Thursday, April 05, 2007

Red meat seems to increase breast cancer risk -- but does it?

This seems to be a comparison of meat-eaters with vegetarians. That vegetarians suffer fewer adverse outcomes could be due to many factors -- reduced total calorie intake, greater care about lifestyle etc. Making meat consumption the cause rather than a marker goes beyond the evidence

EATING even small amounts of red meat can greatly increase a woman's risk of breast cancer, according to a study published today. Post-menopausal women who ate large amounts (more than 103 grams) of processed meat a day could be 64 per cent more likely to suffer the disease, while the researchers found as little as 57g of beef, pork or lamb a day showed an effect. Even younger women faced a slightly raised risk if they ate red meat every day, according to the study which appears in the British Journal of Cancer.

The study, led by Professor Janet Cade of the University of Leeds, involved studying the diets of 35,000 women aged between 35 and 69 for eight years. The research states: "Women, both pre and post-menopausal, who consumed the most meat had the highest risk of breast cancer. "Women generally consuming most total meat, red and processed meat were at the highest increased risk compared with non-meat consumers."

The women completed 217-item food questionnaires and were divided into three groups depending on whether they were low, medium or high meat-eaters. They were compared with women in the study who were vegetarian and researchers also took into account smoking, weight, fruit and vegetable intake, education, age and use of hormone replacement therapy.

Professor Cade told Britain's Daily Telegraph: "The findings are robust. Whatever we adjusted the data for we could find an association. "Really, these results could apply to all women. At home I have cut down on the amount of red meat we eat as a family a week. "I am not suggesting that everyone should become a vegetarian, that would be unrealistic, but the findings were strong and I think we should pay attention to them."

But the study was dismissed as "rubbish" by Sandy Crombie, chairman of the Scottish region of The Guild of Q Butchers, who pointed out that 56g of meat was roughly half a quarter-pound burger. He told the newspaper: "Two ounces (57g) is absolutely tiny. I have never heard such rubbish, it's a tiny amount. "This is ridiculous, it's silly, it's barely worth talking about."


Abstract from the British Journal of Cancer (2007) 96, 1139-1146 follows:

Meat consumption and risk of breast cancer in the UK Women's Cohort Study

E F Taylor et al.

We performed a survival analysis to assess the effect of meat consumption and meat type on the risk of breast cancer in the UK Women's Cohort Study. Between 1995 and 1998 a cohort of 35 372 women was recruited, aged between 35 and 69 years with a wide range of dietary intakes, assessed by a 217-item food frequency questionnaire. Hazard ratios (HRs) were estimated using Cox regression adjusted for known confounders. High consumption of total meat compared with none was associated with premenopausal breast cancer, HR=1.20 (95% CI: 0.86-1.68), and high non-processed meat intake compared with none, HR=1.20 (95% CI: 0.86-1.68). Larger effect sizes were found in postmenopausal women for all meat types, with significant associations with total, processed and red meat consumption. Processed meat showed the strongest HR=1.64 (95% CI: 1.14-2.37) for high consumption compared with none. Women, both pre- and postmenopausal, who consumed the most meat had the highest risk of breast cancer.


Worried about your carbon footprint? Maybe you shouldn't be. In the week the Government unveiled its Climate Change Bill seeking huge CO2 emissions cuts, the Tenant Farmers' Association annual meeting heard from a scientist who claims current climate change thinking is 'nonsense'. ALISTAIR DRIVER heard him go down a storm at the Farmers Club.

It was certainly a speech with a difference. Over the past 12 months, farmers have been bombarded with rhetoric about their frontline role in the fight against climate change and how their carbon footprint is now the only thing that really matters. So when a respected scientist told tenant farmers they were being conned and everything they had heard up to now on climate change was wrong, they sat up and took notice.

Philip Stott is rare thing in that he is a scientist who refuses to buy into the prevailing theory that human carbon dioxide emissions are the main driving force behind climate change. He ridicules the idea that politicians can control the earth's climate and says the current global drive to reduce CO2 emissions is not only futile but is diverting attention and resources away from issues that really matter.

During a charismatic speech at the TFA's annual meeting he pleaded with farmers to remain open-minded on the issue. "Everybody is trying to use global warming for their own ends and beware of politicians trying to bear gifts because they want to use you for their agenda. That could backfire badly for farmers on the ground."

Prof Stott, emeritus professor of biogeography at the University of London, stressed he was not saying climate change was not happening or even that humans were not playing a part. He argued, however, that the role played by CO2 emissions in creating a greenhouse effect that traps the sun's heat above the earth was relatively small.

Prof Stott, who is well known as a media commentator on the environment, featured in a groundbreaking programme on climate change on Channel 4 last Thursday, which brought together scientists who dispute the CO2 theory. They argued, for example, that while fossil records have shown a correlation between climate and CO2 over time, it is not CO2 that has made the earth hotter but the other way round. Warmer oceans, for example, have produced more CO2, they said.

They put forward the theory that linked climate change to the interaction between the sun's cosmic rays and water vapour and cloud cover, and produced convincing graphs to demonstrate their theory. Prof Stott said the planet's temperature had always fluctuated - in the 1970s the great scare story was the next ice age - and numerous factors together combined to create the variations. "Climate is governed by everything from the tilt of the earth, to volcanoes, ocean currents, sun spots, cosmic rays, solar sunspots, meteors and reflection from the land.

So to put it all down to one factor - human CO2 emissions - is just not credible and the idea that politicians can control the climate is nonsense. It's Alice in Wonderland stuff." Even if CO2 was a major factor in global warming, just 'tinkering' with emissions was going to make little difference, he said. It would take 'massive emission cuts' to make a real difference, as much as 90 per cent, according to one commentator, he said. Yet politicians and the media were fully signed up to what was now 'fundamentally a religion divorced from science' where opposition was 'simply not allowed'.

At the farm level, policy was being distorted by the obsession with reducing the industry's carbon footprint, which was shifting the focus and funds away from research in areas that really counted - including food production and mitigating the impact of climate change. "We need research into new forms of farming -- help farmers adapt to climate change -- but all that is seen as secondary," he said.

The vital debate about energy had also been skewed by the emphasis on CO2 emissions. While local farm renewable initiatives, whether it be biogas or biofuels, were important, large scale biofuel production had environmental downsides and would be divisive for the industry, he said. "Having ignored them for so long, the Government has decided farming is important because of the climate change rhetoric but it is not for you, it is for the image it gives the public about them," he said.

On a global level poorer countries were being lectured on energy use by western politicians who did not even live by their own rules, such as climate change campaigner Al Gore, recently exposed for using 12 times the average amount of energy in his own home.

He dismissed the Stern report's key finding that climate change would cause a 13.8 per cent loss in global income by 2020, claiming this would be compensated for many times over a general increase in wealth. "We are trying to benefit a rich future generation by taking from a poorer current generation and that does not make sense. We have four billion people in poverty, two billion with dirty water and two billion with no modern energy - we should be trying to solve those problems not a future problem that may never happen," he said.

Prof Stott remains in a very small minority - 2,500 scientists signed the global Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report backing the CO2 theory in February - and is often attacked for his views. He counters by saying most scientists are being 'dragged along by a great story' and the knowledge they can get funding easily for research in the area, while the media is making the mistake of believing science works by consensus. "It does not and never has done - remember Galileo. Science progresses by scepticism and paradigm shifts when new theories rise up and displace dominant ones. I think we are at the hysterical peak of the CO2 theory and this paradigm is bound to fail as it predicates it itself on one factor when climate change is a very, very complex thing. "So my message to you as farmers is to remain sceptical, don't get drawn in and fight your corner as practical land stewards of this earth."


NHS to ration IVF?

False economy again

IVF treatment could be rationed under new rules to be considered by the fertility treatment regulator. The Human Fertility and Embryology Authority (HFEA) is set to start a public consultation about whether only one embryo, rather than two, should be implanted in patients. The authority believes that it will cut the number of multiple births and protect the health of mothers and babies.

Fertility specialists say that it will severely reduce the odds of successful conception. About 30,000 women each year in the UK turn to IVF after failing to conceive naturally. In most cases two embryos are implanted with each cycle of treatment to increase the chances of pregnancy. But a report by an independent group published last year suggested that the huge rise in multiple births put the health of mothers and babies at far greater risk.

One key proposal of the One Child at a Time report was to set criteria for selecting first-time IVF patients who would be offered single embryo transfers only. These would be the youngest, healthiest patients at highest risk of multiple pregnancies. Such pregnancies carry much higher risks of miscarriage, preeclampsia and birth complications, while twins, triplets and other babies who have shared a womb together are more likely to be born prematurely.

Unlike natural conception, where the chance of a multiple birth is relatively low (1 delivery in 80 is of twins), the latest figures suggest that almost a quarter of IVF pregnancies result in multiple births, accounting for half of the 10,000 such births each year in the UK. Women who undergo IVF treatment are currently limited to two embryos under rules introduced by the HFEA in 2003. Since then, the incidence of triplets is thought to have more than halved. But cutting the number of embryos implanted in each IVF patient also reduces the already low chances of the treatment working at all, meaning that a woman may need more or repeated cycles. Last year's report said research had found that implanting only one fresh embryo in the first IVF cycle for women under 34 cut pregnancy rates to 38 per cent from about 75 per cent when two were implanted at the same time.

It has been suggested that under the revised rules, doctors should still be able to use their clinical judgment to decide if a woman should get two embryos, but that clinics will be told to reduce the number of multiple births through IVF from 25 per cent to 5 to 10 per cent. This could be achieved only if half or more women were limited to one embryo. The HFEA said yesterday that a decision was not expected to be taken until the autumn


More British hot air

Pious talk, talk, talk, but no action -- when existing policies have clearly failed to protect Jewish students and supporters of Israel from Muslim and Leftist harassment

The government today strongly urged university vice-chancellors to meet MPs to discuss what can be done to stamp out anti-semitism on campuses. At the same time the communities minister Phil Woolas "urgently" referred the issue to the government's cross-department hate crime taskforce "to look at possible ways forward". Although the government has again said that it "deplores" any attempts to target Jewish students at British universities, it stepped back from recommending any new hardline measures against student or academic activities deemed to be anti-semitic.

Instead ministers, responding to a report on anti-semitism published last year by the all-party parliamentary inquiry, have reiterated that universities should adopt existing guidance from both the government and Universities UK, the organisation that represents vice-chancellors, on how to tackle hate crime and incidents involving extremist groups. The government also reminded university governing bodies that under race relations legislation they have a statutory duty to produce a race equality policy, which sets out how they intend to prevent racial discrimination and promote good race relations on campus.

Speaking to members of the all-party committee of MPs, ahead of today's response document, Mr Woolas said: "Open and public debate is one thing, but rhetoric with an undercurrent of hate and racism is quite another. Perhaps this is most worrying on university campuses." Campuses should be places for constructive dialogue and exchange of views where "differences and diversity" should be welcomed, he said. But he added: "There is increasing evidence of activities well beyond what could be labelled freedom of speech or normal youthful behaviour. These cross the line into anti-semitism. "It is not acceptable for Jewish students to be attacked in this way, either verbally or physically. And it is not acceptable for people to incite this kind of behaviour among students."

The government said it supported the all-party group's comment that any moves for UK universities to boycott links with academics working in Israel would be an attack on "academic freedom and intellectual exchange". The government also backed MPs who were opposed to any moves to "de-legitimise Jewish societies on campus". The report also agreed with the party's conclusions that while the issue of anti-semitism is taken seriously by universities the "practice is not consistent across the sector."

But the government failed to endorse the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia's (EUMC) definition of anti-semitism on the grounds that it was a "work in progress." The EUMC, now the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, defines anti-semitism as the expression of hatred towards Jews, their property and Jewish community institutions and religious facilities. More contentiously, it adds "such manifestations could also target the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity".

The Union of Jewish Students' campaign director, Mitch Simmons, said the government report was a "major step and valuable". But he was disappointed that the government and MPs had failed to address the issue that some universities fail to take up incidents of anti-semitism raised by the student union because they believe the organisation is separate to the university. He said: "Some universities think that the student union is a separate body to the university and as such when something happens in the student union the university will say that it isn't covered by its guidelines. "The other problem which was not addressed is that student unions are not recognised as public organisations and as such are not included under the Race Relations Amendment Act." He added: "On a lot of campuses the university will work with the student union but really it's quite diverse and haphazard - in some places it works very well and in others it is dreadful. I can't say I'm disappointed with today's response but it's irritating that they haven't been thinking 'outside the box'."

The president of UUK, Prof Drummond Bone, said universities were already "playing an active part in strengthening community cohesion - this involves combating all forms of intolerance on campus, including anti-semitism". He added: "Universities have a legal obligation to ensure academic freedom. In the rare instances where this freedom is being abused to discriminate against one particular race or religion, our institutions take firm action. This will include working with police and other authorities where, and if, necessary." He said its guidance, Promoting Good Campus relations: dealing with hate crimes and intolerance, and advice published by the Department for Education and Skills provide universities with "practical and useful information", which was "robust" and had been widely circulated and used.


A British ignoramus

And a privately educated one at that. The ignoramus was even more ill-informed than she seemed, however. Eggs and rabbits are associated with Easter because Easter is a Christian adoption of an old pagan fertility celebration. Eggs=Fertility; Rabbits=Fertility. Rather obvious, isn't it? Christ expected his followers to celebrate Passover, not Easter (1 Corinthians 11:25)

A supermarket chain got itself into a huge muddle over the meaning of Easter yesterday in its attempt to sell more chocolate eggs. “Brits are set to spend a massive 520 million pounds on Easter eggs this year — but many young people don’t even know what Easter’s all about,” said the press release from Somerfield after a survey. It then went on to claim that the tradition of giving Easter eggs was to celebrate the “birth” of Christ. An amended version changed this to the “rebirth” of Christ. Finally a third press release accepted Church teaching that Easter celebrated the resurrection of Christ.

The press release was written by Hayley Booth, 30, of the PR agency Brando. Ms Booth, who was privately educated, told The Times that she had corrected the release as soon as she became aware of the error. An explanatory note on her second release read: “Please find below the amended story revealing Britons’ mounting ignorance regarding Easter. Note the references to rebirth (not birth) as previously stated. Apologies for any confusion.” Hurried consultations with the Church of England followed and Brando finally issued a correct release.

Pete Williams, head of PR at Somerfield, said: “We spoke to the Church of England press office, who suggested we use the word resurrection, in keeping with the Church’s teaching. We were happy to do that.” Ben Wilson, in the Church of England press office, said: “It was a genuine mistake, if a rather unfortunate one. I clarified with them that it would probably be best to refer to Easter as a celebration of Christ’s resurrection rather than His birth.” It has been suggested that Easter eggs represent the stone rolled in front of Jesus’s tomb. But the tradition has pre-Christian roots: in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Persia eggs were dyed for spring festivals.


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