Wednesday, February 06, 2008

USDA Shuts Down Beef Supplier of Schools

Inspections at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino are halted indefinitely while allegations of abuse and unsafe practices are investigated.
By Victoria Kim
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 6, 2008

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has shut down operations at a Chino slaughterhouse accused of supplying meat from at-risk cattle and treating weak animals cruelly.

The agency's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced late Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending inspection at Hallmark Meat Packing, an action that in effect bars the supplier from slaughtering and producing meat while authorities investigate the allegations.

The meatpacker clearly violated "federal regulations and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act," USDA undersecretary for food safety Richard Raymond said in a statement.

After the release of a video from the Humane Society of the United States, the USDA last week suspended the company's contracts for federal food programs. The video showed slaughterhouse workers forcing "downer" cows to their feet using sticks, electric prods and water hoses.

Westland Meat Co., Hallmark's distributor and a ground beef supplier for the National School Lunch Program, voluntarily halted operations at the time.

The latest suspension "prohibits the plant from operating until they submit a corrective action plan which addresses the humane handling issues," said Amanda Eamich, a spokeswoman for the inspection service.

Eamich said there was no clear evidence at the time that downer cows entered the food supply. Cows that are unable to walk are banned from human food because they show a higher occurrence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad cow disease.

But the Humane Society said it had "very clear documentation" on video of at least four downer cows being slaughtered for human food.

"The USDA inspection process clearly had a range of deficiencies," said Wayne Pacelle, chief executive of the society.

But Raymond, the USDA undersecretary, expressed confidence in the department's inspection system.

"We maintain an inspection system that safeguards the safety and wholesomeness of our food supply," he said in a statement.

Like I need another reason to keep my kids from buying lunch. Like I need another example of how an industrialized food supply is costing us. For those that don't know what a downer cow is, it's a cow that is sick from disease (mad cow or whatever)and can't walk. I can't help but think about the times I've visited a cattle farm and petted these gentle animals. I am beyond sad that these things continue to go on.

Scientists Create Three-Parent Embryos

Scientists Create Three-Parent Embryos

By Ben HirschlerTue Feb 5, 11:18 AM ET Reuters

British scientists have created human embryos with three parents in a development they hope could lead to effective treatments for a range of serious hereditary diseases within five years.
Researchers from Newcastle University, in northern England, presented their findings at a medical conference at the weekend, a university spokeswoman said on Tuesday.
The IVF, or test-tube, embryos were created using DNA from one man and two women.
The idea is to prevent women with faults in their mitochondrial DNA passing diseases on to their children. Around one in 5,000 children suffer from mitochondrial diseases, which can include fatal liver, heart and brain disorders, deafness, muscular problems and forms of epilepsy.
If all goes well, researchers believe they may be able to start offering the technique as a treatment in three to five years.
Mitochondria are tiny power packs inside cells that provide their energy. Faulty genetics can mean mitochondria do not completely burn food and oxygen, leading to the build-up of poisons responsible for more than 40 different diseases.
The Newcastle team believe these diseases could be avoided if embryos at risk were given an effective mitochondrial transplant. The process involves in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the subsequent removal of the egg's nucleus. The nucleus is then placed into a donor egg whose DNA has been removed.
The resulting fetus inherits nuclear DNA, or genes, from both parents but mitochondrial DNA from a third party.
"The idea is simply to swap the bad diseased mitochondria -- give a transplant, if you like -- for good healthy ones from a donor," Patrick Chinnery, a member of the Newcastle team, said in a telephone interview.
"We're trying to prevent kids being born with fatal diseases." Mitochondrial DNA is passed down only through the female line.
The technique has so far been tried only in the laboratory, using abnormal embryos left over from IVF therapy, and the handful of three-parent embryos created were destroyed after six days.
Stiff opposition to the technique is likely from critics of embryo research who fear the creation of designer babies.
The research was presented to the Medical Research Council Centre for Neuromuscular Diseases conference in London on February 1-2.

Yikes. This stuff is scary. My mind can't stop of possible repercussions and outcomes to something like this.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Study Warns of Chemicals in Baby Items

Study Warns of Chemicals in Baby Items
By LINDSEY TANNER – 1 hour ago

CHICAGO (AP) — Baby shampoos, lotions and powders may expose infants to chemicals that have been linked with possible reproductive problems, a small study suggests.

The chemicals, called phthalates, are found in many ordinary products including cosmetics, toys, vinyl flooring and medical supplies. They are used to stabilize fragrances and make plastics flexible.

In the study, they were found in elevated levels in the urine of babies who'd been recently shampooed, powdered or lotioned with baby products.

Phthalates (pronounced thowl-ates) are under attack by some environmental advocacy groups, but experts are uncertain what dangers, if any, they might pose. The federal government doesn't limit their use, although California and some countries have restricted their use.

Animal studies have suggested that phthalates can cause reproductive birth defects and some activists believe they may cause reproductive problems in boys and early puberty in girls.

Rigorous scientific evidence in human studies is lacking. The current study offers no direct evidence that products the infants used contained phthalates, and no evidence that the chemicals in the babies' urine caused any harm. Still, the results worried environmental groups that support restrictions on these chemicals.

"There is an obvious need for laws that force the beauty industry to clean up its act," said Stacy Malkan of Health Care Without Harm.

The study's lead author, Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, a University of Washington pediatrician, said, "The bottom line is that these chemicals likely do exist in products that we're commonly using on our children and they potentially could cause health effects."

Babies don't usually need special lotions and powders, and water alone or shampoo in very small amounts is generally enough to clean infant hair, Sathyanarayana said.

Concerned parents can seek products labeled "phthalate-free," or check labels for common phthalates, including DEP and DEHP.

But the chemicals often don't appear on product labels. That's because retail products aren't required to list individual ingredients of fragrances, which are a common phthalate source.

The Food and Drug Administration "has no compelling evidence that phthalates pose a safety risk when used in cosmetics," spokeswoman Stephanie Kwisnek said. "Should new data emerge, we will inform the public as well as the industry."

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the health effects in humans are uncertain.

"Although several studies in people have explored possible associations with developmental and reproductive outcomes (semen quality, genital development in boys, shortened pregnancy, and premature breast development in young girls), more research is needed," a 2005 CDC report said.

The new study, which appears in February's issue of the journal Pediatrics, involved 163 babies. Most were white, ages 2 to 28 months and living in California, Minnesota and Missouri.

The researchers measured levels of several phthalates in urine from diapers. They also asked the mothers about use in the previous 24 hours of baby products including lotions, powders, diaper creams and baby wipes.

All urine samples had detectable levels of at least one phthalate, and most had levels of several more. The highest levels were linked with shampoos, lotions and powders, and were most prevalent in babies younger than 8 months.

John Bailey, chief scientist at the Personal Care Products Council, questioned the methods and said the phthalates could have come from diapers, lab materials or other sources.

"Unfortunately, the researchers of this study did not test baby care products for the presence of phthalates or control for other possible routes of exposure," Bailey said.

I guess I'll have to post a phthalate list. I forget about these buggers.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Q2 Update

We got report cards yesterday. I wasn't as nervous about this one since it wasn't our first experience with 3rd grade and this teacher. Everything still looks great! Icecream, a call to Grandma, high-5's, and cudos all around. He is a solid B student, and has shown improvement in several areas;

1) following directions (in personal development section), an executive functioning challenge for him.
2) using word analysis skills (reading section),
3) writing with organization, spelling correctly, and spacing letters and words appropriately (writing section). His teacher said "He shows strong word work and editing strategies in his daily work and is now giving more details in his writing." Pretty amazing since he has to work much harder than the typical student.

In P.E., he shows highest marks for sportsmanship, behavior, and effort, but "Satisfactory" for developing strength, skills, and endurance. No surprise here! I still can't believe he can do age appropriate skills. And to think he LOVES gym, and isn't affected by his largeness not matching the stereotype of a "tough football kid". He has similar marks in art, where he is just "Satisfactory". And highest marks for Music. Again, no surprise!

And speaking of Music, who in the heck invented the Recorder? I'm sure I'll offend someone when I say that it's the STUPIDEST instrument! I mean really! I hate the sound, and I openly complain to Leo when he has to practice. Poor kid, no role model here. I guess I'm a snob, as we continue with piano lessons at home (I teach them). I do look forward to the Spring Concert, where his class will play that dumb instrument while tears stream down my face.

As far as his personality goes, he is very well liked by his teacher and peers. His teacher says "Leo's genuine kindness and eagerness to help others is contagious and is a wonderful example to his peers."

Wow, is all I can say. His personality has nothing to do with parenting. We are just very blessed by his wonderful soul being in our lives each day.

Leo's social development continues to grow as far as I can see, in a typical fashion. I'm no expert for this age, as my daughter is 2 1/2 years younger. He still enjoys carpooling to baseball with one of his good friends. Recess is great, still revolves around activity led. I recently asked him who he usually sits with at lunch. It sounds like he rotates between his two good friends from class (they can only sit with their class). He told me one friend told Leo he was sitting more with the other friend, and asked if Leo could sit with him that day. Leo said he felt bad, and now really tries to "make it even." So sweet! If you told me years ago that kids would seek Leo as a friend that way, I'd say you are smoking something.

Recently, I found myself walking around Target with my 4'9" son looking for the "right" sweatpants that all his friends are wearing at school. He picked out 3 black pairs, all allegedly "very different, Mom." One pair, made that "swishy" noise. Each had stripes along the side - one with red, one blue, and one white. I said, "How about the same pair, but in grey?", as I held them up. "Nah." I tried navy, but no luck. So I was at the register, surrounded by pimply teens with their undies showing, buying 3 pairs of similar BLACK sweatpants. His new uniform, that goes with his fancy basketball shoes.

As we were getting ready for school this morning, I asked Leo if he was going to take his racoon Webinz to school (it was on the table near his backpack). He said, no. When I asked why, he said that most people don't bring them to school anymore. I shrug and say, "Oh, okay." A true follower, which is fine with me. Follower, leader, I just don't care. As we gather our things to leave, Sydney says "Hey Mom, Leo doesn't have his jacket zipped." And I say, "I know Sydney, Leo knows the rules, I'm sure he'll remember to zip it before we leave the garage." Leo chuckles a little while shaking his head, and says, "Of course, you had to say that loud enough so I could hear it." Which I did! Busted!

These little exchanges demonstrate that his Theory Of Mind is working well enough. Well enough to take shots at his Mom,
well enough to know his sister lives for these opportunities,
well enough to have a chuckle with his family before a long day of school.