Daily Archives: March 28, 2010

Regulated or Not, Nano-Foods Coming to a Store Near You

A science committee of the British House of Lords has found that nanomaterials are already appearing in numerous products, among them salad dressings and sauces. Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, says that they’re also being added to ice cream to make it “look richer and better textured.” Getty Images

Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that nanoparticles pose potential risks to human health — and, more specifically, that when ingested can cause DNA damage that can prefigure cancer and heart and brain disease.

AOL News | Mar 24, 2010

by Andrew Schneider

For centuries, it was the cook and the heat of the fire that cajoled taste, texture, flavor and aroma from the pot. Today, that culinary voodoo is being crafted by white-coated scientists toiling in pristine labs, rearranging atoms into chemical particles never before seen.

At last year’s Institute of Food Technologists international conference, nanotechnology was the topic that generated the most buzz among the 14,000 food-scientists, chefs and manufacturers crammed into an Anaheim, Calif., hall. Though it’s a word that has probably never been printed on any menu, and probably never will, there was so much interest in the potential uses of nanotechnology for food that a separate daylong session focused just on that subject was packed to overflowing.

In one corner of the convention center, a chemist, a flavorist and two food-marketing specialists clustered around a large chart of the Periodic Table of Elements (think back to high school science class). The food chemist, from China, ran her hands over the chart, pausing at different chemicals just long enough to say how a nano-ized version of each would improve existing flavors or create new ones.

One of the marketing guys questioned what would happen if the consumer found out.

The flavorist asked whether the Food and Drug Administration would even allow nanoingredients.

Posed a variation of the latter question, Dr. Jesse Goodman, the agency’s chief scientist and deputy commissioner for science and public health, gave a revealing answer. He said he wasn’t involved enough with how the FDA was handling nanomaterials in food to discuss that issue. And the agency wouldn’t provide anyone else to talk about it.

This despite the fact that hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have shown that nanoparticles pose potential risks to human health — and, more specifically, that when ingested can cause DNA damage that can prefigure cancer and heart and brain disease.

Despite Denials, Nano-Food Is Here

Officially, the FDA says there aren’t any nano-containing food products currently sold in the U.S.

Not true, say some of the agency’s own safety experts, pointing to scientific studies published in food science journals, reports from foreign safety agencies and discussions in gatherings like the Institute of Food Technologists conference.

In fact, the arrival of nanomaterial onto the food scene is already causing some big-chain safety managers to demand greater scrutiny of what they’re being offered, especially with imported food and beverages. At a conference in Seattle last year hosted by leading food safety attorney Bill Marler, presenters raised the issue of how hard it is for large supermarket companies to know precisely what they are purchasing, especially with nanomaterials, because of the volume and variety they deal in.

Craig Wilson, assistant vice president for safety for Costco, says his chain does not test for nanomaterial in the food products it is offered by manufacturers. But, he adds, Costco is looking “far more carefully at everything we buy. … We have to rely on the accuracy of the labels and the integrity of our vendors. Our buyers know that if they find nanomaterial or anything else they might consider unsafe, the vendors either remove it, or we don’t buy it.”

Another government scientist says nanoparticles can be found today in produce sections in some large grocery chains and vegetable wholesalers. This scientist, a researcher with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, was part of a group that examined Central and South American farms and packers that ship fruits and vegetables into the U.S. and Canada. According to the USDA researcher — who asked that his name not be used because he’s not authorized to speak for the agency — apples, pears, peppers, cucumbers and other fruit and vegetables are being coated with a thin, wax-like nanocoating to extend shelf-life. The edible nanomaterial skin will also protect the color and flavor of the fruit longer.

“We found no indication that the nanocoating, which is manufactured in Asia, has ever been tested for health effects,” said the researcher.

Some foreign governments, apparently more worried about the influx of nano-related products to their grocery shelves, are gathering their own research. In January, a science committee of the British House of Lords issued a lengthy study on nanotechnology and food. Scores of scientific groups and consumer activists and even several international food manufactures told the committee investigators that engineered particles were already being sold in salad dressings; sauces; diet beverages; and boxed cake, muffin and pancakes mixes, to which they’re added to ensure easy pouring.

Other researchers responding to the committee’s request for information talked about hundreds more items that could be in stores by year’s end.

For example, a team in Munich has used nano-nonstick coatings to end the worldwide frustration of having to endlessly shake an upturned mustard or ketchup bottle to get at the last bit clinging to the bottom. Another person told the investigators that Nestlé and Unilever have about completed developing a nano-emulsion-based ice cream that has a lower fat content but retains its texture and flavor.

The Ultimate Secret Ingredient

Nearly 20 of the world’s largest food manufacturers — among them Nestlé, as well as Hershey, Cargill, Campbell Soup, Sara Lee, and H.J. Heinz — have their own in-house nano-labs, or have contracted with major universities to do nano-related food product development. But they are not eager to broadcast those efforts.

Kraft was the first major food company to hoist the banner of nanotechnology. Spokesman Richard Buino, however, now says that while “we have sponsored nanotech research at various universities and research institutions in the past,” Kraft has no labs focusing on it today.

The stance is in stark contrast to the one Kraft struck in late 2000, when it loudly and repeatedly proclaimed that it had formed the Nanotek Consortium with engineers, molecular chemists and physicists from 15 universities in the U.S. and abroad. The mission of the team was to show how nanotechnology would completely revolutionize the food manufacturing industry, or so said its then-director, Kraft research chemist Manuel Marquez.

But by the end of 2004, the much-touted operation seemed to vanish. All mentions of Nanotek Consortium disappeared from Kraft’s news releases and corporate reports.

“We have not nor are we currently using nanotechnology in our products or packaging,” Buino added in another e-mail.

Industry Tactics Thwart Risk Awareness

The British government investigation into nanofood strongly criticized the U.K.’s food industry for “failing to be transparent about its research into the uses of nanotechnologies and nanomaterials.” On this side of the Atlantic, corporate secrecy isn’t a problem, as some FDA officials tell it.

Investigators on Capitol Hill say the FDA’s congressional liaisons have repeatedly assured them — from George W. Bush’s administration through President Barack Obama’s first year — that the big U.S. food companies have been upfront and open about their plans and progress in using nanomaterial in food.

But FDA and USDA food safety specialists interviewed over the past three months stressed that based on past performance, industry cannot be relied on to voluntarily advance safety efforts.

These government scientists, who are actively attempting to evaluate the risk of introducing nanotechnology to food, say that only a handful of corporations are candid about what they’re doing and collaborating with the FDA and USDA to help develop regulations that will both protect the public and permit their products to reach market. Most companies, the government scientists add, submit little or no information unless forced. Even then, much of the information crucial to evaluating hazards — such as the chemicals used and results of company health studies — is withheld, with corporate lawyers claiming it constitutes confidential business information.

Both regulators and some industry consultants say the evasiveness from food manufacturers could blow up in their faces. As precedent, they point to what happened in the mid-’90s with genetically modified food, the last major scientific innovation that was, in many cases, force-fed to consumers. “There was a lack of transparency on what companies were doing. So promoting genetically modified foods was perceived by some of the public as being just profit-driven,” says Professor Rickey Yada of the Department of Food Science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.

“In retrospect, food manufacturers should have highlighted the benefits that the technology could bring as well as discussing the potential concerns.”

Eating Nanomaterials Could Increase Underlying Risks

The House of Lords’ study identified “severe shortfalls” in research into the dangers of nanotechnology in food. Its authors called for funding studies that address the behavior of nanomaterials within the digestive system. Similar recommendations are being made in the U.S., where the majority of research on nanomaterial focuses on it entering the body via inhalation and absorption.

The food industry is very competitive, with thin profit margins. And safety evaluations are very expensive, notes Bernadene Magnuson, senior scientific and regulatory consultant with risk-assessment firm Cantox Health Sciences International. “You need to be pretty sure you’ve got something that’s likely to benefit you and your product in some way before you’re going to start launching into safety evaluations,” she explains. Magnuson believes that additional studies must be done on chronic exposure to and ingestion of nanomaterials.

One of the few ingestion studies recently completed was a two-year-long examination of nano-titanium dioxide at UCLA, which showed that the compound caused DNA and chromosome damage after lab animals drank large quantities of the particles in their water.

It is widely known that nano-titanium dioxide is used as filler in hundreds of medicines and cosmetics and as a blocking agent in sunscreens. But Jaydee Hanson, policy analyst for the Center for Food Safety, worries that the danger is greater “when the nano-titanium dioxide is used in food.”

Ice cream companies, Hanson says, are using nanomaterials to make their products “look richer and better textured.” Bread makers are spraying nanomaterials on their loaves “to make them shinier and help them keep microbe-free longer.”

While AOL News was unable to identify a company pursuing the latter practice, it did find Sono-Tek of Milton, N.Y., which uses nanotechnology in its industrial sprayers. “One new application for us is spraying nanomaterial suspensions onto biodegradable plastic food wrapping materials to preserve the freshness of food products,” says Christopher Coccio, chairman and CEO. He said the development of this nano-wrap was partially funded by New York State’s Energy Research and Development Authority.

“This is happening,” Hanson says. He calls on the FDA to “immediately seek a ban on any products that contain these nanoparticles, especially those in products that are likely to be ingested by children.”

“The UCLA study means we need to research the health effects of these products before people get sick, not after,” Hanson says.

There is nothing to mandate that such safety research take place.

The FDA’s Blind Spot

The FDA includes titanium dioxide among the food additives it classifies under the designation “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS. New additives with that label can bypass extensive and costly health testing that is otherwise required of items bound for grocery shelves.

A report issued last month by the Government Accountability Office denounced the enormous loophole that the FDA has permitted through the GRAS classification. And the GAO investigators also echoed the concerns of consumer and food safety activists who argue that giving nanomaterials the GRAS free pass is perilous.

Food safety agencies in Canada and the European Union require all ingredients that incorporate engineered nanomaterials to be submitted to regulators before they can be put on the market, the GAO noted. No so with the FDA.

“Because GRAS notification is voluntary and companies are not required to identify nanomaterials in their GRAS substances, FDA has no way of knowing the full extent to which engineered nanomaterials have entered the U.S. food supply,” the GAO told Congress.

Amid that uncertainty, calls for safety analysis are growing.

“Testing must always be done,” says food regulatory consultant George Burdock, a toxicologist and the head of the Burdock Group. “Because if it’s nanosized, its chemical properties will most assuredly be different and so might the biological impact.”

Will Consumers Swallow What Science Serves Up Next?

Interviews with more than a dozen food scientists revealed strikingly similar predictions on how the food industry will employ nanoscale technology. They say firms are creating nanostructures to enhance flavor, shelf life and appearance. They even foresee using encapsulated or engineered nanoscale particles to create foods from scratch.

Experts agreed that the first widespread use of nanotechnology to hit the U.S. food market would be nanoscale packing materials and nanosensors for food safety, bacteria detection and traceability.

While acknowledging that many more nano-related food products are on the way, Magnuson, the industry risk consultant, says the greatest degree of research right now is directed at food safety and quality. “Using nanotechnology to improve the sensitivity and speed of detection of food-borne pathogens in the food itself or in the supply chain or in the processing equipment could be lifesaving,” she says.

For example, researchers at Clemson University, according to USDA, have used nanoparticles to identify campylobacter, a sometimes-lethal food-borne pathogen, in poultry intestinal tracts prior to processing.

At the University of Massachusetts Amherst, food scientist Julian McClements and his colleagues have developed time-release nanolaminated coatings to add bioactive components to food to enhance delivery of ingredients to help prevent diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease and hypertension.

But if the medical benefits of such an application are something to cheer, the prospect of eating them in the first place isn’t viewed as enthusiastically.

Advertising and marketing consultants for food and beverage makers are still apprehensive about a study done two years ago by the German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment, which commissioned pollsters to measure public acceptance of nanomaterials in food. The study showed that only 20 percent of respondents would buy nanotechnology-enhanced food products.

U.S.-EU expand Open Skies accord

AP | Mar 25, 2010

by Harry R. Weber

ATLANTA – An aviation agreement that allows airlines to operate flights more freely between the U.S. and Europe is being expanded to include more cooperation between the countries on security and ease of travel.

The Transportation Department said Thursday the U.S. and European Union agreed that the terms of the 2007 pact should remain in place indefinitely.

The new agreement expands U.S.-EU cooperation on safety and competition, provides greater protections for U.S. carriers from local restrictions on night flights at European airports, and includes an article on the importance of high labor standards in the airline industry.

The expanded cooperation on security calls for the U.S. and the EU, when possible, to rely on each other’s security measures to a greater degree to reduce unnecessary duplication. The security efforts will include regular consultations on changes in existing requirements, coordination of airport assessment activities, air carrier inspections where possible and exchange of information on new security technologies and procedures.

DOT did not immediately provide details of the night flights issue, though shipping giant UPS said it will benefit because the measure helps ensure that night flight restrictions at European airports are more consistent. Under the agreement, the policies between airports can’t be arbitrary and must be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis, UPS spokesman Norman Black said.

As for the labor issue, according to documents released by the DOT, the U.S. delegation noted that labor groups in this country have benefited by having a single representative for a work group at an airline. That principle has helped promote rights for both airline flight and ground workers to organize themselves and to negotiate and enforce contract agreements.

Some workers at British Airways are currently on strike and workers of at least two other European carriers have threatened a walkout. In the U.S., the Railway Labor Act limits the ability of unionized airline workers to strike.

The new agreement contains no commitment to change existing statutes that limit foreign ownership in U.S. carriers and bar foreign control of U.S. carriers, DOT spokesman Bill Mosley said.

Foreign ownership in a U.S. air carrier is limited to 25 percent of the voting interest in the carrier.

Besides giving airlines greater access to serve other countries, open skies agreements also are a necessary step to allow U.S. and foreign carriers to form their own pacts to share costs and revenue and coordinate flight schedules.

For example, Delta Air Lines and Air France-KLM have a joint venture on trans-Atlantic flights.

An open skies agreement between the U.S. and Japan reached in December seeks to relax flights between the two countries. Already, American Airlines has signaled that it wants to cooperate more closely with partner Japan Airlines.

A joint venture allows airlines to share costs and revenue on certain flights regardless of which airline owns or flies the aircraft. It differs from a codesharing agreement where one airline bears all the costs but another airline might get a share of the revenue for booking a customer on a flight.

The DOT said the new U.S.-EU agreement was concluded after eight rounds of talks, the most recent of which included three days of talks in Brussels.

A trade group for U.S. carriers hailed the expanded open skies agreement, while a trade group for international airlines said it was disappointed there wasn’t significant progress on the foreign ownership issue.

The original pact eliminated restrictions on services between the U.S. and EU member states, allowing airlines from both sides to select routes and destinations based on consumer demand for both passenger and cargo services, without limitations on the number of U.S. or EU carriers that can fly between the two markets or the number of flights they can operate.

US deaths double in Afghanistan as troops pour in

In this March 2, 2010 photo, U.S. Army Task Force Pegasus flight medic Sgt. Nathaniel Dabney closes the door of a medevac helicopter in preparation for takeoff, after loading aboard a wounded U.S. Marine, during an ongoing firefight, in Helmand province, Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

Associated Press | Mar 27, 2019

by Sebastian Abbot

KABUL – The number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan has roughly doubled in the first three months of 2010 compared to the same period last year as Washington has added tens of thousands of additional soldiers to reverse the Taliban’s momentum.

Those deaths have been accompanied by a dramatic spike in the number of wounded, with injuries more than tripling in the first two months of the year and trending in the same direction based on the latest available data for March.

U.S. officials have warned that casualties are likely to rise even further as the Pentagon completes its deployment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and sets its sights on the Taliban’s home base of Kandahar province, where a major operation is expected in the coming months.

“We must steel ourselves, no matter how successful we are on any given day, for harder days yet to come,” Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a briefing last month.

In total, 57 U.S. troops were killed here during the first two months of 2010 compared with 28 in January and February of last year, an increase of more than 100 percent, according to Pentagon figures compiled by The Associated Press. At least 20 American service members have been killed so far in March, an average of about 0.8 per day, compared to 13, or 0.4 per day, a year ago.

Britain, which has the second largest contingent, has lost at least 33 troops since Jan. 1, compared with 15 for the same period last year.

The steady rise in combat deaths has generated less public reaction in the United States than the spike in casualties last summer and fall, which undermined public support in the U.S. for the 8-year-old American-led mission here. Fighting traditionally tapers off in Afghanistan during winter months, only to peak in the summer.

After a summer marked by the highest monthly death rates of the war, President Barack Obama faced serious domestic opposition over his decision in December to increase troops in Afghanistan, with only about half the American people supporting the move. But support for his handling of the war has actually improved since then, despite the increased casualties.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll at the beginning of March found that 57 percent of those surveyed approved his handling of the war in Afghanistan compared to 49 percent two months earlier. The poll surveyed 1,002 adults nationwide and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Michael O’Hanlon, a foreign policy expert at the Brookings Institution, said the poll results could partly be a reaction to last month’s offensive against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in Helmand province, which the Obama administration painted as the first test of its revamped counterinsurgency strategy.

Some 10,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan forces seized control of the farming community of about 80,000 people while suffering relatively few deaths. But the Taliban continue to plant bombs at night and intimidate the locals, and the hardest part of the operation is yet to come: building an effective local government that can win over the loyalty of the people.

“My main thesis … is that Americans can brace themselves for casualties in war if they consider the stakes high enough and the strategy being followed promising enough,” O’Hanlon said. “But such progress in public opinion is perishable, if not right away then over a period of months, if we don’t sustain the new momentum.”

A rise in the number of wounded — a figure that draws less attention than deaths — shows that the Taliban remain a formidable opponent.

The number of U.S. troops wounded in Afghanistan and three smaller theaters where there isn’t much battlefield activity rose from 85 in the first two months of 2009 to 381 this year, an increase of almost 350 percent. A total of 50 U.S. troops were wounded last March, an average of 1.6 per day. In comparison, 44 were injured during just the first six days of March this year, an average of 7.3 per day.

The increase in casualties was partly driven by the higher number of troops in Afghanistan in 2010. American troops rose from 32,000 at the beginning of last year to 68,000 at the end of the year, an increase of more than 110 percent.

“We’ve got a massive influx of troops, we have troops going into areas where they have not previously been and you have a reaction by an enemy to a new force presence,” said NATO spokesman Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale.

The troop numbers have continued to rise in 2010 in line with the recent surge. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that a third of the additional forces, or 10,000 troops, are already in Afghanistan. They plan to have all 30,000 troops in the country before the end of the year.

U.S. officials have said they plan to use many of the additional forces to reassert control in Kandahar province, where the insurgents have slowly taken territory over the past few years in an effort to boost their influence over Kandahar city, the largest metropolis in the south and the Taliban’s former capital.

Many analysts believe the Kandahar operation will be much more difficult than the recent Marjah offensive because of the greater dispersion of Taliban forces, the urban environment in Kandahar city and the complex political and tribal forces at work in the province.

The goal of both operations is to put enough pressure on the Taliban to force them to the negotiating table to work out a political settlement to end the war — a process the U.S. believes will only gain momentum once the militant group has lost traction on the battlefield.

“Until they transition to that mode, then we will have fighters ready to take shots at us and plant IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” said Lt. Col. Calvert Worth Jr., commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines Regiment in central Marjah.

Ex-Scientology lawsuits reveal elite Sea Org group

In this March, 12, 2010 photo, The Church of Scientology’s Golden Era Productions film editing suite is seen at the facility in San Jacinto, Calif. The complex is the main video and multimedia production facility and home to about 400 so-called Sea Organization members. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Associated Press | Mar 27, 2010

by Gillian Flaccus

SAN JACINTO, Calif. – At the edge of arid foothills far outside Los Angeles, hundreds of Scientology followers live on a gated, 500-acre campus and work long hours for almost no pay reproducing the works of founder L. Ron Hubbard and creating the church’s teaching and promotional materials.

The church says its 5,000 so-called Sea Organization members are religious devotees akin to monks who are exempt from wage requirements and overtime. But two lawsuits filed by two former Sea Org members, as they are known, allege the workers are little more than slave laborers, forced to work 100-hour weeks for pennies and threatened with manual labor if they cause trouble.

Marc Headley and his wife, Claire, are seeking back pay and overtime that could add up to $1 million each, according to their attorney, Barry Van Sickle.

Experts say the plaintiffs face an uphill battle; one similar lawsuit in state court has already been dismissed, although the plaintiff plans to appeal.

But the dispute has nonetheless focused unwelcome attention on the Sea Org, which operates as a nerve center for the church’s most important business. While Sea Org members hold positions of authority within the international church, from the public relations team to the top leadership, lower-ranking members make up much of the work force.

The members are Scientology’s most devoted followers: they sign a billion-year pledge, vow not to have children and live and work communally.

Scientology has been sued by disgruntled members before, but experts believe these suits are the first to use labor law to challenge the premise that the Sea Organization is akin to a fraternal religious order.

A victory for plaintiffs would “certainly go to the heart of Scientology’s self-identification as a religion,” said J. Gordon Melton, director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and author of a scholarly book on Scientology.

“If they were to win this suit and the people who are in the Sea Org decided they wanted money, that would lead to, if not the collapse, then a great deal of harm,” he said. “They depend upon these people.”

Marc Headley devoted half his life to churning out the works of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard on an assembly line before working on in-house films and designing the audiovisual displays seen in Scientology churches worldwide.

Headley, who claims he escaped the gated facility in 2005, says he and others were threatened with forced labor and psychological abuse if they caused trouble.

“These folks are working for a year or two or three in a row on an hour or two of sleep a night. They’re zombies,” Van Sickle said. “If people had some money in their pockets or a good night’s sleep, they probably wouldn’t stick around.”

The Church of Scientology vehemently denies the allegations and claims the plaintiffs are liars looking for money.

“When you sign up as a Sea Org member, you’re signing up as a member of a religious order,” Jessica Feshbach, a church spokeswoman and 16-year Sea Org member, said of the plaintiffs. “You’re a volunteer. You sign a contract that says, ‘I’m not going to be paid minimum wage and I know that.'”

Headley’s federal lawsuit, which alleges labor violations at the Hemet facility, is set for trial in November in Los Angeles. His wife, Claire, makes similar allegations, but also claims she was coerced into having an abortion to comply with the Sea Org members’ no-child policy, Van Sickle said.

Church officials say Sea Org members are not asked to have abortions, but must leave the order if they become pregnant.

The lawsuits are similar to unsuccessful claims filed by an ex-seminarian who left the Roman Catholic church and sued for minimum wage over menial labor, said Melton, the Scientology expert. A federal appeals court last week upheld a finding that minimum wage law did not apply.

Headley joined Sea Org at 16 after being raised by Scientologist parents. He moved to the gated campus near Hemet in 1989.

At first, he devoted himself to Hubbard’s teachings, a blend of Eastern religion, alternative psychology and management theory.

Practitioners believe they can eliminate negative energy from past lives through study and “auditing” sessions that use electronic devices called “e-meters” to detect mental trauma. Adherents hope to attain a state called “clear” before becoming “Operating Thetans,” or pure spirits.

The Sea Org traces its roots to 1967, when Hubbard, who was also a science fiction writer, took his most dedicated followers on sea voyages to explore early civilizations and spread his teachings. Its members — called ministers — live communally and often wear maritime-style uniforms with ranks.

Headley, 36, says he began to question the religion while working for an average of 39 cents an hour to mass produce cassettes that he says cost the church $1 to make but sold for $75. He also helped make CDs and DVDs and the expensive e-meters used in auditing sessions before graduating to working on in-house film production, he says.

In 15 years, he said he earned $29,000, a total he surpassed in his first year of business on his own.

Church leaders, who have labeled Headley a heretic, dispute his story and say he was an incompetent troublemaker.

Sea Org members happily receive room and board, medical and dental care, a $50 weekly personal allowance, three weeks of annual vacation and free auditing and religious instruction for their lifetime devotion, church officials said.

Each day includes two hours of Scientology study and short meal breaks.

At Golden Era Productions, about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles, a guard keeps watch at the compound’s main gate.

Inside, some 400 Sea Org members live in hotel-like dorms modeled on Scottish highland architecture and eat in a log cabin-style cafeteria that features super-sized bottles of multivitamins on each table. The grounds include a golf course, a large lake and a network of paths.

The facility is calm — until the topic of Headley comes up. During an AP reporter’s visit, which was videotaped and photographed by the church, spokesman Tommy Davis repeatedly admonished the reporter for inquiring about Headley and other detractors, whom he called “terrorists” for associating with Anonymous, a group that has targeted Scientology with protests and has hacked into the church’s Web site.

“We’re kind of sick of people who think that they can do this with us, people who used to work here, who can leave, who are lying — and we know they’re lying,” said Davis. “It’s a pretty nice place to live and work, and we feel that way.”

Headley, who has written a book about his experiences, said during a phone interview that he endured 24-hour surveillance, roll call three times a day and censored mail. Sleeping quarters were watched at night, floodlights illuminated the campuses and escape routes were blocked during security drills. The church denies that, saying Sea Org members are free to come and go as they please.

Headley said he decided to leave in 2005 after church officials accused him of reselling old film equipment. They said they were going to begin investigating his actions and place him in a rehabilitation camp.

Davis said Headley embezzled more than $13,000, but they never filed suit against him or sought criminal charges.

Headley says he was given permission to sell old equipment on the Internet, and that he never stole anything. He claims he fled on a motorbike with $200, two days’ worth of clothes and a cell phone. Security gave chase, but when Headley crashed his bike in a ditch a passer-by called 911 and sheriff’s deputies arrived, he said. He thinks the officers scared off his pursuers and prevented his recapture.

Headley’s wife got out of Golden Era two weeks later by fleeing a “minder” who had been sent with her to an off-campus doctor’s appointment, Headley said. She found her husband through an old e-mail address he never shared with the church.

“There’s no shortage of the things Scientology will do to silence their critics,” said Headley, who now lives with his wife and two kids in Burbank, where he runs his own audiovisual installation business.

“Hopefully, we can end this and other people won’t have to suffer like I did.”