The Seattle 1999 WTO protest was a battle for food sovereignty – Video 3:47

Democracy Now – Vandana Shiva – Dec 1, 2019 – Video 3:47

Twenty years ago, tens of thousands of activists gathered in Seattle to protest the World Trade Organization and stop executives from signing a global trade deal that many felt was harmful to environmental and workers’ rights. Indian scholar and environmental activist Vandana Shiva reflects on the WTO’s threats to food sovereignty — stripping farmers of their autonomy through corporate seed patents. The WTO “has given control to the poison cartel over our seed and food.” She also says the WTO has contributed to today’s global wealth inequality, consolidating the power of billionaires. “Bill Gates … got rules written so he would not have to pay taxes in transport or transfer. Jeff Bezos shipping goods around and pay no taxes anywhere — these trillionaires are children of the WTO rules,” Shiva says, arguing that the uprisings against neoliberal austerity all over the world today are a part of the legacy of the WTO protests. “The brutality and limitless greed of the handful of corporations and billionaires is now really reaching ecocidal and genocidal limits.”

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Changing climate is affecting how we feed ourselves – CBC Radio Ideas – AUdio 53 min

CBC Radio – Nov 29, 2019 – IDEAS – Audio 53 min

UN advisor says climate change is forcing us to rethink how our food systems work

Listen to the full episode 53:59

David Nabarro is hopeful. That may be an odd way to describe someone who deals specifically with the issue of food sustainability and security in a world awash in conflict and destabilized by climate change. He says he sees promise in the young generation that is keenly aware of the problems it is inheriting and is refusing to sit by and watch.

Nabarro began his career as a physician nearly five decades ago. He worked in a tiny clinic in the Himalayas treating poor and sick parents and children. As a young doctor he began to see how the lack of nutritious food kept his patients in a cycle of poverty and poor health. Today, he is in a position to talk about food — its production, storage, transport, distribution, and consumption — at a global level and engage with a variety of stakeholders and bring them together to confront both scarcity and abundance in the face of climate change.

Nabarro says governments are focused, understandably, on the need to make lots of food cheaply available. He points out that when food prices rose drastically in 2008, governments the world over felt vulnerable. “There were riots in 34 countries and a number of governments fell because people just didn’t get the food that they needed and they were demonstrating in the streets. And I realized that food security, having enough to eat, is not just an issue for your health, but it’s also an issue that has profound political consequences to the point where governments put ensuring that people get the food they need when they need it at a price they can afford, very high up the ladder of political imperatives.”

A demonstrator holds a terrestrial globe in Lisbon during a worldwide protest demanding action on climate change, Friday, Nov. 29, 2019. Students worldwide are skipping class Friday to take to the streets to protest their governments’ failure to take sufficient action against global warming. (AP Photo/Armando Franca) (The Associated Press)

This imperative often stands in the way of strong policies around mitigating the impact of food production on the climate. Nabarro points out that unused food, which could otherwise feed millions of people, has a negative impact on the climate as it begins to rot.  Up to 30% of food is wasted. And when it comes to perishable foods, that figure is even higher — about 50%. This is where David Nabarro steps in. He says it is possible to bring governments, corporations, farmers, activists, and other stakeholders together and work in a cohesive way to address concerns and make better policy. 

Nabarro says that unfortunately governments will put their own domestic political realities ahead of global concerns. But he adds that the insistence of large numbers of young people in keeping climate change at the forefront has forced the powerful to take the issue seriously. And it’s that involvement of younger people that inspires hope. He sees a desire to build a global consensus around food and food-related issues — a consensus that is strongly informed by the need to confront the very thing — climate change — that could make all other issues moot.

++ This episode was produced by Naheed Mustafa.

Open Door to GMO? Britain Faced with EU-US Biotechnology Dilemma Post-Brexit

Global Research – Nov 29, 2019 – Natasha Foote

The question of whether the UK will open its doors to GMOs after Brexit has become more pertinent after EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told MEPs on Tuesday (26 November) that in order to secure a trade agreement, the UK would have to agree to maintain a ‘level playing field’ and not undercut EU regulation.

Barnier said that if a new UK government sought to diverge from EU regulatory standards that would weaken environmental standards there will never be a free trade agreement, MEPs at a meeting in the European Parliament revealed.

The discussion over science-based policymaking in the EU, in general, has been heating up in recent years, with genetically modified organisms (GMOs) front and centre of the debate.

Concerns have been raised particularly regarding the unknown impact of the release of GMOs into the environment and the food system, with critics citing a lack of adequate and sufficient risk assessment.

In July 2018, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that organisms obtained by new mutagenesis plant breeding techniques should, in principle, fall under the GMO Directive.

This ruling is one in a long line of resolutions against approvals of the use and import of GMOs that the EU has adopted in recent years.

However, there could soon be a shift of thinking about GM crops in the UK, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledging to “liberate” the UK’s bioscience sector from the EU’s anti-GM regulation post-Brexit.

Opening Britain’s doors to GMOs has also been suggested as key to allowing the UK to draw up a quick trade agreement with the United States.

Speaking at a recent plant breeding conference in Brussels, Dr Thorben Sprink from the Julius Kühn-Institute in Germany said he thought the UK would “make the most” of the opportunity Brexit presented for the country to reject Europe’s “very tight regulation” and encourage more GMO research.

At the event, Secretary-General of Euroseeds Garlich Von Essen said that neither breeders nor farmers want to be in the “second league” and that Brexit would allow the UK to implement “science-based regulation”.

Liz O’Neill, director of GM Freeze, a UK non-profit organisation which campaigns against GM, told EURACTIV that GM regulations have already been identified as a non-tariff barrier to trade, citing that Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in June, aiming to force the UK (and the EU) to open the door to GM crops from the US.

She said that there will undoubtedly be pressure on the UK to accept GMOs, and that Brexit has the potential to “change everything with food and farming and open the floodgates to unregulated GMOs”.

UK National farmers union (NFU) chief science and regulatory affairs adviser, Dr Helen Ferrier, told EURACTIV that biotechnology and GMOs “have the potential to offer multiple benefits to the public, farmers and the environment, and could help tackle some intractable issues in the production and consumption of food”.

She said “there may be opportunities to look at different regulatory approaches after Brexit to the way technologies are developed and used.

The potential impact on trade with key partners, whether the EU or the US, needs to be kept in mind, as well as the need for access to the full toolbox of innovations to help find solutions to major challenges such as climate change and diet-related illness.“

However, she highlighted that the use of biotechnology “must be regulated using sound science in terms of its environmental and health impact”.

The UK department for environment, food and rural affairs (DEFRA) said they were unable to comment on future policy decisions during the pre-election period.

Low consumer acceptance 

However, NGOs and anti-GM campaign groups say that public support for GM remains low in the UK.

O’Neill told EURACTIV that “the UK public consistently rejects the use of GM in food and farming, both in polls and at the checkout” and that they “simply do not sell”.

In April 2018, an IPPR poll found that only 8% of the public thought the UK should lower food safety standards to secure a trade deal with the US, with 82% preferring to keep standards as they are.

O’Neill said that UK politicians will, therefore, have a “very hard time” persuading the electorate that a “US trade deal is more important than the high food standards they consistently support”.

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Genetically Engineered Animals: From Lab to Factory Farm

Friends of the Earth – Nov 13, 2019

This report, provides a scientific overview of the concerns with genetically engineered food animal experiments that are underway, and reveals the risks to human health, the environment and animal welfare. It sheds light on the unintended consequences of genetic engineering techniques known as gene editing, and considers the implications for U.S. regulations. The report also highlights the gaps in what scientists know about the effects of editing DNA to confer certain desirable traits.

The report summarizes peer-reviewed research on genetically engineered animals in development, including super-muscly pigs, hornless cows and disease resistant chickens and pigs. Studies show that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can cause genetic errors, even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended. Genetic errors can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals, such as enlarged tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. Studies also suggest that common gene editing traits, such as hornless cows and disease resistance, will perpetuate the poor animal management, such as crowding, often found in animal factory farming. Rather than creating genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, the report recommends it is critical to develop sustainable and ecological animal agriculture systems that support preservation and restoration of biodiversity, public health and animal welfare. 

The report was co-authored by Dana Perls, senior food and technology campaigner, Friends of the Earth and Dr. Janet Cotter, Logos Environmental.

Press release
Full report
Executive summary
Op-ed

Key Findings:
  • Studies show that, far from being “precise,” gene editing can cause genetic errors, even if only a genetic “tweak” is intended. Genes can be changed at additional locations and gene editing can interfere with gene regulation.
  • Common gene editing traits, such as hornless cows and disease resistance, will perpetuate the poor animal management, such as crowding, often found in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). This will magnify the current ethical, health and welfare concerns for animals housed in CAFOs.
  • Genetic engineering of animals often involves cloning, which leads to birth defects, spontaneous abortions and early postnatal death. Genetic errors can lead to unexpected effects in gene-edited animals, such as enlarged tongues in rabbits and extra vertebrae in pigs. These raise concerns for animal health, welfare and consumer safety.
  • Unexpected effects include the production of abnormal proteins in gene-edited animals. Allergens are proteins, so abnormal proteins could create new food allergies and have significant implications for food safety.
  • There are significant gaps in research about how genetic errors at the cellular level manifest as unexpected effects and how these unexpected effects may impact the animal’s health, interact with complex environmental factors and affect food safety.
  • Although still at the hypothetical stage, gene drive systems could drive a specific trait through a herd or population of farm animals and could accidentally spread to the natural population, potentially affecting biodiversity and even an entire ecosystem.
Recommendations:
  • Rather than creating genetically engineered animals to fit into factory farming systems, it is critical to develop sustainable and ecological animal agriculture systems that support animal welfare, preservation and restoration of biodiversity and public health. 
  • All genetic engineering techniques should fall within the scope of government regulatory oversight of genetic engineering, including gene editing, using the Precautionary Principle to protect human health and the environment.
  • Oversight and regulations for GMOs, including gene-edited animals, should include independent assessment for environmental and food safety and long-term impacts before entering the market or environment. Products of all genetic engineering should be traceable and clearly labeled as GMOs.

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Gut microbiota linked to obesity and mental disorders, 5-year ‘MyNewGut’ project finds

Natural Products – Nov 14, 2019 – Jim Manson

After five years of investigation, the EU project ‘MyNewGut’ – made up of thirty organisations from 15 countries – has released its scientific results on the role played by the gut microbiota on physical and mental health.

On of the group’s key findings is that Western diets rich  rich in saturated fat result not only in obesity, but also in depression-like behaviour. Consequently, the MyNewGut partners says that people with depression or vulnerability to depression should be encouraged to eat plant-based diets with higher levels of grains, fibres and fish. 

The research findings were presented during a project-concluding  conference last month, and is likely play a key role in the future development of more effective interventions targeting the gut — fighting obesity, metabolic syndrome, and behavioural disorders, like eating and emotional disorders.

Key findings include:

  • Bacterial strains in our gut could be the next generation of probiotics
  • Consuming an excess of proteins generates some toxic metabolites
  • Diets rich in fibres are associated with fewer symptoms of depression, help to maintain body weight and reduce the risk of developing chronic metabolic diseases
  • A high fat diet may have a negative impact on the gut microbiota and the brain
  • The gut microbiota influences metabolic health

New gut bacteria may help fight obesity and mental disorders
The MyNewGut project has discovered new bacterial species and strains in healthy people that seem to be effective against obesity, metabolic and mental disorders related to stress and obesity (for example, depression). They do so by influencing the endocrine and immune pathways that have an impact on both our physical and mental health.

The bacterial strain ‘Bacteroides uniformis CECT 7771’ has shown pre-clinical efficacy on metabolic and immune dysfunctions in obesity, for example reducing serum triglyceride levels, glucose intolerance and body weight gain as well as inflammation.

Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum CECT 7765 was shown to reduce depressive-like behaviour associated with obesity in pre-clinical trials. A Bifidobacterium longum strain has been demonstrated to have a positive impact on perceived stress, sleep quality and cortisol release in a double-blinded placebo-controlled intervention trial in humans.

These strains could potentially be next generation probiotics that could in the future be used to help tackle obesity and depression.

How diet has an influence on the gut microbiota
Diet appears to be a major factor that influences the composition of the human gut microbiota. MyNewGut experts have conducted several human intervention trials to investigate dietary health effects potentially mediated by the microbiota and they are publishing a range of position papers that will show evidence on how we could inform future dietary recommendations.

MyNewGut partners looked specifically into the role played by proteins, fats and fibres on the gut microbiota. They found that high intake of proteins or a high fat diet may harm the gut microbiota.

They also discovered that high protein consumption, which increases protein fermentation in the large intestine, generates some of the toxic metabolites (products of metabolism) linked to diseases such as colorectal cancer.

A high fat diet, especially when rich in saturated fatty acids may have negative effects on the gut microbiota, characterised by a lower number of microbes and a lower variety of microbial species. High-fat diets rich in omega 3 or omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids do not seem to negatively affect the microbiota, whereas the effects of monounsaturated fatty acids are less consistent.

High fat diets are associated with depression
Studies of the MyNewGut partners showed that Western diets rich in saturated fat resulted not only in obesity, but also in depression-like behaviour. The depression-like behaviour associated with diet-induced obesity depended on the gut microbiome, because the effects were blunted by antibiotic-treatment. In high-fat diet fed mice, using the same mouse model, MyNewGut also reported that a bacterial strain (Bifidobacterium pseudocatenulatum CECT 7765) reduces depressive-like behaviour associated with obesity, acting through the gut-brain axis. The teams stress that results are only a starting point, and new research would have to confirm the findings in humans.

The role of the gut in metabolic health
Studies in animal models conducted by project partners have revealed new mechanisms whereby the microbiota could impact metabolic health.

Here, MyNewGut partners showed that peptidase activity (DPPIV) responsible for the degradation of enteroendocrine hormones produced in the gut, which regulate appetite and glucose homeostasis (like glucagon-like peptide I [GLP-I]), are of bacterial origin.

This means that the presence of specific bacteria producing these new enzymes can adversely influence appetite, food intake and body weight gain.

Gut microbiota: we are all different
The MyNewGut project has also explored innovative interventions, including Faecal Microbiota Transplants (FMT) for restoring dysbiosis-associated disorders. In FMT, the microbiota of a healthy donor is transferred to an individual suffering from some form of dysbiosis.

In MyNewGut studies, the donor’s microbiota was transferred to human subjects with metabolic syndrome. In these studies, the responsiveness to treatment depended on the individual’s gut microbiota profile, suggesting a need for personalised intervention strategies.

This study demonstrates that the individual’s microbiota directly impacts neural systems that could mediate the impact of food intake on metabolic health.

The impact of early life microbial imbalance on health
MyNewGut partners investigated whether effects of environmental factors in early life and childhood also impact health outcomes in later stages of life in humans. For example, they conducted a longitudinal study in children to determine the role of the microbiota, the lifestyle (diet, exercise, etc.) and other individual factors (immune and metabolic profile) in the development of overweight.

The study revealed that specific microbiota configurations were indeed correlated to inflammatory markers and dietary patterns, and subsequently to the development of obesity.

MyNewGut has also discovered that dietary changes which favourably influence the microbiota may have a higher and longer-lasting effect during stages of development, and this emphasises the importance of diet during early life for long-term health in adulthood.

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