Thursday, July 23, 2009

Party on, Garth

The new, contemplative Garth

I've been rather bemused from the sidelines by the debate over the mandatory addition of folic acid to bread. From what I've seen, only about ten per cent of the debate has actually been about the health issue: will the proposed addition significantly and efficiently help New Zealand's public health? The remaining ninety per cent has been along the lines of "Goddamn Nanny State, get out of my bread!"

Garth George, seemingly revitalised by a winter hibernation, has emerged to congratulate the government on its brave, bold decision to... postpone implementation until further research can be done. What that means, of course, is to postpone implementation until no one remembers what folate is or what all the fuss was about.
The Government's decision to put the kibosh on the plan to add folic acid to bread was a no-brainer.

The very idea of subjecting the entire population to this chemical on the off-chance it might prevent disease in 70-odd babies in any year was always utterly incomprehensible.
Hmmm:
  • By "disease", Garth means massively debilitating or fatal conditions such as spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • By "off-chance", Garth means actually a very good chance - a study in Canada showed that the mandatory fortification of bread with folic acid coincided with a 46% drop in neural tube defects.
  • By "chemical", he means folic acid, also known as folate, also known as vitamin B9. Folic acid is the exact same "chemical" that naturally occurs in plants such as... wheat.
  • By "70-odd babies", he means the 70-odd children that are born horribly deformed AND the potentially many more who are aborted every year once the condition is spotted on an ultrasound. Wait, isn't Garth against abortion? Turn out he hates Nanny State more.
Sigh. Where were we?
Particularly since there was absolutely no evidence that the folated bread would be eaten by those for whom it was intended - women about to become pregnant and in the first stages of pregnancy.

We are told that, in order for the folic acid to have the desired effect, such women would have to eat 11 slices of such bread every day.

For one thing, how many women know in advance they're going to get pregnant, even if they're determinedly trying; and for another how many know they are pregnant until they miss one, or possibly two, periods?
Why would we think that potential mothers would eat bread? Because it's bread, not fois gras. The whole point of the mandatory programme was that people wouldn't have to think about potential pregnancy, folate intake or even anything beyond 'Mmmm, sandwich...' As for the "11 slices of bread" myth - as someone pointed out in the letters today, that would be total amount needed if people ate only bread. Most of us, however, like a wee lettuce leaf or some such to supplement our crust.

You can see where this dumb idea came from. Imagine a group of "experts" sitting round discussing health matters when one of them says, "Why don't we ... ?" And the rest, without benefit of thought or scientific evaluation, reply, "Oh, what a good idea. Let's do it."

Living in the airy-fairy world of academic theory, they give no thought to the people on whom their weird and wonderful ideas are to be visited. Nor would they recognise that this sort of thing is nanny statism taken to its most sinister extremes.

Ha! You got them! Imagine a group of "experts" sitting around thinking they knew more about human physiology and chemistry than your average white middle-class New Zealander! Next you'll be telling me that the chief justice knows more about the legal and penal systems than some guy at the pub.

Now don't get me wrong. Spina bifida and other neural tube defects are horrifying, and the children who suffer from them and their parents deserve our deepest sympathy and unlimited support.

But the shotgun approach of putting folic acid in the bread eaten by the entire population would do nothing to alter the fact that a handful of children are going to be born each year with such disability.

Well, except for reducing that handful by (potentially) about 46 per cent. I'm sure your words of wisdom will be very comforting to those parents who have to deal with these conditions every day - or who have to go through the heartwrenching decision to abort. Such a sympathetic figure, aren't you? "Ain't nobody gon' put vitamins in my bread just to save the lives of a few dozen children a year!"

It makes you wonder what the so-called experts in various "disciplines" will get up to next. If we accept the practice of self-medicating the community to ward off all manner of specific health conditions, where would it end?

Would the liquor industry be required to put saltpetre in all alcoholic beverages to prevent rape? Will we have methadone in our milk to help ease the withdrawal of crack addicts? Perhaps Ritalin in the butter to help to improve the concentration of poor drivers? And maybe amphetamines in the fizzy drinks to help fight obesity? The possibilities are endless.

Yes Garth, the ridiculous, straw-man possibilities are endless. How about cyanide in our central North Island meat pies to stop unresearched and bigoted rubbish appearing in our newspapers? Methadone, of course, is used to relieve addiction to opioids and, hence, does not work for crack cocaine - but I can hardly expect Garth to have gone to the trouble of googling that. I won't bother to go to the trouble of explaining the disanalogy between folate, a compound that occurs naturally in all sorts of plants we eat every day, and drugs designed in a lab to modify human physiology, like amphetamines. Oh, I just did. That was easy.

But at least Garth is taking the issue seriously, right? I mean, he's not taking the piss out of families, communities and health workers struggling with the consequences of neural tube defects...
As I said, the folic acid in bread idea originated in Australia. Perhaps, next, they'll insist that steroids and beta blockers be added to Victoria Bitter ale to prevent the struggling (oh joy!) Australian cricket team losing the Ashes.

22 comments:

  1. Grrr your new 'preview' thing resulted in my losing what I wrote already.

    In summary: Natural doesn't automatically equal good. I'm not on Garth's side in any way, but since you made the point twice, I feel compelled to point this out.

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  2. I know that 'natural' doesn't mean 'good' - I did do a degree in ethics.

    But in this case the use of terms like 'chemical' to describe folate, and the comparisons with substances like methadone, is clearly aimed at making people think some foreign, artificial ingredient is being added to our food supply - it's not. As such, I think that it's a more than reasonable point to make.

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  3. Amphetamines in fizzy drinks - shit that would be interesting.

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  4. "How about cyanide in our central North Island meat pies to stop unresearched and bigoted rubbish appearing in our newspapers?"

    So much win...

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  5. In the context of defects with the word 'neural' in their name, a phrase other than a "no-brainer" might have served Garth better.

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  6. I can't wait for Garth to restropectively update it when he gets called on his mistakes...

    The very idea of subjecting the entire population to this chemical - a word that was brought to the Garth's attention by a thesaurus search for a scary synonym for vitamin - on the off-chance it might prevent disease in 70-odd babies in any year was always utterly incomprehensible - a fact that was brought to the Garth's attention by his outraged imaginary friends in the smoko room in his garage.

    Particularly since there was absolutely no evidence that the folated bread would be eaten by those for whom it was intended - women about to become pregnant and in the first stages of pregnancy - a claim that was brought to the Garth's attention by closing his eyes and imagining that few people eat bread.

    We are told (brought to the Garth's attention by the voices that talk to him when he turns off his power of rational thought) that, in order for the folic acid to have the desired effect, such women would have to eat 11 slices of such bread every day.

    For one thing, how many women know in advance they're going to get pregnant, even if they're determinedly trying; and for another how many know they are pregnant until they miss one, or possibly two, periods - a fact that was brought to the Garth's attention by his long-suffering wife who insisted he include it despite the distate he has for any talk of the ungodly menstrual cycle?

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  7. It seems likely that the term *headdesk* was created in response to one of Garth's columns.

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  8. My favourite thing about this week's column is still the title. A beautiful, abstract mixed metaphor. It stirs visions.

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  9. And what about this then...?
    http://www.newsday.com/news/health/should-you-take-folic-acid-1.1241520

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  10. Re: anon
    the amount you'd need to take to be at any kind of risk - hidden right near the bottom (and spelled out more clearly elsewhere) is over 1000 micrograms (1 milligram)

    It recommends that ALL women of childbearing age get 400 *micro* grams and pregnant women 600, which peaks at 1 milligram in women with a history of children with the folate-dificieny issues.

    In other words, 2 and a half times more than the amount that - if we were actually getting, we wouldn't even be discussing the adding it to bread issue. in Garthmatsh - 27.5 slices of bread a day.

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  11. Garth George scares me. Very few things scare me more than he does. The fact that our leading daily newspaper will publish this *e*a***d trash on a regular basis scares me, too. That paper is turning me into a very scared little man.

    Excellent work, James.

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  12. ... And the new photo is even scarier than the old one! ...

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  13. I find the best way to deal with Garth George is with a pair of scissors. Not in the Clayton Weatherston kind of way but by simply cutting his article out of the paper and throwing it in the bin. (I suggest you do the same at your place of work)

    I've actually done a deal with my local dairy owner, who, for a small fee, will cut the article out for me before I purchase it (and don't worry about missing any articles on the other side, it's the herald -- it'll only have an advert).

    We are now looking to expand the service to include Bill Ralston, Fran Sullivan, Deborah Hill Cone and my favourite media wh*re, Michael Laws.

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  14. I like your thinking Paul but if you take it to its logical conclusion there'll be nothing left other than the crossword, TV listings, and anything from the UK papers.

    I wonder if there's a market for a couple of sheets of A4 with just that content... hmm...

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  15. Jimmy, welcome back. This post was 'Coming to America' level good. No comments to make, as they have already been made.

    On a side note, do you think there is any way we could organise Garth George to be the MC at the first annual EtH awards? To entice him, we can promise a rider that includes a range of different types of meat pie, that the attendees will be exclusively caucasian while the staff involved in putting on the show will be exclusively foreign (but with valid working visas), and that we will all join hands and say grace after his opening monologue but before the first winner is announced.

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  16. Looking at that photo, I now think that it looks less like a comtemplative intellectual and more like the evil mastermind from a Hollywood movie deciding exactly how to deal with the captured protagonists.

    "Do you expect me to talk?"

    "No, Nanny State. I expect you to die!"

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  17. Do you think they updated his picture to the newer "Professor Garth" image, so that his faux-scientific babblings might be taken seriously?

    I couldn't help but notice he didn't mention that Vitamin D is added to milk to prevent diseases like rickets. Do you suppose that is because he chooses do drink directly from the cows udder? On closer inspection, I'm not sure that's a real moustache at all!

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  18. But Brad, Vitamin D is an essential vitamin and everyone knows vitamins are good for you.

    Folic Acid is a nasty chemical, I mean, it's a friggin acid! It's obviously evil.

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  19. The real issue here is which shady organisation decided to add ascorbic acid to oranges? I mean, someone must have put it in there, food wouldn't just have acid in it naturally!

    Goddamn nanny-nature.

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  20. this man is a myopic, dumb, reactionary cunt.

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  21. I love it when people pull out the 'C' word. Its so powerful and final. I will make an effort to use it this weekend.

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