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EarthSave promotes a shift toward a healthy plant-based diet.
Vol 19 No. 6
December 2008

Vaccines, Factory-farmed Animals, and the Politics of Autism;
Toxic Soup

By C. M. Killian

In mid-October, on national news networks, we heard the story of a severely-autistic 13-year-old boy adrift in an ocean overnight being able to stay alive, in part due to his optimistic spirit and light-hearted repetition of lines from his favorite Disney movies. The cheeriness of many children like him with severe autism ought to be an inspiration to us all, especially during a time of much controversy in the debate on the best methods of explaining, preventing, and treating autism. On Sept. 3, the week before, CNN, and CBS had reported that a new study had shown that the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine—long declared by some parents of autistic children to be responsible for their children’s autism--does NOT cause autism, that it is safe.

Although encouraging the American public to continue to have confidence in the vaccination process, which could be considered noble, the September 3rd CNN report did nothing to further public understanding of the complicated science and politics behind autism research. It also failed to mention that some vaccines, like the flu vaccine, still contain large doses of Thimerosal, and that the MMR vaccine, either by itself or in combination with other thimerosal-containing vaccines, is currently on trial in Federal courts, with 8 test cases out of 9 to be heard starting this year, and 4900 lawsuits waiting in the wings. This year will also see major studies about alternative theories of causation of autism coming out, as it is becoming clear that the number of cases of autism is still rising, despite the removal of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal from almost all vaccines five to seven years ago.

Many of us have questions about autism: What causes autism? Is it true what anti-vaccine groups are saying—that vaccines or the mercury-containing thimerosal within them causes it? What does consumption of dairy have to do with autism?? What can anyone do to help these unfortunate children and their families?

If one looks into the story of autism, one makes some disturbing discoveries. One finds that the gene theory of causation is extremely popular and such research is generously funded, whereas other theories such as that vaccines or some of the excesses of Western culture (such as pollution) might be part of the etiology of autism have been generally under-funded and slandered. Theories which blame environmental factors--such as dairy, various pollutants, or (in the case of autism) the vaccines--are thought too simplistic, even by many autistics’ family members. They are also thought too general for the diverse kinds of factors that probably contribute to the development of autism in individual children. The diagnosis of autism itself can mean many things: cases range from “mild” to “severe” autism to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder on the “autism spectrum disorder” scale.

One of the most disturbing discoveries one finds—among many others--is that children with autism, both “mild” and “severe” cases, are routinely being given high dosages of psychiatric medication—medication which is known to have negative effects on brain and nervous system development!!!

The Politics of Autism and the Decision to Vaccinate (Or Not)

Other distressing information about autism comes to light. One discovers that the Food and Drug Administration, the regulator of pharmaceuticals, as well as upper management at Merke and Eli Lilly manufactures had for years ignored evidence that vaccines were related to autism, even though major players in the pharmaceutical industry knew it by 1991. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that there had been a little-publicized deal struck between the pharmaceutical companies, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control: the pharmaceutical companies would quietly begin taking thimerosal out of vaccinations and pediatricians would postpone some of the birth vaccines until the baby was two to six months old.

Shockingly, one discovers that Eli Lilly executives, working with Bush Jr.’s White House, had been able to secretly put an “immunity” clause into the Patriot Act of 2002, absolving them of any future liability in lawsuits filed by parents who felt their children were damaged by vaccines (later repealed due to public outcry). (Psychologist Bruce Levine terms Eli Lilly scandals such as these “Lillygates”.)1

We all heard the results of the Hannah Poling case, decided last fall before even going to trial, the first of the 9 test cases (among 4900) regarding vaccinations and autism to be settled in Federal “Vaccine Court” (before trial), and the first case in which the government admitted that their vaccinations had “triggered” a case of autism. However, they claimed that this was a rare case, that Hannah Poling had an underlying mitochondrial disorder, an unusual “predisposition”, which had contributed to her development of autism.

In light of all this, parents considering vaccinations now still have many questions, but answers are difficult to come by. How safe are vaccinations now, truly, as only 60% of thimerosal has been removed (and some is still used in “processing”), but only as a supposed “precautionary measure”? Are children still being struck down by autism? And why are autistics’ parents’ group still protesting about thimerosal? Are they really just “looking for someone to blame” as one parent of an autistic girl claims? The politics of autism has made true scientific inquiry into the subject difficult. Emotions run high among the victims of autism as well as the vaccine-makers—and vaccine-promoting FDA, NIH and WHO officials. The “money trail” often leads back to the pharmaceutical-industrial complex—the pharmaceutical companies, the government regulators and the doctors who too often work together for less than lofty reasons.

As an indication of the inefficiency of the politics of autism, we remember that although thimerosal’s safety began being questioned in the seventies by autistics advocacy groups, the truly scientific study of thimerosal was NOT done by the FDA as one might expect, but was begun in the late nineties by university researchers, and the removal of thimerosal from the vaccines is said to have actually been completed in U.S. pharmaceuticals by only 2003!

So the incidence of autism should be going down since approximately 2000. Yet, government figures indicate that the numbers of children being diagnosed with classic/severe autism are smaller, but only by approximately 50% between 1999 and 2007. So what is the relationship between thimerosal and autism? What else might be causing autism? Some scientists, such as those at the John Hopkins School of Public Health, are beginning to suspect that other sources of toxic metals in a young child’s or fetus’ development may, as thimerosal has been thought to, be providing the “trigger” dose of mercury and/or other toxic metals which leads to autism. Currently, for example, John Hopkins is investigating the effects auto exhaust fumes, pesticides and other pollutants can have on the development of babies and small children’s brains and central nervous systems as they relate to autism.

Environmental sources of mercury are many, but one of the prime suspects today is the fish we eat—such as swordfish, sea bass, halibut, and tuna among others. They can too often contain toxic levels of mercury and it is often recommended to pregnant women that they eat it only two times per month at most.

Shockingly, according to John Robbins’ prize-winning research, fishmeal is also the main component of the feed of our factory-farmed animals! Doctors began surmising in 1999 that the high dose of mercury in thimerosal combined with another high dose of a different form of mercury in fish could lead to autism. Perhaps the mercury found in our food supply, combined with other factors, might help explain autism today? We shall see if our society can rise above the politics and focus on much needed research in this area.

A New Variable: The Meat/Poultry, Fish and Dairy Connection

So reputable scientists reporting in such journals as the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, Toxicology and the Journal of Integrative Medicine generally concur now that thimerasol (and possibly merthiolate, another mercury-containing vaccine preservative) can be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, for children who also had either other sources of mercury and/or toxic metal in their diet/ environment and/or low inherited or genetic tolerance to mercury/toxic metals.2

More like the “bale of straw that broke the camel’s back” for some, as it was finally discovered by FDA scientists and Neal Halsey, M.D. of the John Hopkins School of Public Health, a famous international epidemiologist, in 1999. These scientists finally “did the math” on thimerosal and found that in vaccinating a child on the usual “schedule” of vaccinations, a child might receive 85-87 times the FDA standard for mercury before age 6 months!3 This depended on how many of their vaccinations were drawn from the “large vial” containers! It may be possible, again, that this kind of dose of mercury can also be found in other environmental sources.

Halsey investigated the theory that the ethyl-mercury/vaccine + methyl-mercury/fish = autism connection. American fish of the past hundred years have contained higher and higher levels of mercury and other toxic metals because the water they live in is routinely contaminated with them. This pollution’s sources are everything from smelter smoke deposits and pollution from various industries to water run-off from factory farms. At the same time as the mercury in our environment and diet was going up, vaccination schedules, with multiple vaccinations in one shot and/or one visit to the doctor’s office, had begun to include more and more thimerosal—particularly in the 1990’s, when the nation also experienced a large percentage increase in the numbers of young children with severe autism.

However, things are not so simple. Apparently, an environmental source of mercury or other toxic metal can be inserted into either of the variables in the above equation, and under a standard set of conditions (including possibly genetic), autism results.

One of the scientists responsible for the discovery that different toxic metals can work together synergistically and devastatingly was Dr. Boyd Haley, Chair of the Chemistry Department at the University of Kentucky. In a 2002 interview with Arthur Allen, he called ethyl mercury and methyl mercury, “oink and oink-oink”.4

Where do we find toxic metals and how does mercury pollution happen in the food chain? First, mercury gets dumped into the water from water runoff from metal mines, smelters (where metals such as gold and silver are purified), chemical factories, and nuclear- and coal-fueled power plants, and factory waste (including that from factory farms). Fish consume water in huge amounts. As many of us know, mercury doesn’t just pass through an animal’s body easily; all of the mercury in a small fish that a bigger fish eats is passed on to that fish, along with the mercury that THAT fish has eaten, and then an even larger fish eats the smaller fish and picks up all ITS mercury PLUS its own, and so on. When a mammal (including human) eats fish, or otherwise absorbs mercury, they too cannot digest the mercury well, and end up storing it in their bodies, primarily in their fat, or in the case of females, in their fat and mammary glands.

Apparently, if there exists a preexisting genetic predisposition, “mitochondrial disorder” or if the dose of mercury is too high for the immune or secretion systems of the body to handle, the mercury can also ”float around” the body and wreak havoc on the brain and central nervous system, the endocrine system and the digestive system. Theoretically the human eating the “wrong bite” at the top of the food chain could be ingesting a huge dose of mercury, which could be devastating for a small one.

Most of us know that virtually all fish in America now are contaminated with mercury. However, many may not be aware that mercury-contaminated fishmeal became, as meat production became industrialized and geared towards profits in the latter part of the 20th century (when autism was first seen and began growing in the U.S.), a primary source of food for food animals, such as cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. In fact, mercury-containing fishmeal is the main component of ninety-percent (90%) of the food fed to chickens on factory farms, and half of all of the feed fed to factory-farmed animals in general! Such mercury contamination in the food supply is thought to have effects on developing childrens brains!5

What About Regulations Controlling Meat and Dairy Safety?

Food inspectors from the Department of Agriculture are notorious for “looking the other way” when it comes to inspecting animal products for toxins, according to food-crusader John Robbins on-going study. And Caryn Hartglass of Earthsave International notes: “Food safety is worse today than ever before.”

Additionally, shockingly, according to Food and Water Watch (www.foodandwaterwatch.org, 2008)6, the fishmeal which is used to feed farm animals (and other fish) routinely has been found by independent researchers to have an average of 51ppb (ranging from 7 to 91 ppb) of mercury—when FDA regulators are supposed to declare it unsafe at 20 ppb. Most fishmeal and animal products are tested at a rate of 1 out of every 1,000 or 10,000 products.

It is well-known that any lactating mammal that has ingested a toxin will excrete it through her breast milk. Hence, toxic metals may be found in high amounts in dairy.7 One fact which may confirm that animal products are providing some of the toxins involved with autism is that dairy is known to exacerbate, and sometimes even seems to cause, the symptoms of autism. Many claim that it is only the milk-protein (casein) which is the culprit; because some autistics have trouble breaking it down and so it creates an “opiate-like” substance. However, many parents do not give their children any dairy, even without casein, because they find their children simply seem better without it.8

Perhaps this could be explained by the presence of toxic metals, even in low amounts, in dairy. Perhaps autism is exacerbated by the presence--in the diet or in the environment--of toxic metals (due to prior toxic metal poisoning), or if the autistic child is genetically sensitive to mercury (or other toxic metals).

If the politics surrounding the thimerosal connection to autism has been obscure, one can bet the politics attaching the meat and dairy industry to it will be even more so, based on their past history. In fact, the FDA official I spoke with regarding this issue begged me not to use his name!

John Hopkins’s Bloomberg School of Public Health is beginning to do research about whether the incidence of autism is correlated to various sources of toxic metals.9 Other toxic metals which could be involved in the etiology (development) of autism include lead, antimony, arsenic, and copper. A cursory look at the maps that David Kirby shows us in his ground-breaking, recent book and website Evidence of Harm indicates that there is a relationship between proximity of coal-processing plants and development of autism, and deposition of mercury vapor in a particular area and development of autism, for example.10

Further, some studies indicate that children born near large farms where a lot of substances contain toxic metals which may leak into the water supply, such as animal waste, pesticides and fertilizers , showed a much higher incidence of autism than other places.11 Obviously, more research is needed on the incidence of autism as it relates to the pollution of our food and water supply, and other potential sources of high levels of toxic metals. Whether politics will allow it or not is the critical question.

Treating Autistics as Toxic Metal Poisoning Victims--or as Psychotics?

Dr. James Adams et al, found that chelating therapy to remove toxic metals—especially lead, mercury and antimony--can sometimes significantly improve the lives of autistic children.12

The Mayo Clinic website lists only a handful of available treatments for autism. One is psychological/educational therapies such as speech and occupational therapy and ABA. Another is chelation therapy, which is portrayed on their site as an experimental and possibly dangerous therapy, even though several studies done this past year indicate its safety and effectiveness.13

The third treatment is anti-psychotic medication. Powerful anti-psychotic drugs like Thorazine, Haldol, Prolixin, and Mellaril, among other major tranquilizers and mood stabilizers are used to attempt to control some of the symptoms of severe autism.

Psychiatrists such as Dr. Riccio, head of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology (ICSPP) are angry that these drugs are given to children at all—let alone autistic children: “Anti-psychotic drugs are known to cause severe nerve and central nervous system damage (‘tardive dyskinesia”) if used over a long period of time—they should not be being given to autistic children who already have nerve and CNS damage. Dangers associated with these drugs actually include not only tardive dyskinesia but also the fatal “Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome.”

The ICSSP’s official position on the major tranquilizers, as well as Ritalin, is that they are associated with many dangers and are not appropriate for children in general, and certainly not for developing children. (See www.ICSPP.org for more information.)14 Parent surveys completed by thousands of families of autistics generally listed psychiatric drugs as ineffective in controlling symptoms (except for those which control seizures) on the Autism Research Institute’s website.15

Continuing Saga for the Autistic Population and their Families

After reading some of the dialogue in one of the first federal court cases regarding autism and vaccines, one is struck by how the lawyers defending the FDA (and pharmaceutical) companies are so vicious in their approach towards the unfortunate victims of autism and their families; unabashedly accusing them of quoting faulty studies, which are actually generally quite respectable. Neither the pharmaceutical companies nor the FDA have ever admitted to the public that vaccines were responsible for the development of autism in any direct way, despite the noble work of autism activists and Senator Dan Burton (whose grandchild became autistic after receiving a vaccination) to create an open dialogue about the issue .

Exceptional student educator, and ICSPP member, Anna Kiliany, sums it up: “In truth, the government, and all of us, should be taking much more care to be open and honest about vaccines relationship to autism, and to do meaningful research without political blinders on. We should be also being looking into cleaning up our nation’s water and food supplies to prevent autism. Above all, we should be helping to alleviate the suffering of all of the victims of autism. Our dealings with the autistic and their family should be full of caring concern.”

References:

1) Levine, Bruce, Ph.D,. “Eli Lilly, Zyprexa, and the Bush Family” Z Magazine Online May, 2004. Vol. 17, No. 5

2) Kirby, David. 2005 Evidence of Harm St. Martins Press, New York

3) Allen, Arthur. 2007 Vaccine W.W. Norton & Co., New York.

4) I bid

5) Robbins, John. 1987. Diet for a New America H J Kramer and New World Library, California.

6) Food and Water Watch, 2008. www.FoodandWaterWatch.org

7) Kradijian, Robert, M.D. 2007. The Milk Letter. www.Earthsave.org/health/milkletter.htm

8) 2008. The Autism Research Institute. www.ari.com

9) 2008, Sept. The John Hopkins School of Public Health website.

10) I bid, as per note (3).

11) Arthur, C. et al. 2008, May. “Study Links Autism Risk to Distance from Mercury-Releasing Sources” Health and Place

12) Adams, John, Ph.D. et al. Oct., 2007. “Results of a DSMA Chelation Treatment Study” as presented on www.autism.com .

13) 2008, May. The Mayo Clinic website.

14) 2008. Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) www.defeatautismnow.org

15) 2008. International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology. www.ISCPP.org