Daily Archives: December 27, 2007

Raw milk fans oppose new California dairy standards

Raw milk producers and consumers weren’t told about the change until after the new law passed quietly earlier this year.

Associated Press | Dec 25, 2007

By MICHELLE LOCKE

BERKELEY, Calif.—Raw milk consumers oppose new dairy standards set to take effect next month in California that they say could outlaw some of their preferred products.

The new law doesn’t create an outright ban on raw milk, but producers believe it could dry up supplies by setting new bacteria limits they say are difficult to meet.

“There’s quite a ruckus right now,” said Mark McAfee, founder of Fresno-based Organic Pastures Dairy Company, the larger of two raw milk producers in California. “This is a huge issue and it goes directly to consumer choice. Consumers are fed up with the government being in their kitchens and they want to be able to make their independent choices about food they want to eat.”

State officials, on the other hand, say producers should be able to meet the standards, which they maintain are necessary for consumer safety.

The new standard, part of AB1735, takes effect in January, setting a limit of no more than 10 coliforms per milliliter.

Coliforms are a group of bacteria commonly found in the environment, most of which do not cause disease. Pasteurization, in which milk is heated, kills many bacteria, but in raw milk they’re still alive.

“We found that coliform count is indicative of a healthy and clean and wholesome production process for raw milk,” said Steve Lyle, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

But raw milk producers say their product is already tested for dangerous bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella. They contend that the presence of other coliforms in their milk are simply part of what makes their product unique, and in their view, healthier, by promoting a stronger immune system.

“There’s a bacteria paranoia in our country which is just out of control,” McAfee said.

Raw milk producers and consumers say they weren’t told about the change until after the new law passed quietly earlier this year.

Others states already have adopted the 10-coliform standard, and supporters of the stricter standards say it won’t necessarily spell trouble for the raw milk industry.

“Raw milk is legal in California and continues to be legal in California,” said Lyle, adding that testing showed that raw milk producers can meet the new standard.

The 10-coliform limit can be reached when milk is tested in bulk tanks, McAfee said, but it’s hard to get much below 15 in the bottle because the process breaks up clumps of coliforms, producing a higher count.

Some children fell ill last year after consuming Organic Pastures products, according to state officials. Five children reportedly were sickened, and officials discovered a possible sixth case.

However, testing at Organic Pastures did not detect the strain of E. coli that sickened some of the children.

McAfee said there was no connection between sick kids and his products and said state officials admitted that and signed a settlement agreement this summer.

Dr. Kevin Reilly, deputy director of the California Department of Public Health, said health officials still believe there is a compelling argument for an epidemiological link because all the children had consumed raw milk products.

But fans of raw milk, who say it helps with everything from asthma to digestive troubles, don’t want to see the product disappear from store shelves.

“It is just real food the way God made it, the way it was intended to be,” said Organic Pastures customer Linda Edin of Fresno. “It hasn’t been messed with in any way.”

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Gun seized after Katrina? NRA wants you

NRA: The Untold Story of Gun Confiscation After Katrina

Associated Press | Dec 26, 2007

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN

NEW ORLEANS – The National Rifle Association has hired private investigators to find hundreds of people whose firearms were seized by city police in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, according to court papers filed this week.

The NRA is trying to locate gun owners for a federal lawsuit that the lobbying group filed against Mayor Ray Nagin and Police Superintendent Warren Riley over the city’s seizure of firearms after the Aug. 29, 2005, hurricane.

In the lawsuit, the NRA and the Second Amendment Foundation claim the city violated gun owners’ constitutional right to bear arms and left them “at the mercy of roving gangs, home invaders, and other criminals” after Katrina.

The NRA says the city seized more than 1,000 guns that weren’t part of any criminal investigation after the hurricane. Police have said they took only guns that had been stolen or found in abandoned homes.

NRA lawyer Daniel Holliday said investigators have identified about 300 of the gun owners and located about 75 of them. Some of them could be called to testify during a trial, he added.

“Finding these folks has been a nightmare,” Holliday said. “That is really the guts of our case — to establish that there was indeed a pattern of the police going out and taking people’s guns without any legal reason to do so.”

In April 2006, police made about 700 firearms available for owners to claim if they could present a bill of sale or an affidavit with the weapon’s serial number.

An attorney for the city and a police department spokesman didn’t return a reporter’s telephone calls Wednesday.

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Bellevue, Wash.-based Second Amendment Foundation, said the police department has returned only about 100 of the 1,000 seized guns.

“Obviously, we don’t expect the city to find everybody. We only wanted to see a good-faith effort, and that’s what the city didn’t do,” Gottlieb added. “It’s a bad example to let them get away with it.”

In court papers filed Monday, NRA attorneys say finding the gun owners has been difficult because the storm has scattered so many residents.

New Orleans had an estimated 455,000 residents before Katrina, but less than two-thirds of that number live there now.

The NRA is asking for a delay in the trial, set to begin Feb. 19, saying they need more time to find gun owners. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier had not yet ruled on the request Wednesday.

NYPD Moves Ahead With Plate Scanners

Blacklisted News | Dec 23, 2007

New York City police are moving forward on a multimillion-dollar counter-terrorism initiative, installing more than a hundred license plate readers and eventually thousands of cameras in Lower Manhattan. NY1 Criminal Justice Reporter Solana Pyne takes a look at the program in the following report.

As Police officer Michael Gerbasi drives, a camera on the roof of his patrol car photographs license plates. A computer then checks a database to see, for example, if the car is stolen.

“It will notify us with an alert sound on the computer, and then actually there is a voice that speaks out and says, ‘stolen vehicle’ and it will give you a picture of the plate and a description of the vehicle,” says Gerbasi.

More than a hundred of the readers – some on cars, others in fixed places – are about to be deployed en-masse in Lower Manhattan as part of a massive $106 million counter-terrorism initiative years in the planning.

“Starting in January, we’ll be putting in our license plate readers. That will be, kind of, phase one of this program,” says Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The license plate readers are just the tip of the iceberg in what’s billed as the Lower Manhattan Security Initiative.

“We’re looking to put in, ultimately, a thousand cameras in public spaces, link it to 2,000 private sector cameras,” says Kelly.

All the cameras would be monitored by police at one location. Virtually anyone who walks or drives south of Canal Street could be under surveillance.

The plan also includes mobile barriers on streets the department says are key choke points into the area. They could be automatically moved into place, effectively sealing off Lower Manhattan.

“That will enable us to wall off that area in extreme situations,” says Kelly.

It’s all modeled on the so-called ring of steel in London, where cameras have helped authorities find terrorism suspects. It’s a first for the US.

“This is the first time that the government and the police in particular will have the ability to track everyone moving around in a public area,” says Chris Dunn of the NYCLU.

Concerned it’s an invasion of privacy, the NYCLU has issued freedom of information law requests to get more information about exactly how the program works.

“The police department should not be spending a hundred million dollars of public money to put up thousands of cameras to track New Yorkers without there being some public debate and some public oversight,” says Dunn.

Police say the only information kept long-term will be about suspected law breakers. And that the City Council already approved part of the $40 million dollars the department is using to get the program started.

Medicines killing thousands in UK

The Times | Dec 27, 2007

by David Rose

Nearly 3,000 patients have died in the past three years as a result of taking medicines intended to help them, official figures show.

Thousands more have been hospitalised after suffering harmful side-effects or serious allergic reactions to prescription drugs and other medications.

Almost half of the deaths occurred last year, while the number of reported adverse drug reactions has increased by 45 per cent over a decade. Growing numbers of patients taking aspirin and other medications for chronic illness such as heart disease could be fuelling the trend, experts suggest.

A total of 964 UK patients died because of suspected drug reactions in 2006, more than 200 after lengthy stays in hospital. A further 4,432 patients were also hospitalised but survived, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show.

Adverse drug reactions (ADRs) describe the unwanted, negative consequences associated with the use of any medications, as a result of medical error or otherwise. They represent a considerable burden on the NHS, accounting for 1 in 16 hospital admissions, at a cost of up to £466 million a year.

Patients admitted because of ADRs stay an average of eight days in hospital, research suggests, meaning that at any one time they take up the equivalent of up to seven 800-bed hospitals in England alone. Over the past three years, 2,846 patients died as a result of a suspected ADR, while 13,643 patients were hospitalised, the figures show.

Drugs most commonly implicated in adverse reactions include low-dose aspirin, diuretics, the anticoagulant drug warfarin and other nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs.

The most common problem associated with these medications is gastrointestinal bleeding, which can be fatal. But many of the reactions were likely to be because of incorrect dosages or known interactions of the drugs and as such were avoidable, research suggests.

The latest figures were revealed in answer to parliamentary questions by the Liberal Democrats. Norman Lamb, the party’s health spokesman, commented: “This is a dangerously escalating problem, which is putting lives at risk and placing a big cost burden on the NHS.” In addition, new “treatment targets” for specific long-term diseases, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol, are likely to lead to more patients taking medicines with possible interactions and side-effects, he said.

Approximately 20,000 reports of adverse drug reactions are made to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and Commission for Human Medicines every year through a spontaneous reporting system known as the “yellow card” scheme. But Dawn Primarolo, the Minister for Public Health, admitted that the yellow card scheme “is associated with an unknown level of underreporting”.

“In addition, it is important to note that the submission of a suspected ADR report does not necessarily mean that it was caused by the drug,” she added.

But the Government’s Chief Medical Officer said that the NHS could be better at learning from its prescribing mistakes. At a conference held by the National Patient Safety Agency last month, Sir Liam Donaldson said that drug allergies were a significant cause of avoidable harm in hospitals. He has also recommended that NHS organisations should be fined if patients are harmed while in their care.

“When someone has a known allergy and we give them the drug in error or a lack of awareness as to what’s being prescribed, the results can be fatal,” he said. “Although these are not common events, some mistakes are capable of being repeated and we have to become better at learning from these mistakes.”

Sir Liam recalled the case of Teresa Innes, 38, who lapsed into a coma in September 2001 after a surgeon at Bradford Royal Infirmary prescribed a drug containing penicillin as she was about to undergo a routine procedure to drain fluid from an abscess on her thigh. Despite wearing a red allergy band on her wrist and medical notes giving warning about her acute aversion to the antibiotic, Mrs Innes was given the drug Magnapen, which staff did not realise contained penicillin.

The former care worker suffered an-aphylactic shock, which stopped her heart for 35 minutes, resulting in permanent brain damage. She was left in a persistent vegetative state from which she never recovered. She died two years later.

Sir Liam added: “This is a tragic and avoidable case.”

Electronic tags to track dementia patients

Some groups representing the elderly, including the National Pensioners Convention, said that the idea was “shocking” and “inhumane”.

The Times | Dec 27, 2007

by Rosemary Bennett

Electronic tagging should be offered to dementia sufferers, allowing their relatives to locate them quickly should they wander off, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

The charity said that satellite tracking systems similar to those used for offenders, could help families to care for patients at home for longer.

People with dementia often feel a compelling urge to walk. Up to 60 per cent wander and 40 per cent have got lost, bringing distress to themselves and their families. As tracking technology becomes more sophisticated and affordable it could be used to help dementia sufferers to lead more independent lives, the charity said.

“We know new technology is available and could offer benefits to people with dementia and their carers,” said Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Tagging would have to be introduced sensitively, he said. “There is a careful balance to strike between empowering people and restricting their movement and this technology can certainly never be used as an alternative for high-quality dementia care.” Where possible, permission should be sought from the sufferer ? perhaps in advance, before he or she has reached the later stages of dementia.

Colin Smith, 76, a retired consultant from Oxfordshire who cares for his wife Maria, 79, has attempted to use tracking technology to help her to cope with her illness. An avid walker all her life, Mrs Smith has often wandered from home and been found several miles away after searches by family and neighbours.

Her husband said: “About four years ago, our consultant was experimenting with tracking devices and we got an early model to try. It was about the size of the video cassette but much heavier so not very practical. Things have progressed and we eventually got down to a device the size of a matchbox, and I could track it from my own computer. But what we need is something the size of a watch which you can track on your mobile phone.”

He has had to cope with several serious “wandering” incidents, including when his wife walked out of the Tate gallery on a summer afternoon. She was finally brought to a police station at 3.30 the next morning. “Maria was fine and kept saying how nice everyone had been. I was rather more upset, as you can imagine.”

However the system worked effectively when they went on holiday. “We were driving through France and I called the monitoring people to tell them. I was rather surprised when they said, ‘Yes, so we see, and we also saw you were doing 140kmph’.” Andrew Chidgey, head of policy at the Alzheimer’s Society, said that electronic tagging could considerably enhance thousands of lives. “Wandering is a real problem for many carers and we would rather they were able to use all the modern technology available than reach the end of their tether and think about a care home,” he said.

“Tagging can reassure people and actually help them to retain some independence, although safeguards would have to be put in place.”

He suggested that, with social care provision moving towards direct payment, patients would soon be able to choose how to spend their care allowances rather than just take what the local authority gave them. “It is highly likely that this sort of technology will be part of the care people will want to receive, so private companies should be aware that there could soon be a lot of demand,” he said.

The subject of tagging dementia patients was raised in the spring when Malcolm Wickes, a junior minister, suggested that it should be considered as part of the care on offer.

Some groups representing the elderly, including the National Pensioners Convention, said that the idea was “shocking” and “inhumane”.

Airport profilers: They’re watching your expressions

Della Winn, a TSA behavioral detection officer, watches over passengers as they approach a security checkpoint at Sea-Tac International Airport on Friday. Behavior-detection officers watch faces for expressions of fear, anger, surprise or contempt.

Blacklisted News | Dec 26, 2007

by Dan DeLong

If a pair of Transportation Security Administration officers strolling by a Sea-Tac Airport ticket counter wish you happy holidays and ask where you’re traveling, it might be more than just Christmas spirit.

Travelers at Sea-Tac and dozens of other major airports across America are being scrutinized by teams of TSA behavior-detection officers specially trained to discern the subtlest suspicious behaviors.

TSA officials will not reveal specific behaviors identified by the program — called SPOT (Screening Passengers by Observation Technique) — that are considered indicators of possible terrorist intent.

But a central task is to recognize microfacial expressions — a flash of feelings that in a fraction of a second reflects emotions such as fear, anger, surprise or contempt, said Carl Maccario, who helped start the program for TSA.

“In the SPOT program, we have a conversation with (passengers) and we ask them about their trip,” said Maccario from his office in Boston. “When someone lies or tries to be deceptive, … there are behavior cues that show it. … A brief flash of fear.”

Such people are referred for secondary screening, which can include a pat-down search and an X-ray exam. The microfacial expressions, he said, are the same across many cultures.

Since January 2006, behavior-detection officers have referred about 70,000 people for secondary screening, Maccario said. Of those, about 600 to 700 were arrested on a variety of charges, including possession of drugs, weapons violations and outstanding warrants.

Maccario will not say whether the teams have disrupted any terrorist operations. But he did say that there are active counterterrorism investigations under way that began with referrals from the program.

SPOT began spreading out to airports across the nation two years after initial testing began in 2003 in Boston, Providence, R.I., and Portland, Maine. It’s now at more than 50 airports and continues to grow.

Lynette Blas-Bamba manages Sea-Tac’s 12-officer behavior-detection team. Since the program started here in November 2006, more than 600 people have been referred for secondary inspections, she said. Of those, 11 were arrested.

The officers ask simple questions:

“How are you today?”

“Where are you heading?”

“Is this all your property?”

“It’s almost irrelevant what your answers are,” Maccario said. “It’s more relevant how you respond. Vague, evasive responses — fear shows itself. When you do this long enough, you see it right away.”

Maccario emphasized that the program takes into account the typical stress many of us experience when traveling, especially during the holidays.

Ordinary people who are feeling anxious are “much more open with their body movements and their facial expressions as compared to an operational terrorist (thinking) ‘I’ve got to defeat security,’ ” Maccario said. “We’re looking for behavior indicators that show a certain level of stress, fear or anxiety above and beyond that shown by an anxious member of the traveling public.”

The detection teams look for those indicators to spike when a traveler with something to hide approaches security checkpoints.

Blas-Bamba and her team were trained in fall 2006. She says she did behavioral detection of a sort in her last job as a probation officer. “We all do it to a degree. It’s just a matter of understanding and articulating what we see.”

Part of the training is a cultural awareness component, Maccario said. For example, in some cultures people don’t make eye contact with people in authority.

And to emphasize the sensitivity TSA is bringing to the program, he recalled a meeting with an association for people with Tourette’s disorder to assure them that having a tic will not result in a pat-down.

The TSA considers the program a powerful tool to root out terrorists, but also an antidote to racial profiling.

“We don’t care where you are from,” Maccario said. “It’s no longer subjective. If you are acting a certain way, that’s what is going to attract our attention.

“There is no reliable picture of a terrorist,” he added, citing American terrorists like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and “the fact that al-Qaida continues to recruit people that blend into society.”

The program, however, has raised privacy and civil liberties concerns.

“The problem is behavioral characteristics will be found where you look for them,” the American Civil Liberties of Massachusetts legal director John Reinstein told The Washington Post.

But Naseem Tuffaha, political chairman of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee’s Seattle chapter, looks at the program as a potential step away from racial profiling.

“Our message in working with federal and local authorities has been to make behavioral-based decisions rather than ethnic-profiling decisions. Our message is to really focus on suspicious behavior rather than suspicious-looking people,” he said.

But Tuffaha warned that if the TSA “only looked hard when somebody is Middle Eastern-appearing … then you are still conducting racial profiling under a different name.”

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Cameras to monitor airline passengers’ facial expressions and suspicious movements