Processed meat classified by WHO as proven human carcinogen

Processed meats such as bacon, ham and sausages have been determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of the World Health Organization (WHO) to cause cancer. A majority (15) of 22 experts from the IARC has decided that just 50g of processed meat a day increases your chances of colorectal cancer by 18%, while red meats are “probably carcinogenic”. However, little or nothing has been said about the impact of nitrite and nitrate preservatives in processed meats (which are known to produce nitroso compounds, themselves probable carcinogens according to IARC), or cooking methods for red meat e.g. chargrilling and barbequing, which create carcinogenic compounds (heterocyclic amines and polyaromatic hydrocarbons) in the meat that other methods do not. Then there may be differences depending on the rearing of animals, the stress to which they are subjected, and what they're fed (e.g. grass vs cereal, non-GMO vs GMO). IARC cites estimates that 34,000 deaths a year are related to diets high in processed meat. The WHO does not suggest eliminating meat completely but recommends cutting meat intake. It says that eating processed meats occasionally is unlikely to cause harm, stressing that there are orders of magnitude differences in level of risk between say cigarette smoking and preserved meats. Some will therefore be reassured that eating bacon is not as dangerous as smoking, but on the other hand, for the cautious among us, it's noteworthy that it's been placed in the same category as plutonium and alcohol i.e. proven human carcinogens. The WHO also acknowledged that red meat does have health benefits. Apart from being a source of essential protein, it is also a good source of iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

Pharma efforts to block public release of clinical trial data

The UK Times has this week reported on pharmaceutical company lobbying to prevent the full public release of all clinical trial data for new drugs approved in the EU. At the beginning of this year, the new European Medicines Agency (EMA) policy on publication of clinical data came into effect. The EMA website states “The policy entered into force on 1 January 2015. It will apply to clinical reports contained in all marketing-authorisation applications submitted on or after this date. The reports will be released as soon as a decision on the application has been taken. The publication of the first reports is foreseen for mid-2016”. Corporate Europe Observatory recently published a report entitled “Policy Prescriptions” about the “Firepower of the EU pharmaceutical lobby and implications for public health”. In the executive summary statement, they reveal that the pharma industry, their trade associations and associated EU lobby firms have “a staggering number of meetings with European Commission departments and officials”, and “the largest public-private partnership in the EU is with the pharmaceutical industry. Alongside its gargantuan resources and considerable access, the industry has an impressive lobbying arsenal. Its efforts are now focused on ensuring US-EU trade agreement TTIP furthers its profit-motivated agenda, including its property rights and to prevent vital data transparency for big pharma’s clinical trials”.

Almond milk might be good for us, but less so for the environment

Dairy consumption in the UK has dropped 30% in the past 20 years, while alternatives such as almond, coconut, rice and soya milks have had an average annual increase of 10.9%. Of the dairy alternatives, almond milk recently overtook soya milk as the most popular milk substitute in the UK. It is thought this may be due to the perceived, and associated, health benefits of eating almonds, which include lowered risks of heart disease and Alzheimer’s. However, some of the leading brands such as Alpro contain only 2% almonds, with water as the dominant ingredient. Almond trees also need a great deal of water to produce the nuts — around 5L per nut. Eighty percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, where droughts are commonplace. As demand for almond milk increases, so will the environmental impacts created by increased water use. Bees are essential for pollination of the almond trees, but there aren’t enough bees in California to pollinate the vast numbers of almond groves. Honeybee hives are shipped in from all across the US, which brings its own environmental impacts. Introducing bees to vast fields of monocrop means they are exposed to more pesticides, contributing to colony die-off plus the harmful effects of large-scale transport on bee health.

Probiotics may help reduce anxiety and improve memory

Early findings from a small study suggest that taking probiotics for even a month can help reduce anxiety and stress by lowering cortisol levels. Participants in the study taking probiotics could also expect to do better in memory tests. Those studied were given probiotic capsules of a billion Bifidobacterium longum 1714 bacteria, a harmless strain found in the gut, for a month and a placebo for a month but were not aware which they were taking. Although the study was small scale the results show a decrease in stress noticeable to consumers. Similar results have already been shown in mice. The bacteria found in probiotic food supplements are generally from strains found in a healthy human gut, which are essential for healthy digestion and displacing harmful bacteria. Professor Ted Dinan the scientist leading the study said, “My hope is that within the next five years we’ll have a probiotic or two on the market that will be effective for treating mild forms of anxiety and depression”. These results contribute to similar studies this year showing the potential of probiotics in improving behavioural symptoms of inflammatory diseases.

EU TTIP draft proposals appear lax with environmental safeguards

The UK Guardian newspaper has seen and published confidential text from the recent Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations in Miami. They reported that the draft proposals for the chapter on sustainable development “contain only vaguely phrased and non-binding commitments to environmental safeguards”. They further reported that there were no obligations proposed “to ratify international environmental conventions... and ways of enforcing goals on biodiversity, chemicals and the illegal wildlife trade are similarly absent”. An earlier promise by the European Commission to “to safeguard green laws, defend international standards and protect the EU’s right to set high levels of environmental protection” appears to have been broken. Tim Grabiel, a Paris-based environmental attorney reportedly said “The sustainable development chapter comprises a series of aspirational statements and loosely worded commitments with an unclear dispute settlement mechanism. It has little if any legal force”.

EFSA: ‘terrible lack of data’ for setting nutrient DRVs

Representatives from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have attended the 12th Federation of European Nutrition Societies (FENS) congress in Berlin last week. EFSA havecalled on researchers to deliver better data as it continues its gargantuan task of setting nutrient intake reference for 500m European Union citizens”. Their member on its Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA), Susan Fairweather-Tait, reportedly said, “There is a terrible lack of data. It is really poor”. She said, “We need research which is designed to generate data”. The report continues, “The task is complicated by the acknowledged lack of quality intake, bioavailability and efficacy data meaning methods like extrapolation between, say, infants and adults, or men and women, must at times be employed in the setting of DRVs and other intake measures”.

Female goats fed GM soybeans produce shorter, slow growing offspring

Pregnant goats fed with genetically engineered soybeans give birth to slow growing, short offspring a study in Italy has shown. Female goats were fed for 60 days on either GM Roundup Ready soybeans, which are resistant to the herbicide Roundup (itself recently labelled cancer-causing by the WHO) and are sold by Monsanto; or normal soybeans. Their newborn kids were then only fed their mother’s milk for 60 days. The kids fed by mothers eating GM were shown to be 20% shorter and lighter than kids receiving regular milk, a significant difference. GM-fed mothers produced milk that initially contained only a third of the protein found in normal milk and half the IgG antibodies, however milk nutrients returned to normal levels (18% protein) after a few weeks. The kids were all a similar size at birth so the later size difference can be traced back to development issues arising from poor-quality mothers milk. Low IgG antibodies correlate to low nutrient absorption as they promote gut development, which could explain the poor development in these kids. “Regulators and GMO developers have continually dismissed credible reports of GMO crops causing apparent harm to animals, from many different research groups.” Said Dr Allison Wilson of The Bioscience Resource Project.

Greenpeace files complaint regarding EC failure to disclose options on GM

Greenpeace has filed a complaint regarding the European Commission’s (EC) failure to disclose policy options considered as part of the plan to give countries the right to opt out of GM crops authorised for sale in the EU. The European Parliament will likely reject the proposal today, as a result of the EC’s failure to declare its real motives. President Junker said recently that he wants to restore EU credibility and close the gap on GM between Europe and its citizens. He has pledged more transparency and to respect the majority views regarding market approvals for GM. But in reality he has preserved the right of the EC to impose GM on a majority of governments, MEPs and citizens. The EC has also been secretive about plans to allow national bans of GM.

Greenpeace argues that:

  • The EC has failed to apply EU rules for document access as set out in EU law
  • The public right to be informed has been sacrificed in order for the EC to protect and strengthen it’s renegotiating position, creating a distorted and unacceptable conception of the EC’s role in law-making
  • Withholding documents by the EC clashes with the President’s commitment for increased transparency and restoration of trust.