News Ireland daily BLOG Friday

Friday 9th August 2013

Irish market is ready for growth says Kerry Group chief

 Frank Ryan; CEO Enterprise Ireland, Dr Brian O’Neill; Enterprise Ireland, Dr Thomas Graham; Cleveland Clinic, An Taoiseach Mr. Enda Kenny T.D., Eddie Goodwin; Enterprise Ireland, Chris Coburn; Cleveland Clinic; Dr Brian Griffin; Cleveland Clinic.

Left Pic. Kerry Group chief executive Stan McCarthy (left) and Brian Mehigan, chief financial officer.

Right Pic above. Frank Ryan; CEO Enterprise Ireland, Dr Brian O’Neill; Enterprise Ireland, Dr Thomas Graham; Cleveland Clinic, An Taoiseach Mr. Enda Kenny T.D., Eddie Goodwin; Enterprise Ireland, Chris Coburn; Cleveland Clinic; Dr Brian Griffin; Cleveland Clinic.

The Irish consumer market has “stabilised” and is set for a return to growth, Kerry Group said yesterday, as the company had posted another set of strong half-year results and stuck by its forecasts for the rest of 2013.

Chief executive Stan McCarthy said the Irish business – which counts the likes of Galtee rashers and Charleville cheese among its brands – had struggled tremendously during the downturn but was now showing signs of recovery.

“If one were to reflect back on what happened the last three or four years, you would be a lot more optimistic in terms of the outlook for our business in Ireland.

“We are more optimistic about the Irish market than we have been for a while. We like to think (the market) is at the bottom now.

“We may have shifts within the market – you still have the growth of discounters and we still have an economy that isn’t growing – but as soon as growth comes we are quite well prepared for it.”

Mr McCarthy was speaking after his company had booked profits after taxthat rose 12pc to €117.4m in the six months to the end of June. The bottom-line figures came on the back of revenue that grew 1.1pc to €2.9bn.

The half-year dividend has been raised 11.1pc to 12c a share.

Growth was driven, as always, by the ingredients and flavours (I&F) business, which saw trading profits grow 11.6pc to €2.2bn. The I&F division, which operates all over the world, is now by far the biggest part of Kerry Group and makes up nearly three-quarters of the company’s sales. Margins surged 80 basis points to 11.1pc.

Problems remain in the consumer-food business, which is focused on Ireland, the UK and parts of Europe. Sales continued their slide, dropping 5.8pc, while trading profit narrowed its decline, off 1.8pc year on year.

Despite those numbers, however, Mr McCarthy was optimistic about both markets.

INGREDIENTS: Brands Ireland, as the Irish business is known, had a good performance and the chief executive highlighted the success of his LowLow and Dairygold spreads in Ireland.

Looking ahead, the company stuck to its forecasts of growing earnings by between 7pc and 11pc this year.

Analysts were universally positive on the results. Cathal Kenny at Davy Stockbrokers pointed to the strong growth in trading margins, saying: “Kerry is sustaining strong trading momentum and is well placed to deliver on its full-year guidance.”

Despite the strong figures, traders had already largely priced in the results and the company’s shares were little changed, falling marginally to €46.72.

Breast cancer screening in Ireland, What would a doctor have to do?


Medical professionals are still divided on how effective screenings are in the battle against breast cancer.

Gabrielle Monaghan asks some of our own top experts what they think

Getting a routine mammogram may seem like a no-brainer for women in a country that has the highest incidences of breast cancer in the world. After all, it’s common knowledge that these X-rays can help detect the disease early on and treat it before it becomes life-threatening, right?

Not always. According to a growing body of research from respected medical quarters, breast cancerscreening is far from foolproof.Indeed, some dissenters argue that screening harms as many women as it saves, a controversial view that has sparked what some commentators dub “the mammogram wars”.

A plethora of studies over the last 12 years have shown that screening leads to over-diagnoses of breast cancer and more unnecessary surgical treatment of cancers that would have never killed women. Screening is also becoming less effective because more cancers can be treated with drugs, even if they are picked up later.

The latest research to reignite the battle over mammography was anOxford University study published in June that found 25 years of breast cancer screening in the UK had failed to significantly reduce deaths from the disease. Although the number of women who died from breast cancer was still steadily decreasing, the scientists said 39 years’ worth of data showed “no evidence” to suggest this was because of screening.

The research team also revealed that the largest decline in death rates from breast cancer was among women under the age of 40, who are not routinely screened for the disease.

Prof Bill Tormey, a consultant at Beaumont and Connolly hospitals and author of the 2002 book A Cure For The Crisis, about Ireland’s ailing health system, believes there is no reason for women without a family history of breast cancer to undergo screening.

“If a woman has no family history and has no lump after physical exams, it would be reasonable for them to turn down an invitation to screening, based on the whole literature,” said Tormey, who is chairman of the Health Service Executive Forum for Dublin North East and a Dublin city councillor. “I also think nobody with a family history of breast cancer should be getting breast implants because they make it so difficult to screen.

“My opinion is that the evidence for screening is still up in the air. You couldn’t be absolutely positive that this is cause and effect – that the reduction in breast cancer mortality comes from more mammography. Treatments for breast cancer – lumpectomies, anti-receptor drugs – have all improved, so it’s impossible to know whether it was identification of the cancer through mammography or the actual effect of the drug that has improved mortality rates.”

But not everyone agrees.

Prof Arnie Hill, a cancer surgeon at Beaumont Hospital and the chair of surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, described the Oxford study as “quite flawed” because data collection techniques were not as sophisticated 40 years ago as they are now.

Breast cancer screening has increasingly been the subject of fierce debate since 2001, when a study led by Peter Goetzsche, director of the highly respected Nordic Cochrane Centre, concluded mammography was unjustified.

In his 2012 book Mammography Screening: Truth, Lies And Controversy, Goetzsche alleges that the centre’s series of studies on mammography made him the target of personal attacks by a pro-screening lobby with a financial interest in promoting screening. One opponent of Goetzsche, one of the most leading critics of screening, suggested he was a woman-hater, while health authorities were concerned the findings would erode the public’s confidence in screening. Private Irish breast clinics contacted by the Irish Independent declined to comment on conflicting research on screening.

The Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark also cast doubt on the benefits of mammography in 2010 after it discovered there were few differences in the number of deaths among women who were screened and those who were not screened. In the 10-year study, published in the British Medical Journal, experts from the centre demonstrated that death rates from breast cancer among Danish women aged 55 to 74 fell 1pc a year in screened areas and dropped 2pc in non-screened areas.

In women considered too young to benefit from screening – those aged 35 to 54 – death rates dropped by 5pc a year in the screened areas and by 6pc per year in the non-screened areas. In 2009, experts from the same institution said one in three breast cancers detected by screening may be harmless.

BreastCheck, Ireland’s national screening programme, detected 5,484 cases of breast cancer after providing free mammograms to 835,598 women in the 11 years after it began rolling out screening in 2000. It invites women aged 50 to 64 for a mammogram every two years. While one in 12 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, the disease is more common in women aged 50 and over.

While the number of women dying from breast cancer dropped by 27pc in Ireland between 1989 and 2006, the death rate from the disease remains one of the highest in the world. In 2008, 31.1 out of every 100,000 women here died from breast cancer, compared to just 16.2 deaths in Spain and an average of 23.8 per 100,000 for the European Union, according to figures compiled by the European Commission. Some 80pc of Irish women are alive five years after being diagnosed, compared to a survival rate of 89.3pc for the US.

Dr Juliet Bressan, a GP in Finglas, Co Dublin, attributed Ireland’s relatively high death rate to a delay in introducing a national screening programme. Irish screening lagged 15 years behind the UK because of academic concerns about the benefits of such programmes, she said.

“There was a public health dilemma,” Bressan said. “Irish doctors were aware that with every screening programme there will be a false positive rate, where you pick up what you think is cancer but turns out not to be, and a false negative rate, where screening misses cancer. The woman always assumes the test is going to be accurate, but there is always a false positive rate and false negative rate. A false positive result can lead to an operation the woman didn’t need.

“However, the best evidence in public health in Ireland is that the national screening programme is a good idea. Would I encourage a woman to take part in the programme? I absolutely would.”

Breast-Check’s patient information does state that mammography does not detect all forms of breast cancer, and that a “small number” of the one in 20 women called back for more tests after their first mammogram may undergo unnecessary biopsies because “it is not possible to rule out cancer without having this biopsy”.

The screening programme said last month that a UK independent review showed screening leads to “a definite reduction in mortality” and “that breast screening saves lives”. That review, commissioned by the UK’s department of health, found death rates were 20pc lower among women invited to screening. But the report, carried out by an independent panel of experts, also revealed that for every case of breast cancer which was prevented, about three women underwent treatment for early–stage cancers that would never have harmed or killed them.

This does not deter Dr Juliet McAleese from pushing for even more breast cancer screening. The Dublin-based consultant anaesthetist, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2007, has been campaigning to lower the age of Breast-Check screening to 40.

“The number of younger women with breast cancer is rising,” she said. “It’s not just that death rates are high but the terrible effect on your life. Younger women are being left infertile, suffering long-term fatigue and because they are losing their jobs, it is a big personal financial problem.

“Breast cancer affects younger women’s femininity much more, especially if they are not in relationships and are trying to form relationships with men, or trying to form homes and have children.

“I’ve lost a number of friends in the last five years to breast cancer and have a lot of friends who developed secondary cancer. Some have young children, have lost their jobs and are living off the State.

“Until there is a cure for breast cancer, breast screening will have to be part of a woman’s healthcare.”

Canadian researchers warning over toddlers watching TV


Toddlers who watch too much television have poorer maths and vocabulary skills when they begin school and are more likely to be picked on by their classmates, a new study suggests.

According to Canadian researchers, most studies that focus on school readiness look at children who have already begun school, attempting to determine what characteristics predict success in the future. They decided to look at children before they entered the school system.

They followed the progress of almost 2,000 boys and girls from toddlerhood through to kindergarten – the equivalent of junior infants in Ireland.

The study found that every extra hour of television a toddler watched at the age of 29 months was linked to poorer maths and vocabulary skills and poorer classroom engagement. They were also more likely to be victimised by their classmates and had poorer physical prowess.

“This is the first time ever that a stringently controlled associational birth cohort study has looked at and found a relationship between too much toddler screen time and kindergarten risks for poor motor skills and psychosocial difficulties, like victimisation by classmates,” explained Prof Linda Pagani of the University of Montreal.

Current widely accepted guidelines suggest that infants should be discouraged from watching television and after the age of two, they should watch not watch more than two hours per day.

According to Prof Pagani, these findings ‘suggest the need for better parental awareness and compliance with existing viewing recommendations’.

“It seems that every extra hour beyond (the two-hour limit) has a remarkably negative influence,” she emphasised.

Dublin drug treatment centre reports a dramatic increase in steroid abuse


Users more aggressive and at significant risk of personal and psychological harm

Of the overall population presenting, including men and women and those using several different drugs, 7% were injecting steroids, which are associated with bodybuilding.

The largest needle exchange service in the State has seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of people, mainly men, who are injecting anabolic steroids.

Some 15 per cent of those presenting at Merchants QuayIreland (MQI) for injecting equipment in the past year who are using one drug only are using performance-enhancing steroids. Chief executive of MQI Tony Geoghegan said it was leading to “increased aggression” among some drug users, which was “not helpful on the streets”.

He also said the group was “at significant risk of physical and psychological harm”.

Of the overall population presenting, including men and women and those using several different drugs, 7 per cent were injecting steroids, which are associated with bodybuilding. This is more than the 6 per cent using cocaine and 6 per cent using crack.

Among the steroids they are injecting are nandrolone, deca-durabolin, equipoise, sustanon, tri-trenabol, testosterone propionate and trenbolone, says Emer Patten, a project worker at MQI.

While some of the young men knew what they were doing, others were “clueless and just getting their information from people they know who are using them too,” she said. “Some are taking only steroids, some are also taking other drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines.

“The reason most of them are taking these steroids is that they want to look good, look toned and fit and this is offered to them as an easy, fast way to get there. They seemto think they will achieve the toned, fit body without putting in the hard work. So what we do is sit down with them and encourage them to find out about what they are taking and the effect it’s having on their bodies and their health. ”

Among the long-term harmful side-effects of taking these steroids incorrectly were increased cholesterol, cardiovascular damage, liver damage, kidney damage and infertility. In the short-term users could experience mood swings, water retention, erectile dysfunction, increased sex-drive and/or increased aggression.

“Most steroids increase the male characteristics, like sex-drive and aggression. There would be issues there about engaging in unprotected sex and reacting aggressively to situations that could bring people into legal difficulties,” Ms Patten said.

“We assume we are seeing a very small proportion of the young men out there taking these steroids. Most are not accessing services such as ours.”

A report from MQI’s needle exchange service, published earlier this year, noted that although two-thirds of needle exchange services in the State were seeing an upswing in steroid users, “there has been little published data on this developing trend.

“Public health initiatives have the propensity to overlook users of performance-enhancing and image-enhancing drugs. Given the furtive nature of the use of such substances, users are reluctant to seek medical treatment,” she said.

The main agencies in regular contact with them were the needle-exchange programmes, Mr Geoghegan said, meaning they remained “at significant risk of physical and psychological harm”.

Sligo start-up company launches world’s first handheld blood test for horses


A Sligo start-up company launches world’s first handheld blood test for horses.

A Sligo based start-up company StableLab has developed what it says is the world’s first handheld blood test for horses.

Combining biomarker and digital technologies, the product, which was officially launched at the Dublin Horse Show today, can produce a result within minutes showing if a horse has an infection or not.

StableLab works by testing for a protein serum amyloid A (SAA), which only presents in a horse’s blood when an infection is present. A blood test cartridge used at the horse’s side gives a simple-to-read colour result, indicating the presence of SAA in the event of infection. To date SAA tests have only ever been carried out in a laboratory but the StableLab technology has been designed and developed specifically to display a result at the horse’s side within minutes.

“We believe this is the future of equine healthcare, the beauty of this product is in its simplicity,” said company founder and CEO Dr Heinrich Anhold, a former junior international showjumper for Ireland. “You don’t need to send your blood sample to a lab and you don’t need a PhD to interpret the results.

“We have been using StableLab for the past number of months in our clinical practice,” said Dr Nathan Slovis, from the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Kentucky, who attended the product’s launch today.

“We find that it is an earlier and more sensitive indicator of equine inflammatory and infectious diseases than other lab methods. StableLab is a breakthrough in stall side equine diagnostics, and presents a new way of blood testing. I would recommend that any equine practitioner consider StableLab in their practice”.

StableLab will launch a handheld reader later this year to allow users to quantify results and an iPhone app to allow users to store information and build trends over time. The next cartridge, which should be ready for release by the end of the year, will be a test for tying up, or rhabdomyolysis.


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