In just weeks a dioxin scandal has led to the closing of thousands of farms. Dioxin at levels that, while not quite toxic, are higher than allowed were found in eggs, chicken and pork, some already sold and consumed in Germany and some neighboring countries. The cause was contamination of animal feed. A German company delivered it, and had used cheap industrial grease as a fat supplement in fodder. Because the source of the dioxin in the grease wasn't at first clear, officials closed thousands of farms and stopped the delivery of their animal products. It took weeks to find the source of the dioxin: The company derived the product from used french fry oil intended for industrial use only (for the production of biodiesel).
On one hand, this is in most part a topic for political journalists, and most of the published articles deal with responsibilities of governmental food control agencies and the inherently unhealthy production structure of "modern" agriculture. But on the other hand, it is also a topic for science journalists, because people needed to understand about toxic and non-toxic dioxin concentrations, how dioxin acts in the human body, etc.
Here are some links to articles, how German language newspapers dealt with the dioxin scandal - it seems, that more consumer, economic or political journalists then science journalists wrote the background articles:
Die Welt wrote, how entwined the production chanels of food and fuel are - and that a mix-up is not a surprise.
Without mentioning the ongoing scandal in Germany at all, the Austrian Standard had a short piece about the rising environmental contamination with toxins like dioxin, according to a study from the German federal institute for risk assessment (BfR).
Though a little bit of a side track, the Süddeutsche Zeitung asks (and tests the evidence): Is organic farming the better choice? But Katrin Blawat had an in-depths article about dioxin and the toxic potential of the substance and how scientists define critical toxic values. And the science section published a statement from scientists against the industrialization of agriculture.
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (Ulf von Rauchhaupt) provided a background on the toxicity of dioxin and gave an update of the research in the field.
Also: Fishy Breed
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung had an interesting article about the (environmental) consequences for the scientific achievement of artificial salmon breeding.
Also worth to be mentioned: The Rumor Virus
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (Volker Stollorz) had a piece – about what could be a newly found, dangerous retrovirus that has already infected millions of Americans, or merely an interesting laboratory artifact. According to the Whittemore-Peterson-Institut in Reno, Nevada, the "Xenotropic Murine Leukemia Virus related Virus“ (XMRV) cause Chronic Fatigue Syndrom (CFS). At least, in a study of 101 CFS patients, 68 carried the virus. But even more interesting, the virus was found in 8 out of 218 blood samples of healthy volunteers, too. The head of the institute, Judy Mikovits, estimates, that "20 million Americans“, might be infected. Blood banks got hysterical, fearing the spread of another potentially pathogenic retro virus (XMRV is a relative to HIV). On Facebook, people started a „Global Action against XMRV“ campaign. Desperate CFS patients started to self-medicate HIV-drugs, hoping to get rid of XMRV, ignoring the huge side effects of the drugs. And diagnostic companies start to sell XMRV tests ($549 each), based on patents already ensured by Mikovits.
BUT: Not a single laboratory in Europe could find XMRV in human tissue, so far! The explanation might be, that XMRV, a harmless companion of mice, could indeed have crossed the species barrier from mice to human - but only in the lab. The article describes a scenario, where the murine XMRV developed in immune-deficient mice into a strain, capable of infecting human cell lines (it was found in a prostate cancer cell line 22RV1). A few years later, a scientist at the Cleveland clinic in Ohio found XMRV in prostate tissue samples from prostate cancer patients. This catched Mikovits' attention, she wanted to test the blood of CFS patients ; and she ordered a sample of the XMRV infected cell line - a mistake, asks Stollorz? The problem is, that it frequently happens, that human tissue catches mice viruses if incubated in the same cell culture room. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta couldn't find XMRV in the blood of CFS patients.
The article is not an easy read. Who wants to hear about details from the lab? But if these scientific details make all the difference for the society to differentiate between a real threat from a new retrovirus or an unnecessary hype (in the best financial interest of certain private institutions), then people need to know these details - explained via good science journalism.
Also important: Corruption in the German Health Care System
An article (though, too short!) in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (Wiebke Rögener) highlights corruption structures in the German health care system. The fact alone is not the most interesting about this article (it is well known, that about 56 billion Euro get lost in European Union health care due to corruption, according to the European Healthcare Fraud & Corruption Network), but Rögener gives a variety of examples, how different (and therefore hard to track) physicians, pharmacies, hospitals, or pharma companies try to flimflam the system. I should mention the so called "post marketing surveillance studies" here: It is a good idea, to pay physicians to collect data about new, recently approved drugs - but if pharma companies spend much more money than they publish studies, anti-corruption organizations like Transparency International get suspicious, that the fees for the physicians are more like a bribe to convince the doctors to prefer a certain product.