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5 Inconvenient Truths You Need to Know Before Eating Lunch

Food

From mercury in tuna and wood pulp in parmesan cheese to ground beef treated with ammonia to retard E. coli (“pink slime”), the press does a good job exposing the dangerous and deceptive practices of Big Food. The problem is, the public forgets about the food risk or contamination, assuming that reform is in the works and that is just fine with Big Food. Often nothing changes.

For example, many thought the problem of mercury in tuna had been solved since it has been so widely reported. But Time recently wrote “the latest analysis shows that eating fish the way the government recommends is exposing people, especially pregnant women, to unsafe levels of mercury.” And two years after the nation’s stomach was turned by pink slime, its manufacturer Beef Products, Inc. had reopened plants and even filed a defamation lawsuit against ABC and Diane Sawyer. Who are you calling pink slime?

Here are some hidden-in-plain-sight facts Big Food doesn’t want you to know.

1. Meat Preservatives Cause Cancer

Did you ever wonder why bacon, hot dogs, ham, cold cuts, Slim Jims and most processed and cured meats taste salty, look pink and stay on the shelves indefinitely? Because food processors use the preservatives nitrite and nitrate which produce the pink color, delay bacterial growth and rancid taste and smell and impart a cured or smoked meat flavor.

Researchers have known since the 1970s that the preservatives become "nitrosamines" in the body—compounds that cause cancer. Following a 2008 American Institute for Cancer Research/World Cancer Research Fund report that found just one hot dog a day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 21 percent, there were calls to ban such processed meat, especially in schools. Last year, the World Health Organization reignited the controversy and declared processed meats Group 1 carcinogens, the highest risk category that exists. WHO researchers, who analyzed 800 studies, defined processed meat as “anything transformed to improve its flavor or preserve it, including sausages, beef jerky and anything smoked,” reported the Boston Globe. Researchers identified links from processed meats to colon, prostate and pancreatic cancers.

Scientific articles also link nitrosamines to lung cancerkidney cancer, stroke, coronary heart disease and diabetes mellitus. The American Cancer Society tells people not to eat them. Still, the industry-influenced USDA remains agnostic about the dangers of nitrosamines in its new Dietary Guidelines rolled out this year. "We are pretty disappointed the report doesn't recommend limiting red and processed meat because of the link to cancer," said Katie McMahon of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

2. Shrimp are a Safety Disaster Waiting to Happen

Most people do not realize the majority of shrimp sold in the U.S. are neither domestic nor wild-caught. They are imported from countries like Thailand, India and Indonesia where they are "farmed" in crowded, filthy pools with antibiotics, disinfectants and parasiticides that are banned in the U.S. The shrimp themselves have their eyes removed before being raised in pools so dense and dirty that many die.

The FDA is responsible for ensuring the safety of such imported shrimp for human consumption, yet more than 96 percent of shipments are not opened or even checked when they arrive on the dock in the U.S. Instead, exporters' identities are stored in the FDA Automated Commercial System (ACS) system and only if a country or company has had prior problems will it receive receive inspections. Even then, the so-called inspection may only be a look at documents or a visual inspection, not lab tests for dangerous substances. FDA inspectors admit that blocked exporters can “transship” their products from another country to fool inspectors. Is anyone surprised that banned drugs and mislabeled products including pet shrimp find their way to U.S. dinner tables?

Like so many food products that are bad for consumers, intensively farmed shrimp also harm the environment, workers and animals. A recent, award-winning Associated Press series exposes slave labor used in the commercial seafood industry in Indonesia and Thailand—and the actual incarceration of captive workers in Myanmar in cages. U.S. officials and human rights activists call on Americans to “stop buying fish and shrimp tied to supply chains in Thailand.” Intensive shrimp farming also harms sensitive mangrove areas.

3. Antibiotic Use in Livestock is Getting Worse

By now, most conscientious eaters know that Big Food uses tons of antibiotics to make animals gain weight with less feed thus driving antibiotic resistant bacteria and infections. Antibiotics are also used to prevent illness in the extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions of “factory farms.” What people may not realize is that Big Food has repeatedly defeated government attempts to regulate and prohibit antibiotic use and that Big Pharma and Big Food, not the government, actually call the shots. In 2008, the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries stormed Capitol Hill over the proposal to prohibit the use of Cefzil and Keflex (important human drugs called cephalosporins), claiming they could not “farm” without the drugs. They won.

In 2014, the FDA tried regulation again, proposing a voluntary plan in which drug makers would agree to remove the use of “growth promotion and feed efficiency” on antibiotic labels and the drugs would only be used to prevent disease. Did the government really think Big Pharma and Big Meat would undercut their own profits and meat producers would comply?

Soon after the announcement, Michael Hansen, senior staff scientist at Consumers Union, told me it was likely Big Pharma would simply replace “growth production" with "disease prevention" on the labels and continue the routine antibiotic use. Cattle producers could continue to feed grain instead of grass to animals even though it produces more liver abscesses, then treating them with the antibiotic Tylosin to "prevent disease," he told me.

So far, according to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, domestic sales and distribution of livestock cephalosporins increased by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014, antibiotics like clindamycin by 150 percent and antibiotics like gentamicin by 36 percent. Thanks for nothing, FDA.

4. Mad Cow Disease is Still with Us

There is probably no disease Big Food fears as much as “mad cow,” a fatal, incurable highly contagious disease transmitted by particles called prions that are not killed by heat, ammonia, bleach, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, phenol, lye, formaldehyde or even radiation. They are said to remain infectious in the soil for years.

Within 24 hours of discovery of the USDA’s first mad cow in 2003, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, South Africa, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and 90 other countries banned U.S. beef—wiping out 98 percent of the $3 billion overseas beef market.

Subsequent mad cow scares have caused the biggest beef recall in U.S. history, terrified medical patients (when news of a patient with a related human brain disorder, CJD, in a hospital surfaced) and destroyed futures markets in minutes. Driving the panic are questions about how cows get the disease, whether the feed is safe and where herd mates and offspring are. But in recent years, Big Food has mitigated the problem by terming new mad cow cases "atypical"—meaning they “just happen.” Since the pathogenesis is spontaneous, the feed sources and herd mates no longer have to be traced and the story will soon drop from the news and consumers' concerns.

Yet the disease is far from gone. Last year, a likely new case of mad cow turned up in Ireland and both Norway and Canada reported “atypical” cases. This month a suspected mad cow was found in France. Last year, two people died from the mad cow-related version of CJD in Italy and Tampa had two cases of CJD whose origins were not determined.

5. Bird Flu and Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus are Worse than Reported

Do you remember the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv) outbreak in 2013 or the bird flu epidemic of 2015? Chances are no, because Big Food managed to prevent the public from seeing dumpsters full of the dead livestock lest people ask what is happening on factory farms, why are so many animals sick, what drugs are they taking and why should we eat products from such sick animals. News reports instead focused on farmers' financial losses, price increases in the products and farmers' needs to "restock."

At least one tenth of U.S. pigs died in 2013 and 2014 from PEDv, though Big Food assures food consumers the disease is unlikely to jump species and infect people. Almost 50 million flu-stricken chickens and turkeys died in 2015, "piled up in dumpsters, attracting flies and emitting a stench. Only recently has the disposal crisis abated, with the help of "round-the-clock incinerators and crews in hazmat suits," reported Fortune. While egg layers were dosed with carbon monoxide, floor-reared turkeys and broiler chickens were herded into an enclosed area and administered a propylene glycol foam that suffocates them.

Neither of the outbreaks are gone. In January, the bird flu was back at an Indiana turkey farm where all the birds were slaughtered and their carcasses destroyed. Pork producers say PEDv will likely never be gone in the U.S. and other diseases also loom.

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.