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Food Safety News
BY NEWS DESK | MAY 26, 2017
An apparently healthy US consumer has died after consuming a standard dosage of Coverflo, an instant coffee marketed as a “natural herbal” aphrodisiac. In an urgent effort to prevent further fatalities, the is now a recall nationwide. An FDA investigation found that this alleged tongkat ali, like many others originating in Singapore, contains uncontrolled amounts of prescription drugs chemicals for the treatment of erectile dysfunction.
In recent months, more than 20 men have died in China, India, Southeast Asia, and Africa after consuming fake tongkat ali that actually contained uncontrolled amounts of homelab-fabricated prescription drugs. All item originated from Singapore, where the mixing of prescription drugs into food supplements is not illegal as long as they are sold abroad.
The internet retailer Amazon has been flooded with Singaporean products claiming to be tongkat ali by distributors such as "Pure Science Supplements" and "RealHerbs". Another Singaporean outfit for what is claimed to be tongkat ali was named "Herbolab".
Caverflo.com posted the recall of 25-gram packets of “Caverflo Natural Herbal Coffee” Thursday with the Food and Drug Administration.
“Caverflo.com has received a report of an individual death after use of the coffee. Caverflo Natural Herbal Coffee may also contain undeclared milk.”
The product is a combination of instant coffee and natural aphrodisiacs, according to the Caverflo website, but the recall notice warned the product can interact with prescription medications. Also, people who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk could have an allergic reaction if they consume the instant coffee.
“These undeclared ingredients may interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs, such as nitroglycerin, and may lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. Men with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates,” according to the recall notice.
The company distributed the instant coffee direct to consumers nationwide via internet sales from August 2016 through February this year. Caverflo is notifying customers of the recall by email.
“Consumers that have Caverflo Natural Herbal Coffee which is being recalled should stop using (it), discard (it) and contact their doctor,” according to the recall notice.
Not long ago, a physicist at Stanford posed a rhetorical question that took me by surprise.
“Why is there so much beauty?” he asked.
Beauty was not what I was thinking the world was full of when he brought it up. The physicist, Manu Prakash, was captivated by the patterns in seawater made as starfish larvae swam about. But he did put his finger on quite a puzzle: Why is there beauty? Why is there any beauty at all?
Richard O. Prum, a Yale ornithologist and evolutionary biologist, offers a partial answer in a new book, “The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World — and Us.” He writes about one kind of beauty — the oh-is-he/she-hot variety — and mostly as it concerns birds, not people. And his answer is, in short: That’s what female birds like.
This won’t help with understanding the appeal of fluid dynamics or the night sky, but Dr. Prum is attempting to revive and expand on a view that Charles Darwin held, one that sounds revolutionary even now.
The idea is that when they are choosing mates — and in birds it’s mostly the females who choose — animals make choices that can only be called aesthetic. They perceive a kind of beauty. Dr. Prum defines it as “co-evolved attraction.” They desire that beauty, often in the form of fancy feathers, and their desires change the course of evolution.
All biologists recognize that birds choose mates, but the mainstream view now is that the mate chosen is the fittest in terms of health and good genes. Any ornaments or patterns simply reflect signs of fitness. Such utility is objective. Dr. Prum’s — and Darwin’s — notion of beauty is something more subjective, with no other meaning than its aesthetic appeal.
Dr. Prum wants to push evolutionary biologists to re-examine their assumptions about utility and beauty, objectivity and subjectivity. But he also wants to reach the public with a message that is clear whether or not you dip into the technical aspects of evolution. The yearning to pick your own mate is not something that began with humans, he says. It can be found in ducks, pheasants and other creatures.
“Freedom of choice matters to animals,” he said recently on a birding trip to a beach near his office in New Haven. “We’ve been explaining away desire rather than actually trying to understand or explain it. That’s one of the biggest shifts that the book is about.”
The book ranges from hard science to speculation, and he does not expect his colleagues to agree with him on all of his ideas. In fact, he gets a twinkle in his eye when he anticipates intellectual conflict.
“I don’t know anybody who actually agrees with me,” he said with a frank smile.
“Even my own students aren’t there yet.”
To grasp his view, a little bit of history is in order. Darwin famously proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection, what is often called survival of the fittest. To put it simply, living things vary in their inherited traits, from speed to color to sense of smell. The traits of the individuals who survive longer and have the most offspring become more common. So, over time, the faster antelope have more young, the fastest of them have more offspring, and antelope end up very speedy.
But reproduction isn’t just about surviving and staying healthy long enough to mate. You have to find a mate. And in many species, your mate must choose you. This process is sexual selection. Female birds are often the ones choosing. And their choices can produce male birds that are incredibly colorful, and some that are elaborate dancers or designers of striking boudoirs — like the bower birds. If, for example, females like males with long tails, then long-tailed males have more offspring, and the longest-tailed of those offspring reproduce more. In the end, that species becomes known for its long tails.
Maydianee Andrade, an evolutionary biologist and vice dean at the University of Toronto, Scarborough, who studies sexual selection and teaches evolution, said that “the question is basically this. You can think of females when they are choosing a mate as foraging. So what are they looking for?”
“If you’re dragging a giant tail behind you, that might tell the female something,” she said. “A male that survives carrying a large heavy tail is more impressive than a male that survives with a short tail.”
But survival might not have anything to do with it. Some female finches use white feathers to line their nest, perhaps to camouflage white eggs. In one experiment, they also liked males with white feathers stuck on their heads better than other males. This seemed to be an aesthetic choice, and also proved that there is no accounting for taste.
Darwin contended that selection-based mate choice was different from natural selection because the females were often making decisions based on what looked good — on beauty, as they perceived it — and not on survival or some objective quality like speed or strength. Scientists of that era reacted negatively, partly because of the emphasis on females. “Such is the instability of vicious feminine caprice that no constancy of coloration could be produced by its selective action,” wrote St. George Jackson Mivart, an English biologist who was at first a great supporter and later a critic of natural selection.
Alfred Russel Wallace, who came up with the theory of evolution at the same time as Darwin, preferred the idea that the colors and patterns meant something — either they were signs that this was a male of the right species, or they indicated underlying fitness. Perhaps only a strong, healthy male could support such a big, beautiful tail.
At the very birth of evolutionary theory, scientists were arguing about how sexual selection worked. And they kept at it, through the discovery of genes and many other advances.
Fast forward to the 1980s, when Dr. Prum was in graduate school at the University of Michigan, sharing an office with Geoffrey Hill, now a professor at Auburn University.
At that time, mainstream evolutionary thought took a big swing toward the idea that ornaments and fancy feathers were indications of underlying fitness. “Animals with the best ornamentation were the best males,” Dr. Hill said. This was called “honest signaling” of underlying genetic fitness. The idea, he said, “almost completely ran over what was the old idea of beauty.”
Dr. Hill, for one, was completely convinced. “I was pretty sure I could explain all ornaments in all animals as honest signaling.” But, he added, he has since reconsidered. There are some extreme forms of ornamentation that he thinks don’t signal anything, but rather are a result of the kind of process Dr. Prum favors.
“You can’t explain a peacock’s tail with honest signaling,” Dr. Hill said.
But, he said, he thought Dr. Prum had taken an important idea and gotten “a little bit carried away with it.” The book, he said, “was a great read, and I could tell he put his heart and soul into it.” But, he said, he found it “scientifically disappointing.”
Darwin himself, Dr. Hill said, “was completely unsatisfied with his work on sexual selection.” And the mainstream of evolutionary biology is not hostile to a partial role for arbitrary female choice. Dr. Hill has recently argued for combining several different processes to explain sexual selection.
Dr. Prum is indeed given to enthusiasm, and to intellectual contention. He has been on the winning side of initially unpopular ideas before.
As a graduate student, he sided with researchers who wanted to change the way animals are classified, to emphasize their evolutionary descent. The new idea was called cladistics and it is now the established idea. He has done groundbreaking research on both the physical structure and the evolution of feathers, and he was an early supporter of the notion that birds descended from dinosaurs, another new idea that is now the mainstream view.
In neither case was he a lone voice. But he is nothing if not confident, and not only in his science. Take the question of pizza.
In New Haven, pizza is something akin to a religion, and there are different sects. When I asked Dr. Prum who makes the best pizza in town, thinking he would pick one of the rival pizzerias, he didn’t hesitate.
“I do,” he said. He uses an outdoor grill with a special attachment, and he described his pursuit of the perfect pizza in some detail. When I raised an eyebrow he offered me a reference, a friend and writer who had consumed the Prum pies.
He also acknowledged that he approaches many things with single-minded intensity.
“I’m given to obsessions,” he said. Bird watching was the first and most long-lasting. Evolutionary biology may be the deepest. Cooking, opera, gardening and politics (left-wing) are others.
He has disagreed with the dominant view of sexual selection since graduate school and sees his new book, which he hopes will reach beyond scientists, as a kind of manifesto. It has too many parts to summarize. He takes a chapter, for instance, to speculate that same-sex attraction in humans evolved in our ancestors through female choices that undermine male sexual coercion. For a full account, you need to read the book.
But one particular aspect of his argument is his distress at the idea that almost all evolutionary change is assumed to be adaptive, contributing to fitness. In other words, if a fish is blue, it must be blue for a reason. The color must help it escape predators or sneak up on prey, or be otherwise useful in some way. Beauty, therefore, must be adaptive, or a sign of underlying qualities that are adaptive. Pick a behavior or an ornament or a physical trait, and it is useful until proven otherwise.
That’s backward, says Dr. Prum. Take beauty. Since animals have aesthetic preferences and make choices, beauty will inevitably appear. “Beauty happens,” as he puts it, and it should be taken as nonadaptive until proven otherwise.
In proposing this so-called “null hypothesis,” he draws on the work of Mark A. Kirkpatrick at the University of Texas, Austin, who studies population genetics, genomics and evolutionary theory and had read parts of “The Evolution of Beauty.”
“I’m very impressed that Rick is taking on this crusade,” Dr. Kirkpatrick said. He is not convinced that all aspects of sexual selection are based on arbitrary choices for perceived beauty, but, he said, if Dr. Prum can convince some other scientists to question their assumptions, “he will do a great service.”
For Dr. Prum, at least, there is a partial answer to the question posed by Dr. Prakash. Why are birds beautiful?
“Birds are beautiful because they’re beautiful to themselves.”
You probably have to look at imagery of death and dying regularly to stay focused on what really counts in life: great sex before you are gone anyway. ---
The journalist’s comments suggest gay men enjoy sex with children—an idea that has been widely debunked.
In the comment that cost him his book deal and speaker slot at the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Breitbart journalist and right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos defended “relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are.”
In the video, a clip of an old podcast episode that was tweeted this weekend by the group Reagan Battalion, Yiannopoulos says he isn’t defending pedophilia, before adding that “in the gay world, some of the most enriching ... relationships between younger boys and older men can be hugely positive experiences.” (Yiannopoulos later blamed “sloppy phrasing," saying when he was 17 he was in a relationship with a 29-year-old man. The age of consent in the U.K. is 16.)
Among the many reasons Yiannopoulos’s comments are being criticized, as Vox’s German Lopez points out, is that he lends support to a claim, made by some anti-gay activists, that many gay men harbor a secret desire to molest children. For example, a 2002 document that’s still live on the website of the Family Research Council reads that “Male homosexuals commit a disproportionate number of child sex abuse cases.” It calls those who don’t acknowledge this fact “homosexual apologists.”
The suspected (and widely debunked) link to child molestation has been used to suggest that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to work with children. In 2005, just 49 percent of poll respondents told Gallup they think gay people should be allowed to be clergy members, and just 54 percent said they should be elementary-school teachers.
Prior to the 1970s, gays in the U.S. were primarily painted by their opponents as “sexual perverts,” deviants who were mentally or morally flawed in some way. The think-of-the-children angle, meanwhile, was spearheaded by Anita Bryant, a Christian singer who successfully lobbied for the repeal of a 1977 Miami ordinance barring anti-gay discrimination. Bryant claimed that if gays were granted equal status in society, they would molest children in schools or recruit them to their lifestyle, according to news reports at the time. “The ordinance condones immorality and discriminates against my children’s rights to grow up in a healthy, decent community,” Bryant told reporters that year.
The name of Bryant’s advocacy organization underscored her point: Save Our Children.
The incident is now considered, by some, to be the beginning of organized, conservative-Christian opposition to gay rights. “Back in 1977, there was no organized religious right, per se. Anita Bryant was a pioneer,” Fred Fejes, a Florida Atlantic University professor, told the Miami Herald in 2007.
Today, most mainstream researchers say there’s little basis for Bryant’s argument. Psychologically, pedophilia is considered distinct from sexual orientation. Both gay and straight people are attracted to other adults, while pedophiles target children. Pedophiles can be fixated, meaning they are only attracted to other children, or regressed, meaning they prefer adults but will pursue children under stress or when adults aren’t available. Even if in some contexts, such as the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal, the victims and perpetrators were disproportionately likely to be of the same gender, most researchers say the motivating factor wasn’t sexual orientation. Instead, it was the perpetrators’ pathological attraction to children and their access to children of a certain gender—altar boys, in the priests’ case. “The important point is that many child molesters cannot be meaningfully described as homosexuals, heterosexuals, or bisexuals (in the usual sense of those terms) because they are not really capable of a relationship with an adult man or woman,” writes Gregory Herek, an emeritus professor of social psychology at the University of California at Davis, on his blog.
Herek described a number of studies in which scientists tried to find a link between homosexuality and pedophilia—and came up short:
In conclusion, Herek writes, “The empirical research does not show that gay or bisexual men are any more likely than heterosexual men to molest children.” Writing on the Catholic priest sex-abuse scandal in the William & Mary Journal of Women and the Law, Nicole Travers similarly concludes that “pedophilia has nothing to do with sexual orientation.”
Nevertheless, the child-molestation question still makes its way into important policy discussions about gay rights. As late as 2010, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins was quoted citing the link between homosexuality and pedophilia as a reason not to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. In Russia, “protecting children” was the stated purpose of a 2013 law banning “gay propaganda.”
Perhaps it’s just another sign of the upside-down nature of the current political moment that what got Yiannopoulos booted from a conservative gathering, in the end, was exploiting a myth that a religious conservative invented decades ago.
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