With America's "fiscal cliff" approaching, pundits wring their hands over the supposed catastrophe that government spending cuts will bring. A scare newsletter called "Food Poisoning Bulletin" warns that if government reduces food inspections, "food will be less safe ... (because) marginal companies ... (will) cut corners."
We're going to die!
Most people believe that without government meat inspection, food would be filthy. We read "The Jungle," Upton Sinclair's depiction of the meatpacking business, and assume that the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service are all that stand between us and E. coli. Meatpacking conditions were disgusting. Government intervened. Now, we're safe! A happy ending to a story of callous greed.
The scheming lawyers behind the "Food Poisoning Bulletin" argue that without regulation companies will "cut corners." After all, they say, sanitation costs money, so lack of regulation "creates a competitive disadvantage for companies that want to produce quality products."
But that's bunk. It's not government that keeps E. coli to a minimum. It's competition. Tyson Foods, Perdue and McDonald's have brands to maintain -- and customers to lose. Ask Jack in the Box. It lost millions after a food-poisoning scandal.
Fear of getting a bad reputation makes food producers even more careful than government requires. Since the Eisenhower administration, our stodgy government has paid an army of union inspectors to eyeball chickens in every single processing plant. But bacteria are invisible!
Fortunately, food producers run much more sophisticated tests on their own. One employs 2,000 more safety inspectors than government requires: "To kill pathogens, beef carcasses are treated with rinses and a 185-degree steam vacuum," an executive told me. She also asked that I not reveal the name of her company -- it fears retaliation from regulators.
"Production facilities are checked for sanitation with microbiological testing. If anything is detected ... we re-clean the equipment. ... Equipment is routinely taken completely apart to be swab-tested."
None of that is required by government. Government regulation may help a little, but we are safe mostly because of competitive markets. Competition protects us better than politicians.
But people don't trust companies. So it is easy to scare people about food. And the news media know that finding "problems" makes reporters look like crusading journalists. Earlier this year, my old employer, ABC News, "alerted" the public to a new threat, ground beef made with "pink slime."
It sounds awful! ABC's reporting frightened most school systems so much that they stopped using that form of meat. The food company lost 80 percent of its business.
But the scare is bunk. What ABC calls "pink slime" is just as appetizing as other food.
"Bunk is the polite word," Dan Gainor of the Media Research Center says. "ABC went on a crusade. Three nights in a row back in March, they pounded on this."
Well, why shouldn't they, if there's something called "pink slime" in beef?
"Because it's not pink slime. It's ground beef."
Then how did this all get started?
"A couple activists who used to work for the FDA didn't like this really cool scientific process that separates the beef trimming so you get the remaining ground beef. So they coined this term deliberately to try to hurt this company."
The company, Beef Products Inc., does something unique. It takes the last bit of trim meat off the bone by heating it slightly. That saves money and arguably helps the environment -- not using that meat would waste 5,000 cows a day. In 20 years, there is no record of anybody being hurt by what ABC and its activists call "pink slime" -- what the industry just calls "lean beef trimmings" or "finely textured beef."
"Everybody constantly says, 'You should eat leaner beef.' So when we try to eat the leaner beef, then they take that away from us, too," Gainor said. "The company ... has received awards for how good a job they do for consumer safety. It was just one constant hit job."
An effective one. After ABC's reports, Beef Products Inc. closed three out of its four plants. Seven hundred workers lost jobs.
Scientifically illiterate, business-hating media will always do scare stories. Don't believe them.
Anti-depressants could help stroke patients recover more quickly by 'rebuilding' the brain
Cochrane conclusions are very careful so this is hopeful --but still early days
Anti-depressants could help recovery after a stroke - even in patients who are not depressed, research suggests. The drugs could reduce dependence, physical disability, depression and anxiety in the first year after a stroke, according to the study published by the Cochrane Library.
They could also promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain or protect other cells damaged by stroke, the authors suggest.
And by preventing depression they may encourage more patients to be physically active.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh examined 52 studies concerning selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Professor Gillian Mead, professor of stroke and elderly care medicine at the university, said: 'Anti-depressants have been successfully used for many years to relieve depression.
'However, it now appears that they also have effects on the brain that may help patients make a better recovery from the physical effects of stroke.
'The results of this meta-analysis are extremely promising. We do not yet fully understand how anti-depressants could boost recovery after stroke, but it may be because they promote the growth of new nerve cells in the brain, or protect cells damaged by stroke.'
She added that by preventing depression, the drugs may help patients to be more physically active which is known to aid overall recovery.
'We now need to carry out a number of much larger clinical trials in order to establish exactly if, how and to what extent antidepressants can help stroke survivors recover.'
Commenting on the research, Dr Dale Webb, director of research and information at the Stroke Association, said: 'There are now over a million people living in the UK with the disabling effects of stroke. 'With death rates from stroke declining, it’s increasingly important to find new treatments to help survivors make their best possible recovery.
'The results of this meta-analysis are very encouraging and highlight the need for further clinical research trials.
'If these trials are positive, antidepressants could reduce the disabling effects of stroke in tens of thousands of patients every year.
'However, we are a long way off this type of treatment being offered to stroke patients to reduce the physical effects of the condition. We look forward to the results of further research.'