Echoes for grain-based foods in vaccination debacle

by Josh Sosland
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The ongoing controversy as to whether childhood vaccines cause autism in children may seem far removed from the food industry, but it doesn’t take much reflection to see chilling echoes in food generally and grain-based foods in particular.

The vaccine controversy began in 1998 when Lancet published a study linking a vaccine used to prevent measles, mumps and rubella to autism-like disorders found in a group of 12 children. In the years that followed, these findings were discounted by the scientific community, but many parents, fearful that vaccines may be harmful, refused to have their children immunized. As a result, their children and others face heightened risk of disease.

Earlier this month, a study was published accusing the author of the 1998 study not of shoddy science but of deliberate fraud. Many of the study subjects were documented to have shown symptoms of autism before vaccination. According to news accounts, though, the latest findings probably will not relieve all parental fears, and vaccination levels will not fully recover.

In several countries, the incidence of measles has risen on this account. Within food, the episode resembles a study suggesting high-fructose corn syrup causes obesity. While no fraud is even suggested, this study has been retracted by its authors because HFCS does not contain elevated levels of fructose, which have been linked to obesity. Still, the vaccination/autism ordeal underscores the difficulty faced by corn refining as it seeks to reverse public concerns.

Even closer to home for baking, recent surveys suggest that a top reason doctors are prescribing gluten-free diets for certain patients is due to alleged links between gluten intake and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders as well as ... yes, autism. Serious study is (and should be) under way exploring the possible connection between celiac disease and a range of health conditions. Because celiac impedes the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, there are reasons to examine any number of potential health problems that could result. Grain-based foods must apply hyper vigilance to ensure that the science surrounding this issue is sound and that the possible problem for celiac patients is not generalized into a broad fear that bread causes either autism or ADHD.
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