EU Member States voting for say on growing GMO crops

The European Parliament in Strasbourg voted this Tuesday to give governments the final say on whether or not GM crops could be grown in their territory. Reuters reported that “Individual EU nations will be able to ban cultivation of genetically modified (GM) crops under a compromise deal agreed on Tuesday that ends years of deadlock over the barbed issue and could actually boost GM farming”. Once the plan is signed off by Member States and officially published, it will become law. Environmental campaigners are concerned that the law is “not robust enough”. But Reuters added, “Some figures in the GM industry were also unhappy, complaining that the compromise meant countries would be able to reject GM crops for unscientific reasons”. Bart Staes, a representative of Green politicians in Europe is reported to have said that Green MEPs had voted against it for fear of the plan easing the way for GM crops in Europe. He says, “Countries opposed to GMOs are given the carrot of being able to opt-out of these authorizations, but the scheme approved today fails to give them a legally-watertight basis for doing so. This is a false solution”.

Sweeteners no swap for sugar say French authorities

The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) has concluded that recommending intense sweeteners as a way of reducing sugar intake is not appropriate, and cannot be justified as a public health strategy. The reason for this is that they found no conclusive evidence of beneficial effects on the incidence of type 2 diabetes, blood sugar management, sweetness perception or weight management. They commented that, “sugar intake reduction is to be achieved by the overall reduction in the sweet taste of food, and from an early age,” and are interested as to how consumption among children might effect their development of taste, food preferences and intake control in later life. With regards to the intake of sugary and sweetened drinks, they believe that these “…are not a substitute for water consumption.”  The ANSES believe that more research is needed, especially concerning the consumption among children, pregnant women and diabetics, and more focus on the use of sweeteners for general weight management.

Denmark sets record for creating wind power

Denmark has set a new world record for wind production by getting 39.1% of its overall electricity from wind in 2014. Its goal is to get 50% of its power from renewables by the year 2020, and long-term it’s looking to be fossil fuel-free by 2050. The record was helped by the addition of around 100 new offshore wind turbines, and the European country plans to transition its heat pumps from using fossil fuels to using wind. Denmark has become a leading wind power manufacturer, and could actually soon suffer from an overabundance of wind energy. In other wind turbine news, French entrepreneur Jérôme Michaud-Larivière has come up with a design for a wind turbine tree consisting of 72 artificial leaves that operate as mini vertical turbines all around the "tree."

Organic farming at risk in Europe

The EU’s Council of Ministers and European Parliament still have yet to deliberate over the new legislation regarding organic farming but there is talk that the proposals may seriously harm the organic market. The demand for organic products is continuing to grow but experts indicate that the supply is struggling to keep up, and believe the proposals are likely to make it more difficult for conventional farmers to shift to organic agriculture practices, or even cause many organic producers to switch back to conventional farming. The new proposal promises to create clearer requirements for organic products by means of lifting certain special regulations and exceptions, the ban on growing organic and conventional crops side-by-side, and stronger controls on imported organic products. Former Agriculture Minister, Renate Künast, set a goal of covering 20% of all agricultural land with organic farming, but the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house, has criticised the Federal Government for not including any additional measures for strengthening organic agriculture in the 2015 budget. Clemens Neumann from the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture has commented that the farmers need planning security and more incentives for switching to organic farming.

NYC bans polystyrene fast food containers

This summer, a ban will take effect in New York City on polystyrene plastic foam food take out containers and coffee cups. The current Mayor, Bill de Blasio, has stated that, "These products cause real environmental harm and have no place in New York City. We have better options, better alternatives, and if more cities across the country follow our lead and institute similar bans, those alternatives will soon become more plentiful and will cost less”. It is believed that such foam takes more than 500 years to biodegrade, and is responsible for nearly 30,000 tons of waste in the city’s streets, waterways and landfills. But restaurants are concerned about the costs of an alternative material. Not unsurprisingly, The Restaurant Action Alliance lobbying group have “condemned the decision, suggesting that it would increase costs for eateries while saying that the city should instead focus on creating a plan to recycle the material”. San Francisco, Seattle and Portland have also banned polystyrene containers.

Last death throes of broken pharma model?

The National Health Service (NHS) England Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) have reviewed their drug budget.  After a “detailed assessment”, “the budget for the CDF will grow from £200 million in 2013/14, to £280 million in 2014/15, and an estimated £340 million from April 2015. This represents a total increase of 70 per cent since August 2014”. Apparently new drug indications will be funded for the first time.

The CDF panel’s view is clearly not shared by all medical doctors in the UK.  In covering the news item yesterday, BBC Breakfast’s guest NHS doctor stated, “the pharmaceutical model is broken”. He explained that double the amount of money is now being spent on marketing drugs rather than on research and development, and added that 'personalised medicine' is the order of the day, where 'genetics' and lifestyle hold the key. A subject we featured last month.

The US has also upped potential drug exposure with a new federal executive order signed by President Obama.  Under the new order, the list of illnesses for which a citizen can be detained, isolated and treated with drugs – against his or her will – has been expanded. Within the order are new ‘police power’ functions.


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