Supplements in the news, high-street sugar villains, nature-for-health plans, drug utopia and GM roundup
ANH-USA rebuts supplement ‘danger’ study
A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine concludes that, in the US, 23,000 emergency department visits every year “are attributed to adverse events related to dietary supplements. Such visits commonly involve cardiovascular manifestations from weight-loss or energy products among young adults and swallowing problems, often associated with micronutrients, among older adults”. The study was funded by the Department of Health and Human Services, and “used nationally representative surveillance data from 63 emergency departments obtained from 2004 through 2013”. This resulted in negative headlines around the world suggesting that it is dangerous to take food supplements. Time magazine and the UK’s Daily Mail were among the media outlets that published articles highlighting the ‘dangers’ of taking supplements. ANH-USA has said that the “new study totally misrepresents adverse events related to dietary supplements”.
Three worst high street ‘sugar villains’ named
The Soil Association has named Pizza Hut, Frankie & Benny’s and Nando’s as the 3 worst high street “sugar villains” for serving “obscene” amounts of the sweet stuff. The worst offenders were chosen largely because they serve unlimited re-fills of soft drink, a move that was banned by France in April. The chains were also criticised for promoting sugary desserts at the table. Two fizzy drinks and a serving of Pizza Hut’s ice cream factory equates to seven times a child’s daily recommended sugar intake. With 37% of England’s 11-15 year olds overweight or obese, added sugar (especially in fizzy drinks) has come under fire recently. Jamie Oliver called on Tuesday for a ‘sugar tax’ to stop big corporations profiting from ill health. He was backed by Rob Percival of the Soil Association who said chains like the three above teach children “lessons for life” regarding sugar and treats. Pizza Hut claim they serve low and no-sugar drinks, which make up the majority bought, and they offer free, unlimited salad. Frankie & Benny’s say they offer each child an apple on leaving and provide vegetables with every dish.
Calls for increased ‘nature budget’ from the UK NHS
The Response for Nature Report created by a coalition of wildlife groups including the National Trust, RSPB and Wildlife Trusts states that the NHS in England should be spending money using nature to help prevent and treat illness. The report wants 1% of the NHS’ £1.8bn budget spent on giving access to green spaces by 2018. In particular it is thought access to nature would help tackle obesity and mental illness. Suggestions for how to implement this health for nature strategy include encouraging people to take more walks, taking care of wildlife and volunteering outside. The exact spend from the NHS budget currently supporting similar initiatives is hard to quantify, but there is consensus that it’s “a tiny fraction”. These type of initiatives would also help protect UK wildlife, which was shown to be decreasing, many species by up to half in the past 50 years. The report calls for a long-term plan to restore and protect wild spaces, as well as beginning to offset the damage done by intensive agriculture, unsustainable living and development. The UK government’s commitment to manage one sixth of land for nature by 2020 must therefore be kept. The environment minister Rory Stewart said that the “aim is to create an environment which is the envy of the world”.
A utopian blueprint for honest pharmaceuticals
It is widely recognised that the current healthcare system needs an overhaul to stop the culture of putting profits before patients. But for over 50 years a clinical research institute in Milan – the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research has been a utopia for ‘good pharma’. Their mission statement is “To do research of international quality, to improve people’s health based on independent, transparent science and openly to educate doctors and patients about how best to address their health needs.” Their starting point is not patenting any of the discoveries made in their labs, thus removing any possible vested interests. In the new book Good Pharma, Professor Donald Light has shown that patents have encouraged drug companies to become less innovative, with 15% innovation in 1970 compared to 8% in 2000. Mario Negri secondly does not conduct placebo trials if another effective drug e.g. a supplement, already exists. This is because the idea that a drug is better than nothing is rarely the same as the drug being better than the best currently available treatment. Mario Negri also avoids more than 10% of funding coming from any organisation, proving it is possible to survive and produce relevant information without patents. Investigative journalist, Jerome Burne, said that in the UK a Mario Negri clone could raise research standards and “go some way to putting an independent spine into our regulatory system which long ago surrendered to corporate capture. It might not usher in a full –blown utopia but it would have to be a great improvement.”
GM news roundup
Health concerns over Golden Rice
Dr Tushar Chakraborty of the State Council of Biotechnology, West Bengal has raised new concerns over GM Golden Rice. Golden Rice is designed to combat Vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. Dr Chakraborty warns it could pose a serious threat to human health, in particular he warns of the presence of retinoic acid, a Vitamin A metabolite that is linked to fetus defects. He states that it is also possible that other derivatives in the rice can activate other metabolic receptors causing unknown health complications in all consumers. He went on to warn “Golden Rice is an unnecessary risk and… a move in the wrong direction”. The South Asian diet is varied enough that it contains numerous sources of Vitamin A and doctors have also warned of the danger in relying on one source and losing nutritional diversity. Earlier experiments have shown that with some Golden Rice varieties 1.5kg must be eaten to meet daily requirements, but higher yield varieties increase the risks from retinoic acid. However Bangladesh is to take Golden Rice to field trials next November and has introduced six GM aubergine cultivars and has plans on the table for GM cotton and potatoes.
Preparations underway for GM wheat field trials in the US
A 30-day public comment period announced by the US Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) is currently underway for its “proposed plan to strengthen oversight of genetically engineered (GE) wheat field trials”. Comments need to be received on or before October 26th 2015. The proposed plan “calls for all future field trials of GE wheat to be done under APHIS permit, to include requirements for more stringent post-harvest monitoring for volunteer wheat plants”. APHIS said the requirement for developers to apply for a permit for field trials of GM wheat has been proposed due to detections of its unauthorised growth in Oregon and Montana in 2014 and 2104 respectively. Meanwhile DuPont has scheduled GM CRISPR gene edited wheat (and corn) crop field trials for next spring. MIT Technology Review has said “Companies hope gene-edited crops could be largely exempted from regulation. Already, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has told several companies that it will not regulate these plants because they don’t contain genes from other species”.
Mexican chefs lead the fight against GM maize
Corn is a Mexican staple and widely regarded as the birthplace of domesticated use hundreds of years ago, having become naturally adapted to the environment. The average Mexican eats around a pound of maize a day, mostly from tortillas. But this staple food, of which there are 58 varieties in Mexico, is coming under threat according to many of the country’s top chefs, joining the voices of environmentalists and farmers. In August a district judge repealed a two-year ban on GM maize after deciding those supporting the ban had failed to show the harm caused by GM. For Monsanto, Syngenta and Dupont this was a victory. However opponents launched an appeal halting the overturn and buying some time to provide evidence of threat to human health, farming and food sovereignty. Elena Alvarez-Buylla, a biologist at the Autonomous National University of Mexico said, “it will cause destruction of landrace maize that farmers protected for centuries”. At a recent chef’s conference in Mexico City there was much debate on all topics except one – GM. When asked if they though GM maize was sustainable only three of the hundred chefs in the room answered positively. However many chefs from smaller restaurants have never heard of transgenic or GM maize and the legal battle surrounding it. Activist groups have their work cut out for them to educate chefs, restaurant owners and the general public about the dangers of GM if they are to stop Big Biotech and Big Food doing as they please.
GM opt-out proposal for imported foods rejected by EU Environment Committee
Over 60 genetically modified (GM) crops are approved for import into Europe, consisting mainly of varieties of corn and soy used in animal feed. A recent proposal for Member States to restrict or ban the use of imported GM crops, which mirrors the legislation allowing opt-outs from GM crop cultivation, has been rejected by the Environment Committee of the European Parliament.Reuters reported that the draft law was rejected by 47 votes to 3, “many arguing that the proposal was unworkable and would lead to the reintroduction of border controls”. Environment Committee chair Giovanni La Vi reportedly said “A clear majority in the committee does not want to jeopardise the internal market. For us, the existing legislation should remain in place and Member States should shoulder their responsibilities and take a decision together”. The EU Parliament is due to vote on the law on October 28th 2015.