5&5: News and Science Highlights from January 2012

February 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Posted in News and Science Bulletins | Leave a comment


US FDA advice on food colour safety illustrates divide in how to evaluate bodies of evidence. A detailed explanation of how to determine effects on health of an environmental exposure, in the form of a critique of the US FDA evaluation of the safety of artificial food colours, but of strong general interest. Note the resulting correspondence (FDA defence and author response), which serves as an excellent example of what the author describes as “the wide gulf” between FDA interpretations of weight of evidence, and meaningful action to protect public health, with the “FDA essentially [taking] the position that for a study to be considered as evidence of adverse effects, it must be totally free of uncertainties.”

Breast, ovarian and cervical cancer tumour growth, and the flame retardant Deca-BDE. Study showing that PBDE-209 (deca-BDE) can influence a number of biological pathways involved in breast cancer tumour growth, promoting proliferation of various cancer cells, reducing the effect of some cell suicide mechanisms apoptosis, and up-regulating production of some cancer-related proteins. Deca-BDE is one of the most-common flame retardants found in food.

Pros and cons of oily fish consumption: better lipid profile, but more mercury and inflammatory markers. In a clear example of the pros and cons of eating healthy food, this study finds that although children who eat fish have a significantly improved lipid profile, they also have higher levels of blood mercury. Since the blood mercury levels were associated with markers for systemic inflammation, the authors  conclude it is “impossible [to perform] a risk-benefit analysis of fish consumption”.

Ubiquitous exposure to personal-care phthalates and BPA associated with increased body mass, obesity. A prospective study, in which 97% of the study participants were exposed, finds that children who are more exposed to phthalates typically found in personal care products are heavier. A large, cross-sectional Chinese study finds an association between BPA exposure and abdominal obesity; and Fred vom Saal publishes a paper reviewing how EDC exposure during foetal development causes abnormalities in the homeostatic control systems required for maintaining a normal body weight throughout life.

Serum Vaccine Antibody Concentrations in Children Exposed to Perfluorinated Compounds. JAMA study finding an association between higher exposures to PFCs and reduced humoral immune response to routine childhood immunizations. Nature reported on the study, quoting the lead author as saying: “The effect in PFCs was much stronger than we had seen for PCBs. It’s likely this is going to be a programming effect that is going to stay with these kids for their whole lifetimes.”


Connecting the Dots: Why It’s So Hard to Pin Down Environmental Causes of Cancer. A US magazine for cancer patients looks at why it’s hard to find the causes of the range of diseases which is cancer.

Sweden worried by triclosan-treated worktops. Kitchen worktops impregnated with the biocide triclosan could pose a risk to the environment and human health when thrown away, Sweden fears. Regulators in the country are examining the need for new labelling and waste rules.

EPA dioxin limits: will food politics trump science? The US food industry is worried a new Environmental Protection Agency review of safe exposure levels for dioxins could deem the average American diet dangerous. This story is of general importance not only because the EPA dioxin review is likely to have international significance, it seems the level which the EPA will set as safe could be based in politics as much as in science. The NRDC provides a two-art commentary (Part 1 | Part 2) of what has been happening behind the scenes.

Researcher Frederick vom Saal wants bans on BPA, endocrine disruptors. Interesting and comprehensive account of the work of scientist and environmental advocate Frederick vom Saal, about his research on endocrine disrupting chemicals and his conviction that chemicals policy fails to tally with scientific evidence of potential harm.

New conflicts of interest at EU food safety authority. Le Monde: In French, but an important report on findings that an EU expert working group convened to advise the European Food Safety Authority on an initiative to reduce toxicological testing of chemicals is composed almost entirely of researchers with a publishing history favouring the initiative which they are supposed to be evaluating.


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