FDA: Cloned meat is safe

Like a match set to a pile of paper, the birth of Dolly, the cloned sheep, set off a firestorm of controversy, and endless speculation regarding the cloning of animals. Now, 12 years later, another event has rekindled the smoldering ethical and moral debate: the FDA released a ruling last month stating that cloned farm animals are safe to eat.

While this decision may come as a shock to consumers intent on going organic, there is no reason to suspect eating cloned farmed animals is unsafe. These cloned animals are not born by traditional reproductive methods where sperm meets egg, but in some ways, the natural birthing process has already been stripped away from animals farmed for consumption. In the cattle industry, the sperm of a singular bull inseminates many female cows. Considered in this light, cloning seems to be just another step of human manipulation in the procreation process.

The FDA investigation is assuredly thorough, and undeniably controversial. The 986-page unreleased report concludes that there are no hidden risks from consuming food from clones. This report removes the U.S. regulatory ban—in place since 2003—of the marketing of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats. The report, which includes the raw data studied, analyzed 600 clones and their offspring. The authors found that the nutrient levels in cloned meat and milk were either the same or within normal, accepted ranges. When milk and meat from clones were fed to animals for at least 3½ months, there was no evidence of health problems, allergic reactions, or behavioral changes due to consumption. The report’s overall conclusion was unequivocal: provided that the clones are healthy, there is no reason to suspect products derived from them are unsafe.

The knee-jerk reaction of the media and governmental bodies to this FDA report is not surprising. In reality, it will take years before food from clones actually hits the market. The process of cloning is far more expensive than traditional breeding. Until the techniques are perfected and the cost of production is driven down, don’t expect to be able to buy cloned cow or duplicated ducks at the supermarket.

Another complication is the ethical concern that surrounds the life of a cloned animal. Dr. Gurfinkel, of the department of nutrition at U of T, raised an interesting point regarding this dilemma.

“At the present time, making a single viable clone requires thousands of embryos. Even when a cloned animal is made, the large majority are unhealthy and are born with genetic abnormalities that promote suffering. Now that it has been established that cloned animals are safe to consume, we have to ask ourselves about the welfare of these clones. Is the tradeoff of a novel farming method worth the suffering of the sick and frail clones?” said Gurfinkel.

Secondary to the animal welfare issues is the economic impact that these clones may have on American industry. There is a valid concern that farmed clones will undermine the wholesome image of American milk and meat. Taking the European Union ban on genetically modified organisms as a pertinent example, one has to wonder if clone farming can ever become a worthwhile industry. If the future holds a global ban on these clones, the entire enterprise will be lessened, and the export industry may suffer.

Policy makers need to look beyond the human health concerns of eating cloned farm animals when considering the FDA’s recent approval. This issue requires risk analysis based on moral and ethical grounds, in addition to the currently studied biological issues.

In the end, it’s Dolly who has the last laugh. The FDA hasn’t ruled on the safety of cloned sheep, citing a lack of information.

Come to the Cabaret

“There was a city called Berlin, where there was a cabaret, and it was the end of the world.”

For those whose midterms are stirring up a different sort of apocalyptic vision, here’s your chance to go back in time with the UC Follies’ production of the acclaimed Broadway musical Cabaret.

The scene is set in 1931 Berlin, bleak with political unrest, and the rising Nazi Party. It’s a grim era, but Weimar Germany also has a warm, sensual side—especially Berlin’s indulgent, pleasure-seeking Kit Kat Club. It is here that lead dancer Sally Bowles meets American journalist Cliff Bradshaw. When Sally’s boyfriend kicks her out of her home, she moves into Cliff’s boardinghouse room, and the two fall in love. They’re not the only ones engaging in a cross-cultural relationship: the owner of the boardinghouse, Fräulein Schneider, gets involved with a Jewish fruit vendor, Herr Schultz. Can either love withstand the political pressure descending on Berlin?

Despite being a musical, Cabaret is no fluffy romp. It delves into themes of abortion and prejudice, as everyone knows where Germany ends up as the 1930s progress. Nonetheless, Cabaret has received perpetual praise: the 1966 Broadway production earned an impressive eight Tony awards in its first run. Subsequent revivals in 1987 and 1998 have added four more Tonys, a Drama Desk Award, and a Theatre World Award to the musical’s mantelpiece.

An award-worthy performance can be expected from the UC Follies as well. The goal of this student company is to dispel the notion that amateur theatre always seems unprofessional. And if last year’s Follies production of Nine is any indication, director Stephen Low and musical director Lily Ling will once again be working magic.

The cast of Cabaret is made up of a mix of professionals and U of T students who just happen to have remarkable talent. They’ve been working since September on the production, which has been generating major buzz from New College to Vic, and in the mainstream media too: the UC Follies have fans at the Toronto Star and all over the blogosphere— a real feat. So, if you’re strolling by Hart House this week and hear a voice belting out, “Come to the cabaret!” don’t resist. Instead, buy yourself a bargain $12 ticket because this production is bound to please. Cabaret runs from Feb. 7 to 16 at Hart House Theatre. For more information, or to buy tickets, visit uofttix.ca

Literate ghosts

Philip Roth’s latest novel, Exit Ghost, is a book written by a literary geek, for an audience of literary geeks, about the sordid lives of other, fictional literary geeks. Reacquainting a cast of characters from his 1979 novel The Ghost Writer, Roth finds his protagonist Nathan Zuckerman returning to New York after an 11-year absence in New England. Nathan quickly becomes involved in a dispute over the publication of a controversial biography of his deceased mentor, E. I. Lonoff.

Near the novel’s end, Zuckerman describes Lonoff’s artistry as a “rumination in narrative form.” This description could easily apply to Roth’s own technique. The narrative is slight, but the book’s conflicts and characters are constructed in such a way that they intricately reveal the novel’s questions. Roth succeeds by having his novel connect with the themes and storylines he first presented in these other Zuckerman books. Ideas and plots are resurrected and then cast in a new, intriguing light.

Exit Ghost’s most prolonged intertextual resonance is with The Ghost Writer. In that book, Zuckerman narrates the history of Lonoff’s lover, Bellette, imagining she is the author of a book popular because the public believes its author to be dead. Bellette therefore must not reveal that she is alive—outrageous consequences follow.

In Exit Ghost, Lonoff’s biographer— a brash jerk from Harvard— reveals to Zuckerman that he has discovered a long-buried secret from Lonoff’s past. The biographer hopes that by publishing this secret, all of Lonoff’s writing will be reappraised by the literary community that has forgotten him.

The book’s characters seem to argue that a work of literature can only be understood through acquiring total knowledge of the author’s life. The major irony of Roth’s last Zuckerman novel—which was preoccupied with the author’s relation to his text—is that the correspondences Roth creates between Exit Ghost and the other Zuckerman books, especially The Ghost Writer, convince the reader of the fictionality of a literary work many consider to be a veiled autobiography of Roth himself.

Of course, the book is not so unequivocal. When Zuckerman reads a letter Bellette has written to the New York Times arguing against the biographical interpretation of Ernest Hemingway’s stories, he recognizes that she is motivated by her time with Lonoff. Is this Roth’s subversion of the book’s argument?

Suns gambit could payoff in playoffs

Those rumblings you’re hearing out of Miami these days aren’t the last stages of El Nino passing through the coast—they are the sound of the Phoenix Suns stealing the thunder from a hated division rival. Mere days after the Los Angeles Lakers pulled off their most recent attempt to placate temperamental superstar Kobe Bryant by acquiring all-star Pao Gasol, the Pacific Division- leading Suns upstaged their rivals by trading for one of the most dominant players in NBA history. Certainly the man known league-wide as “The Big Aristotle” is far removed from his Kazam days, or more importantly, the peak form that saw him win four NBA championships from 2000-2004 with those very same Lakers, but Shaq should still have enough gas left in the tank to help the Suns win games.

Acquiring the 35-year-old O’Neal is a high-risk/ high-reward move, representing Steve Kerr’s first major trade since taking over as general manager from current Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo: “I’m well aware that I’m on the line,” Kerr told The Associated Press. “That’s my job. That’s why I’m sitting in this seat. I’m comfortable with the decision. I think it gives us a better chance to win, and a better chance to win in the playoffs.”

While the dirty details are yet to be finalized, the principles of the deal will most likely see four-time all-star Shawn Marion head to the Heat along with point guard Marcus Banks in exchange for Miami’s star centre. Marion is the trade’s centrepiece as far as Miami is concerned. The team currently owns the worst record in the league (9-37) and needs to augment its expensive—and often unproductive— roster with both youth and athleticism. With Marion, who helped catapult the run-and-gun Phoenix team to elite status, the Heat acquire one of the most athletic players in the league. That relationship had soured in recent years, as the 29-year-old began to feel unappreciated in the team’s three-star lineup, alongside two-time MVP Steve Nash and 2003 Rookie of the Year Amare Stoudemire.

It’s now Marion’s time to shine in Miami, only sharing the spotlight with superstar guard Dwayne Wade on a team whose short-term fortunes have taken a turn for the worse since their 2006 championship season. The team can now build around Marion who, previously averaging 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in his ninth season with the Suns, an their lottery pick that could net talented players such as Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley or Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, who helped the top-ranked Tigers to an undefeated season.

Phoenix, on the other hand, entered into this trade with a win-now mentality. The team sees its window to win an NBA title closing as the 33-year-old Nash will be entering the final year of his six-year contract next season.. It’s easy to see the logic behind this move: Marion had the ability to opt out of his $17.2 million contract next season, and almost certainly would have because of his deteriorating relationships. Trading for Shaq gives the Suns roster certainty: the star centre has two more years guaranteed in his 40 million contract. In this poker game, the Suns have just gone all in.

Employing O’Neal brings the team a more conventional lineup, allowing the 6’10 Stoudemire a chance to return to his natural power-forward spot. The 7’1, 350-pound O’Neal also gives Phoenix some much-needed toughness upfront. With Shaq acting as enforcer, the team will no longer have to worry about teams like San Antonio taking liberties with its star players like Nash and Stoudemire, as it did during last year’s playoffs. The hope on Phoenix’s end is that O’Neal can remain healthy enough through the remainder of his contract to be a factor in their pursuit of a championship, and that the talented Nash can revitalize the sleeping giant, who is having the worst season of his career, averaging just 14.2 points and 7.8 rebounds. By adding the slow, hulking O’Neal to their fast-paced offence, the Suns may cease to be the most exciting team to watch. But if everything turns out the way they hope, they will be the most feared team in the league come playoff time.

McDonald’s and three other corporations are now granting valid, advanced high-school credits in the U.K., through privately-run training programs. What do you say to that?

Clockwise from top-left.

Aldeli, 2nd-year Women’s Studies

It’s a good thing for people who don’t have as many opportunities to finish their high school education, like older people who want to go back to school and go to university. At the same time though, it could be seen as an easy way out. People might say, ‘I don’t want to work hard at school so I’ll get my A-Level from McDonalds’.

Nancy, 4th-year English

It’s a great opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t get an education to learn employable skills, but it makes me feel icky because emphasis shifts to the private sector providing education. Public services might become lax if people are opting for the corporate option.

Annemarie (l) and Christalle (r), 3rd-year exchange students from Zurich and Paris

A—That’s frightening! And right in the European Union! C—It contradicts the objectivity of education. A—The state cannot give away its responsibilities like that.

Dan, 4th-year History

It’s a reasonable alternative to people dropping out.

Herpes email causes flare-up

An indignant article by Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford has raised the hackles of U of T administrators, who are defending their choice not to send a mass email informing female students about the vaccine Gardasil.

The vaccine was approved by Health Canada in July 2006 to immunize against four major strains of HPV, which cause 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases and 90 per cent of genital wart cases, and is known to increase the risk of contracting HIV. The vaccine is currently approved for females aged nine to 26.

The university’s clinic gives shots of Gardasil, which cost $400 and is not covered by OHIP for recipients older than 13.

Two Toronto physicians tried for six months to convince U of T to distribute the message.

The 42-word statement reads: “Cervical cancer is the second-most common cancer in women under age 50 today. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection at the U of T today. HPV can cause cervical cancer. Talk to your doctor about the new HPV vaccine.”

Dr. Rob Wagman and Dr. Raymond Tellier initially thought their proposal had been accepted when the university’s Health Services supported their plan.

“They thought it was an excellent idea,” said Wagman, who sits on U of T’s medical school faculty.

Several weeks later, Wagman and Tellier were told that U of T’s president David Naylor and VP and provost Vivek Goel had vetoed the mass emailing. Naylor and Goel both have a background in health care.

“There is no public health recommendation for mass immunization in our target age group,” said Naylor.

In a statement responding to Blatchford’s article, Goel noted that the Public Health Agency of Canada primarily recommends the vaccine for girls aged nine to 13.

“Experts agree […] that the most efficient use of the vaccine is in younger girls who are unlikely to be sexually active and therefore remain unex posed to HPV,” he wrote in an email Wednesday.

Goel added that the student health clinic website makes the information available for students, who can decide for themselves whether to pursue inoculation.

He also questioned the effectiveness of unsolicited mass emails. “Obviously, the university could send dozens of health-related messages to its students—on a range of important issues from safe sex to smoking cessation. We can only dimly imagine the resulting chorus of complaints from students about paternalistic and intrusive emails.”

The University of Ottawa has sent out a recommendation of the vaccine to both women and men, though Health Canada only finds it “favourable for prevention of infection” for females.

Tellier has pointed to the National Advisory of Immunization’s recommendation that females between 14 and 26 should also receive the vaccine.

Both he and Wagman said the message was meant to increase awareness of the cervical cancercausing virus, rather than advocate vaccination.

“We are not asking that the University of Toronto recommends the vaccine, but merely that it provides information by e-mail to its student listserv, or points to the relevant information,” said Tellier.

Dead students still repaying loans

The federal government is collecting on loans to student borrowers—dead or alive.

Since 2002, Ottawa has forwarded 100 accounts of deceased students to the Canada Revenue Agency, recovering $14,645.53 from their estates, according to figures obtained by the non-profit group Coalition for Student Loan Fairness under the Access to Information Act.

For student loans negotiated between 1995 and 2000, the government can still collect on loans if the death or permanent disability of the borrower occurs six months after graduation. This risk-shared regime, where financial institutions assumed the risk of the loan in return for a fixed payment from the government, ended in August 2000.

The government now directly finances all loans and forgives debts if the borrower dies.

For borrowers who become permanently disabled, debts could be forgiven if the Minister of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, Monte Solberg, is “satisfied” that the borrower “will be unable to repay the loan without exceptional hardship, taking into account the borrower’s family income,” reads the Canada Student Financial Assistance Act.

“Between April 2003 and June 2007, 921 Canada Student Loans with a total value of $6.5 million were forgiven due to the death of the borrower,” wrote Pema Lhalungpa, an assistant to Solberg, in an email Monday.

But families of deceased students with risk-sharing loans have been getting calls from collection agencies, and the CSLF is calling on the government to forgive those debts.

“There is no reason to have such different rules for the collecting of certain loans versus others,” said Julian Benedict, founder of the CSLF. “I don’t think it matters to the family of the dead borrower whether the loan was taken out in ’95 or 2000.”

Deceased borrowers’ estates are contacted to “determine if there are any available funds to be applied towards the debt,” Catherine Jolicoeur, a spokeswoman for the CRA, told the Canadian Press.

After a borrower’s income tax refunds are applied to the debt, Jolicoeur said, collection activity stops even if there is still money owed.

Jen Hassum, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, said the post-mortem collection was a manifestation of a larger student debt problem in Canada. “It’s an example of people falling through the cracks of an already broken system,” she said.

“The whole problem with the system is that it relies on loans,” Hassum said. “It’s a profit-driven approach to financial assistance, because they charge interest rates, there are collection agencies involved, there are third parties that run our loan system on a day-to-day basis.”

CFS has called for an end to interest on student loans and for the creation of a national system of need-based grants.

Solberg’s ministry also disburses scholarships through the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation, which is up for renewal this year. The University of Toronto Students’ Union wants the CMSF and the student loan program “merged into one system that would waste less on bureaucracy,” said Dave Scrivener, UTSU’s VP external.

“Our petition is calling for the creation of a national program, using money from the CMSF towards a dedicated, direct infusion into the system for grants,” he said.

Malcolm X’s daughter sets record straight

The name Shabazz still carries powerful connotations. It was the chosen name of one of the principal figures of the civil rights movement, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known to the world as Malcolm X. A commanding public persona, Shabazz was an eloquent speaker and inspirational leader whose philosophy still resonates worldwide today. His daughter Ilyasah now spreads his message, a responsibility she reflected upon during a speech Monday night at OISE.

“Education was one of the fundamental values my parents emphasized and instilled in my sisters and me,” said Shabazz, one of the civil rights leader’s six children.

“Both my parents understood the value of education and its critical importance to the advancement of our nation. Both understood the importance of education to the movement, and the ongoing struggle for human rights.” Speaking at Canada’s largest university, Shabazz’s discussion of universities’ responsibility called to mind images of her father’s infamous debate at Oxford prior to his death.

Her speech was part of Expression Against Oppression week, a series of campus events organized by UTSU’s equity commission to raise awareness of injustices at home and abroad. From Feb. 4 to 8, U of T will stage for a series of demonstrations, film screenings, art exhibits, and lectures.

On Monday night, 46-year-old Shabazz spoke about the need for an “eternal vigilance.”

“The worldwide struggle for equality and justice cannot be over when racial inequities still exist,” Shabazz told the near-capacity crowd. “In Toronto, there exists a socio-economic polarization between people of European descent and people of the [African] Diaspora, which is really shocking.”

While Shabazz’s discussion centered mainly on marginalized black Americans and Canadians, UTSU VP equity Sandy Hudson, who helped organize Shabazz’s talk, said that oppression crosses all social boundaries. “I think that even though the discussion of oppression was framed in a mostly African-American context, a lot of people can still take something from it, and make it personal for themselves,” said Hudson.

At a Q&A period at the end of the evening, a woman took the microphone to discuss parallels between injustices faced by Canadian First Nations people and African-Canadians, but was shouted down by the audience. Shabazz tried to calm the crowd, telling them she was only there to discuss her own experiences and could not speak to the experiences of First Nations people. Nevertheless, the woman was silenced.

Feb. 21 marked the 43rd anniversary of Malcolm X’s murder, and this month has historically been busy for Shabazz, author of Growing up X. With this year’s festivities coinciding with Black History Month, it proved challenging to fit the XAO event into Shabazz’s busy schedule: “Ilyasah announced the day she would be arriving almost at the last minute, and we only had four days to really promote that she would be speaking,” said Hudson. “I was very worried that there would not be a large turn out in the room for 500 people, but it was almost full, so I was shocked surprised and excited by the response.”