Consumer Health Digest #10-23

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
June 10, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Bill to expand VA chiropractic coverage advances. By a vote of 365-6, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed the "Chiropractic Care Available to All Veterans Act" (H.R. 1017), which would provide chiropractic care at all Veterans Administration Medical Centers (VAMC). The bill aims to add "chiropractic care" to the VA's medical and rehabilitative services and add "periodic and preventative chiropractic examinations and services" to its preventive health services. The VA currently has 28 chiropractors providing care at 36 VAMCs. The bill, which has attracted no media attention, would require the VA to provide care at 75 VAMCs by the end of calendar year 2011 and at all 153 by the end of calendar year 2013. Assuming that chiropractic care would be provided at the current level of service to individual centers, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the VA would require 24 additional chiropractors in 2011 and 41 more by 2014. Based on an average cost per chiropractor of $115,000 in 2010 and after adjusting for inflation, CBO estimates that the bill would cost $3 million in 2011 and grow to $13 million a year by 2014. It is not clear, however, whether the OMB or the legislators who voted for H.R. 1017 considered whether "periodic and preventive chiropractic services" have any value. Many chiropractors claim that to promote general health, everyone should be checked periodically from birth onward to detect and correct "subluxations." This process, commonly referred to as "preventative maintenance," has no plausible rationale, has never been tested, and is not a covered service under Medicare. It is not clear what might happen if H.R. 1017 becomes law and the VA hires chiropractors who espouse "preventative maintenance."

Another study supports current vaccine schedule. An epidemiologic study of children who were vaccinated against hepatitis B, whooping cough (pertussis) and chicken pox (varicella vaccines) has found that the timing of the shots did not influence whether they developed diabetes. The authors concluded: "Suggestions that diabetes risk in humans may be altered by changes in the timing of vaccinations also are unfounded." [DeStafano F and others. Childhood vaccinations, vaccination timing, and risk of type 1 diabetes mellitus. Pediatrics 108:e112, 2001] The study is one of several that have explored whether it is safer to follow the recommended vaccine schedule or to spread inoculations over a longer period of time, as recommended by maverick physicians and celebrities who spread unfounded fears that the recommended schedule places excessive demands on the immune system, thereby resulting in autism and other disorders. The scientific consensus remains that delays gain nothing and leave children unnecessarily vulnerable to serious infection during infancy. [Crislip M, Barrett S. Do children get too many immunizations? The answer is no. Quackwatch, May 29, 2010]

Court document spotlights Cell Tech decline. A ruling in a tax case has described how Cell Tech International went downhill after the Oregon Department of Agriculture banned the sale of algae products for human consumption that contain one part per million of microcystin (a toxic substance). Cell Tech and/or its distributors sold algae products with claims that they were rich in nutrients and effective against many ailments. However, the products had no proven value for treating any medical problem, and their safety was a matter of dispute. In 1996, the company's gross receipts were close to $200 million. However, as the judge noted:

The microcystin regulation was an immediate public relations disaster for Cell Tech. Sales fell as customers worried that Cell Tech's food supplements were unsafe. In 1997, Cell Tech's gross receipts were about $113 million, down more than $80 million from 1996. In 1998, gross receipts were about $69 million; in 1999, $52 million; and in 2000, $37 million.

For several year, the company froze and stored its harvested algae with the hope that another use could be found for it. But eventually the owners (Daryl J. Kollman and Marta C. Carpenter) concluded that it was worthless and dumped it on land owned by Carpenter. The government is seeking more than $10 million in income taxes, penalties, and statutory additions for tax years 1996 and 1997. The judge ruled that they were entitled to a $5.1 million deduction in 1998 for the dumped material.

Court upholds action against unlicensed food co-op. John and Jacqueline Stowers, who tried to operate an unlicensed store by calling it a "food cooperative" have lost the first round of a suit intended to block government regulation of their business. In 2008, armed with a search warrant, government officials seized records and computers. About two weeks later, the Stowers filed suit, claiming that their business should be exempt from regulation. [Barrett S. Unlicensed "food co-operative" battling government authorities. Quackwatch, May 26, 2010] In February 2010, however, the county court dismissed the suit, ruling that their business (Manna Storehouse) not only sold food retail, but marked it up to make a profit and is subject to the same regulation as any store. After the ruling, a county official said the county would take no further action unless it hears about sales continuing at the farm. [O'Donnell P. Manna Storehouse in Lorain County still battles over food license, inspection after judge tosses lawsuit. Metro, March 13, 2010]

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This page was posted on June 10, 2010.