Monday, January 28, 2002

Pigs and Spinach

There was an article in the January 24th edition of the Sankei Shimbun about an experiment by a research team at Kinki University who were successful in breeding pigs implanted with spinach genes. This was the world's first success in breeding mammals with plant genes. The purpose of this project was to produce the vegetable oil, linolic acid, in a mammal that is normally unable to produce this acid by itself, thereby creating pork which is "more healthy" than normal pork. The genetically engineered pigs born from this experiment have approximately two times more linolic acid than normal in their fat and have carried that trait through three generations.

Two days later, in the January 26th edition of the Asahi Shimbun, there was a report stating that a genetically engineered papaya, not yet approved by the Japanese government, was being sold at a supermarket in Saitama Prefecture. This papaya was grown in the United States, and is already approved and sold in stores there, but, in Japan, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Labor is still in the investigating stages. More than likely, the fruit was genetically altered to make it "stronger against viruses", but, if it passes inspection, the papaya will be labeled with a "genetically engineered" sticker, and circulated and sold throughout the country. But, in this particular instance, it was sold, before government approval, and without a label/sticker.

I have spoken out about my doubts and skepticism regarding genetically engineered foods on many occasions, and, looking at these two "new products", I question them even more, particularly when it comes to the genetically engineered pig. If there is a concern with high cholesterol levels and other "adult diseases" resulting from too much intake of animal fats, one should just cut down on their intake of pork and other meats and eat spinach. Why must we invest exorbitant amounts of money on research to genetically alter pigs to make "healthy meat"? Are they trying to get the same results from eating pork only as they would from eating pork and vegetables? If they go to these extremes, would this just not increase the number of children who already eat very little vegetables as it is? And, as those pigs increase, so will the need for land to raise them, taking over rice fields and forests. The underlying "motive for development" of these genetically engineered pigs may, at first, seem impressive, but I feel it looks at things in a very narrow-minded way.

Or could it be that scientists are thinking about something on a larger scale? Could it be that this experiment combining pigs and spinach is simply the beginning--a "foothold" to something broader that has to do with combining plants and animals? Or is it that pigs were just used for testing, and what they are really aiming at is the re-engineering of the human body so that humans themselves will be able to internally manufacture linolic acid?

These questions are more than likely pretty extreme. Basically, I believe that scientists have good sense, but we cannot be sure that the results from experiments, conducted with even the best of intentions, will always be used by the average person and/or industries for the good of all. With the recent report that a large food company in Japan repackaged beef and falsified where it came from, we seem to have gotten a glimpse of the low morals of those people who work in these large companies, and, it is, indeed, depressing. Workers in a company that sells food are suspected of systematically falsifying the place from where the beef originally came for the sake of company profit, not giving any consideration to the health and well-being of the consumers who would be buying and eating their products. Repackaging beef from Australia and pretending it came from Japan would win government compensation, since the Japanese government offered to buy unsold beef after news of Japan's first case of BSE prompted a sharp fall in beef sales, but that's the same as putting the tax payer's money into the coffers of this major company. And, the decision to pretend that beef from Hokkaido, that had an undeniable high probability of having been infected by BSE, was from Kumamoto Prefecture, more than likely came from the mentality that, if by some chance, someone should die from eating the meat, company profits would not be affected. If these are the kinds of people who are working at these major food companies, what's the point in scientist researching and producing genetically engineered foods for the promotion and advancement of healthier foods for the general public?

If this type of repackaging of foods is constantly being done in other companies as well, there is a possibility that it won't stop at falsifying place of origin, but extend beyond that to falsifying date of expiration and quality, or falsifying labels on genetically engineered foods. This decline in human morals not only renders any advancement in science meaningless, but it is also very possible that it could actually broaden the damage suffered by the consumer. So, in a technologically advanced society such as we have today, we must work more on moral and ethical development. Or, should we just not believe in any of the labels on the foods that we buy, and just raise our own pigs and grow our own spinach?

- MT

Saturday, January 05, 2002

New Year's Day sunstroke

I could not participate in this year's annual New Year's Day Ceremony, a New Year's Day tradition, held at the Seicho-No-Ie Headquarters in Tokyo. This is really quite embarrassing--the first time since I became an executive of Seicho-No-Ie. This is probably what they call "the devil getting sunstroke", but I had a fever of over 100 degrees (Farenheit), and the right side of my face was completely swollen. Although I feel a little awkward, I'll write about all the things that led up to my being like this.

Around the 29th of December, the root of my upper front tooth began to hurt. I'm not sure why. Although I've had some dental work done in the past, I haven't had a toothache in over a year. The last work I had done was on one of my lower molars, and even that wasn't for a new cavity, but was only to replace a filling that had come out. The tooth that was giving me trouble now, however, was totally unrelated--the upper front tooth--where there couldn't possibly have been a cavity. I say this with confidence because even my dentist compliments me on how carefully and thoroughly I brush my teeth. On past visits, my dentist taught me the proper way to use a toothbrush and I've been following those directions faithfully, brushing after every meal, every day of the week. I pay particular attention to brushing after breakfast, and I use not only one, but three different kinds of toothbrushes. In addition to the traditional one, I use a brush with long bristles that can reach into the back-side of the rear molars, a toothbrush with a pointed end, and, finally, one that I use to clean between the teeth. Since I'm so thorough, I didn't think there was any way that I could have gotten a cavity.

But, since the reality was that I had a toothache, some sort of bacteria must have managed to get into my front tooth somehow and created an infection. I made light of it at first, thinking that the pain would eventually subside, but by the afternoon of the 29th, I had a sharp pain that shot from my upper jaw to my head. Even then, I managed to finish writing my journal entry for that day, drew a picture, took a digital photo of it, and somehow posted it all on the website. After that, though, all I could do was sleep. Being Saturday, my dentist's office was closed. Worried, my wife tried to find an emergency room with a dental department, but was unable to locate one. The next morning, we found a dentist office nearby which was on-call and open during the end of the year and through the New Year's holiday.

At 9 AM on December 30th, I rushed into "Y" Dental Office in Sendagaya. My gums had swollen from the area under my nose to the upper right of my face. It was painful and depressing. I couldn't open my mouth enough to talk freely. Unless I had this taken care of, I didn't feel much like greeting the New Year, and I wouldn't be able to give my message at the New Year's Day Ceremony? I became panicky thinking about this. A small, slightly plump dentist in his sixties looked at my tooth and said, "You must've hit it somewhere--It's discolored." I replied, "I don't remember hitting it on anything," and explained, "It's always been this color." Actually, I have some dark brown spots on the backsides of my teeth that are like "tea stains." My mother tells me it's due to some antibiotics that I took when I was a child, and my family dentist told me that they "aren't cavities." This slightly plump dentist, however, took an x-ray of the tooth in question, and, looking at it, seemed to reach some sort of conclusion. If he'd told me what he had in mind, I would have been able to prepare myself, but, instead of explaining, he put the chair in a reclining position and began treatment.

This was a first-time experience for me. I'd always thought that, after examining a patient, a doctor was supposed to talk to the patient about the results of that exam, discuss treatment options, and get the patient's approval before doing anything. This dentist, however, while mumbling some medical terms to the female assistant, gave me a shot of novocaine, and began scraping away at the tooth. Then, exerting a lot of pressure with his hands, he screwed something into the hole he'd just opened, pulled it out, twisted it in and pulled it out again, continuing for about 3-4 times. Lying in the dentist's chair, all I could do was groan, "Ahhhh" and endure the pain. After it was all done, the dentist was to tell me, "We did a root canal." It was an explanation after the fact, and he let his assistant do the rest of the explaining. She said, "We packed some cotton into the hole, but this is just a temporary emergency procedure. Please be sure to see your own dentist within a week." That's all the explanation there was, so I headed home, without any medication, and my face numb from my nose to my mouth.

"I'll feel better for sure now," I thought, but I couldn't have been any more wrong. As the novocaine wore off, I again had a throbbing pain shoot up from the bottom of my nose to my head. I wondered why since the nerve had been removed, and thought, doubting the dentist, "Maybe he didn't get it all." It was because he'd been so different from my own dentist. My own dentist always explained things thoroughly prior to treatment, and, after explaining, even before starting on the tooth, would say caringly, "We're just going to do a little scraping so it shouldn't hurt," or, "If it hurts, please frown or grimace." This difference between dentists was leading to mistrust. Then I decided to change my way of thinking to, "I'm grateful for simply having been able to get treated during this busy end of the year season." But, no matter how I looked at it, the pain and condition was growing, not better, but progressively worse.

On the afternoon of the 30th when I had the root canal, the right side of my face started swelling up. The sides of my nose were really swollen, so much so that I could see my right cheek with my right eye. As time went on, I could see my own eyelid with my right eye. In other words, the area around my eye had become thick and swollen, but, since my eyeball was still in the same place, my eye had become "caved in" within the swelling. The area under my nose was swollen so much that, looking at myself in the mirror, I thought I looked more like a "dog" than a "human."

Concerned as to how I was doing, my wife peeked at my face, and I said, "Woof" and brought my hand to the side of my face, like the front paw of a dog. I wanted to make her laugh, but she just looked kind of sad and puzzled. I guess I really must have looked like a dog. The pain got so severe that I had to go to bed, and eventually was able to fall asleep. I'd wake up every one in a while and have some of the liquid foods my wife had made, but, other than that, I slept a deep, undisturbed sleep. It was much the same on the 31st, and, when I took my temperature, I found that I had a fever of 100 degrees (F). I felt a little better on New Year's Day, but my face was still very swollen--not something I'd want people to see--and a fever of over 100, so I reluctantly had to forego the New Year's Day Ceremony.

In the afternoon on New Year's Day, I went to see another dentist in Shinjuku Ward. After listening to my explanation of the previous treatment, and looking at my face, he explained the reason for the swelling immediately. "In order to do the root canal, the dentist opened a hole on the backside of your tooth and then packed it with cotton. If it's packed too tightly, however, there is no ventilation and swelling results. Patients usually get antibiotics to prevent infection, but, since this wasn't done in your case, the bacteria must have spread and caused the severe infection." I listened saying, "Oh. Oh." The dentist continued, "The worst seems to have passed, so we'll remove the cotton, clean the tooth up, and you should feel much better." I shouted, "Ouch!" as the dentist pulled up my upper lip. It hurt. He looked relieved, however, and said, "I thought we were going to have to cut your gums to let the pus out, but they're already cut and bleeding. It should come out naturally now."

"Hmm," I thought. Even if the right half of my face, from the gums to my right eye was swollen, there comes a point when the skin just naturally breaks and the body tries to rid the system of this infection. This mechanism is something the human body possesses by nature. Even if the person involved doesn't have any idea what's happening, the body knows how to heal itself. Thanks to the treatment given by this second dentist, and the medication prescribed, the swelling of my face and gums went down after that, day by day.

Having gone through all this and experienced this "pain", I've come to realize that one's view of the world can be changed by just one tooth. Please, everyone, be sure to take good care of your teeth.

- MT