September 14, 2009
by Maggie Fox
Iowa senator Tom Harkin, newly empowered to investigate health matters as chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, promised on Monday to probe deeply into any potential links between cellphone use and cancer.
Harkin, who took over the committee earlier this month after the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, said he was concerned no one has been able to prove cellphones do not cause cancer.
“I’m reminded of this nation’s experience with cigarettes. Decades passed between the first warnings about smoking tobacco and the final definitive conclusion that cigarettes cause lung cancer,” Harkin said.
Cell phones, used by an estimated 275 million people in the United States and 4 billion worldwide, use radio waves. Years of research have failed to establish any clear link between their use and several kinds of cancer, including brain tumors.
Recent worries have been raised by the Environmental Working Group, an activist group, and epidemiologist Devra Lee Davis of the University of Pittsburgh, who has written a book alleging the government has overlooked many potential sources of cancer.
Harkin called a hearing of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education to look into the questions on Monday. “I will pursue this beyond this panel, with NIH (the National Institutes of Health),” Harkin said after the hearing.
He noted the appropriations committee did not have jurisdiction over the Food and Drug Administration or the Federal Communications Commission, but said the Health committee he now chairs does.
A staffer said the senator became concerned by a report from the Environmental Working Group showing that radio wave emissions vary from one cellphone brand and model to another; as well as some reports suggesting there might be a link.
PROVING A NEGATIVE
Linda Erdreich of science and engineering firm Exponent in New York said 50 years worth of evidence had failed to show that cellular phones can cause cancer.
“This part of the spectrum is known as non-ionizing radiation,” she told the hearing, explaining that this means radio waves cannot damage the DNA in cells.
But Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter pressed her on this, asking her repeatedly whether science had conclusively proved there was no connection. “Your statement that it is hard to prove a negative is right on,” Erdreich replied.
“What comes through to me is that we just don’t know what the answer is,” said Specter, a cancer survivor who said he avoids white flour and sugar in case it might feed tumors.
July 9, 2009
by Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Agriculture Department would be given the power to regulate all food sold in schools — including vending machine snacks — when Congress renews child nutrition programs, the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee said on Tuesday.
Chairman Tom Harkin said he hopes the committee will start work on legislation to reauthorize school lunch programs in October or November, with a goal to conclude the work by the end of the year.
“I can tell you it won’t be this month,” Harkin told reporters who asked when work would begin. He said precedence must go, for now, to his work on health care reform and on drafting the annual federal spending bills.
Agriculture Committee work on child nutrition will begin with a draft that gives the USDA the authority to oversee all food in schools, so nutrition programs are not “undermined” by junk food in vending machines, Harkin said at a confirmation hearing for the head of the USDA’s nutrition programs.
Earlier this year, Harkin co-sponsored a bill focused on setting nutritional standards for food in school vending machines and stores to combat childhood obesity rates.
Kevin Concannon, the Obama administration’s nominee to run USDA’s food and nutrition programs, told Harkin he wants to work with other federal and state agencies to address health issues caused by poor eating habits.
“It’s a cultural thing. We’ve evolved to this over the past 30 or 40 years, and it’s going to take efforts on a number of fronts,” Concannon said.
Roughly 17 percent of school-age children are obese, triple the rate in 1980 and “an epidemic in the United States,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and other chronic illnesses.
At present, USDA oversees the contents of school lunches and bars the sale of foods with minimal nutritional value, such as soda in the lunchroom. It does not control food sold in a la carte lines or school stores.
Concannon, who ran food stamp and public nutrition programs in Iowa, Maine and Oregon during his career, noted he has seen “pushback” from schools that count on revenue from vending machines to pay for student activities.
Concannon also said he wants people who rely on USDA food programs to be able to buy more food from farmers’ markets.
Food stamps, school lunch programs, and other nutritional assistance account for more than $75 billion, or two-thirds of USDA’s annual spending.
One in nine Americans uses food stamps to buy groceries, a record number due to recession and job losses, and more than 30 million children count on USDA-funded school programs for lunch.
The Obama administration, which has a goal of eliminating childhood hunger by 2015, proposed a $1 billion a year increase in child nutrition programs but has provided few details of how it would spend the money.
June 12, 2009
by Associated Press Writers, Larry Margasak and Sharon Theimer
Influential senators working to overhaul the nation’s health care system have investments and family ties with some of the biggest names in the industry. The wife of Sen. Chris Dodd, the lawmaker in charge of writing the Senate’s bill, sits on the boards of four health care companies.
Members of both parties have industry connections, including Democrats Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin, in addition to Dodd, and Republicans Tom Coburn, Judd Gregg, John Kyl and Orrin Hatch, financial reports showed Friday. .
Jackie Clegg Dodd, wife of the Connecticut Democrat, is on the boards of Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc., Cardiome Pharma Corp., Brookdale Senior Living and Pear Tree Pharmaceuticals.
Dodd is filling in for ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will soon start work on a health care bill.
Other publicly available documents show Mrs. Dodd last year was one of the most highly compensated non-employee members of the Javelin Pharmaceuticals Inc. board, on which she has served since 2004. She earned $32,000 in fees and $109,587 in stock option awards last year, according to the company’s SEC filings.
Mrs. Dodd earned $79,063 in fees from Cardiome in its last fiscal year, while Brookdale Senior Living gave her $122,231 in stock awards in 2008, their SEC filings show. She earned no income from her post as a director for Pear Tree Pharmaceuticals but holds up to $15,000 in stock in Pear Tree, which describes itself as a development-stage pharmaceutical company focused on the needs of aging women.
The annual financial disclosure reports for members of Congress are less precise. They only require that assets and liabilities be listed in ranges of values.
Dodd sought a 90-day extension to file his report covering last year, giving him until mid-August to submit his report, but released his report Friday to The Associated Press.
Bryan DeAngelis, Dodd’s spokesman, said, “Jackie Clegg Dodd’s career is her own; absolutely independent of Senator Dodd, as it was when they married 10 years ago. The senator has worked to reform our health care system for decades, and nothing about his wife’s career is relevant at all to his leadership of that effort.”
DeAngelis said that Mrs. Dodd has hired a personal ethics lawyer to avoid any conflicts of interest and is not a lobbyist.
Other reports showed:
_ Rockefeller, D-W.Va., reported $15,001 to $50,000 in capital gains for his wife from the sale of a stake in Athenahealth Inc., a business services company that helps medical providers with billing and clinical operations.
Rockefeller is honorary chairman of the Alliance for Health Reform, a Washington nonprofit whose board includes representatives from the UnitedHealth Group health insurance company; AFL-CIO labor union; the AARP, which sells health insurance; St. John Health, a nonprofit health system that includes seven hospitals and 125 medical facilities in southeast Michigan; CIGNA Corp., an employer-sponsored benefits company; and the United Hospital Fund of New York.
_ Coburn, R-Okla., is a practicing physician. He reported slight business income, $268, from the Muskogee Allergy Clinic last year; $3,000 to $45,000 in stock in Affymetrix Inc., a biotechnology company and pioneer in genetic analysis; $1,000 to $15,000 in stock in Pfizer Inc., a pharmaceutical company; and a $1,000 to $15,000 interest in Thomas A. Coburn, MD, Inc.
Under Senate ethics rules, Coburn can’t accept money from his patients.
_ Gregg, R-N.H., disclosed $250,001 to $500,000 in drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. stock and $1,000 to $15,000 each in stock in pharmaceutical companies Merck & Co. and Pfizer, the Johnson & Johnson health care products company and Agilent Technologies, which is involved in the biomedical industry.
_ Kyl, R-Ariz., the Senate minority whip, reported $15,001 to $50,000 in stock in Amgen Inc., which develops medical therapeutics. Kyl’s retirement account held stakes in several health care businesses, including the Wyeth, Bristol-Myers Squibb, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and AstraZeneca pharmaceutical companies; medical provider Tenet Healthcare Corp.; CVS Caremark prescription and health services company; Genentech, a biotherapeutics manufacturer; and insurer MetLife Inc.
_ Harkin, D-Iowa, has a joint ownership stake in health-related stocks. Harkin and his wife, Ruth Raduenz, own shares of drug makers Amgen and Genentech, Inc., each stake valued at $1,001 to $15,000; Their largest health care holding, Johnson & Johnson, was valued at $50,001 to $100,000.
_ Hatch, R-Utah, a member of the Finance and Health committees, reported owning between $1,001 and $15,000 worth of stock in drug maker Pfizer Inc. He spoke to two pharmaceutical industry conferences last year. Sponsors of the conferences donated $3,500 to charities instead of speaking fees, as required by Senate rules.
Like millions of Americans, several senators took a financial hit in 2008. A sampling:
_Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., lost some $100,000 in equity in his home in Springfield and $35,000 in his Chicago condominium. Durbin, who released his tax returns, reported losing $32,259 in various investments last year, including more than $10,400 in Berkshire Hathaway and $5,535 in Fidelity stock.
_Kennedy in 2007 had four trusts each valued between $5,000,001-$25 million. In 2008, only one trust was still in that category while the rest had slipped in value to $1,000,001-$5 million.
_Hatch’s investments suffered from the banking crisis. In 2007, he reported assets of between $2,002 and $30,000 in Countrywide Credit Industries Inc. stock. His 2008 financial disclosure lists the value at less than $1,000.
One of Dodd’s investments showed a vast improvement.
A new appraisal more than doubled the value of his vacation cottage in Ireland, which has been subject of a Senate ethics complaint filed by a conservative group questioning if the undervalued property was really a gift.
The property is valued at 470,000 euros, or about $660,000, on Dodd’s disclosure report.
The previous year’s report valued the seaside home, located in County Galway, at between $100,001 and $250,000.
DeAngelis, the spokesman, said Dodd and his wife decided to have the property appraised because they felt it was time to update the information.