest of the article.
Their “refutations” typically sound like the typical science denial mantra, a mixture of fact and fantasy. They accurately explain that science can never be 100% certain that anything is safe or certain. The tobacco industry did this by not actually refuting cancer claims, but by saying “we just can’t know for sure”. Climate change deniers do this as well with their attacking of climate models.
The problem is that they are right, which is why we need to be wary of the terms we use. Greenpeace hurts environmentalists because they scream about being sure the world is ending tomorrow, making it easy for the deniers to point out the flaws in that logic. Those of us (and I include myself) who state the scientific consensus as being that GMOs are safe are doing the same harm to biotechnology.
That isn’t the scientific consensus. The consensus is that the risks involved with the genetic engineering of crops is no greater than that of using other breeding methods. Given the random nature of artificial selection and the lack of a controlled environment, genetic engineering may actually be safer.
Those who oppose biotechnology love to sing the praises of the precautionary principle. That until we can prove these crops are 100% safe they should stay in the testing phase. But as they like to point out, this can never actually be done. So by comparing the risk to that of other breeding methods we can call them the hypocrites. If the risk is no greater, than why not apply the precautionary principle to non-GMO herbicide tolerant sunflowers and patented organic tomatoes?
Ultimately that is the only sentence needed to debunk any anti-GMO argument. “There are no risks that can be applied to GMOs that can’t also be applied to non-GMOs.”
This past October representatives from around the world met in Des Moines, Iowa to discuss the challenges of food security and malnutrition. Protesters opposed to biotechnology being used as a tool in this fight were on the scene. Screaming about “Monsanto” the Union of Concerned Scientists circled in a truck, while the Center for Food Safety delivered a petition.
Another group led by a “Reverend Billy” also made an appearance. With the World Food Prize having a permit for the capitol, protesters were not permitted on the property for the private event. Refusing to leave the property when instructed by police, “Reverend Billy” was arrested and charged with trespassing. Forbes reported that:
The protest began in the designated protest area, across the street from the capitol ground. Talen and Cordaro later crossed the street to stand on a public sidewalk some 250 feet from the capitol grounds. Iowa State Troopers asked them to leave. When they did not comply, the two protesters were handcuffed and arrested for trespassing, a misdemeanor. The State of Iowa subsequently filed a motion asking for a ban on any First Amendment defense.
Forbes went on to insinuate that not allowing the first amendment to be used in a protest case was uncharted territory. This, however, is not a protest case. This is a trespassing case. The question is not whether or not they had a right to protest, it is whether or not they were on the capitol grounds during a private event when they did it.
Many anti-GMO organizations have picked up the story and are spinning it as Monsanto having him arrested and taking away his first amendment rights. There is no evidence that Monsanto was even aware of the arrest, let alone had communication with the police.
Hypocritically, many people running with this story are connected with anti-GMO groups that stopped a pro-biotechnology protest from taking place on public land. On October 19, 2015 several large anti-GMO groups (with sponsorship from Joseph Mercola) received a permit for a World Food Day event of their own on the west lawn of the US Capitol for a “Food Justice” rally. A small group of protesters (including the author of this piece) came to protest their rally.
After complaints to the police from the rally organizers, the pro-biotech protesters were instructed to put their signs away and refrain from using their megaphone. As the Capitol grounds were open at the time for tourists they were allowed to remain, but they could not appear as an organized protest. They would have to leave the grounds and protest across the street. As the rally was quite small, and the Capitol grounds quite large, the protest would not be visible across the street. No arrests took place simply because the small group complied with the officers.
The Iowa State Capitol grounds were not open for tourists at the time of “Reverend Billy’s” protest.
It is also important to note that the reverend is not actually a reverend. William Talen is in fact an actor that has been arrested more than 50 times for similar stunts. The reverend persona is a character he created for these performances.
This isn’t the first time the World Food Prize has faced criticism from the anti-GMO groups. The conference attached to the prize, known as the Borlaug Dialogs, is generally very willing to allow critics of the technology to attend. Last year Moms Across America founder, Zen Honeycutt, wrote about her experience there:
I got to speak to Erostus Nsubuga, chairman of the Uganda Biotechnology and Biosafety Consortium, from Uganda. His main defense of GMOs was not that GMOs and related chemicals are safe, but that they have been trying for 20 years to grow bananas naturally and they have not been successful, implying that they need GMOs. He never indicated that Uganda might be a better place to grow other types of crops besides bananas.
This “let them eat cake” attitude prompted a quick response from Patricia Nanteza, a Cornell fellow from Uganda that works on the banana project:
Honeycutt clearly has no idea that Uganda has been growing bananas for over 300 years, and we have been doing so “naturally.” She has no idea what bananas mean to us as a country (we have over 30 varieties for cooking, roasting, and eating as desert), and therefore she has the audacity to suggest, to a Ugandan, that we should grow something else, instead of trying to save our staple food crop using available tools such as genetic engineering.
Honeycutt, like William Talen and Forbes, appears to assume that because Monsanto pitched in for the event that it was all about promoting biotechnology. Yet 2016 winners of the award included individuals who used selective breeding to add vitamin A to sweet potatoes. At least one sponsor of the event on the same donation level as Monsanto, Howard Buffett, has even been mentioned by anti-GMO groups as being critical of both Monsanto and genetic engineering.
Bill Gates was quoted at the event saying that he “met a more diverse array of people at the World Food Prize in Des Moines than at any other conference they had attended anywhere in the world.” CEOs were certainly present, which appears to be one of the points of the event. According to the awards web page:
“The Prize calls attention to what has been done to improve global food security and to what can be accomplished in the future.”
To do that the World Food Program calls for public and private partnerships. The days of colonial powers dictating how and what the developing world should grow are over. Today public and private institutions are offering their help in building self sufficiency. Biotechnology is just one of many tools being offered.
Today my Facebook page about loving GMOs reached 100,000 followers, the same month of my third anniversary running it. I often get accused of being set up with help from Monsanto or Ketchum. The truth is that I am a creation of the anti-GMO movement itself. `
In January of 2014 I contracted mononucleosis and was stuck home for a couple of weeks. The fever blisters in my mouth got so bad that even eating was difficult. Spending a lot of time on social media as a distraction, I stumbled on a YouTube video called I Love Monsanto (NSFW). At the time I had never heard of GMOs or Monsanto. I began to see a lot in common between the arguments used by the anto-GMO movement and the anti-vaccination movement.
I have always enjoyed arguing about politics and religion, so I jumped right into it. Being a teacher I thought it would be fun to share what I was learning. I created a page called We F***ing Love GMOs and Vaccines, and began using it to comment on Monsanto’s page and elsewhere on Facebook. In less than a month I was at 1,000 likes.
This is when the first stalker decided to contact the principal of the school I was teaching at. Very politely and ignoring most of the person’s email, I was asked if I would mind dropping the expletive. So in February We Love GMOs and Vaccines was born.
It was about this time that I looked at the scale. My weight had gotten out of control over the previous decade. When I realized that I had lost 10 pounds while sick and eating so little, I vowed to keep it off.
Prior to this starting the page I had fallen for all the catch phrases and marketing gimmicks. Fat free salad dressing, eating organic, and drinking lots of juice had been my health plan for years. When I first saw the an anti-GMO page share the meme about counting chemicals instead of counting calories, I thought they might be onto something. So I did what they taught me, do the opposite.
I downloaded the My Fitness Pal app for my phone and started counting calories. I logged everything, setting myself a maximum of 1500 calories on weekdays and 2000 on weekends. I learned that the more I did cardio, the more calories I could earn back. I would get up early and spend an hour on the exercise bike, or throw the kids in the stroller and go for a long walk.
A lot of people criticize calorie counting because they say that not all calories are the same. Yes and no. What I found was that if I wanted to remain full, I had to find filling food that didn’t have many calories in it. Grilled chicken with buffalo sauce, ground turkey tacos, and grilled vegetables piled high. Plain baked potatoes became a regular part of my diet. A banana with breakfast and lunch always helped to curb my appetite.
I learned why the Atkins diet worked for some people. I had to cut pasta out of my life. Wheat isn’t killing people, gluten isn’t killing people, it’s just the massive portion sizes of pasta and the associated calories. I had bread when making a sandwich, and that was it. No more dinner rolls for me. I gave up beer and margaritas in favor of wine and Diet Coke with rum.
I lost close to 100 pounds, with my waist size dropping from 42 to a 34. This was done over more than a year, rather than the quickie weight loss plans that never last. I never even had to feel guilty about eating the occasional pizza.
I firmly believe that my life expectancy has been extended.
When GMO labeling failed in Colorado and Oregon back in 2014 the Washington Post offered this explanation for why the claim that 90% of voters want labeling didn’t hold up, “when people tell pollsters they favor GMO labeling, they don’t really know what they’re saying. Because overall public knowledge about GMOs is very low…..”.
When the anti-GMO movement forced the issue on these states, people began to learn about GMOs. All of a sudden the public was gaining the knowledge they needed to make an informed decision. In this case, that labeling was not needed when “organic” and “non-GMO” labels already exist. Monsanto and the rest, who had never seen the need to speak to people who weren’t farmers before, found themselves doing public outreach.
My own journey was similar. Had these anti-GMO pages and groups not existed, I probably would have kept falling for the misleading “health halo” labels in stores like “organic” or “100% juice”. I began to truly take charge of my own health.
Unfortunately there is too much money to be made for people like Food Babe who offer “lose weight quick schemes” and unrealistic lifestyles. “Minimize calories, take walks, and eat a variety of fruits and vegetables” just doesn’t sell that many books.
The end of a year offers us a chance to reflect on, and make listicles of pop culture moments that have impacted our lives: albums, movies, even celebrity deaths. We would be remiss as science communicators if we didn’t make a few lists of our own. Voila, my dearest reader, I present to you my top ten list of the alternate medicine stories of 2016.
I wanted to make this article funny, really I did. But, the consequences of using unproven “alternative” medical treatments are real. At the least, real treatment may be delayed for a troubling condition, or you’ll just be out-of-pocket the cash it takes to procure these miracle snake oils. While the horrific reports of maiming and deaths that occurred in 2016 in the name of “alternate medicine” were anything but funny, they were tempered with a few ‘wins’ for science.
I’m ready to put a postage stamp on 2016 and send this “post truth” (HOW IS THIS A THING?) year packing!
10. AMBER TEETHING NECKLACES & HOMEOPATHIC TEETHING GELS: Amber teething necklaces make my list at #10 for being the perfect storm of magical thinking. Every crank’s favorite magic token- a semi-precious stone or crystal- combined with some pseudoscience, the supposed ability of amber to absorb “warmth” and release ‘succinic acid’ to a baby’s gums in a high enough concentration to ease the pain of teething. Additionally, the transfer of electrons is of particular interest to believers of “woo”- they believe the human immune systems function optimally and inflammation is suppressed when there is an adequate supply of electrons. It has been known for centuries that amber can acquire a static electric charge when rubbed with wool. Infant deaths from choking, suffocation, and strangulation have all been reported. Additionally, FDA is investigating 10 infant deaths and over 400 cases of seizures, fever, and vomiting that may be connected to the use of homeopathic teething treatments. These treatments include the ingredient belladonna, which, if not diluted down to “none” can cause the above symptoms.
9. ESSENTIAL OILS: Make my list at #9 for destroying the environment and for being poisonous to babies and pets. The rule of thumb in toxicology is ‘the dose makes the poison,’ so all essential oils are potentially harmful. Four out of every five toxic exposures to oils occur in children. Oils like camphor, clove, lavender, eucalyptus, thyme, tea tree, and wintergreen oils can cause hallucinations, seizures, chemical burns, breathing problems, liver failure and brain swelling. Not only are these oils potentially harmful, and don’t actually treat anything, but the demand for rare, indigenous plants is causing habitat destruction. For example, only around 200 critically endangered Arabian leopards remain in the wild and their habitat is being threatened by frankincense hunters serving the essential oils industry.
8. CUPPING: Thinking of trying a pseudoscientific “alternative therapy,” like the cupping therapy made popular by Olympic athletes in 2016? Know your risks! This practice is typically performed unsupervised, usually by people without any medical background. There are no certifications or regulatory bodies overseeing this treatment. Available scientific evidence does not support claims that cupping has any health benefits, what-so-ever, and the available research actually suggests that cupping can be harmful, especially in people who are thin or obese. Cupping can result in capillary expansion, excessive fluid accumulation in tissues, blood vessel rupture, bruising, skin burns, infection, and blood borne disease transmission.
7. FAKE CANCER CURES: The timing of detection and treatment is a critical determining factor for successful cancer treatment. Delaying conventional treatment while searching for an alternative cancer cure is a fatal mistake. The FDA lists over 187 fake cancer cures that are actively being marketed to victims. It’s not just the United States. Australia is also seeing epidemic levels of fake cancer cures, and 1000s of unnecessary deaths have been estimated this year. Recently, in one of my social media groups a woman reported applying bloodroot salve to her cervix to treat cervical dysplasia at home. As you might think, she was in excruciating pain, and needed to seek medical care, but sadly turned to social media instead! I have not read an update about this unfortunate woman (with extremely poor decision making skills) yet, but wish her the best!
6. INFANT CHIROPRACTIC: *Les Sighs*. There is no evidence of any benefit or even an assurance that chiropractic care for infants is even reasonably safe. Proponents believe that spinal adjustments can help alleviate non-musculoskeletal conditions such as colic, asthma, recurrent ear infections, cancer (I can’t even) and prevent general illness by “removing the nerve interference” causing these conditions. Thankfully, reported paralysis and strokes are rare BUT WHY would anyone take that risk? Not only that, but chiropractors tend to give all sorts of medical advice attempting to act as primary care doctors, where they do everything from negatively influence parent’s decisions about vaccinating their children, to delaying real care and treatments, and often ordering x-rays, exposing children to radiation for NO medical REASON.
5. VITAMIN K SHOT REFUSAL: There is a new way to worship the “all natural” that also tends to target new mother’s deepest anxieties: Vitamin K shot refusal for newborn babies. This dangerous trend is piggy-backing on the anti-vaccine sentiment gripping the nation. All babies are born vitamin K-deficient, putting them at risk for uncontrolled bleeding, until they start eating solid food. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding can have catastrophic consequences, resulting in; gross motor skill deficits; long-term neurological, cognitive or developmental problems; organ failure; or death. Approximately 0.25% to 1.7% of newborns that don’t receive vitamin K at birth will experience “early” vitamin K deficiency bleeding. But, late vitamin K deficiency bleeding (between 2 and 24 weeks old) affects an estimated 4 to 10 of every 100,000 babies who don’t receive vitamin K at birth and is, in a way, much more dangerous, because it happens after mom and baby have gone home from the hospital, it is “silent,” internal, and much more likely to be diagnosed after irreversible damage has occurred. About one in five babies who develop late vitamin K deficiency bleeding die, and two of every five who survive have long-term brain damage.
4. ORGANIC TAMPONS: Women have a MILLION things to worry about when it comes to their vaginas, and 2016 sought to add one more. A wave of celebrity fueled “chemophobia” (an irrational fear of chemicals), brought us the catchy “Vajingle” and 7th Generation’s Organic Tampons. Tampons are already highly regulated as medical devices by FDA (surprise, the government REALLY IS IN OUR VAGINAS!), and organic varieties are not better or safer, and they have not been proven to contain fewer chemicals than conventional brands. (For the last time, just because something is purportedly organic, does not mean that it is grown without pesticides!) I also discovered this random crowdfunding campaign that claims to make feminine hygiene products that “release negative ions which eliminate odor-causing bacteria, relax the body during pain and promote positive mood.” On top of these outrageous health claims, the campaign goes one step further- defining anions as “naturally occurring negative ions that are released in high quantities in places like forests, beaches, and waterfalls.” Organic feminine hygiene products make my list at #7, because not only are the health claims that are being made spurious, but also because organic cotton is awful for the environment in terms of its carbon footprint.
3. TRICLOSAN: Antibiotics are, of course, an invaluable part of standard medical practice. However, triclosan and similar antibacterial compounds were seized on by manufacturers of non-regulated health and beauty products, everything from toothpaste, to hand sanitizers to facewash, with these products marketed as being more effective at controlling germs than plain soap. Luckily for consumers, FDA demanded safety and effectiveness data to back up those claims that manufactures were unable to provide, leading FDA to ban their use. Terrific news for consumers, as some data suggest that long-term exposure to triclosan and related antibacterials—may pose health risks, such as bacterial resistance or hormonal effects.
2. BOB SEARS CHARGED WITH NEGLIGENCE: “Dr.” Bob Sears promotes an alternate vaccine schedule (there is no such thing), has influenced thousands of parents not to vaccinate at all through his fear-mongering, which has been traced back to notable communicable disease outbreaks (measles at Disneyland), and he ALSO tries to convince parents that getting the measles isn’t all that bad. 2016 however, disagrees. New evidence sheds light on a complication of measles occurs many years after contracting the illness and is 100% fatal. 100%. FATAL. Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) was previously thought to only occur in 1/10,000 cases of measles, but this gem of way to die, by brain inflammation, was recently discovered to actually affect 1 out of every 600 babies that contract measles. I was soooooo thankful to finally see ‘Dr.’ Bob Sears charged with negligence. Although, these charges relate to his other highly objectionable medical practices, I am hopeful that his anti-vaccine atrocities will catch up with him as well.
1. HOMEOPATHIC LABELING: Saving the BEST for last in my countdown, 2016 saw the Federal Trade Commission cracking down on homeopathic “drugs.” Americans spend BILLIONS a year on homeopathic potions even though “curing like with like” using ultra-highly diluted substances defies the basic principles of chemistry, biology, and physics. The new FTC rules will now require homeopathic packaging to effectively communicate two key ideas, that: “There is no scientific evidence that this product works” and “This product’s claims are based only on theories of homeopathy from the 1700s that are not accepted by most modern medical experts.” Ok, I lied- we end on a sad note after all — the FTCs own study on homeopathy and advertising (page 21) shows that up to 45% of consumers think that homeopathic products are FDA approved—even after looking at a package with a disclaimer that says they aren’t.
The “alternate medicine” stories that made headlines in 2016 range from tragic to hopeful for the future. This list is only a small selection: tell us some of the headlines that caught your attention!!
Food and Water Watch’s (F&WW) food “researcher” Tim Schwab appears to have been assigned the task of distracting the public about the science of genetically modified crops. Rather than concerning himself with evidence of harm or safety, he has been leading F&WW’s charge t0 cast doubt on any proponents of biotechnology with the shill gambit.
This preemptive attack is not a first for Food and Water Watch. They appear to be quite fond of criticizing reports without even reading them. When the National Academy of Science released a report in May on biotech crops NPR reported their opinion was made before the report came out:
“The makeup of the panel is pretty clear. People are coming in with a perspective that is pro-genetically engineered crop,” says Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch.
The chair of the committee at the time, Fred Gould, has actually been quite critical of GMOs in the past. Even trying to restrict the planting of crops. “I have not been a darling of the industry. As a matter of fact, they denied me seeds and plants to do my experiments.”
This assumption that everyone and everything that even has the appearance of being even moderately in favor of the use of biotechnology as being paid to do so is nothing more than distraction. If they can distract the public away from the scientists and farmers in favor of the technology, they can cast political doubt.
So it should not come as a surprise to see Schwab’s recent Twitter behavior following this same pattern.
The fact that Schwab is being incredibly hypocritical, being that he is literally paid to be anti-GMO, appears to escape him.
The executive director of Food and Water Watch, Wenonah Hunter, owns an organic farm in Virginia selling over priced produce via a delivery service for urbanites. Her six-figure salary at F&WW allows her to get paid for demonizing GMOs and promote fear mongering to encourage more customers for her own for profit business.
But of course NGOs seem to just get a free pass in the press when it comes to COI and issues of bias. It doesn’t matter that their funding relies on continuing to create controversy year after year. Transparency also appears to be irrelevant.
A large percentage of funding for F&WW appears to come from donor-advised funds. These funds allow donors to make large contributions, receive immediate tax deductions, and instruct the fund where that contribution should go. This allows F&WW to accept such funding, without having to be transparent about where it comes from. Their millions could have originated from supplement and “natural cures” salesmen like Dr. Joseph Mercola or organic industry executives like Gary Hirschberg, and we would never know.
When confronted by these ideas, Schwab already has his answer. Because NGOs are portrayed as the “little guy” it doesn’t matter.
So via the New York Times he is able to portray a couple of scientists with small start-ups as having a conflict of interest, but NGOs with larger budgets should be free of scrutiny because “Monsanto”.
FW&W appears to make the assumption that “the other side” is playing dirty, and that because some corporations have more funding it means it is only moral for them to do the same. For thousands of years tribes and empires have completely wiped out every man, woman, and child of their enemy for fear of “what they might do”. But, regardless of who you supported, the recent US election shows how little funding matters. The US presidency went to a candidate that spent half of what his opponent spent.
In some ways F&WW is more invested in fighting GMOs, than Monsanto is in supporting them. Monsanto has none in the pipeline, and more than half their research goes into conventional breeding. They seem to be doing just fine in Europe with little GM crop sales, and would survive an outright banning in the US.
F&WW, on the other hand, has taken millions of dollars from people with the promise of continuing the fight against GMOs. If they back down and acknowledge the consensus that the risk is no more than traditional breeding, they lose that funding.
Like a country throwing more troops into a losing war so those already lost were not “sacrificed in vain”, Food and Water Watch must amp up their fear mongering so their money was not spent in vain.
Pregnancy during flu season can be particularly dangerous.
A pregnant woman’s heart and lungs are already doing extra work handling the pregnancy, so a serious illness like the flu can put her in danger of complications like pneumonia. The flu has also been linked in previous studies with preterm labor and premature birth; and fever from the flu can lead to birth defects. The flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years. Flu shots have never been shown to cause harm to pregnant women or their babies, but pregnant women have been shown to be at increased risk for morbidity and death from flu.
Pregnancy is a dangerous time for women. Your fetus is comprised of your own, plus “foreign” non-self DNA. Normally, your immune system will do anything it can to kill off a foreign invader. But, you don’t want to mount an immune response against your baby during pregnancy. In fact, your immune response will be repressed, so that you can successfully carry your fetus to term. Pretty neat. except….. during flu season.
A recent study analyzed 58,008 births in Western Australia between April 2012 and December 2013. Among the women, 8.8 percent had received the flu vaccine, and 377 stillbirths occurred at a rate of 5.0 per 100,000 pregnancy days for women without the vaccine and 3.0 per 100,000 days for women who received the vaccine.
Overall, stillbirth was 51 percent less likely among vaccinated mothers, as opposed to unvaccinated mothers, with the largest reduction in stillbirths coming just after flu season ended. Maternal vaccination against flu was recommended as far back as 1960 in the US and in 2005 by the World Health Organization (WHO). In England, it was first recommended for pregnant women during the swine flu pandemic of 2009.
It is safe, and very important, for a woman who is pregnant to receive a flu vaccine. Pregnant women who get the flu are at increased risk for severe illnesses from influenza and their babies are also at risk. Complications from the flu can include premature labor, babies that are small for gestational age, hospitalization, and, death. Pregnant women can receive the flu shot at any time, during any trimester. In addition, because babies younger than 6 months are too young to receive flu vaccine, it is important that everyone who cares for your baby also get a flu vaccine.
Influenza is the most frequent cause of death from a vaccine-preventable disease in the United States. In a study of influenza seasons from 1976–1977 through 2006–2007, the estimated number of annual influenza-associated deaths from respiratory and circulatory causes ranged from a low of 3,349 (1985–1986 season) to a high of 48,614 (2003–2004 season), with an average of 23,607 influenza-associated deaths. In addition to fatalities, seasonal influenza is also responsible for more than 200,000 hospitalizations per year.
No study to date has demonstrated an increased risk of either maternal complications or adverse fetal outcomes associated with inactivated influenza vaccination. Moreover, no scientific evidence exists that thimerosal-containing vaccines are a cause of adverse events among children born to women who received influenza vaccine during pregnancy.
“Inactivated influenza vaccine reduced proven influenza illness by 63% in infants up to 6 months of age and averted approximately a third of all febrile respiratory illnesses in mothers and young infants. Maternal influenza immunization is a strategy with substantial benefits for both mothers and infants. (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00142389.)”
“Inactivated influenza vaccine can be safely and effectively administered during any trimester of pregnancy. No study to date has demonstrated an increased risk of either maternal complications or adverse fetal outcomes associated with inactivated influenza vaccination. Moreover, no scientific evidence exists that thimerosal-containing vaccines are a cause of adverse events among children born to women who received influenza vaccine during pregnancy.”
Effects of influenza on pregnant women and infants. Rasmussen SA1, Jamieson DJ, Uyeki TM.Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2012 Sep;207(3 Suppl):S3–8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2012.06.068. Epub 2012 Jul 9.
Seasonal Trivalent Influenza Vaccination During Pregnancy and the Incidence of Stillbirth: Population-Based Retrospective Cohort Study. Annette K. Regan, Hannah C. Moore, Nicholas de Klerk, Saad B. Omer, Geoffrey Shellam, Donna B. Mak, and Paul V. Effler
Safety of influenza vaccination during pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):547–52. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2009.09.034. Epub 2009 Oct 21. Tamma PD1, Ault KA, del Rio C, Steinhoff MC, Halsey NA, Omer SB.
For three decades the organic industry and anti-biotechnology extremists have worked to deploy and further a very poignant and specific narrative: that opposition to genetically engineered crops (“GMOs”) is based on corporate greed and dangerous pesticide use, and that organic products are safer and more nutritious than conventional varieties.
The scientists, professors, and teachers that are working to feed and clothe the world through agricultural biotechnology have been horrified that their life’s work is being vilified and turned into a marketing tactic, so they have turned to social media to communicate the story behind their work directly to the public.
Concurrently with this movement, several genetically modified organisms have also gone “off patent” (their corporate patents have expired), several GMOs have been developed, which are free from any corporate ties, nonprofit crop trials have been destroyed- catching the attention of the media, and lastly, over 2,000 independently funded academic studies have proven the safety and utility of GMOs over the last thirty years, most recently cumulating in a “trillion-meal” study. This study by University of California-Davis Department of Animal Science, is the most comprehensive study of GMOs and food ever conducted. While the sheer size of the dataset was extraordinary (more than 100 billion animals covering a period of nearly 30 years, the findings were not- the authors showed zero extraordinary impact on animals fed GMOs.
In other words, the tightly controlled organic industry narrative of “corporate greed and dangerous pesticide” use has been disrupted by the scientists and teachers that make up the agricultural “science advocacy” (sometimes called agvocacy) community as well as further developments in the field.
Disconcertingly, the “agvocates” who engage in public discourse through social media have been underprepared to delve into the sometime troubling waters of digital activism. Their jobs, families, research, and property have been threatened and harassed.
A few examples illustrate this point well.
In 2015 Cornell University, with funding primarily from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, began a fellowship program called the Cornell Alliance For Science with the goal of “reclaiming the conversation around agricultural biotechnology so that science- and evidence-based perspectives drive decision-making.”
The organic industry funded blog GM Watch has targeted Cornell Alliance For Science in a string of coordinated attacks. They accuse Cornell University as “complicit in a shocking amount of ecologically destructive, academically unethical, and scientifically deceitful behaviour.” Followers of the blog have been encouraged to harass a coop where Cornell was hosting a talk in order to cancel the event. Another anti-biotechnology blog, Agra Watch, has specifically assigned an individual to “investigate” Cornell University and their public relations activities.
Kevin Folta of the University of Florida is a well-respected scientist, who has worked since the dawn of GMO technology 29 years ago in academic laboratories, producing dozens of Ph.D. graduates and mentoring over 120 undergraduates, while making significant contributions to the field of plant nutrition.
Folta has been a target of these attacks for years, starting first with a FOIA requests on his emails, and progressing to cyber bullying and real-life breaks-ins and threats against his family. Anti-biotechnology activists were encouraged to call Dr. Folta’s employer to complain about him. Recently, he garnered the wrath of the activists with a podcast discussing the success of GMO eggplant (bt-brinjal) in Bangladesh. This crop variety was developed to resist the endemic pest called fruit and shoot borer, and therefore requires drastically less pesticides than is conventionally applied by farmers. This is South Asia’s first GMO food crop, and has been developed in the public sector for distribution by the government to poor smallholder farmers, so that they can use up to 80% less insecticide.
Folta said of the incident:
“It appears that science has hit a nerve. Some of the poorest people are growing food and eating, sustainably. You’d think that critics would be celebrating. But to an emotional and science-free movement, when the technology they oppose serves others, they are caught between acknowledging that it is doing good and abandoning their sacred belief that this technology can do no good– ever.”
Greenpeace has a long history of disrupting GM research in foreign countries, and most recently Greenpeace activists destroyed publicly funded research in Australia- test fields of a new strain of GM wheat developed with a lower glycemic index and increased fiber content to improve bowel health.
It is clear that universities and public research institutions should provide a framework of best practices and an established support mechanism for scientists who are engaging directly in science advocacy through social media. Additionally, storytelling is an essential component for nonprofit communication, and may be especially important for effectively communicating complicated and emotional stories about science and the food supply and environmental sustainability.
The end of a year offers us a chance to reflect on, and make listicles of pop culture moments that have impacted our lives: albums, movies, even celebrity deaths. We would be remiss as science communicators if we didn’t make a few lists of our own. Voila, I present to you my top ten list of Vaccine News Stories 2016. So much HOPE for the future!
Tell us your favorite vaccine moments, conspiracies, or news stories of 2016!!!
We will not be defenseless when the next Ebola outbreak hits. An Ebola vaccine was developed in Canada that is 100% effective, and is now owned and manufactured by Merck, Sharp & Dohme. It’s currently being fast-tracked by US and European regulatory agencies.
Before the introduction of the rotavirus vaccine, almost all children in the US were infected by the age of 5, and rotavirus infections were responsible for 400,000 doctor visits, 200,000 ER visits, 55,000-70,000 hospitalizations, and 20-60 deaths each year. Recently, a very small increased risk for a complication has been observed with rotavirus vaccination, leading to better education of parents for the symptoms and new recommendations for children with a previous history of intussusception. This indicates that our post-vaccination monitoring systems work well to help scientists and doctors detect very rare events!!
Unfortunately for Californians, who are experiencing yet ANOTHER measles outbreak, 2016 shed new light on a complication of measles that occurs many years after contracting the illness, and is 100% fatal.
Subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) was previously thought to only occur in 1/10,000 cases of measles, but this gem of a way to die, by brain inflammation, was recently discovered to actually affect 1 out of every 600 babies that contract measles. In the past, hucksters like “Dr.” Bob Sears have tried to claim that contracting measles isn’t all that bad. Lucky for us, 2016 also saw “Dr.” Bob indicted on negligence charges.
After many months of coordination, planning, training, procurement efforts, and logistical preparations, all countries in the world have switched to a bivalent oral polio vaccine, moving us one step closer to global eradication.
An investigational Zika vaccine developed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) entered phase 1 clinical trials in 2016. Never before have so many companies (a dozen) and government organizations worked so quickly to develop a vaccine from scratch. Vaccines usually take a decade or more to develop. But researchers say a Zika vaccine could be available as early as 2018!
In yet another win for the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System, the FluMist vaccine, made by MedImmune, was found to be only 3 percent effective last flu season, leading the CDC to discontinue its use for this year. Human immune systems are fickle things, and we are engaged in a “Red Queen” like race with the viruses around us. Thank goodness for vaccines and for the public reporting systems that keep us out of harms way!
The CDC advisory committee has decided that children who start getting vaccinated against human papillomavirus before 15 need only two doses, instead of the previous recommendation for three. Experts predict that the simpler, more flexible timeline will result in higher rates of HPV vaccination, which has lagged among both girls and boys.
Since the HIV virus was identified in 1983, efforts to develop an effective vaccine have been unsuccessful. The first large study of an HIV vaccine’s effectiveness since 2009, is currently being tested in South Africa. The vaccine is a reformulation of a one previously tested in Thailand that yielded a 30% effective rate. This is only the seventh full-scale human trial for an HIV vaccine- for a virus that infects more than 2 million people and kills more than 1 million every year.
In 2016, researchers at McMaster University and two American universities took a step forward in developing a universal flu vaccine. They discovered antibodies, that can “train” the immune system to recognize a portion of the virus that does not change from year-to-year. This discovery paves the way toward a universal vaccine that could be given just once and potentially protect against all future strains of the flu, including mutated strains.
An international team of researchers took pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in advanced stages of the disease, fanning the flames of hope for developing a universal cancer vaccine. Early studies like this create an enormous amount of interest. But studies in animals often don’t work out so well when they’re carried out in humans. I can’t wait to see what 2017 brings us!