Category Archives: Food & Farming

The UK’s big supermarkets sowed the seeds of their own decline

Deborah Orr reports for The Guardian:

‘If Britain’s big supermarkets fondly imagined that they’d come roaring back to health once the recession ended, then they’ve been sorely disappointed. Instead, as the new Sainsbury’s chief executive, Mike Coupe, put it: “The reality is that the market has changed more rapidly in the last three to six months than I’ve seen in my 30 years in the industry.”

And Sainsbury’s isn’t even the company most in trouble. Tesco has been caught cooking its books in order to make its fall in profits look slightly less vertiginous. The conventional wisdom is that this is all because shoppers are flocking to Aldi and Lidl. Maybe that’s part of it. But figures from August confirm that the big four – Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – still have a market share of nearly 75%. Between them, Aldi and Lidl have 8.4%. The real difference is that, with their pared-down approach, those two sell at a decent profit.

The success of Aldi and Lidl does mean something, of course. But I suspect that Britain’s changing grocery habits are the consequence of much more than mere bargain hunting. As a society, we are a bit different post-recession. I think a lot of people’s lives and priorities have changed.’

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90,000 animals were stolen from British farms last year – a rise of 24%

Emine Saner reports for The Guardian:

Livestock rustling - for sat features‘[...] Livestock thefts have increased on British farms during the past few years, and jumped again by 24% last year. According to figures from the insurance company NFU Mutual, which insures around three quarters of the UK’s farmers, around 90,000 animals were stolen last year – mostly sheep, though pigs and cattle have also been targeted – costing farmers £6.5m. The word rustling sounds almost quaint, with its connotations of centuries-old mischiefs, or wild west-style lawlessness, but it can be hugely damaging to many farmers’ livelihoods, has serious welfare issues for the animals taken and could have terrible consequences if diseases are spread. It can even affect the health of the customers who buy illegal meat.’

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New ‘zero waste’ store in Berlin may be supermarket of future

CTV reports:

‘A packaging-free supermarket has opened in Berlin, targeting eco-minded consumers by positioning itself as a “zero waste” store.

The concept of “Original Unverpackt” is simple: there is none of the usual superfluous supermarket packaging which either requires extreme levels of urban recycling or results in waste.

Instead, customers bring their own containers (tubs and recycled bags can be bought at the store) and help themselves to dry goods and non-foodstuff items which are stored in giant bins and dispensers.’

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Bacteria found in bees show potential as an alternative to antibiotics

Fiona MacDonald reports for Science Alert:

bees‘A team of researchers from Lund University in Sweden has identified a unique group of 13 lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that come from the honey stomach of bees, and are found in fresh honey, that have an impressive ability to fight pathogens. The honey stomach is one of two stomachs found in bees, and it stores nectar, which worker bees later suck out and store in the hive.

Together, these live bacteria produce a number of active microbial compounds, such as hydrogen peroxide, fatty acids and anaesthetics, that can kill other harmful bacteria – it’s believed that this is the formula that protects the bee colony against collapse. Unfortunately, these LAB are processed out of the honey we buy in shops, but the researchers now believe they could be used to help treat anitibiotic resistance.’

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Chemical Industry using TTIP ‘to attack the precautionary principle’

Axel Singhofen reports for Chemical Watch:

‘The last 12 months have seen a surge of attacks against the EU’s precautionary principle. Some law firms consider it as a potential obstacle to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and UK Conservative MEP Julie Girling considers that “the EU’s expanding embrace of `precautionary’ regulation… may well be the biggest threat” to an agreement being signed off.

Last October, 12 CEOs of mainly chemical companies wrote to the presidents of the European Commission, Council and Parliament, calling for the formal adoption of an “innovation principle” as a counterbalance to “precautionary legislation”, because they were concerned that “the necessary balance of precaution and proportion is increasingly being replaced by a simple reliance on the precautionary principle and the avoidance of technological risk.’

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Pesticide drift from conventional farms is a persistent problem for organic and small farms

Steve Karnowski reports for The Associated Press:

‘Pesticide drift is a serious concern for organic farmers and they’ve come up with several defences, such as buffer strips. Twelve states are part of a registry of farms that tips off aerial and ground sprayers to areas they need to avoid. The aerial spraying industry and pesticide manufacturers, meanwhile, say they’ve made big strides in controlling drift through pilot education and new technologies.

Organic and specialty crop growers are trying to profit off the rising consumer interest in locally grown, natural foods. But those smaller farms are often islands surrounded by a sea of conventionally grown crops that get sprayed with herbicides, insecticides and fungicides.’

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McDonald’s Sees Biggest Sales Drop in a Decade

Editor’s Note: Long may the slump continue. Why so many people are obsessed with the shite that McDonald’s serves has always been baffling. I hear people say “it’s great hangover food” but the last time I had some of their “food” it gave me a bloody hangover! And it’s not just the food that leaves you feeling sick, it’s the company as a whole and the way it has operated over the years. 

Dan Kedmey reports for Time:

‘McDonald’s posted its worst monthly sales decline in more than a decade in August, according to new figures the company released Tuesday, as same-store sales dropped precipitously in Asia and ebbed across the rest of the world.

Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa led the downturn, with a 14.5% drop in sales in August. The overall sales drop of 3.7% was the worst since February of 2003, the Wall Street Journal reports. Sales fell fastest in China and Japan, after news broke of a supplier in Shanghai attempting to pass off expired meat to its customers, most prominently, McDonald’s.’

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The Government-Industry Conspiracy that Promotes Crap Food in School

Michele Simon writes for Al Jazeera America:

‘People often ask me, “How does lobbying work?” Last week it was with fat and sugar, when the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) hosted its 32nd annual Capitol Hill Ice Cream Party. Some 6,000 bowls of ice cream were served up to Sen.Tom Harkin, Reps. Pete Sessions, Robert Aderholt, Jeff Denham, John Shimkus, Ron Kind and Lamar Smith, among others, according to Politico.

Dairy lobbyists are ever present in Washington, and their efforts usually pay off. For example, last year when the IDFA implored the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to give dairy foods a pass in the new snack food guidelines for schools, the agency capitulated, opening school doors to even more junk food, such as YoCrunch Lowfat Yogurt with M&Ms.

This is just one of many examples I uncovered in a report I published last month, “Whitewashed: How Industry and Government Promote Dairy Junk Foods” (PDF). The dairy industry, propped up by government, has convinced us of the health benefits of milk and other dairy products. The assumption that eating dairy is essential to the diet has obstructed our ability to criticize federal government support for unhealthy dairy products, of which there are many.

One of the most important forms of government support is the federally mandated collection of industry fees for checkoff programs that promote milk and dairy.’

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Official report into horsemeat scandal ‘blocked’ amid new food safety fears

Felicity Lawrence reports for The Guardian:

Horsemeat scandal[...] The findings are likely to embarrass ministers. The Guardian understands they are similar to conclusions in the interim report submitted last year highlighting the impact of deep spending cuts on frontline enforcement and inspection in the food industry. It said confusion reigned when the horsemeat scandal broke because the coalition had stripped the FSA of overall responsibility for the integrity of food.

The report concluded that the industry’s own audits were inadequate to protect the public and that unless audits were unannounced, they were of little value. He also told a conference of food experts in May he had been warned by a senior civil servant that his report into the horsemeat scandal was so hard-hitting the government might want to bury it. This week, he declined to comment other than to say he was still awaiting notification of the publication date.’

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6 Shocking Facts About Seafood Production

Katherine Martinko writes for Tree Hugger:

‘Gone are the peaceful afternoons of waiting for a fish to bite the line. The seafood industry is a vicious and brutal one, both for animals and humans. Farmed fish are subjected to terrible lives, wild fish are caught unfairly and mindlessly, and all face inhumane deaths. Even humans are enslaved to put cheap shrimp on your dinner table. Here are just a few reasons why you should think twice about eating fish, or go out and catch it yourself.’

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NHS hospital cafés and junk food outlets ‘are helping to fuel the obesity crisis’

Laura Donnelly, Rosie Shields and Lily Waddell report for The Telegraph:

‘Medical experts urged the health service to “get its house in order” and clear its hospitals of junk food companies such as Burger King and Subway and coffee shops selling muffins and high-sugar drinks. Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, said the health service had to take “hard-nosed action” to end the sale of junk food in hospitals, to help tackle the obesity crisis. Health campaigners said they were particularly disturbed by the march of Costa Coffee, which has recently come under fire for selling fruit drinks with four times the recommended daily sugar limits.

The investigation by The Sunday Telegraph found 92 branches of the company among the 160 NHS trusts, alongside a host of burger chains, pizzerias, muffin shops and patisseries. The latest figures show that two- thirds of Britons are overweight or obese. A leading cardiologist said allowing companies such as Burger King, Subway and Greggs bakeries to operate from NHS premises was damaging the health of staff, patients and visitors. Senior managers at some of the hospitals said they wanted to close fast-food outlets, but faced being stung by financial penalties from their subcontractors.’

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Farming practices and climate change at root of Toledo water pollution

Suzanne Goldenberg reports for The Guardian:

lake erie water‘The toxins that contaminated the water supply of the city of Toledo – leaving 400,000 people without access to safe drinking water for two days – were produced by a massive algae boom. But this is not a natural disaster.

Water problems in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater system – have spiked in the last three years, largely because of agricultural pollution. Toledo draws its drinking water from Lake Erie.

…The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.’

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Doctors often do more harm than good in a culture of over-investigation and over-treatment

Dr. Aseem Malhotra writes for The Guardian:

‘Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine last year, Dr Harlan Krumholz, professor of medicine at Yale, described a syndrome that starts to develop close to discharge from hospital. Physiological systems are impaired, reserves are depleted, and the body cannot effectively mitigate health threats. It is instructive to note that this syndrome – created by the stressful hospital environment – is a significant contributor to hospital re-admissions. It is estimated that 10-20% of patients discharged from hospital in the UK and US will be re-admitted within 30 days, often with a condition entirely unrelated to their original admission. Poor sleep and inadequate nutrition have an adverse effect on physical performance and co-ordination, cognitive function, immunity, and even cardiac risk. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to being re-admitted with falls and infection, with one study revealing that a fifth of hospitalised patients over 65 had an average nutrient intake of less than 50% of their daily requirements.

[...] A culture of over-investigation and over-treatment is now one of the greatest threats to western health. In the US it is estimated that a third of all healthcare activity brings no benefit to patients. Examples include excessive use of antibiotics, imaging for non-sinister headaches, use of surgery when watchful waiting is better and unwanted intensive care for patients at the end of life who would prefer hospice and home care. In the US, a fee-for-service model encourages high volume and expensive procedures. But we should be alert to similar possibilities here: the UK’s “payment by results” – which in reality is a payment-by-activity model – potentially incentivises “doing more” on the part of physicians. As a profession we have also been guilty – unwittingly or otherwise – of exaggerating the benefits of medications often perceived as magic pills by patients when their benefits are often modest at best. This also detracts from more meaningful lifestyle interventions by giving the public the illusion of protection.’

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Sick chicken: The dirty truth about food and the UK’s poultry industry

‘Two-thirds of fresh retail chicken in the UK is contaminated with campylobacter, a nasty bug that affects about 280,000 people a year.’ (The Guardian)

Russia Sues McDonald’s, Questioning Quality of the Food

The New York Times reports:

‘The McDonald’s cheeseburger will have its day in court. Russia’s consumer protection agency has filed a claim accusing the restaurant chain of violating government nutritional and safety codes in a number of its burger and ice cream products, a Moscow court announced Friday.

The suit could temporarily ban the production and sale of the chain’s ice cream, milkshakes, cheeseburgers, and Filet-o-Fish and chicken sandwiches, said Yekaterina Korotova, a spokeswoman for Moscow’s Tverskoi District Court, where the case will be heard.

“We have identified violations which put the product quality and safety of the entire McDonald’s chain in doubt,” Anna Popova, the head of Rospotrebnadzor, Russia’s consumer protection agency, said in statements reported by the Interfax news agency.’

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Pesticide linked to three generations of disease: Methoxychlor causes epigenetic changes

Science Daily reports:

Washington State University researchers say ancestral exposures to the pesticide methoxychlor may lead to adult onset kidney disease, ovarian disease and obesity in future generations. “What your great-grandmother was exposed to during pregnancy, like the pesticide methoxychlor, may promote a dramatic increase in your susceptibility to develop disease, and you will pass this on to your grandchildren in the absence of any continued exposures,” says Michael Skinner, WSU professor and founder of its Center for Reproductive Biology. He and his colleagues document their findings in a paper published online in PLOS ONE.

Methoxychlor — also known as Chemform, Methoxo, Metox or Moxie — was introduced in 1948 and widely used during the 1970s as a safer replacement for DDT. It was used on crops, ornamental plants, livestock and pets. It is still used in many countries around the world. It was banned in the U.S. in 2003 due to its toxicity and ability to disrupt endocrine systems. Methoxychlor can behave like the hormone estrogen and profoundly affects the reproductive system.’

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The Tree of Forty Fruits

The Corporate Takeover of ‘All Natural’ Food

Clarissa A. León writes for Alternet:

‘Walk through your local grocery store these days and you’ll see the words “all natural” emblazoned on a variety of food packages.  The label is lucrative, for sure, but in discussing the natural label few have remarked on what’s really at stake — the natural ingredients and the companies themselves.

If you take a look at some of the favorite organic and natural food brands, you’ll see they’re owned by some of the largest conventional companies in the world. Coca-Cola owns Odwalla and Honest Tea. PepsiCo. owns Naked Juice. General Mills owns Lara Bar. Natural and organic food acquisitions aside, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and General Mills all opposed California’s GMO Proposition 37 that would require GMO food labeling. Today, some of those companies touting an all-natural list of grains and sugars can be seen changing the ingredients in their natural food products as the natural foods’ distribution channels are pushed to larger and larger markets.’

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McDonald’s and KFC hit by China food safety scandal

Lucy Hornby reports for the Financial Times:

Two Chinese men walk past a billboard advertising US fast-food giant McDonald's, in Yichang, central China's Hubei province on July 8, 2010. McDonald's said it was working with Chinese authorities to test its Chicken McNuggets amid reports they contained risky chemical additives, but stressed the food was safe. CHINA OUT AFP PHOTO (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)‘A supplier to McDonald’s and KFC in China has been accused of supplying rotting meat to the fast-food chains and falsifying product expiration dates, in the latest food safety scandal to hit the country. It is also the latest blow to foreign fast food companies operating in the country, where promises of rapid growth – there are more than 4,400 KFC restaurants alone – are being undermined by food safety issues.

The Shanghai food safety watchdog said on Monday it had closed a meat and poultry processor on the outskirts of the city after an undercover investigation by a local television station found the company to be putting new labels on expired meat, among other food safety violations. KFC and McDonald’s, both of which used the US-owned meat processor to supply their Shanghai outlets, apologised to their Chinese customers.’

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Coca-Cola Forced To Shut Bottling Plant in India

Fatima Hansia reports for CorpWatch:

Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage producer, has been ordered to shut down its bottling plant in Varanasi, India following local complaints that the company was drawing excessive amounts of groundwater. After an investigation, government authorities ruled that the company had violated its operating license.

…This is not the first time that the company has been in trouble in India for unsustainable water extraction practices. In 2004 a bottling plant in Plachimada, Kerala, was closed for excessive water consumption. Later Kerala passed legislation that allows Coca-Cola to be sued for as much as $47 million in damages as result of the operations. And last year, community organizers in Charba, Uttarakhand, defeated Coca-Cola’s plans to build a new factory as soon as the proposal went public.’

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Study: Organic Food Has More Antioxidants, Less Pesticide Residue

Dominique Mosbergen reports for The Huffington Post:

Organic food really is better for your health than its conventional counterparts. At least, that’s the conclusion of a new study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University and published this week. But not everyone is convinced. Specifically, the researchers said that organic fruits, vegetables and cereals contain significantly higher concentrations of antioxidants than conventionally grown crops. They added that organic produce and cereals were found to have lower levels of toxic metals and pesticides.

For the study — said to be the largest of its kind — the researchers analyzed more than 340 international, peer-reviewed studies that looked at compositional differences between organic and conventional crops. According to the paper, researchers found that organically grown produce and cereals have between 19 and 69 percent higher concentrations of certain antioxidant compounds than conventionally grown crops.’

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Nanotech: Big Dairy Is Putting Microscopic Pieces of Metal in Your Food

Tom Philpott writes for Mother Jones:

‘The rapid emergence of nanotechnology suggests that size does, indeed, matter. It turns out that if you break common substances like silver and nickel into really, really tiny particles—measured in nanometers, which are billionths of a meter—they behave in radically different ways. For example, regular silver, the stuff of fancy tableware, doesn’t have any obvious place in sock production. But nano-size silver particles apparently do. According to boosters, when embedded in the fabric of socks, microscopic silver particles are “strongly antibacterial to a wide range of pathogens, absorb sweat, and by killing bacteria help eliminate unpleasant foot odor.” (By most definitions, a particle qualifies as “nano” when it’s 100 nanometers wide or less. By contrast, a human hair clocks in at about 80,000 nanometers in diameter.)

According to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN)—a joint venture of Virginia Tech and the Wilson Center—there are more than 1,600 nanotechnology-based consumer products on the market today. If SmartSilver Anti-Odor Nanotechnology Underwear sounds like a rather intimate application for this novel technology, consider that the PEN database lists 96 food items currently on US grocery shelves that contain unlabeled nano ingredients. Examples include Silk Original Soy MilkRice Dream Rice Drink, Hershey’s Bliss Dark Chocolate, and Kraft’s iconic American Cheese Singles, all of which now contain nano-size titanium dioxide*. As recently as 2008, only eight US food products were known to contain nanoparticles, according to a recent analysis from Friends of the Earth—a more than tenfold increase in just six years.’

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The Deep Harm of Antibiotics

Dr. Cesar Chelala writes for CounterPunch:

‘Resistance to antibiotics is a growing phenomenon and has become one of the world’s most serious public health concerns. Antibiotic resistance is a form of drug resistance where some bacteria are able to survive the administration of one or more antibiotics. This phenomenon is a consequence of misuse and overuse of antibiotics in medicine and in livestock feed. As a result of this, there is a growing presence of superbugs, as are called microorganisms -mostly bacteria- that carry several antibiotic-resistance genes.

The seriousness of the problem is underscored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which in a recent report has called this phenomenon a ‘global threat.’ The WHO report follows a 2013 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report which showed that two million people in the U.S. are infected annually with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and 23,000 people die each year from them. Last year, Dr. Sally Davies had called the problem a “ticking time bomb” and said that it probably will become as important in the magnitude of its effects as climate change.

As a result of antibiotic resistance and the increasing number of superbugs, common infections that could be treated without major problems have become untreatable. In 2012, the WHO reported 450,000 cases of tuberculosis in 92 countries where multiple drugs used to treat them were found ineffective.’

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Report: Over-fortified cereals may pose risks to kids

Michelle Healy reports for USA Today:

‘Young children who dig into a bowl of fortified breakfast cereal may be getting too much of a good thing. A new report says that “millions of children are ingesting potentially unhealthy amounts” of vitamin A, zinc and niacin, with fortified breakfast cereals the leading source of the excessive intake because all three nutrients are added in amounts calculated for adults.

Outdated nutritional labeling rules and misleading marketing by food manufacturers who use high fortification levels to make their products appear more nutritious fuel this potential risk, according to the report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington, D.C.-based health research and advocacy organization.’

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Meals of the Future: Will Soylent and Ambronite Make Food Obsolete?

Amir Khan writes for U.S. News & World Report:

soylent‘[...] Old TV shows and movies depicted 21st century food as nutrient-dense capsules, giving you a day’s worth of calories and nutrients in a single pill – and two new companies are close to bringing that prediction to reality.

These California-based companies – Soylent, named after the 1973 science fiction film “Soylent Green,” and Ambronite – have both developed meal replacement mixes that are intended to free you from the burden of cooking. Simply mix the powder with water or any liquid and, in the case of Soylent, a little oil, and you have a ready-to-drink nutritious breakfast, lunch or dinner.’

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Nafeez Ahmed: World Bank and UN carbon offset scheme ‘complicit’ in genocidal land grabs, say NGOs

Nafeez Ahmed writes for the Guardian:

A Kenyan farmer tends newly planted trees‘Between 2000 and 2010, a total of 500 million acres of land in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean was acquired or negotiated under deals brokered on behalf of foreign governments or transnational corporations. Many such deals are geared toward growing crops or biofuels for export to richer, developed countries – with the consequence that small-holder farmers are displaced from their land and lose their livelihood while local communities go hungry.

The concentration of ownership of the world’s farmland in the hands of powerful investors and corporations is rapidly accelerating, driven by resource scarcity and, thus, rising prices. According to a new report by the US land rights organisation Grain: “The powerful demands of food and energy industries are shifting farmland and water away from direct local food production to the production of commodities for industrial processing.” Less known factors, however, include ‘conservation‘ and ‘carbon offsetting.”

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How much sugar do we eat?

Christine Jeavans writes for BBC News:

Soft drinks in a supermarket‘There is fierce debate about the role of added sugar in contributing to the obesity crisis. UK government scientists today halved the recommended level of added sugar people should eat each day. And the World Health Organization has also said people should aim to get just 5% of their daily calories from the sweet stuff. But calculating how much sugar we eat is not as simple as it sounds.

Sugar is sugar – right? Not quite. Health professionals take a dim view of sugars added to processed food but say that naturally occurring sweetness in milk and fruit is largely fine, with the exception of juice. Current advice says no more than 11% of a person’s daily food calories should come from added sugars, or 10% once alcohol is taken into account. That works out at about 50g of sugars for a woman and 70g for a man, depending on how active they are. And it’s this level which has just been halved in a draft report by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition. But look at the back of a food packet and you’ll see a guideline amount for total sugars – including those naturally occurring in fruit and other ingredients.’

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High-tech spoon helps people with tremors tackle tasks

Robin Erb reports for Detroit Free Press:

‘Technology originally designed for the U.S. military now has a second use: helping those with tremors eat and live better.

A high-tech spoon — fitted with a tiny computer and sensors such as those in a camera or cellphone — softens the effect of essential tremors by sensing their direction and strength and moving the device in the opposite direction.

“In some ways, it seems too simple to be true,” said Dr. Kelvin Chou, a University of Michigan neurologist and essential tremors specialist whose patients helped test the device. For essential tremor patients, simple daily activities — eating, applying makeup — can be impossible.’

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Study: Healthy buzzwords trick consumers into buying unhealthy products

From AFP:

‘Buzzwords like “gluten-free,” “antioxidants” and “whole-grain” pepper the grocery store aisles, but do they really mean that such products are healthy? A recent study conducted at the University of Houston warns shoppers to proceed with caution. Researchers say these health-related euphemisms have a powerful impact on consumers and, in light of the actual ingredients in some of these products, could convey a false sense of health.

…Although the FDA requires Nutrition Information labels in the United States and similar labeling systems are seen in other countries, Northup’s research concludes they have little effect on consumers. “Words like organic, antioxidant, natural and gluten-free imply some sort of healthy benefit,” Northup said. “When people stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about Antioxidant Cherry 7-Up — it’s mostly filled with high fructose syrup or sugar. But its name is giving you this clue that there is some sort of health benefit to something that is not healthy at all.”‘

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Association found between maternal exposure to agricultural pesticides and autism

From Science Daily:

‘Pregnant women who lived in close proximity to fields and farms where chemical pesticides were applied experienced a two-thirds increased risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder or other developmental delay, a study by researchers with the UC Davis MIND Institute has found. The associations were stronger when the exposures occurred during the second and third trimesters of the women’s pregnancies. The large, multisite California-based study examined associations between specific classes of pesticides, including organophosphates, pyrethroids and carbamates, applied during the study participants’ pregnancies and later diagnoses of autism and developmental delay in their offspring. It is published online in Environmental Health Perspectives.’

READ MORE @ SCIENCE DAILY…