Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Bute and Covid-19 : the link ?

15th January 2013: The Food Safety Authorities in Ireland (FSAI) announced that they developed a novel analytical method to detect horse meat in other meat products - An Irish Success story begins. The next few months will rock the whole food chain system across Europe.

February 2013:    By now, we know that the meat industry is tainted with horse meat. Horse meat though is fine. Horse meat is a delicacy; what is the problem? The problem lies in the fact that the public has been misinformed and also the horse meat that was used in meat products has been tainted with a strong anti-inflammatory drug: phenylbutazone (or bute).

March - May 2013: The pan-European scandal becomes obvious. 
Tainted horse meat has traveled across several countries in Europe and has cross-contaminated other meat products.

The initial official voices (February 2013) suggested that consuming bute is ok as long as we do not eat 500 horsemeat burgers a day (sic!) but few weeks later they look scientifically and morally wrong!

this apology appeared in May 2013 (The Guardian)

By now, we know that bute is dangerous and all bute-tainted food products must be recalled!

So, a massive (and expensive!) campaign of product recalls took place, accompanied by apologetic messages (image above) in newspapers.
In order to protect Public Health, there are systems and mechanisms in place.

Precautionary principle (article 7, EC 178/2002) defines the necessary actions that need to be taken by authorities and companies in order to minimise the exposure of general public to the hazard.

Traceability procedures (article 18, EC 178/2002) are describing the duties of food companies on how to perform a product recall.

RASSF is in place to communicate novel hazards to competent authorities across EU.

these systems were not used in January 2013! It took the food industry few months to re-act and recall. 

Seven years fast forward.

Ireland : 29th February 2020: the first Covid-19 patient has been confirmed in the Republic

(from now on, I call Eire as Republic, not State or Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland as NI).
The picture below is a bar chart of cumulative confirmed covid-19 cases in the Republic (WHO database).

I am writing this post on 17.3.2020, 10am, there are no data for 16th March in the graph, but it was announced (16th March 8pm) that: "A further 54 new confirmed cases were reported on Monday evening, the biggest daily increase yet seen. Most were in the east (41 cases), followed by the south (11). The Republic now has a total of 223 confirmed cases of Covid-19, while Northern Ireland has 52".

12 March 2020: Irish government asked all creches, schools and Universities to close down from 6pm until 29th March. From that day, effectively about 25,000 childcare workers are unemployed. A crisis begins...a crisis for the people fighting the virus but also a huge financial crisis for Ireland and all Europe, as explained here and here.

14th March 2020: Leaders and Ministers along with Chief Medical Officers (CMO) of both the Republic and NI met to discuss the pandemic. Alas, no result.
The Republic is tackling the virus as best as we can and NI follow a herd-immunity approach

16th March 2020: The Irish government's CMO publicized some prediction data as suggested by a statistical model developed by the Department of Health. The model suggests that there will be 78 cases today, 109 cases tomorrow, and 355 cases per day by Sunday. That level of infection will require the contact tracing of 40,000 individuals, Dr Holohan said (Irish Times, p.3., 17.3.2020)

The link of the two cases (bute and covid-19):
in both cases, the motions of "precautionary principle" and "traceability - recalls" need to apply.
We need to act swift and precisely.
We need to say the truth (i.e. about the toxicity of bute and the spread-ability of covid-19). And we do!
The public announcements need to be re-assuring and proportionate.
As in the case of tainted meat, in the case of covid-19, at the moment of writing these lines, the cross-contamination around the island of Ireland is not controlled yet.

The open borders between the Republic and NI are like communicating vessels.

Whatever measure is taken in the Republic, it won't be effective as long as NI sticks to the "herd-immunity" approach.

In food science terms, there is no point to carry out a total product recall, if the tainting of the food chain carries on.

We need to find a way to stop this happening.
We need to rise above micro-politics and religious differences (Protestants, Catholics etc).
We need to listen to the Science and act immediately._

Co. Clare, St Patrick's Day 2020.


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