Not cloning around

National | Measure to ban human cloning earns White House blessing; blood lead considered unsafe at any level; and federal regulators seek supplementary authority

Issue: "Summer Travel 2001," May 12, 2001

Cloning ban cloned
Days after British Prime Minister Tony Blair endorsed a ban on human cloning in the UK, a duplicate effort popped up in the United States. Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.), a physician, authored bipartisan legislation that prohibits human cloning and would punish violations with 10 years in prison and a minimum $1 million fine. The White House says the president would sign that bill into law. To date, federal regulators have never approved a human cloning experiment. The anti-cloning campaign specifically targets the technique that cloned Dolly the sheep: Genes are removed from an egg cell and replaced with the genetic material from a cell to be cloned. Despite the headline-making success, most animal clones die as embryos and others are miscarried or stillborn due to birth defects. Rep. Weldon said that Dolly's creators had over 200 failures that produced deformed animals that had to be put to sleep: "We cannot allow this scenario to play out with humans." Nevertheless, some doctors say they plan eventually to create the first human clone. Get the lead out
Even small levels of lead in paint may have terrible effects on kids. Researchers say that one in every 30 children in the United States suffers harm from lead and that those exposed score lower on IQ tests. "There is no safe level of blood lead," said Bruce Lanphear, who authored a study presented to the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting. Lead-based paint, banned in 1978, was used in homes throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Children were poisoned by eating paint flakes or inhaling dust containing lead. Dr. Lanphear, a physician at Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, led a team that studied 276 children in Rochester, N.Y. They found those with a lead concentration of less than 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood scored an average of 11.1 points lower on the Stanford-Binet IQ test than the mean of children with a lead concentration of 1 microgram or less. For every 10-microgram increase, researchers detected another 5.5-point decline. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that about two-thirds of American homes built before 1940 and one-half of those built from 1940 to 1960 contain heavily leaded paint. It recommends that children who live in old or dilapidated homes be checked for lead poisoning. The CPSC also suggests that homeowners should have lead-based paint professionally removed to contain flying dust that can settle on walls, floors, or furniture. Supplementary regulations
One of the leading federal regulatory agencies says the American public is not receiving its recommended daily allowance of regulations. So the Department of Health and Human Services wants the supplementary power to regulate dietary supplements. HHS's inspector general says about 60 percent of Americans use vitamins and herbs and the public isn't adequately protected from potential health risks. Supplement manufacturers aren't currently required to report patients' adverse effects, the department notes. Thus the FDA, relying on voluntary reports, uncovers less than 1 percent of adverse events involving dietary supplements. As a result, the agency "rarely reaches the point of knowing whether taking a safety action is warranted" for a dietary supplement, the inspector general's report said. Supplement supporters have long complained about regulation, arguing that regulators keep beneficial products from the market. On the other hand, critics point to the case of ephedrine, which can cause strokes, and herbal products marketed as sleep or diet aids that caused heart attacks, strokes, and death. The result is a tug-of-war that leaves these pills hanging in a legal gray area. Today, the FDA does not test supplements and bears the burden of proof to declare a specific product unsafe. The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act requires manufacturers to place the words "dietary supplement" on product labels and include a panel listing ingredients and directions for use, along with a disclaimer saying they are "not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease."

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