This cell-based industry is where scientists, environmentalists and food technology companies intersect to offer more sustainable ways to feed the world's growing population. The high-tech food innovations take "the animal out of the meat" and create "seafood without the sea," respectively coined by New Atlas and NPR. These products — real meat and seafood — are originally cultured from animal cells but made without the actual animal. Because of this, many of the personal and global concerns about safety, ethics and the environment can be avoided without sacrificing food preferences.
Two leading industry examples are Eat Just and BlueNalu. Last month, Singapore issued San Francisco-based Eat Just the world's first regulatory approval for cell-based meat. The "chicken nuggets" are now available at downtown Singapore restaurant 1880. Meanwhile, San Diego's BlueNalu has pioneered "cellular aquaculture" to create cell-based seafood fillets from fish, including yellowtail, mahi-mahi, red snapper and tuna. In mid-2020, the company increased its research and development facilities six-fold after completing a $20 million funding round, The Fish Site reported. These two companies are pushing the industry to the next level with key regulatory developments and new innovations.
The Science Behind Cell-Based
In a nutshell, this is how cell-based food works: muscle stem cells are obtained from an actual animal, like chicken or fish, and cultivated in steel tanks with the same nutrients that living animals consume. The goal is not to grow a full animal, so the end result doesn't include the head, tail or heart, for example, while the original cell donor isn't sacrificed. The harvested cells multiply and are shaped to form meat or fish that cooks, looks and tastes just like its real counterpart.
"The process is somewhat like culturing a beer. At the end of the process, you have chicken meat," Eat Just CEO Josh Tetrick told Bloomberg.
BlueNalu's President and CEO Lou Cooperhouse agreed, telling EcoWatch, "We aren't making a living being, it's just a fish fillet. It's live tissue until we freeze it. Then it's no longer live; it's the product you might have and consume every day."
But how does it really taste? Identical to what consumers are used to, both companies told EcoWatch.
Cooperhouse described how his company mimics the "mouth feel" of conventional fish by recreating the same proportions of muscle, fat and connective tissue in their cell-based fillets. The company uses starter cells to grow all three types of tissue and then combines them to create the same exact product that consumers are used to eating.
"We're creating identical mahi-mahi to conventional mahi-mahi, from a sensory perspective and a functional perspective," Cooperhouse told EcoWatch. "When you cook it, it smells like fish. You can fry it, bake it, saute it. It caramelizes. It has all the same characteristics as fish, because it is fish. We just made it out of the body. We made it in steel tanks."
Andrew Noyes, head of global communications for Eat Just, similarly said that their chicken product "cooks, looks and tastes like chicken," including the flavor profile and texture, "because it is chicken."
The Many Advantages of Cultured Foods
Both companies emphasized how cell-based foods don't require killing animals or adding growth hormones or antibiotics. Cell-based food also removes the environmental impact of industrial farming and commercial fishing. This "critical overlay of benefits at every level" creates a new solution for global supply chains that supports biodiversity and the planet's health, Cooperhouse said.
"We want consumers to know our fillets are different in these ways," Cooperhouse added. "They're not wild, not farmed." On a company blog, Cooperhouse said that BlueNalu's products are a third alternative way to enjoy fish that is "as delicious and nutritious as their wild-caught or farm-raised counterparts... but without the mercury, microplastics or other pollutants that might be associated with conventional seafood."
Tetrick also emphasized the safety advantage of cultured meat over conventional. "This way of making meat radically decreases the probability of zoonotic diseases through our food system," he told Bloomberg, because it avoided pathogens like E. coli and salmonella, as well as sanitization concerns.
The environmental benefits of cell-cultured meat also mean less environmental destruction. Conventional meat production requires massive amounts of land for grazing and food production. Just growing feed for livestock uses 71 percent of global arable land and drives Amazonian deforestation.
"Chicken is the world's most consumed (and fastest growing) meat," Noyes told EcoWatch. "Chickens also consume more feed collectively than other farmed animals. Today, more than one-third of the ice-free land on Earth and tens of millions of acres of rainforest teeming with our planet's most diverse life forms have been replaced with fields of chicken feed."
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 60 percent of the world's fisheries are fully fished, or at maximum output capacity, and 33 percent are overfished. Additionally, in the last half-century, oceanic dead zones have quadrupled due to fishing and the climate crisis, reported Big Think. Fish farming, once thought to be a solution to declining wild fish populations, brings its own issues, including the loss of critical mangrove habitat and the proliferation of sea lice and other diseases from farms, which escape and kill wild fish, Seafood Watch reported.
Cell-based seafood won't put pressure on these depleted stocks and fragile habitats and will also avoid bycatch, a serious threat to biodiversity when unintentionally fished creatures are injured or killed.
Meat production is also energy-intensive and generates vast amounts of methane and other greenhouse gases. Cell-based foods are more carbon efficient and climate-friendly than conventional meat and seafood because of production efficiency and a localized distribution plan.
"If you look at climate change, this way of making meat is 90 percent more carbon-efficient than the typical approach," Tetrick told Bloomberg.
BlueNalu is preparing to scale for global cities to house 150,000-square-foot facilities, each capable of producing enough cell-based seafood to feed more than 10 million local residents, NPR reported. This way, cell-based seafood will avoid greenhouse gas emissions caused by shipping.
Finally, waste is reduced because these companies are only growing the animal parts to be consumed. Traditionally, cattle are inefficient, requiring five to 20 pounds of plant-based feed to create one pound of conventional beef, CNet reported. Scientific American estimated that one tissue sample from a cow could yield enough muscle tissue to make 80,000 quarter-pounders.
Cooperhouse estimated that a typical fish would produce a 60 percent yield after cutting off the head and tail and removing the skin and bones, whereas his fillets yield 100 percent.
"It's a total paradigm shift from an environmental and sustainability perspective," he told EcoWatch. "All that freight, oil, labor, dry ice, foam coolers — all goes away."
The consistency of quality, readily available products has also garnered interest from foodservice operators, Cooperhouse said. Having a stable supply available year-round will help restaurants combat the variability they currently experience.
The big question is whether or not the general public will eat the products, once available.
"If there's an ick factor to cell-based fish, remember that most processed foods are already created in laboratories," argued Big Think. "There are no Oreo trees or ketchup plants to harvest."
A University of Queensland survey found that a majority of respondents would try the products, but less would eat them regularly or see them as conventional meat replacements, New Atlas reported. Respondents reported that taste would be a driving factor in favor of cell-based foods.
Cost is the other issue. For Eat Just, their products are competitively priced with premium chicken, although they foresee a pathway for a cheaper price within the next five years, Tetrick told Bloomberg. BlueNalu doesn't yet have a price point for their inaugural mahi-mahi fillet, but are aggressively partnering with known brands and distributors to lower costs.
Singapore's approval of Eat Just's nugget is paving the way for other companies and nations to follow suit, The Guardian reported. Both Eat Just and BlueNalu are actively engaging regulators in the U.S. and other countries to bring their products online as quickly and safely as possible. Since the products are not genetically modified, "the approval will be about whether this is safe, clean, and are the manufacturing processes reliable and accountable," Cooperhouse told NPR.
While not a substitute for all conventional food, if cell-based meats and seafood are scaled up and accepted, many hope to feed the world's anticipated 9.5 billion people without stripping the planet bare and ruining the climate.
"The simplest way to think about it is it allows all of us to consume meat, the good part, the nutritional composition, the taste, and do away with the bad part, which is the killing, the environmental deforestation, the acceleration of zoonotic disease, and we can still have a fried chicken," Tetrick told Bloomberg.
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Fast fashion has been called the second dirtiest industry in the world, next to big oil, and how we color our clothes is a large part of the problem. Now, Colorifix, a UK biotech company founded by Cambridge University scientists, has developed a new way to dye clothes that doesn't harm the planet.
Historically, natural dyes extracted from plants and flowers were used to color fabrics. The production of modern chemical dyes uses more than 8,000 chemicals, solvents and additives to create different colors and effects on fabrics, reported Pure Earth and CNN. Many, like sulfur, arsenic and formaldehyde, are harmful to wildlife and humans, and end up in industrial wastewater from the dye production process, reported CNN.
In less developed Asian countries, where a large share of today's clothes is produced, weak regulations and/or enforcement allow textile manufacturers to dump toxic substances directly into local waterways, reported CNN. This has caused the dyeing industry to become one of the most environmentally harmful in the world. In fact, according to the UN Environment Program, around 20% of global wastewater is generated during textile dyeing and processing.
"When we realized that so much of the pollution comes from something as simple as putting color into our clothes, we thought 'there has to be a better way,'" Colorifix's CEO Orr Yarkoni told CNN.
According to Yarkoni, Colorifix's new method uses biotechnology and bacteria to eliminate the need for toxic chemicals and claims its processes use 90% less water and up to 40% less energy than conventional dyeing, reported CNN.
Unlike with natural dyeing, Colorifix pigments are not derived straight or extracted from plants or animals. And, unlike with chemical dyeing, they don't use anything hazardous in the process, explained Yarkoni in a CNN video.
Instead, Colorifix "copies nature's processes in a lab setting, by replicating the 'DNA message' that codes for color in an organism," according to CNN. This tricks the genetically-modified bacteria to create and fill up with those exact same colors.
"So what we can do is take a feather off a parrot, scrape a few cells off ... and in those cells, look for the DNA message 'make red,'" Yarkoni told CNN. "We can then put that same message into our microorganism that will make that same red that the parrot makes the same way that the parrot makes it."
Yarkoni's team then duplicates the dyed bacterial cells in a fermenting machine, feeding them sugar molasses and nitrogen — byproducts from the agricultural industry, LA BioTech reported. The cells duplicate themselves every 25 minutes. The fermentation process which duplicates the bacteria is similar to beer, but instead of making alcohol, Colorifix makes pigments, CNN reported.
In an industry-first, the dyed bacteria are then applied onto the fabric directly and heated until they burst, releasing their dye onto the fabric, LA BioTech reported. The cell membranes then wash off but the color stays.
"What we're doing is not just providing a new pigment. We're providing a new way of getting the pigment into the fiber," Yarkoni told LA BioTech.
This new way of applying dyes to fabrics is more efficient and environmentally-beneficial because it removes the middle step of isolating dyes from microbes and applying them to textiles, which is water- and chemical-intensive, Colorifix told CNN.
Yarkoni also touted the additional benefit of reducing fashion's huge carbon footprint from shipping. Currently, the industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions per year than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined.
Rather than shipping large amounts of dye, Colorifix can send five grams of color-packed bacteria to a dyehouse, and the microorganisms will multiply within 10 days to the point where the factory can produce 50 tonnes of dye solution a day, according to CNN.
Competitor PILI, a French startup creating ready-to-use dyes from plant sugars and microbes, critiqued Colorifix's "grow your own" approach to dyeing because dyehouses will need to buy fermenting equipment and receive training on the process, CNN reported. These hurdles could create resistance to making the switch to sustainable dyes, Pili claimed, CNN reported. Other industry experts worried about the regulatory issues surrounding the transport of live microbes safely.
Colorifix has been hugely successful and received backing from Swedish fashion giant H&M. Colorifix has more customers than it can handle, and launched its first industrial trial at a Portuguese dyehouse last month, CNN reported.
"I truly believe that in the future, a very large proportion of our industry — if not all of it — will be based on these biological principles," Yarkoni told CNN.
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Krill oil has gained a lot of popularity recently as a superior alternative to fish oil. Basically, the claim goes, anything fish oil can do, krill oil does better. Read on to learn what makes krill oil supplements better than fish oil supplements, why you should consider these vitamin supplements, and which brands we recommend.
What is Krill Oil?
Krill oil is made from a tiny, shrimp-like crustaceans that live in the ocean and usually serve as whale food. In fact, krill means "whale food" in Norwegian. These tiny organisms actually play an extremely important role in the food chains of marine ecosystems. The krill used to make krill oil are usually found in the waters around Antarctica.
Just like the fish oils found in supplements, krill oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids that contain EPA and DHA, two compounds that are proven to have a number of health benefits.
But what makes krill oil better than fish oil?
It's believed that krill oil is better absorbed in the body than fish oil. Both derive most of their benefits through the EPA and DHA that are contained in their fatty acid stores. However, for the same dose, krill oil will result in more fatty acids in the blood than fish oil. A potential explanation for this is that while fish oil's fatty acids come as triglycerides, krill oil's come as phospholipids which are more easily processed by the body.
Additionally, krill oil contains astaxanthin which is an antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties that might have an enhanced positive effect on heart health. Studies have shown that krill oil is more effective than fish oil at lowering blood pressure and lowering bad cholesterol.
Our Picks for the Best Krill Oil Supplements
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus
- Best for Cognitive Health - Onnit Krill Oil
- Best for Heart Health - NOW Neptune Krill Oil
- Best for Joint Health - Viva Naturals Antarctic Krill Oil
- Strongest - Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil
How We Chose the Best Krill Oil Supplements
Here are the factors that we considered when comparing the best krill oil brands to create our list of recommended supplements.
Omega-3 Content - We looked to see the amount of omega-3 fatty acids contained in each krill oil softgel or capsule.
Astaxanthin Content - The best krill oil pills contain this naturally-occurring antioxidant.
Third-Party Lab Testing - For any nutritional supplement, we choose brands that guarantee the quality of their product through independent lab testing.
Krill Source - We also compared these supplements for the source of their krill oil, and only recommend brands that use sustainably-harvested krill.
The 5 Best Krill Oil Supplements
Best Overall: Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus
- Omega-3s - 330 mg per 3 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 150 mcg per 3 softgels
- Krill Source - Antarctica
Why buy: We love Vital Plan Krill Oil Plus because it contains omega-3 fatty acids, astaxanthin, and choline to help promote brain, cardiovascular, and joint health, and because it is made with sustainably-harvested Antarctic krill. In fact, Vital Plan uses Superba krill oil, which is certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and is 100% traceable.
Best for Cognitive Health: Onnit Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 240 mg per 2 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 200 mcg per 2 softgels
- Krill Source - Antarctica
Why buy: Onnit Krill Oil makes it easy to supplement your diet with the essential nutrients found in krill with just two softgels per day. The DHA and EPA fatty acids, plus astaxanthin, contained in these supplements can help support better cognitive, heart, and joint health. Plus, they source their krill from a Friend of the Sea certified supplier.
Best for Heart Health: NOW Neptune Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 250 mg per 2 softgels
- Astaxanthin - 360 mcg per 2 softgels
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: NOW Neptune Krill Oil supplements use 100% Neptune krill oil, a patented oil derived from Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Two softgels contain 250 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 360 mcg of astaxanthin that can promote better cardiovascular and joint health. We like NOW Neptune Krill Oil because they also get their krill oil from a Friend of the Sea certified source.
Best for Joint Health: Viva Naturals Antarctic Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 330 mg per 2 capsules
- Astaxanthin - 1.6 mg per 2 capsules
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: Viva Naturals uses a trademarked Caplique capsulation to avoid any krill oil odor or potential fishy burps. WIth 90 mg of DHA and 165 mg of EPA per 2 capsule serving, this supplement will definitely give you your money's worth, as they pack more DHA and EPA than your average supplement. We like that these capsules contain a higher concentration of the antioxidant astaxanthin, and are designed to eliminate any fishy aftertaste.
Strongest: Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil
- Omega-3s - 240 mg per softgel
- Astaxanthin - 500 mcg per softgel
- Source - Antarctica
Why buy: IKOS certified and made with their proprietary Superba krill oil formula, Sports Research Antarctic Krill Oil is an excellent choice if you're looking to enjoy the benefits that quality omega-3 fatty acids can provide. Every softgel capsule contains 1000 mg of krill oil, making it the strongest krill oil supplement on our list. We like that their krill oil is also certified as sustainably sourced by the MSC.
The Research on Krill Oil Supplements
Research has long demonstrated the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in foods like fish, nuts, and certain grains like flax seed. Since krill oil naturally contains higher levels of these beneficial nutrients, it has also been found to provide a number of health benefits.
Numerous studies have linked the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and krill oil to cardiovascular health, finding that those who ingest higher levels of these nutrients are at lower risk for coronary heart disease, potentially lower risk of stroke, and have lower cholesterol levels. Another study found that krill oil supplements offer a safe alternative to fish oil for those seeking cardiovascular benefits in a smaller and more convenient form.
Krill oil supplementation has also been found to help reduce the symptoms of knee and joint pain.
Additionally, researches found that rats given krill oil supplements showed improved cognitive function and benefited from anti-depressant-like effects. However, more research on its effect for human brain development and function is needed.
How to Choose the Right Krill Oil Supplement
When shopping for a krill oil supplement, there are important pieces of information that you should always look for. Here are some tips on how to compare brands and how to read labels.
What to Look For
For any supplement, always check to see if it has undergone third-party lab testing for quality and safety. This is especially important for any fish or krill oil to make sure that it does not contain any harmful compounds like mercury.
Look for the amount of krill oil contained in each capsule and each serving (as these will sometimes differ). You should choose supplements that offer between 200 mg and 350 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per serving for the best results.
Make it a priority to learn where the brand sources its supply of krill oil. We recommend brands that use sustainably-harvested Antarctic krill oil because the process of harvesting is more tightly regulated by various groups.
This is good advice for all nutritional supplements, but be sure the krill oil you choose does not contain any unwanted or unnecessary ingredients. All of our recommendations contain just the krill oil and the capsule it comes in.
How to Read Labels
When you are comparing krill oil supplements, here are some key things to look for on any label:
- Supplement Facts - This is where you can find information on the amount of krill oil in each capsule, how many capsules make up one serving, and a breakdown of how many omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients are contained in the supplement.
- Other Ingredients - Listed at the bottom of the supplement facts table, this list will tell you what the capsule itself is made of and if there are any additional ingredients present.
- Certifications - Check the label for important certifications and seals of approvals that can tell you if a krill oil is IKOS-certified, third-party lab tested, or sustainably harvest.
How to Use Krill Oil Supplements
Krill oil supplements typically come in capsules that you swallow with water. For most brands, 2 to 3 capsules make up a single serving, and you can take a serving either once or twice per day. Some brands recommend their supplements be taken with food to aid in their digestion and absorption.
Safety & Side Effects
While krill oil supplements are generally considered safe for most adults, it is extremely important to note that you should not take krill oil if you are allergic to shellfish. The potential side effects for krill oil are considered mild and similar to fish oils, including:
- Upset stomach
- Fishy taste
By Andrea Germanos
A new report released Tuesday draws attention to the worldwide decline in insects and calls for global policies to boost the conservation of both agriculture and the six-footed creatures.
The publication, entitled Insect Atlas, comes from two progressive networks: Brussels-based Friends of the Earth and Berlin-based Heinrich Böll Foundation.
"The global loss of insects is dramatic," Heinrich Böll Foundation president Barbara Unmüßig said in a statement.
The report points to various studies documenting that loss, including 2018 research finding 41% of insect species are in decline and that one-third of all insect species are threatened by extinction. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) estimated that 10 percent of insect species are endangered, and another study cited in the new analysis found that at least one in 10 bee and butterfly species in Europe is threatened with extinction.
While there's no definitive count of the global loss of insects, Insect Atlas says the trend is unmistakable.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
That decline has major impacts on food.
"Three-quarters of the world's most important crops exhibit a yield benefit from pollinators: they contribute directly to around one-third of global food production," says the report.
The methods used for that production have a huge impact on insects.
"Alongside climate change and light pollution, the spread and intensification of farming is by far the most important cause of the global decline in insect numbers," the report adds.
This type of farming is dependent upon expanding pasture—often at the expense of destroying Indigenous land and wild animal habitat—and prioritizes monocultures and therefore insect-killing pesticides, the use of which has steadily increased for the past nine decades, the economic profits of which are predominantly flowing towards just four entities: BASF, Bayer, Syngenta, and Corteva. From the publication:
What is more, the number of chemical products in use around the world continues to increase. And, their negative effects on the insect world are also becoming more and more evident. This is not just because a growing number of chemicals are being applied; the formulations are also increasingly effective and can be used more selectively
Even when some nations ban certain pesticides over concerns, the chemicals' adverse impacts don't disappear; they just change locations.
The developed world is waking up to the risks associated with the use of pesticides. The situation is different in the developing world: chemicals that are banned in Europe and North America are still used routinely to control pests. Stricter controls are needed, along with better information for farmers.
Insect Atlas. Bartz / Stockmar, CC BY 4.0
Dismantling industrial agriculture, says the report, is essential. "There is no alternative: to protect insects, farming must become part of the solution. Not just for the sake of society, but also for the sake of farming itself—because it, too, needs insects."
"The evidence is clear: pesticide use is wiping out insect populations and ecosystems around the world, and threatening food production," Mute Schimpf, food and farming campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said in a statement.
"A handful of corporations control the bulk of pesticide supply, and if left unchecked will continue to use their immense political influence to lock in a system of industrial farming which will continue to wipe out nature and destroy rural communities," she continued.
One area of reform that would address deforestation and the resulting insect habitat losses is curbing meat consumption and therefore the huge swathes of land on which genetically modified animal feed is grown. "If the developed world were to consume less meat and if agricultural products were no longer used as fuel," says the report, "the pressure on the land areas could be reduced considerably."
Insect Atlas lays out a number of solutions for global policymakers to pursue. They include:
- Gradually reducing the use of synthetic pesticides by 80 percent in EU agriculture by 2030, starting from 2020 and phase out exports of pesticides banned in the EU;
- Radically reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), including the phasing out of harmful untargeted direct payments, setting aside at least 50% of the CAP budget for environmental, nature, and climate objectives and support farmers in the transition to agroecology;
- Phasing out harmful farming methods like growing genetically modified plants or introducing a new generation of genetically modified insects;
- Taking urgent actions to achieve the targets suggested in the European Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies to increase organic farming;
- Reducing the production and consumption of industrial meat and other animal products and supporting plant-based options; and
- Cutting the overall EU demand for agrocommodities in order to reduce global deforestation.
Schimpf spoke about those solutions and the report on Euronews Tuesday:
What are the consequences for our food supply? "If we continue using pesticides so heavily, farmers will lose the… https://t.co/Kiz6VXe6Mc— Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter (@Friends of the Earth #BlackLivesMatter)1591694883.0
Schimpf also drew renewed attention to the Save Bees and Farmers European Citizens Initiative. It's centered on three key demands: a phase-out of the use of synthetic pesticides; measures to increase biodiversity; and support for farmers.
As of press time, the petition has over 355,000 signatures.
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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Every year, around one million people die of mosquito-borne diseases according to the World Health Organization (WHO). This is why mosquitoes are considered one of the deadliest living creatures on the planet — not because they are lethal themselves, but because many of the viruses and parasites they transmit are.
Consider, for example, dengue fever. This mosquito-borne virus is a leading cause of hospitalization and death among children and adults in several countries in Asia and Latin America. In 2016, member states in three of the six WHO regions reported 3.34 million cases.
In the absence of an effective vaccine for dengue fever, Zika fever, chikungunya and other mosquito-borne diseases, researchers have developed genetic strategies to reduce mosquito populations. One such strategy involves the release into the wild of genetically modified (GM) mosquitoes that express a lethal gene — a strategy believed to have little impact on the overall DNA of wild populations of mosquitoes.
As an interdisciplinary group of authors, we generally support technologies that can reduce human disease and suffering. However, given our combined expertise in science, governance and ethics we have concerns that recent decisions to deploy GM mosquitoes have not been made responsibly.
Genetically Modified Mosquitoes
The transfer of new genes from GM organisms to wild or domesticated non-GM populations is a key criticism of GM crops like soybean and corn. There are concerns that the introduction of GM genes into non-target species could have negative consequences for both human and environmental health.
Oxitec, a company that spun out of research at Oxford University in the early 2000s, developed and trademarked GM Friendly™ mosquitoes (also known as strain OX513A of Aedes aegypti). These male GM mosquitoes have what the company describes as a "self-limiting" gene, which means that when these so-called friendly mosquitoes mate, their offspring inherit the self-limiting gene which is supposed to prevent them surviving into adulthood.
In theory, when these mosquitoes are released in high numbers, a dramatic reduction in the mosquito population should follow.
Changes to the Gene Pool
According to research published by Oxitec researchers in 2015, field trials involving recurring releases of Friendly™ mosquitoes demonstrated a reduction of nearly 95 percent of target populations in Brazil. In these field trials, experiments were not performed to assess whether GM mosquitoes might persist in the wild.
A recent study from the Powell lab at Yale University has since confirmed that some of the offspring of the GM mosquitoes didn't succumb to the self-limiting lethal gene and survived to adulthood. They were able to breed with native mosquitoes and thereby introduce some of their genes into the wild population.
The Yale researchers found that mosquitoes captured at six, 12 and up to 30 months post-release carried DNA from the GM mosquito population, thereby disproving "the claim that genes from the release strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die."
It appears that between five and 60 percent of the captured mosquitoes post-release contained genetic sequences inherited from the Friendly™ mosquitoes. Importantly, the number of mosquitoes identified as still containing DNA derived from GM mosquitoes declined between the 12-month and 27-month capture periods specifically, perhaps indicating that the offspring of GM mosquitoes might be less fit in nature after all. This remains to be shown conclusively.
Unknown Potential Impacts
Meanwhile, the impact of mosquitoes carrying these new genes remains largely unknown. One significant worry is that a new breed of mosquito might emerge that is more difficult to control. These new genes could also potentially alter evolutionary pressures on viruses carried by mosquitoes, like dengue fever, in unpredictable ways. This includes potentially increasing their virulence or changing their host-insect interactions. These are hypothetical risks that have been raised by scientists, and reflect the need for further study.
Thus, like GM soybean or corn, there is legitimate concern about the propagation of new genetic material in wild populations with as yet unknown consequences.
Field trials involving the release of GM organisms are typically designed to evaluate safety and efficacy, to assess possible impact on food networks, and to ensure that there is no (or minimal) undue harm to the environment or human health. Put simply, field trials are meant to assess potential harms associated with genetic technologies and to provide opportunities to minimize these harms before moving forward with more large-scale releases.
This raises two important questions: Given that "around 5 percent or less" of the GM mosquito population was expected to survive, shouldn't Oxitec have made plans to assess the risk of gene transfer to wild populations during their initial trials? And shouldn't the Brazilian government have required such an assessment as part of the regulatory approval process, given their awareness of the risk?
Instead, with approval from Brazilian authorities, Oxitec released nearly half a million GM mosquitoes every week into shared environments in Jacobina over a two-year period from 2013 to 2015. This was done without the benefit of adequate risk assessment and without proper public consultation.
Oxitec reports having used leaflets, social media, carnival parades and community meetings to inform the public of their research. Public education is not the same as public consultation and engagement and, in our view, the people living in the vicinity of this release had more than a right to be informed of the plans. They also had a right to participate in relevant decision-making.
On the basis of presumed success in Brazil where mosquito populations were reduced — a consequential reduction in the prevalence of dengue fever has yet to be demonstrated — plans have been made to extend field trials to other jurisdictions, including the Florida Keys in the U.S.
To date, public pushback has temporarily prevented the release of GM mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. But Oxitec hopes to eventually secure approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to perform field trials and assess release of a second-generation GM mosquito that causes lethality only in female mosquitoes, as another means to collapse wild populations.
Regulating Genetic Modification
In the end, minus the hyperbole and somewhat alarmist reporting of the Yale study (the journal is looking into allegations brought forth by Oxitec of speculative and unsubstantiated claims), the finding that offspring of GM mosquitoes could survive in the wild remains undisputed. This illustrates the importance of careful decision-making and adequate oversight of field trials involving the release of GM organisms. Careful decision-making requires open venues for informed and deliberative public dialogue, engagement and empowerment.
Genetic modification technologies need to be more transparent, as do the scientific processes for evaluating their risks, especially where the rights and needs of affected communities can inform technology development. With more robust and nuanced regulatory processes governing the development and release of GM organisms, it should be possible to benefit from these technologies without harming or disenfranchising the communities that are the intended beneficiaries.
Mosquito-borne illnesses cause immense human suffering, and we should continue to develop technologies to reduce that suffering. At the same time, we must be equally dedicated to designing scientific processes that are safe, ethical and just.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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By Eoin Higgins
Food safety advocacy groups objected to the Trump administration's latest assault on the country's agricultural regulatory framework as the Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced Thursday it would leave oversight on GMOs to the companies producing the organisms.
"There is a need for adequate safeguards and effective regulatory oversight to ensure that there aren't unintended consequences to biodiversity from these new technologies," Aviva Glaser, director of agriculture policy at the National Wildlife Federation, said in a statement responding the rule, "but unfortunately, USDA's rule falls short of achieving this."
The new "SECURE rule" would allow companies involved in gene editing (GE) to avoid government oversight if the companies themselves determine the editing involves modifications that could be achieved through traditional breeding. Critics charge that the new rule leaves that determination up to the companies themselves, removing two regulatory checks in one swoop.
"While some genetically engineered products are safe and beneficial, the federal government needs a regulatory system that tracks product development and ensures safety before products are marketed," said Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) biotechnology project director Gregory Jaffe. "We support science- and risk-based federal oversight of genetically engineered plants to ensure they are safe to humans and the environment before they are released for cultivation or restoration, but today's final regulation does not achieve that result."
According to the CSPI, the rule change flies in the face of the desires of a broad coalition of interested groups:
Despite a unified position from environmental groups, consumer organizations, biotech crop developers, and food industry stakeholders imploring USDA to eliminate a provision allowing crop developers to self-determine whether their products are regulated, the Trump administration refused to require developers to even notify the agency of products they believe are exempt under the new regulations.
Center for Food Safety senior attorney Sylvia Wu said in a statement Friday that the USDA was trying to use a needed update to an outdated set of rules to push through yet another industry-friendly policy that could have ramifications for the country's food supply.
"While revisions to USDA's regulations—first drafted in 1987—are necessary in order to ensure that the regulatory scheme adequately addresses the harms associated with current GE technology, the new regulations finalized by USDA, paradoxically named the SECURE rule, are anything but secure," said Wu.
"Instead of fixing long-standing deficiencies and strengthening the regulatory system to guarantee proper oversight of new GE technologies and their associated risks, the revised regulations dramatically scale back USDA's regulatory authority, leaving most GMOs unregulated," Wu added.
Bottom line, said Consumer Federation of America director of food policy Thomas Gremillion, "consumers have a right to know how gene editing is being used to produce the foods they buy in the market."
"This rule will undermine public confidence in the food supply," Germillion said, "and ultimately set back beneficial uses of this technology."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Reynard Loki
The exact origin of the coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which started the COVID-19 pandemic, is still unclear. Early reports suggested that the virus jumped from an animal to a human at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a "wet market" that sells live animals. On March 30, the international team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report of their recent visit to Wuhan to investigate the source of the virus and confirmed the "zoonotic source of SARS-CoV-2."
"Evidence from surveys and targeted studies so far have shown that the coronaviruses most highly related to SARS-CoV-2 are found in bats and pangolins, suggesting that these mammals may be the reservoir of the virus that causes COVID-19," the WHO report states. "In addition to these findings, the high susceptibility of mink and cats to SARS-CoV- 2 suggests that additional species of animals may act as a potential reservoir. … Several samples from patients with exposure to the Huanan market had identical virus genomes, suggesting that they may have been part of a cluster."
Virologists believe that these sites, which bring together a variety of live animals into close contact with humans, are ideal places for this sort of interspecies viral transmission. In 2002, for example, scientists identified the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus in Himalayan palm civets, a small mammal, in wet markets in Shenzhen in southern China. SARS-CoV-2 is a strain of SARS.
"While there remains a need for more investigation, we are not surprised about the wildlife origin referenced in the report and we know enough to act now to reduce risks of future zoonotic pandemics," said Dr. Christian Walzer, chief global veterinarian of the Wildlife Conservation Society, in a press statement. "Some 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases reported globally are zoonoses, causing about 1 billion cases of human illness and millions of deaths every year. Of the more than 30 new human pathogens detected in the last three decades, 75 percent have originated in animals. Importantly, research has shown zoonotic-origin pathogens increase along the supply chain from source to market."
Wet markets are "unique epicenters for transmission of potential viral pathogens, [where] new genes may be acquired or existing genes modified through various mechanisms such as genetic reassortment, recombination and mutation," according to a paper written by a team of microbiologists from the University of Hong Kong and published in the journal Current Opinion in Infectious Diseases in 2006. They add that these markets, "at closer proximity to humans, with high viral burden or strains of higher transmission efficiency, facilitate transmission of the viruses to humans."
"Once you walk into one of these places, it's quite obvious why they're called wet markets," said Jason Beaubien, NPR's global health and development correspondent, on the radio station's "Morning Edition" show last year. "Live fish in open tubs are splashing water all over the place. The countertops of the stalls are red with blood as fish are gutted and filleted right in front of the customers' eyes. There are live turtles and crustaceans climbing over each other in boxes. Melting ice adds to the slush on the floor. So things are wet."
In January, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Fred Upton (R-MI) reintroduced bipartisan legislation to address the public health risks posed by wildlife markets, called the Preventing Future Pandemics Act (H.R. 151). The bill "prohibits importing, exporting, purchasing, or selling live wild animals in the United States for human consumption as food or medicine."
It also directs the Department of the Interior to "hire, train, and deploy at least 50 new U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service law enforcement attachés around the world." Additionally, the bill obliges the United States to work with other members of the United Nations toward instituting a global ban on commercial wildlife markets and enforcement of wildlife trafficking laws. A companion bill, S. 37, was introduced into the Senate by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and John Cornyn (R-TX).
"For the sake of our health, our economy, and our livelihoods, preventing the next pandemic before it starts is perhaps the most important thing we must do," said Rep. Quigley. "We were thrilled with the robust, bipartisan support the bill received last year and we're committed to building on that momentum to see this bill become law."
In addition to their threat to public health, wet markets are sites of extreme pain and suffering for so many animals. "Wild animals sold in commercial wildlife markets endure extreme stress and unsanitary conditions before being slaughtered," according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit based in Cotati, California, that works to pass state and federal legislation supporting animal rights. "As the world continues to grapple with COVID-19, our continued exploitation of animals and our environment is fueling the next pandemic. Shutting down commercial wildlife markets—and the international wildlife trade—is critical both to reducing the risk of novel zoonotic disease and animal suffering."
"We must acknowledge the basic tenet that the more we destroy and intrude on nature, the more likely zoonotic spillovers will occur," said Dr. Walzer. "Zoonotic spillover events and subsequent outbreaks are inevitable, as the interfaces between wildlife and humans increase, primarily due to deforestation and agricultural expansion."
The cruelty to animals witnessed at wet markets points to a deeper, ethical concern about how we view and treat other species. In November 2020, during an interview with Euronews, Jane Goodall, the renowned British primatologist and ethologist, said that "we, in part, brought [COVID-19] on ourselves by our disrespect of nature and our disrespect of animals."
She added, "We push animals into closer contact with humans. We hunt them, eat them, traffic them, sell them as exotic pets around the world, we put them in factory farms in terrible close conditions and all these situations can lead to an environment where a pathogen, like a virus, can jump from an animal to a person, where it may cause a new disease like COVID-19."
Reynard Loki is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute, where he serves as the editor and chief correspondent for Earth | Food | Life. He previously served as the environment, food and animal rights editor at AlterNet and as a reporter for Justmeans/3BL Media covering sustainability and corporate social responsibility. He was named one of FilterBuy's Top 50 Health & Environmental Journalists to Follow in 2016. His work has been published by Yes! Magazine, Salon, Truthout, BillMoyers.com, EcoWatch and Truthdig, among others.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
Facebook, YouTube and Vimeo are among the companies scrambling to remove a coronavirus conspiracy video called 'Plandemic,' as The Washington Post reported.
The widely circulated video makes unsubstantiated medical claims about the coronavirus and it features Judy Mikovits, a discredited scientist and activist in the anti-vaccine campaign.
In the 26-minute video, which is billed as an extended trailer for a longer documentary that the filmmakers say "will expose the scientific and political elite who run the scam that is our global health system," Mikovits contends that wearing masks activates the coronavirus within people, without providing evidence, and criticizes orders to stay away from beaches, as Reuters reported.
"Suggesting that wearing a mask can make you sick could lead to imminent harm, so we're removing the video," Facebook said, according to Reuters.
A YouTube spokesperson said the company removes "content that includes medically unsubstantiated diagnostic advice for covid-19," which includes the "Plandemic" video. A Vimeo spokesperson said the company "stands firm in keeping our platform safe from content that spreads harmful and misleading health information. The video in question has been removed by our Trust & Safety team for violating these very policies," as The Washington Post reported.
Despite efforts to remove it, changing the name slightly, misspelling search terms, or altering the video slightly has allowed plenty of lengthy clips to pass through the AI filters, as TechCrunch reported.
The video uses high-production value to cater to a number of topics that strike a chord with online conspiracy-theorists, filtering most claims through a lens that vaccines are simply a money-making plan put forth by greedy pharmaceutical companies and they cause more harm than good, as TechCrunch reported.
Plandemic videos racked up a combined 4.7 million views on YouTube on Monday and Tuesday, according to BuzzSumo, a social media tool, as CNET reported.
In the video Mikovits, who has said Dr. Anthony Fauci should be charged with treason, vociferously criticized the nation's leading infectious disease doctor and also suggested the virus had been engineered, saying it wasn't a "natural occurrence." As CNET reported, scientists widely believe the virus jumped from animals to human beings, and the U.S. intelligence community took the unusual step of publicly saying it believed the virus wasn't "manmade or genetically modified."
According to TechCrunch, "To the uninformed viewer, Mikovits might appear to ably address scientific-sounding topics, but her own scientific credentials are extremely dubious. In 2009, Mikovits authored a study on chronic fatigue syndrome that was retracted by the journal Science two years later when an audit found "evidence of poor quality control" in the experiment and the results could not be replicated in subsequent studies. That event and her subsequent firing from a research institute appear to have kicked off her more recent turn as an anti-vaccine crusader, conspiracist and author."
Her claim in the movie that she was arrested for discovering a retrovirus that was transmitted through vaccines was thoroughly debunked by Snopes.
As MIT Technology Review noted, when YouTube started to remove "Plandemic" from its platform, supporters took to Twitter with claims of unfair censorship. The documentary then became a trending hashtag on Thursday, driving even more attention, outrage and media coverage to it.
Mikovits has tweeted a video in which she urged President Donald Trump to end the lockdown and stop requiring people to wear masks, calling the face coverings "dangerous." Twitter told The Washington Post that it would allow that video, but it did remove #PlagueofCorruption and #PlandemicMovie from its searches and trends sections.
The EPA announced that soybean farmers in 25 states are allowed to spray Alite 27, a cancer-causing weedkiller known to drift 1,000 feet. fotokostic / iStock / Getty Images Plus
In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced that soybean farmers in 25 states are allowed to spray Alite 27, a cancer-causing weedkiller known to drift 1,000 feet from where it was sprayed, according to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
To approve new use for the herbicide, which has the chemical name isoxaflutole and is manufactured by German-chemical giant BASF, the EPA had to skirt around the usual public comment period for the decision. The registration for isoxaflutole was opened for public comment, but it was never listed in the federal register. Agencies almost always provide notice that they are considering a new rule in the federal register, according to to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
"The press release caught everyone off guard, we were just waiting for the EPA to open the comment period, and we never saw it," said Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity, referring to an EPA press release, as the AP reported.
The spray, which is already used on corn in 33 states, can be sprayed on crops that have been genetically engineered to resist the herbicide. Commodity farmers praised the decision and touted the weedkiller as an indispensable tool in their arsenal of supplies to push back against new "super weeds" that have grown resistant to several types of herbicides, including glyphosate, or RoundUp, the most commonly used herbicide in the U.S., as to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting reported.
"One of the biggest challenges growers face is resistant weeds, and the soybean market needed a new residual active ingredient to help fight against them," said Darren Unland, Technical Marketing Manager, BASF Agricultural Solutions, in a company press release. "Alite 27 herbicide will provide growers with another pre-emergent herbicide option to layer into their herbicide program for effective, season-long control."
Comments like Unland's were the only ones that appeared in the public register. In fact, there were 54 comments in the public register and all of them were in praise of Alite 27, neglecting that it is a known carcinogen and that the drift of the herbicide is potentially harmful to nearby farms and farmers.
"Clearly no one from the public health community knew about this because no one commented," Donley said, as The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting noted. "Yet there was all these industry comments, all these positive comments. Someone was tipped off that this docket had been opened. One side was able to comment, the other wasn't."
While BASF and the EPA insist that they followed protocol and there was a month-long protocol for issuing public comment, the one-sided comments certainly raise eyebrows. The EPA, however, did put limits on the use of the potent herbicide, only allowing it in certain counties in 25 states and not in Indiana or Illinois, the two largest soybean-producing states.
"This is basically an herbicide that shouldn't be approved at all for any use. It's that bad really on both the human health and environmental fronts," said Bill Freese, science policy analyst at the Center for Food Safety, a national nonprofit public interest and environmental advocacy organization working to protect human health and the environment, according to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.
Freese insisted he was ready with an arsenal of facts for the public comment period, but he never saw it. Amongst the facts that Freese wanted to present was the EPA's own statement that isoxaflutole is a likely carcinogen that damages human liver enzymes, it contaminates ground water, it travels long distances from where it was sprayed, and its label is extremely complicated. It requires farmers to know their soil type and the height of their water table.
"It's outrageous," Freese said to The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. "They knew this is a bad news chemical, and it was very likely done because they didn't want to give environmental groups the opportunity to comment on this, so they can avoid scrutiny."
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Air pollution has been linked to an increased risk of progressive and irreversible vision loss, a large, long-term study found.
University College London researchers hypothesized that air pollution might heighten the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD), Science Daily reported. It described how scientists drew on data from 115,954 study participants aged 40-69 with no eye problems at the start of the study in 2006. Followups with 52,602 of the participants in 2009 and 2012 measured structural changes in retina thickness and/or the number of light receptors present — both indicators of AMD. Ambient air pollution measures were combined with official traffic, land use and topography information to estimate the annual average air pollution levels at participants' home addresses during this same time period.
Comparing that data, the findings, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, showed that all air pollutants — except for coarse particulate matter — were associated with changes in retinal structure. Alarmingly, people living in the most polluted areas were at least eight percent more likely to report having AMD.
"People who live in a more polluted area report macular degeneration more frequently," Paul Foster, a professor of glaucoma studies and ophthalmic epidemiology and the study's lead author, told CNN.
"Even relatively low exposure to air pollution appears to impact the risk of AMD, suggesting that air pollution is an important modifiable risk factor affecting risk of eye disease for a very large number of people," he told Science Daily.
According to the National Eye Institute, AMD is an eye disease that can blur the sharp, central vision needed for activities such as reading, driving, cooking and recognizing faces. CNN reported that the biggest risk factors are genetics, old age and smoking and that AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people over the age of 50 in high-income countries.
CNN reported that the main pollutants linked to AMD are PM2.5, which mainly comes from power plants, industrial and vehicle emissions, and nitrogen dioxide and oxide nitrogen, which derive from motor vehicle exhaust, indoor gas stoves and kerosene heaters.
Dirty air has previously been linked to glaucoma, and a link to cataracts is suspected, The Guardian reported. High blood flow in the eyes makes them particularly vulnerable to damage caused by tiny particles that are inhaled and enter the bloodstream.
For much the same reason, air pollution has similarly been linked with heart disease, respiratory ailments and cancer. Tiny pollution particles can also enter the brainstems of young people, causing damage that has been linked to Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and stroke.
All of this adds to the general concern around air pollution because the World Health Organization estimated that 90 percent of the world's population breathes air that exceeds safe levels. Two separate 2020 studies found that air pollution has shortened human life expectancy by three years and that it was responsible for more than 6.6 million deaths worldwide in 2020.
Of his study, Foster told Science Daily, "Here we have identified yet another health risk posed by air pollution, strengthening the evidence that improving the air we breathe should be a key public health priority."
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By Stacy Malkan
If you like to give friends and family the gift of knowledge about our food, we're here with recommendations for 2019 books and movies that illuminate the issues close to our hearts. At U.S. Right to Know, we believe that transparency – in the marketplace and in politics – is crucial to building a healthier food system for our children, our families and our world. Kudos to the journalists and filmmakers who are exposing how powerful food and chemical industry interests impact our health and the environment.
Here are our recommendations for best-of-the-year food books and movies. You can also receive a signed copy of the award-winning 2017 book by our colleague, Carey Gillam, Whitewash: The Story of a Weed Killer, Cancer and the Corruption of Science, for a monthly sustainer donation to U.S. Right to Know through Patreon or you can donate directly to USRTK here.
Eating Tomorrow: Agribusiness, Family Farmers, and the Battle for the Future of Food
By Timothy A. Wise, The New Press
Holiday gift-giving solved: #EatingTomorrow!— Timothy A. Wise (@TimothyAWise) December 3, 2019
Olivier De Schutter: "There is a battle for the future of food, and Eating Tomorrow shifts the frontlines.”@drvandanashiva: “Eating Tomorrow is a wake-up call about the future of food."
Ricardo Salvador: “Wise’s writing is riveting." pic.twitter.com/f0nXjqc4Y2
Scholar Timothy A. Wise shows the world already has the tools to feed itself, without expanding industrial agriculture or adopting genetically modified seeds. Reporting from Africa, Mexico, India and the U.S., Wise details how agribusiness and its philanthropic promoters have hijacked food policies to feed corporate interests, and argues that policies promoted by the Gates Foundation-funded Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) are failing to deliver productivity and income improvements for small-scale farmers in Africa. Wise also takes readers to remote villages to see how farmers are rebuilding soils with ecologically sound practices without chemicals or imported hybrid or genetically engineered seeds.
"Hundreds of billions of dollars spent on fertilizer and hybrid seed subsidies by Kenya and other African countries over the past few years have gone down the drain, a new book argues," writes Julius Segei in Kenya's largest independent newspaper, the The Daily Nation. "The scholar's verdict that there is little evidence of any green revolution coming to Africa more than 10 years after AGRA is likely to kick up a storm in agriculture and development circles."
The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception
By David Michaels, Oxford University Press (available January 2020)
David Michaels' new book offers an insider's look at how corporations manufacture doubt in science: bogus studies, congressional testimonies, think-tank policy documents and more. He provides new details of high-profile cases involving car manufacturing, professional sports, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Michaels, the former assistant secretary of labor under President Barack Obama, writes that the anti-science policies of the Trump administration are not new, but rather the outcome of decades-long campaigns by the tobacco and fossil fuel industries to stop regulation of deadly products. "This book is written to get you angry enough to want to learn how to defend yourselves, your communities, and our vulnerable planet," writes consumer advocate Ralph Nader. "Let it grip you toward detection and defiance."
A tenacious attorney, Rob Billot, uncovers a dark secret that connects a growing number of unexplained deaths to one of the world's largest corporations. As the evidence in the film shows, DuPont was aware of the dangers of its Teflon ingredients for many years. While trying to expose the truth, Bilot soon finds himself risking his future, his family and his own life.
In these kinds of movies, "you know going in that you're going to see a story about how bad things are thanks to corporate influence over government as well as the economy," writes movie critic Roger Ebert, "but the extent of the corruption is still shocking, highlighting the implicit question: why fight, if the bad guys have already won? The answer, of course, is that you should fight because it's the right thing to do." Dark Waters is "an effective outrage machine," writes Michael O'Sullivan in The Washington Post, but the movie "doesn't aspire to be something it's not. Like Bilott himself, it gets the job done, not by showboating, but by laying out the facts."
Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World
By Bettina Elias Siegel, Oxford University Press
Many of you have asked if KID FOOD will be released as an audiobook. YES! Here’s a preorder link—along with details re: my East Coast book tour, which starts THIS WEEK! https://t.co/UBnfH6I9Yw @AvivaGoldfarb @marionnestle @pam_koch @dietdetective @greenlightbklyn @audible_com pic.twitter.com/XvhBk6Nppv— Bettina Elias Siegel (@thelunchtray) November 11, 2019
Bettina Elias Siegel, a leading voice on children's food, critically examines how America's food culture exploits children and misleads parents. Siegel exposes predatory food-industry techniques for marketing directly to children and convincing parents that highly-processed products are "healthy." She provides extensive coverage of America's school-food program — including why, even after Obama-era reforms, school meals are still so often dominated by processed foods, many of them bearing popular junk-food trademarks. "This is a gorgeously written, heartfelt, and deeply compelling manifesto arguing why and how we must do better at feeding our kids more healthfully at home, in schools, and on the soccer field," writes Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. "It should inspire all of us to get busy and start advocating for better kid-food policies — right now."
Modified: A food lover's journey into GMOs
By Aube Giroux, feature length documentary now available for purchase or rent online
In this beautiful, moving, award-winning documentary, filmmaker Aube Giroux and her mother embark on a personal investigative journey to find out why GMOs are not labeled on food products in the U.S. and Canada, despite being labeled in 64 countries around the world. Interweaving the personal and the political, the film is anchored around the filmmaker's relationship to her mom, a gardener and food activist who battled cancer during the film's production. Fueled by their shared love of food, the mother-daughter team discovers the extent to which the agribusiness industry controls our food policies, and makes a strong case for a more transparent and sustainable food system. The winner of four Audience Favorite Awards and the 2019 James Beard Foundation Broadcast Media Award for best documentary, Modified is "beautiful beyond words … compelling and compassionate," writes the journalist Joan Baxter.
Et le monde devint silencieux: Comment l'agrochimie a détruit les insectes
And The World Became Silent: How Agrochemistry Destroyed Insects
by Stéphane Foucart, Editions du Seuil (in French)
[Événement] Stéphane Foucart @sfoucart, journaliste @lemondefr, présente son ouvrage sur l’industrie des pesticides auprès des étudiants dauphinois— Univ Paris Dauphine-PSL (@Paris_Dauphine) November 12, 2019
« Et le monde devint silencieux » @EditionsduSeuil 🐝
➡️ https://t.co/MpYXfDr1Db pic.twitter.com/N127Gb3Ir1
Investigative journalist Stéphane Foucart details how the agrichemical industry orchestrated "the greatest ecological disaster of the early twenty-first century" – the collapse of insect populations. Although pesticide companies claim the disappearance of insects is a mystery due to multiple factors, Foucart reports that the dominant cause is the massive use of neonicotinoid pesticides, and shows how it was made possible by an industry that faked public debate by manipulating science, regulation and expertise. The book shows how the industry exploited science to the point of "making us forget that insecticides … kill insects," writes Annabelle Martella in La Croix (review in French).
Foucart won the 2018 European Press Prize for investigative reporting, along with Stéphane Horel, for their Monsanto Papers (translated into English here) articles about how Monsanto manipulated science, influenced the regulatory process and orchestrated stealth PR campaigns to defend its Roundup herbicides.
Wilted: Pathogens, Chemicals, and the Fragile Future of the Strawberry Industry
By Julie Guthman, University of California Press
Thanks to @uscs professor Julie Guthman for her excellent reporting on how the strawberry industry came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants. For more on #Wilted, see review by @emonosson11 in @aaas @sciencemagazine https://t.co/AfjdjsgxB2— U.S. Right To Know (@USRightToKnow) December 18, 2019
Julie Guthman tells the story of how strawberries – the sixth highest-grossing crop in California which produces 88 percent of the nation's favorite berry – came to rely on highly toxic soil fumigants, and how that reliance reverberated throughout the rest of the fruit's production system. The particular conditions of plants, soils, chemicals, climate and laboring bodies that once made strawberry production so lucrative in the Golden State have now changed and become a set of related threats that jeopardize the future of the industry. "The strawberry industry's predicament is just one example of how our strategy of dominating ecological systems and focusing on increased output at all cost is short-sighted, with diminishing returns," writes Emily Monosson in a Science magazine review. "Recent efforts to work with, rather than against, natural systems suggest a path forward."
GMOs Decoded: A Skeptic's View of Genetically Modified Foods
By Sheldon Krimsky, MIT Press
Tufts professor Sheldon Krimsky examines health and safety concerns, environmental issues, implications for world hunger and lack of scientific consensus on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). He explores the viewpoints of a range of GMO skeptics, from public advocacy groups and nongovernmental organizations to scientists with differing views on risk and environmental impact. Publishers Weekly calls Krimsky's book a "fair-minded, informative primer" that "lays out opposing 'claims and counterclaims,' demystifies the science, and shows where there is consensus, honest disagreement, or unresolved uncertainty." NYU professor Marion Nestle describes the book as "a gift to anyone confused" about GMOs.
And Two More Excellent Food Books From 2018
Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save Our Food Supply
By Mark Schapiro, Skyhorse Publishing
Check out Mark Schapiro's new website on seed politics, and his terrific new book Seeds of Resistance https://t.co/QtCduGXSrH— Michael Pollan (@michaelpollan) February 19, 2019
Journalist Mark Schapiro reports on the high-stakes battle underway for control of the world's seeds, as climate volatility threatens the security of our food supply. Schapiro investigates what it means that more than half the world's commercial seeds are owned by three multinational chemical companies, and brings to light what the corporate stranglehold is doing to our daily diet – from the explosion of genetically modified foods, to the rapid disappearance of plant varieties, to the elimination of independent farmers who have long been the bedrock of our food supply. The book also documents colorful and surprising stories from the global movement that is defying these companies, and offering alternatives capable of surviving the accelerating climatic changes. "Seeds of Resistance is a wake-up call," writes Alice Waters, founder of Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard. "With vivid and memorable stories, Mark Schapiro tells us how seeds are at the frontlines of our epic battle for healthy food."
Formerly Known as Food: How the Industrial Food System Is Changing Our Minds, Bodies, and Culture
By Kristin Lawless, St. Martin's Press
Not mad about the comparison! “Of all the books that I’ve read on the food industry, hers is one that sticks out. An absolute flamethrower – jawdropping – savage AF. Kristin Lawless is Daenerys Targaryen and Big Food is King’s Landing and I’m here for it.” https://t.co/a7BiHpsh4C— Kristin Lawless (@kristinlawless) December 15, 2019
If you think buying organic from Whole Foods is protecting you, you're wrong. Our food — even what we're told is good for us — has changed for the worse in the past 100 years, its nutritional content deteriorating due to industrial farming and its composition altered due to the addition of thousands of chemicals from pesticides to packaging. We simply no longer know what we're eating. In Formerly Known as Food, Kristin Lawless argues that, because of the degradation of our diet, our bodies are literally changing from the inside out. The billion-dollar food industry is reshaping our food preferences, altering our brains, changing the composition of our microbiota, and even affecting the expression of our genes.
"In this revelatory survey of the dangers of the industrial food system, Lawless offers crucial tools for navigating it safely," writes the author Naomi Klein. "The best ones have nothing to do with shopping advice: she asks us to think holistically about food, why it can't be separated from other struggles for justice, and what it means to demand transformative change."
Reposted with permission from U.S. Right to Know.
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By Simon Coghlan and Kobi Leins
A remarkable combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and biology has produced the world's first "living robots."
This week, a research team of roboticists and scientists published their recipe for making a new lifeform called xenobots from stem cells. The term "xeno" comes from the frog cells (Xenopus laevis) used to make them.
One of the researchers described the creation as "neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal," but a "new class of artifact: a living, programmable organism."
Xenobots are less than 1mm long and made of 500-1000 living cells. They have various simple shapes, including some with squat "legs." They can propel themselves in linear or circular directions, join together to act collectively, and move small objects. Using their own cellular energy, they can live up to 10 days.
While these "reconfigurable biomachines" could vastly improve human, animal and environmental health, they raise legal and ethical concerns.
Strange New 'Creature'
To make xenobots, the research team used a supercomputer to test thousands of random designs of simple living things that could perform certain tasks.
The computer was programmed with an AI "evolutionary algorithm" to predict which organisms would likely display useful tasks, such as moving towards a target.
After the selection of the most promising designs, the scientists attempted to replicate the virtual models with frog skin or heart cells, which were manually joined using microsurgery tools. The heart cells in these bespoke assemblies contract and relax, giving the organisms motion.
The creation of xenobots is groundbreaking.
Despite being described as "programmable living robots," they are actually completely organic and made of living tissue. The term "robot" has been used because xenobots can be configured into different forms and shapes, and "programmed" to target certain objects – which they then unwittingly seek.
They can also repair themselves after being damaged.
Xenobots may have great value.
Similarly, they may be used to enter confined or dangerous areas to scavenge toxins or radioactive materials.
Xenobots designed with carefully shaped "pouches" might be able to carry drugs into human bodies.
Future versions may be built from a patient's own cells to repair tissue or target cancers. Being biodegradable, xenobots would have an edge on technologies made of plastic or metal.
Further development of biological "robots" could accelerate our understanding of living and robotic systems. Life is incredibly complex, so manipulating living things could reveal some of life's mysteries — and improve our use of AI.
Legal and Ethical Questions
Conversely, xenobots raise legal and ethical concerns. In the same way they could help target cancers, they could also be used to hijack life functions for malevolent purposes.
Some argue artificially making living things is unnatural, hubristic or involves "playing God."
A more compelling concern is that of unintended or malicious use, as we have seen with technologies in fields including nuclear physics, chemistry, biology and AI.
For instance, xenobots might be used for hostile biological purposes prohibited under international law.
More advanced future xenobots, especially ones that live longer and reproduce, could potentially "malfunction" and go rogue, and out-compete other species.
For complex tasks, xenobots may need sensory and nervous systems, possibly resulting in their sentience. A sentient programmed organism would raise additional ethical questions. Last year, the revival of a disembodied pig brain elicited concerns about different species' suffering.
The xenobot's creators have rightly acknowledged the need for discussion around the ethics of their creation.
The 2018 scandal over using CRISPR (which allows the introduction of genes into an organism) may provide an instructive lesson here. While the experiment's goal was to reduce the susceptibility of twin baby girls to HIV-AIDS, associated risks caused ethical dismay. The scientist in question is in prison.
While each new technology should be considered impartially and based on its merits, giving life to xenobots raises certain significant questions:
- Should xenobots have biological kill-switches in case they go rogue?
- Who should decide who can access and control them?
- What if "homemade" xenobots become possible? Should there be a moratorium until regulatory frameworks are established? How much regulation is required?
Lessons learned in the past from advances in other areas of science could help manage future risks, while reaping the possible benefits.
Long Road Here, Long Road Ahead
The creation of xenobots had various biological and robotic precedents. Genetic engineering has created genetically modified mice that become fluorescent in UV light.
In 2012, scientists created an artificial jellyfish called a "medusoid" from rat cells.
Robotics is also flourishing.
Robots can incorporate living matter, which we witnessed when engineers and biologists created a sting-ray robot powered by light-activated cells.
In the coming years, we are sure to see more creations like xenobots that evoke both wonder and due concern. And when we do, it is important we remain both open-minded and critical.
Simon Coghlan is a senior research fellow in digital ethics at the School of Computing and Information Systems, University of Melbourne.
Kobi Leins is a senior research fellow in digital ethics at the University of Melbourne.
Disclosure statement: The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
By Jane Braxton Little
Linda J. Cayot's scientific focus for the day was a male giant tortoise, part of her dissertation research on the ecology of these iconic Galápagos reptiles. When her study animal lumbered into a swirling torrent of muddy El Niño waters, the intrepid scientist jumped in, too. Together they banged against rocks, his carapace and her daypack catching on tree branches as they thumped in tandem down the river to the lowlands of Santa Cruz Island.
Cayot's epic 1983 journey launched a 40-year career devoted to conserving the Galápagos Islands. She supervised giant tortoise and land iguana breeding programs; organized campaigns to eradicate invasive species; and coordinated repatriation of tortoises to their native islands. When she began working in the Galápagos, the islands' giant tortoise populations were down to less than 10% of their historic abundance. They've grown since then, bolstered by programs she helped put in place.
Cayot studied Galápagos giant tortoises on many islands during her 40-year career. This 1982 photo is from Pinzon Island. (© Theresa Kineke Brooks, used with permission)
The goal remains to restore tortoise populations to their historic numbers and distribution. At the current rate, that might be achieved within two centuries.
For Cayot, who thinks of conservation in terms of deep time, it's the trajectory that's critical.
She retired early this year and has just completed co-writing and editing Galápagos Giant Tortoises, a synthesis of knowledge of these island endemics, including the 60-year history of their conservation. Cayot was honored in October with the Prichard Turtle Conservation Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Cayot is a visionary with a practical, one-step-at-a-time approach. If she hadn't fallen in love with Galápagos, she says, she would have been conserving species somewhere else.
When I asked her about the lessons she's learned from a lifetime of conservation, it came as no surprise that her succinct responses made little mention of tortoises or the Galápagos. Instead she focused on universal elements that speak to the human element of conservation.
Respectful Relationships: Value Everyone’s Input
"You accomplish much more conservation by having good relationships with everyone," says Linda Cayot.
As a scientist Cayot worked with Galápagos National Park Directorate rangers who were fresh out of high school, as well as some of the world's leading herpetologists and geneticists. She sought out people with the tools and ability to solve problems, regardless of their credentials.
Wacho Tapia is among of them. When he was a 17-year-old Galapagoan volunteer Cayot recognized his passion for giant tortoises and determination to save them. Now director of Galápagos Conservancy's Giant Tortoise Restoration Initiative, Tapia's years of working with Cayot ensure continuity in the tortoise restoration projects she initiated.
The respect Cayot demonstrated throughout her career is reflected in a small incident on Pinta Island. She asked Joe Flanagan, an American collaborator and chief veterinarian at the Houston Zoo, to document the repatriation of tortoises by photographing the park rangers carrying them to their release sites. One after another refused to be photographed. But when he said the photos were for Cayot, each ranger agreed. Some even primped.
"Linda recognizes that most conservation problems are caused by people, but she strongly believes that people are also the solution," Flanagan says.
Long-term Vision: Conservation Happens Slowly
"Projects can take 50 years," says Cayot. "That's a hell of a long time! But those are the projects that push conservation forward."
Cayot has always maintained a long-term vision. But working in the Galápagos honed it from years to decades and centuries.
The successful projects she worked on included repatriating tortoises to Española, the southernmost island. In the 1960s park rangers found just 14 tortoises there.
They took them to the Santa Cruz breeding center, added a male from the San Diego Zoo, and launched a breeding program Cayot later supervised. When young tortoises born at the center were old enough to survive out of captivity, they were released on the island of their ancestors.
In June Galápagos Park marked the successful conclusion of the project by returning the original tortoises to Española — 55 years after removing them — to join their progeny and the offspring they in turn had produced.
Cayot also had a central role in eradicating invasive species from the islands. When she first arrived in Galápagos, the southern rim of Alcedo Volcano was covered with Zanthoxylum trees. By the early 1990s, invasive goats were destroying the forest, a critical area for giant tortoises. Cayot coordinated Project Isabela, the largest invasive species eradication ever attempted anywhere.
It took nearly a decade. Today the vegetation is slowly regenerating. Full restoration will take decades more, but that's not a problem in her mind: Cayot views Galápagos conservation in 100-year increments.
"I worked on the everyday details of Project Isabela, but I was thinking ahead to a century and beyond," she says.
Serendipity: Learn From Surprises
"Don't worry if it takes a long time," says Cayot. "Emerging knowledge may result in significant changes and greater success in the end."
In 1972 Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island tortoise, was taken to a Santa Cruz Island pen for his protection. Scientists later decided to return tortoises to Pinta, where the habitat was declining without them. Although they would not be the endemic Pinta species, they would still disperse native plant seeds and modify habitat to help other animals and plants thrive, scientists reasoned.
Lonesome George in 2008. Photo: Arturo de Frias Marques (CC BY-SA 3.0)
But the herpetologists working on Galápagos tortoise conservation disagreed, and breeding tortoises were never moved to Pinta.
It ended up being a fortuitous delay. Soon expeditions to Wolf Volcano, a remote island where a variety of tortoise species roamed, discovered living tortoises with mixed ancestry, including the Pinta tortoise. That sparked hope that scientists might eventually find others more closely related to Lonesome George — a better option for release on Pinta.
For now, though, this northernmost island remains without the tortoises that evolved there. And that may be for the best.
"We don't know everything," says Cayot. "The more knowledge we get the more carefully we can find the right tortoises for that island."
Collaboration: One Solution From Many Agendas
"You can see the excitement growing when you come up with solutions no one had thought of before," says Cayot.
When Cayot began coordinating Project Isabela, she knew it would only succeed if Galápagos Park Directorate and Charles Darwin Research Station worked together.
Because they'd never officially co-run a project, Cayot spent an evening sewing. She took a park hat and a station hat — each of which bore an image of a tortoise — cut them both in half and stitched them back together, making the bisected embroidered tortoise whole again. Cayot wore that hat when she gave talks, pulling it on if discussions became contentious.
Linda Cayot made this hat out of a Galápagos Park cap and a Charles Darwin Research Station cap to symbolize and promote the cooperation required for the projects they shared. (© Jane Braxton Little, used with permission)
The grand plan to restore giant tortoises to their historic numbers and distribution included an international workshop in 2012 that she facilitated. Scientists and rangers were beginning to design expeditions to Wolf Volcano. The geneticists focused on finding animals with genetic material from two extinct species and breeding them, a process that would involve multiple generations and take at least 100 years. Conservationists also wanted to find the highest genetic matches possible, but their priority was getting tortoises onto the islands, where they're key to habitat restoration; they couldn't wait a century.
These differences challenged geneticists and conservationists alike to be creative. The solution they adopted is the basis for an ambitious plan to revive extinct species and restore island ecosystems. They're using the knowledge of the geneticists to select the best animals to breed in captivity. Those with lesser genetic material will be released to the islands of their ancestors, satisfying the conservationists' goal.
"With everyone willing to think outside the box, we ended up with novel solutions, ones that we all liked better than our own individual plans," Cayot says. "That can only happen when everyone values each other's input and respects each other's knowledge."
Jane Braxton Little is an award-winning independent journalist who writes about science and the environment for publications that include The Atlantic, Audubon, Bay Nature, Discover, and Scientific American. Little is based in rural Plumas County, where she arrived years ago fresh out of Harvard graduate school for a summer that has yet to end.
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.