Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Public health warnings as social engineering - the case of 'Himalayan Viagra'


The Chinese government public health authorities have issues warnings about the safety of cordyceps sinensis (better known across Asia by its traditional Tibetan name, yartsa gunbu, which literally translates as "summer grass, winter worm).

...a handful of noted research scientists wonder why there’s been such little scrutiny of the research backing a public health warning from China’s State Food and Drug Administration (CFDA). Citing unsafe levels of cancer-causing arsenic in the fungus, the February 2016 announcement triggered a moratorium on pilot programs designed to expand the organism’s commercial development and distribution.

Connoisseurs of public health research with see a familiar litany of bad science in these announcements - selective research, ignoring studies that challenge the official position and a barrage of popular publicity directed at the offending product. And some suggest the reason for the government's concern is political, more about social engineering than public health. Gathering yartsa gunbu - 'Himalayan Viagra' - is a lucrative business:

According to one yartsa gunbu dealer who asked to remain anonymous, a family with good harvesters stand to make as much as 1,000,000 yuan (about $150,000) within the two month harvest window.

A lucrative business entirely controlled by ethnic Tibetans. And the Chinese government might prefer these people not to control a $1billion business selling weird fungus products to gullible Chinese consumers. So long as Tibetan families with the knowledge of where and how to gather yartsa gunbu are able to live in traditional communities rather than the government's preferred urban environment some suggest there will remain a call for independence.

Or else it could just be another example of a few studies providing the justification for out of control health authorities to ban, limit, control and regulate. The good news it that, so far it ain't working:

Whether any political motivations are driving the Chinese government’s claim to public health concerns about the fungus is yet to be seen. But Professor Tsim, who continues evaluating soil samples, says any regulatory action on the fungus inevitably affects the livelihood of Tibetans. The CFDA announcement has yet to impact Hong Kong prices, he said, and one eBay seller recently posted the fungus for about $78,000 per pound.


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