Needless conflict

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
485,
Pages:
279–280
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/485279b
Published online

Independent experts should be kept from undue suspicion as well as undue influence.

We are what we eat. So it should come as no surprise that food-related issues such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), bisphenol A contamination, foot-and-mouth disease, Escherichia coli outbreaks and genetic modification resonate with the public. It is unfortunate, then, that discussion of them is often clouded by controversies over the impartiality of scientific advice and whether government regulations are truly unaffected by industry interests.

Questions of food safety, nutrition and agriculture elicit more emotion and public mistrust than almost any other science-based issue. The firestorm over obesity, for example, ignited once again in the United States last week, when the Institute of Medicine issued a report of nearly 500 pages that makes a compelling case that individual choice is not sufficient to prevent obesity in the current environment of inexpensive high-calorie foods and drinks. The report recommends that industry and government take action to get cheap healthy foods into supermarkets and schools, and that the government intervene to ensure that the right dietary messages get through the flood of advertising. The report, of course, was criticized by the industry forces that would have the most to lose if such changes were implemented.

In this highly charged environment, a controversy over alleged conflicts of interest at the top of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has led to media headlines, criticisms from the European Parliament and a feeding frenzy by some non-governmental organizations critical of EFSA (see page 294). Some of those rushing to judge EFSA might do well to remember, however, that whatever the body's shortcomings, it represents a marked improvement on what went before.

EFSA, which is based in Parma, Italy, was created in 2002 in the wake of the BSE scandal and other food crises. Public confidence in experts and governments had evaporated after it emerged that contaminated beef could cause new variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in humans. At fault was a system in which economic imperatives too often blinkered experts and government ministries — not least departments of agriculture — in their assessment of risks and precautions. EFSA was created to change all that, as an independent agency that would provide scientific advice to the European Union and its member states, entirely separate from those responsible for making decisions. Not even the US Food and Drug Administration enjoys that degree of potential freedom from interference: it uses advisory panels of outside experts, but is ultimately part of a government department. This was made clear last year, when President Barack Obama's administration overruled the agency's decision to make the contraceptive Plan B One-Step (levonorgestrel) available to girls under 17 without a prescription (see Nature 480, 413; 2011).

The powerful agrofood industry will always seek to influence policy, whether within EFSA, or in the European Commission, the European Parliament and national ministries that actually make the decisions. As in other technological industries, many experts have industry links, and scientists' own perceptions of risk can be biased by a pro-technology outlook that might, for example, lead them to be too enthusiastic about certain transgenic crops.

“Overseers must take care not to unfairly tar the reputations of scientific experts.”

The safeguards against influence and bias should be the same everywhere: comprehensive and timely declaration of potential competing interests, transparency in decision-making, open airing of dissenting opinions and credible independent oversight. EFSA has taken many steps to implement such safeguards, and there seems to be little evidence that it is more affected than any other food-safety body by undue interest.

The media, non-governmental organizations and elected representatives and their institutions all have important oversight roles. But they also have a responsibility to keep concerns in perspective, and to avoid using them to further personal agendas. Overseers must take care not to unfairly tar the reputations of the many scientific experts who give their time generously and in complete independence to further public-health and science-based decision-making.

The public response to the 2009 swine-flu pandemic points to the risks of unsubstantiated suspicion of scientific advice. There were many wild claims that the medical response to the pandemic was being promoted by industry and industry-influenced experts to sell flu drugs and vaccines. This not only helped to fuel conspiracy theories that the pandemic was a hoax, but also diminished public confidence in health authorities at a time when it was sorely needed.

Advisory bodies must not tolerate shortcomings in procedures to disclose conflicts of interest, but they must defend themselves against any unfair tarnishing of scientific experts. Damage to reputation is extremely dangerous in a society in which the Internet can quickly convert exaggerated claims into supposed facts, and in a political climate in which 'elites' are often suspect. There is more to responsible oversight than just pointing out the problems — real or perceived.

Comments

  1. Report this comment #42633

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr. said:

    I kindly wish to submit the following please ;

    ONE need not look any further than the USDA et al, when it comes to ?undue influence?. I have followed the mad cow USDA debacle ever since the first mad cow was covered up in Texas, let alone the second one that finally took and act of congress and the Honorable Phyllis Fong of the OIG. if not for that, that second mad cow in Texas would have never been confirmed either. then you can move on to the Alabama, and Washington mad cow, and not much has changed since. Still the same old USDA et al. just look at the atypical L-type BASE BSE case in California recently, and the false and misleading statements there from by the USDA et al. NOTHING has changed, except their stories, time and time again. They claim of all those firewalls in place, BSE surviellance, BSE testing, BSE feed ban, all three of those firewalls have failed terribly in the USA, but yet to hear the USDA et al tell it, everything is O.K., no problem, feed ban in place since August 4, 1997, BUT YET, the USDA et al fail to tell you, this mad cow firewall was nothing than ink on paper, it was a PARTIAL AND VOLUNTARY feed ban to begin with, that up until 2006, the amounts of banned suspect mad cow protein that was going into commerce, was measured in TONNAGE, 2007, the measurements were measured in POUNDS, where in 2007, 10 years, one decade, post partial, and voluntary BSE feed ban, there were 10,000,000 MILLION POUNDS, of banned, suspect mad cow protein, mixed with blood, that went out into commerce. AFTER that mad cow warning letter, the warning letters ceased to exist. they never published anymore that I could find. They claim the BSE testing was doing it?s job, until they found out that not only their testing techniques were wrong, but they were TESTING HEALTHY CATTLE, THEY NEW DID NOT HAVE BSE. all this again proven by the OIE and the GAO. They claim the BSE surveillance program worked, again, a lie. Just look at the GAO and OIE reports about that ENHANCED BSE SURVEILLANCE PROGRAM to test only healthy cows, OR, the OBEX ONLY DIAGNOSTIC criteria that was used. They claim NO link to sporadic CJD, and this is false as well. IN my opinion, until we get corporate industry out of policy decision making for the USDA, APHIS, FSIS, FDA et al, until that is changed, you will never have any sound science policy making for consumer safety. they call it GREED $$$ SOURCE REFERENCES MAD COW USDA ATYPICAL L-TYPE BASE BSE, the rest of the story...

    ***Oral Transmission of L-type Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in Primate Model

    http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/18/1/pdfs/11-1092.pdf

    ***Infectivity in skeletal muscle of BASE-infected cattle

    http://www.neuroprion.org/resources/pdf_docs/conferences/prion2009/prion2009_bookofabstracts.pdf

    ***feedstuffs- It also suggests a similar cause or source for atypical BSE in these countries.

    http://www.neuroprion.org/resources/pdf_docs/conferences/prion2009/prion2009_bookofabstracts.pdf

    ***Also, a link is suspected between atypical BSE and some apparently sporadic cases of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans.

    http://www.neuroprion.org/en/np-neuroprion.html

    Friday, May 11, 2012

    Experimental H-type bovine spongiform encephalopathy characterized by plaques and glial- and stellate-type prion protein deposits

    ***In addition, the present data will support risk assessments in some peripheral tissues derived from cattle affected with H-type BSE.

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2012/05/experimental-h-type-bovine-spongiform.html

    please see my full full source reference list here ;

    Wednesday, May 16, 2012

    Independent experts should be kept from undue suspicion as well as undue influence

    IN REPLY TO ;

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2012/05/independent-experts-should-be-kept-from.html

    kind regards,

    terry

    Senior Layperson

    i lost my mom to hvCJD 12/14/97 'confirmed', have been seeking the truth ever since. ...

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr.
    P.O. Box 42
    Bacliff, Texas USA 77518

  2. Report this comment #42931

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr. said:

    What irks many scientists is the USDA?s April 25 statement that the rare disease is ?not generally associated with an animal consuming infected feed.?

    The USDA?s conclusion is a ?gross oversimplification,? said Dr. Paul Brown, one of the world?s experts on this type of disease who retired recently from the National Institutes of Health.

    "(The agency) has no foundation on which to base that statement.?

    ?We can?t say it?s not feed related,? agreed Dr. Linda Detwiler, an official with the USDA during the Clinton Administration now at Mississippi State.

    In the May 1 email to me, USDA?s Cole backed off a bit. ?No one knows the origins of atypical cases of BSE,? she said

    Few scientists would argue that the one California cow which never was headed to the U.S. food supply represents a health hazard.

    But many maintain that the current surveillance is insufficient.

    Dr. Kurt Giles, an expert in neurogenerative diseases now at the University of California, San Francisco, was at Oxford during the British outbreak.

    He told me USDA?s assurances about safety today remind him of British statements during the 1980s.

    ?It is so reminiscent of that absolute certainty,? he said.

    Robert Bazell is NBC's chief science and medical correspondent. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @RobertBazellNBC

    http://vitals.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/05/02/11501754-are-usda-assurances-on-mad-cow-case-gross-oversimplification?lite

    Saturday, May 26, 2012

    Are USDA assurances on mad cow case 'gross oversimplification'?

    http://bseusa.blogspot.com/2012/05/are-usda-assurances-on-mad-cow-case.html

    Friday, May 25, 2012

    R-CALF USDA?s New BSE Rule Eliminates Important Protections Needed to Prevent BSE Spread

    http://bseusa.blogspot.com/2012/05/r-calf-usdas-new-bse-rule-eliminates.html

    in the url that follows, I have posted SRM breaches first, as late as 2011.

    then

    MAD COW FEED BAN BREACHES AND TONNAGES OF MAD COW FEED IN COMMERCE up until 2007, when they ceased posting them.

    then,

    MAD COW SURVEILLANCE BREACHES.

    Friday, May 18, 2012

    Update from APHIS Regarding a Detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the United States Friday May 18, 2012

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2012/05/update-from-aphis-regarding-detection.html

  3. Report this comment #63737

    Carry Jones said:

    They claim of all those firewalls in place, bse surveillance, bsev testing,feed ban, all three of those firewalls have failed terribly in the USA, but yet to hear the USDA et al tell it, everything is O.K., no problem, feed ban in place since august 4, 1997, but yet, the USDA l fail to tell you, this mad cow firewall was nothing than ink on paper, it was a partial and voluntary feed ban to begin with, that up until 2006, the amounts of banned suspect mad cow protein that was going into commerce, was measured in tonnage

  4. Report this comment #64631

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr. said:

    2014 end of year TSE prion mad cow type review of science

    thought some of you might want to catch up on the end of year review of the TSE prion disease aka mad cow type disease I have put together. best wishes to you and yours in the New Year 2015. ...

    Transmissible Spongiform Encephalopathy TSE Prion BSE, Scrapie, CWD typical and atypical end of year roundup 2014

    Sunday, December 21, 2014

    Mucosal immunization with an attenuated Salmonella vaccine partially protects white-tailed deer from chronic wasting disease

    http://chronic-wasting-disease.blogspot.com/2014/12/mucosal-immunization-with-attenuated.html

    Sunday, December 28, 2014

    CHRONIC WASTING DISEASE CWD TSE PRION DISEASE AKA MAD DEER DISIEASE USDA USAHA INC DECEMBER 28, 2014

    http://chronic-wasting-disease.blogspot.com/2014/12/chronic-wasting-disease-cwd-tse-prion.html

    Wednesday, December 24, 2014

    National Scrapie Eradication Program November 2014 Monthly Report Fiscal Year 2015

    http://scrapie-usa.blogspot.com/2014/12/national-scrapie-eradication-program.html

    >>>*>>>Here we show that a panel of sheep scrapie prions transmit to several tgHu mice models with an efficiency comparable to that of cattle BSE. The serial transmission of different scrapie isolates in these mice led to the propagation of prions that are phenotypically identical to those causing sporadic CJD (sCJD) in humans. These results demonstrate that scrapie prions have a zoonotic potential and raise new questions about the possible link between animal and human prions. <<<*<<<

    Tuesday, December 16, 2014

    Evidence for zoonotic potential of ovine scrapie prions

    Hervé Cassard,1, n1 Juan-Maria Torres,2, n1 Caroline Lacroux,1, Jean-Yves Douet,1, Sylvie L. Benestad,3, Frédéric Lantier,4, Séverine Lugan,1, Isabelle Lantier,4, Pierrette Costes,1, Naima Aron,1, Fabienne Reine,5, Laetitia Herzog,5, Juan-Carlos Espinosa,2, Vincent Beringue5, & Olivier Andréoletti1, Affiliations Contributions Corresponding author Journal name: Nature Communications Volume: 5, Article number: 5821 DOI: doi:10.1038/ncomms6821 Received 07 August 2014 Accepted 10 November 2014 Published 16 December 2014 Article tools Citation Reprints Rights & permissions Article metrics

    Abstract

    Although Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) is the cause of variant Creutzfeldt Jakob disease (vCJD) in humans, the zoonotic potential of scrapie prions remains unknown. Mice genetically engineered to overexpress the human ?prion protein (tgHu) have emerged as highly relevant models for gauging the capacity of prions to transmit to humans. These models can propagate human prions without any apparent transmission barrier and have been used used to confirm the zoonotic ability of BSE. Here we show that a panel of sheep scrapie prions transmit to several tgHu mice models with an efficiency comparable to that of cattle BSE. The serial transmission of different scrapie isolates in these mice led to the propagation of prions that are phenotypically identical to those causing sporadic CJD (sCJD) in humans. These results demonstrate that scrapie prions have a zoonotic potential and raise new questions about the possible link between animal and human prions.

    Subject terms: Biological sciences? Medical research At a glance

    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/141216/ncomms6821/full/ncomms6821.html

    see more here ;

    http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/141216/ncomms6821/extref/ncomms6821-s1.pdf

    2001

    Suspect symptoms

    What if you can catch old-fashioned CJD by eating meat from a sheep infected with scrapie?

    28 Mar 01

    Most doctors believe that sCJD is caused by a prion protein deforming by chance into a killer. But Singeltary thinks otherwise. He is one of a number of campaigners who say that some sCJD, like the variant CJD related to BSE, is caused by eating meat from infected animals. Their suspicions have focused on sheep carrying scrapie, a BSE-like disease that is widespread in flocks across Europe and North America.

    Now scientists in France have stumbled across new evidence that adds weight to the campaigners' fears. To their complete surprise, the researchers found that one strain of scrapie causes the same brain damage in mice as sCJD.

    "This means we cannot rule out that at least some sCJD may be caused by some strains of scrapie," says team member Jean-Philippe Deslys of the French Atomic Energy Commission's medical research laboratory in Fontenay-aux-Roses, south-west of Paris. Hans Kretschmar of the University of Göttingen, who coordinates CJD surveillance in Germany, is so concerned by the findings that he now wants to trawl back through past sCJD cases to see if any might have been caused by eating infected mutton or lamb...

    2001

    Suspect symptoms

    What if you can catch old-fashioned CJD by eating meat from a sheep infected with scrapie?

    28 Mar 01

    Like lambs to the slaughter

    31 March 2001

    by Debora MacKenzie Magazine issue 2284.

    FOUR years ago, Terry Singeltary watched his mother die horribly from a degenerative brain disease. Doctors told him it was Alzheimer's, but Singeltary was suspicious. The diagnosis didn't fit her violent symptoms, and he demanded an autopsy. It showed she had died of sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

    Most doctors believe that sCJD is caused by a prion protein deforming by chance into a killer. But Singeltary thinks otherwise. He is one of a number of campaigners who say that some sCJD, like the variant CJD related to BSE, is caused by eating meat from infected animals. Their suspicions have focused on sheep carrying scrapie, a BSE-like disease that is widespread in flocks across Europe and North America.

    Now scientists in France have stumbled across new evidence that adds weight to the campaigners' fears. To their complete surprise, the researchers found that one strain of scrapie causes the same brain damage in mice as sCJD.

    "This means we cannot rule out that at least some sCJD may be caused by some strains of scrapie," says team member Jean-Philippe Deslys of the French Atomic Energy Commission's medical research laboratory in Fontenay-aux-Roses, south-west of Paris. Hans Kretschmar of the University of Göttingen, who coordinates CJD surveillance in Germany, is so concerned by the findings that he now wants to trawl back through past sCJD cases to see if any might have been caused by eating infected mutton or lamb. ...snip...end

    see more here ;

    http://scrapie-usa.blogspot.com/2014/12/scrapie-from-sheep-could-infect-humans.html

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2014/12/evidence-for-zoonotic-potential-of.html

    Tuesday, December 23, 2014

        • FDA PART 589 — SUBSTANCES PROHIBITED FROM USE IN ANIMAL FOOD OR FEED VIOLATIONS OFFICIAL ACTION INDICATED OAI UPDATE DECEMBER 2014 BSE TSE PRION

    http://madcowusda.blogspot.com/2014/12/fda-part-589-substances-prohibited-from.html

    Sunday, December 28, 2014

        • Reverse Freedom of Information Act request rFOIA FSIS USDA APHIS TSE PRION aka BSE MAD COW TYPE DISEASE December 2014 ***

    http://madcowusda.blogspot.com/2014/12/reverse-freedom-of-information-act.html

        • HUMAN MAD COW DISEASE nvCJD TEXAS CASE NOT LINKED TO EUROPEAN TRAVEL CDC ***

    Sunday, November 23, 2014

        • Confirmed Variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (variant CJD) Case in Texas in June 2014 confirmed as USA case NOT European

    the patient had resided in Kuwait, Russia and Lebanon. The completed investigation did not support the patient's having had extended travel to European countries, including the United Kingdom, or travel to Saudi Arabia. The specific overseas country where this patient?s infection occurred is less clear largely because the investigation did not definitely link him to a country where other known vCJD cases likely had been infected.

    http://vcjd.blogspot.com/2014/11/confirmed-variant-creutzfeldt-jakob.html

    Sunday, December 14, 2014

        • ALERT new variant Creutzfeldt Jakob Disease nvCJD or vCJD, sporadic CJD strains, TSE prion aka Mad Cow Disease United States of America Update December 14, 2014 Report

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2014/12/alert-new-variant-creutzfeldt-jakob.html

    Saturday, December 13, 2014

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr. Publications TSE prion disease

    Diagnosis and Reporting of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease

    Singeltary, Sr et al. JAMA.2001; 285: 733-734. Vol. 285 No. 6, February 14, 2001 JAMA

    snip...

    http://transmissiblespongiformencephalopathy.blogspot.com/2014/12/terry-s-singeltary-sr-publications-tse.html

    Terry S. Singeltary Sr. Bacliff, Texas USA 77518

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