Is Monsanto accepting liability?

News has emerged that biotech giant Monsanto may be offering a settlement in a class-action lawsuit between them and a group of wheat farmers in Oregon, USA. Unauthorised genetically modified (GM) seeds produced by the biotech firm have contaminated the farmers’ wheat and therefore caused massive financial loss. Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now and at the forefront of the US GM labelling campaigns, is adamant this move is likely to be seen as a “chink in the armour”. He commented, “Monsanto never settles unless they’re seriously vulnerable, and the farmers and lawyers involved in this case should reject any settlement”. Monsanto has argued it was an “isolated incident,” and that the unauthorised wheat appeared as the result of sabotage. However, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, believes that “Billions of dollars, and our food supply, is at risk because of Monsanto’s negligence. They must be held accountable.” It’s not yet known whether the agreement indicates that the company is taking some responsibility and details of the reported deal are still being kept private, but if the settlement goes ahead it will be the second major Monsanto settlement this year.

Measles vaccine kills over 30 children

At least 34 children have died in Idlib province, north-west Syria, after receiving a contaminated measles vaccine. The death toll is expected to rise. Parents initially accused health authorities in the rebel-held area of failing to store the vaccines properly and of supplying out-of-date medication, but health official, Bashar Kayal, attempted to turn the blame onto the Assad regime: “The symptoms don't just indicate spoiled vaccines – it suggests they've been contaminated.” The ministry said in a statement: “Primary investigations point to a limited security breach by vandals likely connected to the regime, which has been attempting to target the medical sector in Free Syria in order to spread chaos.” The vaccination programme, run by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, has been suspended and blood samples sent off to Turkey for analysis, but this is of little comfort to the parents.

Will EU spell end of lavender essential oil?

French lavender farmers are fuming following the European Union’s (EU's) decision that treats lavender oil as an industrial, toxic, chemical product. Provence is renowned for its purple fields of lavender, used by millions in numerous ways, including as a fragrance, in perfumes, cosmetics, for aromatherapy and in soaps, detergents and air fresheners. But French lavender farmers are taking the EU to task because they say its actions could put them out of business. Many of the fields are now dotted with posters proclaiming “Lavender is not a chemical”. The farmers argue that the EU’s chemical safety programme, REACH, places unnecessary classification and labelling obligations in the way of lavender products, and that the registration requirements may be impassable. They claim, instead, that lavender oil should simply be reclassified under agricultural products, and Francis Vidal, president of the Apal, an association representing the lavender essential oil producers, says that lavender producers are now fighting “to survive”. Apal also explains that, “The consequence of this ruling, in the very short term, would be the ruin of our plantations and the disappearance of lavender from our Provençal countryside”.

BMJ study warns of Alzheimer’s risk from prescription drugs

A new study just published in the British Medical Journal has concluded that bendzodiazepine use "is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer's disease". This potentially addictive group of drugs includes Valium (also known as diazepam) and Xanax (alprazolam), which are commonly prescribed for anxiety, depression and insomnia. The authors wrote, “This case-control study based on 8980 individuals representative of elderly people living in the community in Quebec showed that the risk of Alzheimer’s disease was increased by 43-51% among those who had used benzodiazepines in the past. Risk increased with density of exposure and when long acting benzodiazepines were used". They went on to warn that "Unwarranted long term use of these drugs should be considered as a public health concern".

An article by Brian Shilhavy in Health Impact News highlights this study and discusses the thorny issue of over-medication of the elderly. Shilhavy highlights an editorial by Zosia Kmietowicz that accompanies the BMJ study and “Pointed out that in 2012 the American Geriatrics Society had updated its list of inappropriate drugs for older people to include benzodiazepines, precisely because of their unwanted cognitive side effects. Yet, almost half of the elderly population continues to be prescribed these dangerous medications, and are continuing to take them”.

Probiotics easier to market as drugs

Joseph Simmons, coordinator of the 4-year-old French group, Pharmabiotics Research Institute (PRI), has said that, due to the challenges of the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (NHCR), it is now easier to bring 'living microorganism'-based products to market as drugs. The challenges include the difficulties around proving “prevention in a healthy patient”, and the fact that it is now easier to “demonstrate a mechanism of action in a sick patient”.  The term ‘probiotic’ is now regarded as an unauthorised health claim throughout Europe, with the approved terms being bacteria or micro-organisms – both of which are regarded by consumers as something quite negative to health. In some EU Member States, probiotics have been registered as ‘medical devices’ - a sub-route within EU medicines law that has become increasingly popular - but PRI executive, Magali Cordaillat-Simmons warns that, as of 2017, “…under the new EU Medical Devices Directive, it will no longer be possible to register products that way”. 

Farmed artificial humans to replace lab rats in 2 years

A German based technology company, TissUse, has developed a 'human-on-a-chip' platform which they say "enables the testing of drugs or chemicals on a set of miniaturized human organs emulating the biology of the human organism at the smallest possible biological scale". TissUse claims that, "In the future, it will be possible, for example, to significantly reduce the number of animals used in pharmaceutical research and to substitute current alternative methods to animal testing". The company, a "2010 spin-off from the Technische Universität Berlin", presented the new products and prototypes at the “9th World Congress on Alternatives and Animal Use in the Life Sciences”, which was held in Prague from from 24-28 August. The company launched a ‘two-organ-chip’ in 2013, which has been "successfully applied in more than 20 different academic and industrial research projects". Development of a ‘ten-organ-chip’ is expected to be complete by 2017. The press release about this technology has led to a variety of headlines in the media.

Omega-3 blood pressure health claim expected in the USA

NutraIngredients report that the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED) are confident about the success of a Petition for a Qualified Health Claim filed with the Food Drug Administration (FDA), which is currently open for public comment. The Health Claim Petition: "Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid and Reduction of Blood Pressure" is based on “the meta-analysis of 70 randomized controlled trials published earlier this year (and commissioned by GOED), which concluded that consuming omega-3 supplements or omega-3-rich food may be as effective as reducing sodium or alcohol, or increasing exercise for reducing blood pressure". If successful, this would be the second full omega-3 health claim, after a qualified health claim for omega-3 fatty acids and coronary heart disease was approved in 2004, which stated "Supportive but not conclusive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. One serving of [Name of the food] provides [] gram of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids".

Bayer and Syngenta being sued by Canadian beekeepers

Pesticide giants Bayer and Syngenta are being sued by Canadian beekeepers for more than $400 million for causing the deaths of their bees. Filed last week by two of Ontario’s largest honey producers, the class action lawsuit, signed by more than 30 beekeepers, aims to “…stop the use of the neonicotinoids to stop the harm to the bees and the beekeepers.” Although Bayer maintains that the risk to bees is low, the lawsuit alleges that the companies were negligent in their design, manufacture, sale and distribution of neonicotinoid pesticides. Studies have already shown that neonicotinioids have a negative effect on bees and the European Commission restricted the use of the pesticides for 2 years. Bayer and Syngenta haven’t commented on the lawsuit yet.

Father forcibly given psychiatric medication for protesting about wi-fi in schools

Northern Ireland father, Stephen Clarke, was incarcerated at a psychiatric hospital in Belfast after a peaceful protest to raise awareness about the impacts of wireless radiation exposure at his child’s school. He has been held there for over 12 weeks and forcibly medicated, and he’s not the first to be treated negatively after raising concerns about electromagnetic radiation. There are an increasing number of warnings about the impacts of wireless radiation exposure, especially for children, and this is a frightening violation of civil rights and free speech.

Pink Ribbons, Inc: The Movie

Billions of dollars have been raised by people devoted to putting an end to breast cancer, and the pink ribbon has become a familiar symbol. But these billions might not be having the impact that people are led to believe. A powerful movie came out in 2011 that we think hasn’t been given enough time on social media – it's called Pink Ribbons, Inc. The documentary is based on a book and focuses on “the industry and “culture” around breast cancer, addresses the rise of corporate involvement in fund-raising for charities…and the impact it has had on research into the disease.” It looks at why progress hasn’t been made in ending the epidemic, asks critical questions about fundraising, shines the light on ‘pinkwashing’ (when a company promotes a pink ribbon product, but at the same time produces, manufactures and/or sells products that are linked to breast cancer), and gives views of those living with the disease. Watch the trailer (or rent the movie) and register for your Think Before You Pink Toolkit.


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