EU says more work vital to deal with a flu pandemic
The European Union is the best prepared area in the world to meet an influenza pandemic but still needs two or three years before it can cope fully, the EU's disease control agency said on Thursday.
In a report, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) urged EU nations to integrate preparations at national, local and international levels to expand influenza research and do more to combat seasonal outbreaks.
"ECDC estimates that a further two to three years of sustained effort are needed by the EU and its member states to achieve the level of preparedness needed to respond well to a pandemic," it said.
Zsuzsanna Jakab, director of the Stockholm-based agency, told a Web broadcast news conference member nations had "gone a long way" in preparation over the past 18 months to two years.
"I already consider that at this stage the European Union is the best prepared region in the world if you compare it with other countries," she said.
The ECDC report involved 25 EU states, plus Iceland and Norway. Another update is due later this year.
Jakab said the EU must sustain this momentum for the next two to three years and take the steps set out in the report.
"If this is done, then EU countries will be in a position to respond well to a pandemic," she said.
A good response means primary care facilities and hospitals can treat influenza victims without reducing other activities, vaccines reach primary care systems within six months of an outbreak and food, power and fuel are still available at a local level.
U.S. says will use risk-based meat inspection plan
In a move derided by meat packers and consumers, federal meat inspectors will start conducting "risk-based" inspections at 254 processing plants in April, under a plan detailed by the Agriculture Department on Thursday.
The plan calls for devoting more attention to plants where the government has higher concerns over meat safety, U.S. officials said. But the USDA's Food Safety and Inspections Service will still continue daily inspection of all processing plants, said Richard Raymond, agriculture undersecretary for food safety.
Raymond touted the changes as a way to boost protection against meat contamination. Under the new system, the level of inspections at a plant would be pegged to its safety record, including prior inspection and microbiological tests.
The consumer group Food and Water Watch said USDA's existing data is incomplete and not precise enough to know how plants are performing.
The American Meat Institute, a trade group for packers, criticized USDA for the "hasty roll-out" of the plan without testing the idea or being sure of industry and consumer support.
"USDA is forcing 250 plants that produce branded, trusted meat and poultry products into a new and controversial program with little notice or buy-in," said AMI President Patrick Boyle.
Key lawmakers also expressed concern.
"I think it is a mistake for (USDA) to move forward with risk-based inspection at this time, and I will be monitoring what happens very closely," said Rep. Rosa Delauro (news, bio, voting record), the Connecticut Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees USDA.
Carline Smith-DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest said Raymond told consumer groups that, if there are problems with the initial plants, there will be no expansion of the project.
"We have to be careful they don't roll it out before it is ready," said DeWaal.
There are about 6,000 livestock slaughter and meat processing plants in the United States.
Britain to pay women for ova to research
The British government has approved a plan to allow women to donate eggs for stem cell and cloning research and to be compensated for it an action that scientists hope will improve the supply of eggs.
Women getting costly fertility treatments will receive a discount if they donate eggs for research, authorities said. Others will receive up to 250 pounds about $500 for each fertilization cycle to cover costs such as travel or lost work time.
The eggs would be used to create cloned embryos, with the hope of extracting stem cells. Because stem cells have the potential to become any cell in the body, scientists believe they may ultimately help treat numerous ailments, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease and spinal cord injuries.
The United States and some other countries already allow human egg donations for research. The U.S. has no national policy on payment, but some states limit it to reimbursing women for costs.
Human eggs for stem cell research are in short supply, and some researchers believe payment would improve that situation. They argue that patients are often paid for other medical experiments.
However, Wednesday's action by the British government worries some that it will exploit poor women, encouraging them to go through the tedious egg donor process just for money.
"It's exploitative because there will be women attracted even by the thought of getting 250 pounds from this," said Dr. Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Laboratory at King's College. London. "I'm very uncomfortable with the idea of selling tissue and body parts."
Other experts accused authorities of downplaying the little-known health risks to potential egg donors.
But the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, which advised the government, stressed that payment would strictly cover expenses only.
"No one would be handing out money for donated eggs," said Gemma Wilkie, a spokeswoman for the authority. "We are only talking about recompense for costs incurred."
Britain has long permitted a practice known as egg-sharing, in which women get cheaper in-vitro fertilization treatments for donating eggs to other women hoping to get pregnant but until Wednesday's decision, donated eggs could not be used for research.
Some experts argued that women should be entitled to more than $500.
"Eggs are already a highly prized commodity," said Anna Smajdor, a medical ethics researcher at London's Imperial College. "Two-hundred fifty pounds fails on all counts: it is enough to entice women from poorer countries while failing to represent the market value of eggs."
Rejoice, cocoa nuts!
Choose the right chocolate treat, and you can have all the flavor you savor with next-to-no fat. Three tablespoons of cocoa powder (the equivalent of 1 oz. of chocolate in flavor intensity) has only 1.5 grams of fat. By comparison, a 1-oz. square of premium unsweetened chocolate has 16 grams of fat. In addition, cocoa's main fat, stearic acid, may be heart-healthy. Our bodies convert it to a monounsaturated fat. Limit any chocolate that adds "hydrogenated oils," which add cholesterol-raising fats to the mix.
Getting to know you.
Saying "Hi" to your aerobics instructor may improve your group fitness experience. If you are joining a group exercise class for the first time, let your instructor know. Doing so will help the instructor ensure you get the most out of the class, and help protect you from injuries.
Does variety in exercise matter?
Steve Blair of the Cooper Institute for Aerobic Research says: I advise exercisers to engage in at least one aerobic activity and do some resistance exercise for musculoskeletal fitness, along with stretching to maintain joint flexibility. If there's one routine you like to do again and again in each category, that's OK. If you like to do different aerobic and musculoskeletal exercises at different times, all the better. What really counts is to find the exercise program you like enough to stick with over time. Keep it up, and you'll reap the incredible benefits that come from a fit, active way of life.