Category Archives: Health

Robert Mugabe’s WHO Appointment Condemned as ‘an Insult’

BBC News reports:

Zimbabwean doctors and nurses demonstrate in Harare (18 November 2008)The choice of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe as a World Health Organization (WHO) goodwill ambassador has been criticised by several organisations including the British government.

It described his selection as “surprising and disappointing” given his country’s rights record, and warned it could overshadow the WHO’s work.

The opposition in Zimbabwe and campaign groups also criticised the move.

The WHO head said he was “rethinking his approach in light of WHO values”.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had previously praised Zimbabwe for its commitment to public health.

He said it was a country that “places universal health coverage and health promotion at the centre of its policies to provide health care to all”.

Mr Mugabe’s appointment as a “goodwill ambassador” to help tackle non-communicable diseases has attracted a chorus of criticism.

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Sales of Mind, Body, Spirit Books Boom In UK Amid ‘Mindfulness Mega-Trend’

Alison Flood reports for The Guardian:

Image result for mindfulness mega-trendThe UK’s “mindfulness mega-trend” shows no sign of running out of breath, with sales of “mind, body, spirit” books booming, against a background of slowing sales elsewhere on the shelves.

Topped by Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim’s The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, a guide to “how to be calm in a busy world” that has sold more than 43,000 copies this year, sales of titles offering spiritual assistance are up by almost 13.3% in volume in 2017, according to sales monitor Nielsen Book. This sits against a total consumer market drop of 1.6% on the same measure.

Rhonda Byrne’s perennial bestseller The Secret is the next-best performer, with 29,000 print sales. Other hits include Eckhart Tolle’s 1999 guide to spiritual enlightenment, The Power of Now, Gabrielle Bernstein’s The Universe Has Your Back, Louise Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life and Dominique Loreau’s L’art de la Simplicite: How to Live More With Less.

In fourth place is the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s The Book of Joy, with sales of more than 12,000 copies so far this year. Its premise perhaps best sums up what anxious book buyers have been looking for this year: “How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering?”

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Feeling Bad About Feeling Bad Can Make You Feel Worse

Yasmin Anwar reports for Berkeley News:

Image result for pressure to feel happyPressure to feel upbeat can make you feel downbeat, while embracing your darker moods can actually make you feel better in the long run, according to new UC Berkeley research.

“We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health,” said study senior author Iris Mauss, an associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

At this point, researchers can only speculate on why accepting your joyless emotions can defuse them, like dark clouds passing swiftly in front of the sun and out of sight.

“Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not giving them as much attention,” Mauss said. “And perhaps, if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up.”

The study, conducted at UC Berkeley and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, tested the link between emotional acceptance and psychological health in more than 1,300 adults in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Denver, Co., metropolitan area.

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Declining Sperm Count Could Lead to ‘Extinction’

Michael Cook writes for BioEdge:

In the first systematic review of trends in sperm count, researchers this week reported in the journalHuman Reproduction Update a significant decline in sperm concentration and total sperm count among men from Western countries.

They found a 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration, and a 59.3 percent decline in total sperm count among men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand who were not selected based on their fertility status. In contrast, no significant decline was seen in South America, Asia and Africa, although far fewer studies have been conducted there.

The study also indicates the rate of decline among Western men is not decreasing: the slope was steep and significant even when analysis was restricted to studies with sample collection between 1996 and 2011.

Dr Hagai Levine, of Hebrew University, in Jerusalem, the lead author, told the BBC that if the trend continued humanity was in deep trouble. “If we will not change the ways that we are living and the environment and the chemicals that we are exposed to, I am very worried about what will happen in the future. Eventually we may have a problem, and with reproduction in general, and it may be the extinction of the human species.”

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The Rise of the ‘Megafarm’: How British Meat is Made

Andrew Wasley and Madlen Davies report for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

In Herefordshire the river Wye curls through market towns, forests of oak and yellow fields tall with rapeseed. It is an area of outstanding natural beauty – walkers come to the area to traverse Offa’s Dyke, go fishing or catch a glimpse of herons, bats or polecats. Which makes the sight just down the road from the church in one small village somewhat unexpected.

A short walk along a public footpath a few miles from the river brings you to a field where large white polyethene tunnels stretch dozens of metres down a hill. They are met at the bottom by five mammoth sheds – each as long as a football pitch. Tall metal silos rise up from between the imposing units.

It looks like something out of a sci-fi film – but it is in fact a typical modern UK farm. Inside the warehouse walls, nearly 800,000 chickens are being bred for slaughter at any one time.

This facility is one of nearly 1,700 intensive poultry and pig farms licensed by the Environment Agency. A Bureau investigation shows that the number of such farms in the UK has increased by a quarter in the last six years.

Many of these units like the one in Herefordshire are giant US-style “megafarms”. Our investigation has discovered there now nearly 800 of these throughout the UK. The biggest house more than a million chickens, 20,000 pigs or 2,000 dairy cows, in sprawling factory units where most animals are confined indoors.

The growth in intensive farms is concentrated in certain parts of the country where major food companies operate and many are in the process of expanding. In Herefordshire, intensively-farmed animals outnumber the human population by 88 to one.

The two biggest farms we have recorded have the capacity to house 1.7 million and 1.4 million chickens apiece.

Behind the data lies a fundamental debate about what we want to eat as a nation, and what price we are prepared to pay for that food.

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Theresa May’s Campaign Lies About Tory Plans to Sell off Britain’s National Health Service

Sharmini Peries speaks with Kam Sandhu of Real Media who says there is evidence that the Tories plan to sell off NHS assets which will lead to privatisation. (The Real News)

Hackers Hit Dozens of Countries Exploiting Stolen N.S.A. Tool

David E Sanger and Nicole Perlroth report for The New York Times:

[…] The connection to the N.S.A. was particularly chilling. Starting last summer, a group calling itself the “Shadow Brokers” began to post software tools that came from the United States government’s stockpile of hacking weapons.

The attacks on Friday appeared to be the first time a cyberweapon developed by the N.S.A., funded by American taxpayers and stolen by an adversary had been unleashed by cybercriminals against patients, hospitals, businesses, governments and ordinary citizens.

Something similar occurred with remnants of the “Stuxnet” worm that the United States and Israel used against Iran’s nuclear program nearly seven years ago. Elements of those tools frequently appear in other, less ambitious attacks.

The United States has never confirmed that the tools posted by the Shadow Brokers belonged to the N.S.A. or other intelligence agencies, but former intelligence officials have said that the tools appeared to come from the N.S.A.’s “Tailored Access Operations” unit, which infiltrates foreign computer networks. (The unit has since been renamed.)

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Why It’s Unlikely The NHS Was Deliberately Targeted In The Ransomware Attack

James Ball reports for BuzzFeed News:

On Friday afternoon, NHS hospitals across England and Scotland fell victim to a cyberattack that caused ambulances to be diverted, equipment to shut down, and clinical services to be disrupted.

The attack has prompted fears among commentators and on social media of a deliberate attempt to damage the NHS, or even to interfere in the UK election. But early evidence suggests it was neither deliberately targeted against hospitals, nor aimed at health data.

It wasn’t just NHS computers that were affected. It also hit major corporations, such as Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica – the parent company of the UK mobile network O2 – as well as computer systems in Russia, the USA, Japan and France.

Identifying the source of a cyber attack is a lengthy process usually requiring forensic examination of both the code used in the attack and how it spread across the internet, meaning we don’t yet know with certainty how the NHS attack spread.

The NHS computer systems were hit by what’s known as ransomware, which locks the files on any affected machine and makes it unusable unless its owner pays a set amount, usually in the virtual current Bitcoin, to an anonymous account.

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NHS Cyber-Attack: GPs and Hospitals Hit by Ransomware

BBC News reports:

Cyber attack on NHS EnglandNHS services across England and some in Scotland have been hit by a large-scale cyber-attack.

Staff cannot access patient data, which has been scrambled by ransomware. There is no evidence patient data has been compromised, NHS Digital has said.

NHS England has declared a major incident. The BBC understands up to 25 NHS organisations and some GP practices have been affected.

It comes amid reports of cyber-attacks affecting organisations worldwide.

A Downing Street Spokesman said Prime Minister Theresa May was being kept informed of the situation, while Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is being briefed by the National Cyber Security Centre.

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Diseases Hidden In Ice Are Waking Up

Jasmin Fox-Skelly reports for BBC Earth:

Permafrost in Svalbard (Credit: Wild Wonders of Europe/de la L/naturepl.com)Throughout history, humans have existed side-by-side with bacteria and viruses. From the bubonic plague to smallpox, we have evolved to resist them, and in response they have developed new ways of infecting us.

We have had antibiotics for almost a century, ever since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin. In response, bacteria have responded by evolving antibiotic resistance. The battle is endless: because we spend so much time with pathogens, we sometimes develop a kind of natural stalemate.

However, what would happen if we were suddenly exposed to deadly bacteria and viruses that have been absent for thousands of years, or that we have never met before?

We may be about to find out. Climate change is melting permafrost soils that have been frozen for thousands of years, and as the soils melt they are releasing ancient viruses and bacteria that, having lain dormant, are springing back to life.

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Political Theater: How A Bill That Nearly All Opposed Managed To Pass The House

The AARP called the health bill that House Republicans narrowly approved Thursday “deeply flawed” because it would weaken Medicare and lead to higher insurance premiums for older Americans.

The American Medical Association said it would undo health insurance coverage gains and hurt public health efforts to fight disease. The American Hospital Association said the bill would destroy Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor that expanded mightily under the Affordable Care Act and buoyed hospitals’ bottom lines.

Normally, that would spell failure.

But in today’s Washington, despite vocal opposition from nearly every major constituency affected by the bill, the vote produced the opposite result. The chorus of nays was not enough to stop the Republican-controlled House from approving the American Health Care Act, which repeals many critical parts of Affordable Care Act — the 2010 law known as Obamacare that has dropped uninsured rates in the United States to historic lows but, despite its lofty name, did little to rein in rising health costs. The AHCA will now move to the Senate, where GOP senators are expected to demand many changes.

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Trumpcare Destroys Any Notion That American Conservatism Gives a Damn

Andrew Sullivan writes for New York Magazine:

ImageA word on Obamacare. I relied on it until just recently when I joined New York’s staff and went on an employer’s plan, and, to tell the truth, part of me didn’t even want to make the change — even though it will obviously save me a lot of money. What Obamacare did for me, living with the preexisting condition of HIV, was, first of all, give me far more independence and freedom. It gave me the confidence to quit a previous job and start my own little media company — my blog, the Dish. It gave me peace of mind when I subsequently shut that business down and was able to stay on the same plan. It allowed me to be a freelance writer without fear of personal bankruptcy. I got no subsidy, but I was glad to pay the premiums for me and my husband because it gave me a sense of control over our finances and our future. I knew I wouldn’t suddenly find myself facing soaring health-care costs or no health care at all — and the premium actually went down a smidgen last year.

You might think Obamacare would violate my generally conservative principles, but it didn’t. In fact, it seemed to me to be an effective marriage of conservative principles and, well, human decency. The decency part comes from not blaming or punishing the sick for their condition. The conservative part comes from the incremental nature of the reform, and its reliance on the private sector to provide a public good. For good measure, it actually saved the government money, and it slowed soaring health-care costs. The exchanges, with predictable early hiccups, largely worked — a case study in the benefits of market competition. The law allowed for experiments to test how efficient health care could be. It even insisted on personal responsibility by mandating individual coverage. And the concept of insurance is not socialism; it’s a matter simply of pooling risk as widely as possible. If any European conservative party were to propose such a system, it would be pilloried as a far-right plot. And yet the Republican Party opposed it with a passion that became very hard for me to disentangle from hatred of Obama himself.

The Trump GOP’s attempt to abolish it is therefore, to my mind, neither conservative nor decent. It’s reactionary and callous. Its effective abandonment of 95 percent of us with preexisting conditions will strike real terror in a lot of people’s hearts. Its gutting of Medicaid will force millions of the poor to lose health care almost altogether. It will bankrupt the struggling members of the working and middle classes who find themselves in a serious health crisis. It could hurt Republicans in the midterms —though that will be cold comfort for the countless forced into penury or sickness because of Trump’s desire for a “win.” But it’s clarifying for me. It forces me to back a Democratic Party I don’t particularly care for. And it destroys any notion I might have had that American conservatism gives a damn about the vulnerable. It really is a deal-breaker for me. I hope many others feel exactly the same way.

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U.S. Tobacco Industry Rebounds From Its Near-Death Experience

Jennifer Maloney and Saabira Chaudhuri report for The Wall Street Journal:

Image result for U.S. Tobacco Industry Rebounds From Its Near-Death ExperienceIt’s a great time to be a cigarette company again.

Far fewer Americans are smoking, and yet U.S. tobacco revenue is soaring, thanks to years of steady price hikes. Americans spent more at retail stores on cigarettes in 2016 than they did on soda and beer combined, according to independent market-research firm Euromonitor International. Consolidation and cost cutting are boosting profit. Big Tobacco shares are on a roll.

Two decades ago, such a boom didn’t seem possible. The industry faced a future of increasing regulation and declining sales, as older smokers quit and fewer young people picked up the habit. States were suing for billions of dollars. Bankruptcies for some players seemed just around the corner.

Things didn’t turn out so badly, though. Costs from an avalanche of legal settlements and regulatory requirements have been heavy, but they haven’t put any big players out of business. Cigarette makers found they could more than make up for falling volumes with higher prices.

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Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food Supply

Laura June reports for The Outline:

Image result for Rising Ocean Temperatures Could Set Off a Chain Reaction That Threatens Our Food SupplyNew research published last week in the journal Elementa suggests that rising temperatures on Earth will cause massive changes in the deepest parts of the ocean. And those changes won’t be good: starvation and “sweeping ecological change,” the report warns, could be on the menu by the year 2100.

The research, conducted by a team at the University of Oregon, suggests that the temperature of the abyssal ocean (depths of 3,000 to 6,000 meters) could rise by about 1 degree Celsius over the next 84 years, which might not sound like a lot to a lay person. But, the research also suggests that this rise in temperature would likely cause massive problems all over the planet, because it is dependent on the deep ocean’s health, which accounts for more than 95 percent of the ocean’s entire volume. “Biodiversity in many of these areas is defined by the meager amount of food reaching the seafloor and over the next 80-plus years — in certain parts of the world — that amount of food will be cut in half,” Andrew Thurber, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University, and co-author of the study, said in a press release about the work.

Temperatures in the bathyal area of the ocean — not quite so deep, at around 200 to 3,000 meters — are expected to rise even more, up to 4 degrees Celsius in the same period. It is, Dr. Thurber said, “the equivalent of having summer for the first time in thousands to millions of years.” The main effect for the ocean in all of this will be an exacerbated lack of food and an increase in the metabolisms of the existing organisms. Increased metabolism leads to a need for more food, which is going to be a problem at a time when there will be an ever-lessening supply. Abyssal waters are already some of the most food-deprived areas of the planet, so the prospect of halving this already minuscule supply would be truly devastating.

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WHO: Superbugs That Pose the Greatest Threat to Human Health

Lena H. Sun reports for The Washington Post:

Image result for SuperbugsThe World Health Organization announced its first list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” on Monday, detailing 12 families of bacteria that agency experts say pose the greatest threat to human health and kill millions of people every year.

The list is divided into three categories, prioritized by the urgency of the need for new antibiotics. The purpose is to guide and promote research and development of new drugs, officials said. Most of the pathogens are among the nearly two dozen antibiotic-resistant microbes that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in a 2013 report could cause potentially catastrophic consequences if the United States didn’t act quickly to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant infections.

“This list is not meant to scare people about new superbugs,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, an assistant director-general at WHO. “It’s intended to signal research and development priorities to address urgent public health threats.”

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John Boehner: Republicans Won’t Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Darius Tahir reports for Politico:

Image result for Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace ObamacareFormer House Speaker John Boehner predicted on Thursday that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not what’s going to happen” and that Republicans will instead just make some fixes to the health care law.

Boehner, who retired in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando healthcare conference that GOP lawmakers were too optimistic in their talk of quickly repealing and then replacing Obamacare.

“They’ll fix Obamacare, and I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” Boehner said.

The former speaker’s frank comments capture the conundrum that many Republicans find themselves in as they try to deliver on pledges to axe Obamacare but struggle to coalesce around an alternative.

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Most Scientists ‘Can’t Replicate Studies by Their Peers’

Tom Feilden reports for BBC News:

Test tubesScience is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

This is frustrating clinicians and drug developers who want solid foundations of pre-clinical research to build upon.

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

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Total recall: The people who never forget

Linda Rodriguez McRobbie reports for The Guardian:

Related image[…] She had always had a talent for remembering. She had also always dreaded change. Knowing that after they left New Jersey, nothing could ever be the same, Price tried to commit to memory the world she was being ripped away from. She made lists, took pictures, kept every artefact, every passed note and ticket stub. If this was a conscious effort to train her memory, it worked, perhaps better than she ever imagined.

Jill Price was the first person ever to be diagnosed with what is now known as highly superior autobiographical memory, or HSAM, a condition she shares with around 60 other known people. She can remember most of the days of her life as clearly as the rest of us remember the recent past, with a mixture of broad strokes and sharp detail. Now 51, Price remembers the day of the week for every date since 1980; she remembers what she was doing, who she was with, where she was on each of these days. She can actively recall a memory of 20 years ago as easily as a memory of two days ago, but her memories are also triggered involuntarily.

It is, she says, like living with a split screen: on the left side is the present, on the right is a constantly rolling reel of memories, each one sparked by the appearance of present-day stimuli. With so many memories always at the ready, Price says, it can be maddening: virtually anything she sees or hears can be a potential trigger.

Before Price, HSAM was a completely unknown condition. So what about the day she sent an email to a Dr James McGaugh at University of California, Irvine? That was 8 June 2000, a Thursday. Price was 34 years and five months old.

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Texas Is Leading the Right-Wing Crusade Against Planned Parenthood

Jordan Smith reports for The Intercept:

At the end of a three-day hearing, a federal district court judge in Austin, Texas, on January 19 issued a temporary injunction blocking state officials from excising Planned Parenthood from the state’s Medicaid program — a move that would deny more than 11,000 of the state’s poorest residents from accessing preventive care from their provider of choice, and would annually strip Texas Planned Parenthood clinics of several million dollars.

The current court action is just the latest in a long string of attempts by the state of Texas to defund local affiliates of the nation’s largest provider of women’s health and reproductive care. And it is part of a larger movement by conservative state and federal lawmakers to cut off Planned Parenthood from all government funding.

If anti-choice lawmakers in D.C. have their way, it may be easier for Texas, and other states, to get their way.

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Protein Hype: Experts Say Shoppers Flushing Money Down Toilet

Haroon Siddique reports for The Guardian:

Image result for protein hypeThe UK’s rocketing demand for high-protein products is being fuelled by consumers buying foods unlikely to deliver the benefits they are seeking, experts have said.

Weetabix, Shreddies, Mars, Snickers and Batchelors Cup a Soup were among the brands that launched enhanced protein versions this year as the trend hit the mainstream.

Many supermarkets have introduced dedicated sections for higher-protein products and, according to Euromonitor, the market for sports protein products alone – which excludes most of the mainstream brands – is expected to hit £413m this year and almost £750m (in today’s money) in five years’ time.

But experts have warned that consumers, particularly gym-goers, are falling victim to clever marketing.

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The Sugar Conspiracy

Ian Leslie writes for The Guardian:

Image result for sugar conspiracy[…] In 1980, after long consultation with some of America’s most senior nutrition scientists, the US government issued its first Dietary Guidelines. The guidelines shaped the diets of hundreds of millions of people. Doctors base their advice on them, food companies develop products to comply with them. Their influence extends beyond the US. In 1983, the UK government issued advice that closely followed the American example.

The most prominent recommendation of both governments was to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol (this was the first time that the public had been advised to eat less of something, rather than enough of everything). Consumers dutifully obeyed. We replaced steak and sausages with pasta and rice, butter with margarine and vegetable oils, eggs with muesli, and milk with low-fat milk or orange juice. But instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.

Look at a graph of postwar obesity rates and it becomes clear that something changed after 1980. In the US, the line rises very gradually until, in the early 1980s, it takes off like an aeroplane. Just 12% of Americans were obese in 1950, 15% in 1980, 35% by 2000. In the UK, the line is flat for decades until the mid-1980s, at which point it also turns towards the sky. Only 6% of Britons were obese in 1980. In the next 20 years that figure more than trebled. Today, two thirds of Britons are either obese or overweight, making this the fattest country in the EU. Type 2 diabetes, closely related to obesity, has risen in tandem in both countries.

At best, we can conclude that the official guidelines did not achieve their objective; at worst, they led to a decades-long health catastrophe. Naturally, then, a search for culprits has ensued. Scientists are conventionally apolitical figures, but these days, nutrition researchers write editorials and books that resemble liberal activist tracts, fizzing with righteous denunciations of “big sugar” and fast food. Nobody could have predicted, it is said, how the food manufacturers would respond to the injunction against fat – selling us low-fat yoghurts bulked up with sugar, and cakes infused with liver-corroding transfats.

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Nestlé Chairman Makes the Case for a New Kind of Diet

Chase Purdy reports for Quartz:

Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe[…] Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, 72, got his start decades ago, loading boxes onto the back of an ice cream truck in Central Europe. He has witnessed changes in agricultural production practices, the rise of and rebellion against processed foods, and the scourge of chronic illnesses left in its wake. In rising to the apex of Nestlé, he has become the chief architect of the company’s vision for the future, a reality in which food operates more like medicine.

Nestlé, of course, has been fortifying food since founder Henri Nestlé began selling an iron-enriched infant cereal called “Farine Lactée” in 1867. And the company will still make chocolates, ice cream, and most of the pizzas and meals found in supermarket freezer sections. But it is also investing billions of dollars in healthcare firms. In steering the company in this direction, Brabeck-Letmathe has forged into new territory, carving out a “nutrition, health, and wellness” industry.

This is a shift from what food companies such as Danone, PepsiCo, and Kellogg have done for decades. The biggest companies have focused mainly on one goal: getting calories to people. They created new technologies to do it, drying and freezing food, then shipping it across the trade routes of an increasingly connected global economy. But as Brabeck-Letmathe would discover around 1995, that crude vision for calories only worked to a point.

To continue carrying out Brabeck-Letmathe’s vision, Nestlé in June named Paul Bulcke, its current CEO, to replace Brabeck-Letmathe after he retires in April 2017. In taking the reins, Bulcke will inherit a role that requires firm resolve as Nestlé seeks to assert its dominance in this new industry that sits squarely between food and pharmaceuticals. The company also chose Ulf Mark Schneider to take over as CEO. Schneider was lured to Nestlé from Fresenius, a German healthcare firm.

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35 States Set to Vote on 160+ Initiatives on Pot, Universal Healthcare, Minimum Wage, Death Penalty

As voters in the United States go to the polls, Amy Goodman is joined by Justine Sarver, executive director of the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, and Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, for a look at some of the most important decisions they will make—not for president, governor, Senate or congressional races, but on more than 160 ballot initiatives in 35 states, more than in any election in the last decade. Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in nine states, and income inequality and economic insecurity are at the heart of many other measures, along with initiatives on guns, public education, the death penalty and Colorado’s Amendment 69, a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment which would finance universal healthcare. (Democracy Now!)

Will Donald Trump Appoint White Supremacists If He Gets Elected?

Thom talks about an open white supremacist associated with the Donald Trump campaign and asks whether these are the types of people the Republican nominee will appoint if he wins the election. (Thom Hartmann Show)

We Never Voted for Corporate Rule

David Korten writes for YES! Magazine:

Corporate-Rule-Korten.gifLast week, Bayer, a transnational drug and pesticide company, secured funding for its $66 billion offer to acquire Monsanto, the world’s largest producer of agricultural seeds. This follows the announced $130 billion merger of chemical giants Dow and DuPont, and ChemChina’s proposed $43 billion purchase of the seed and pesticide firm Syngenta.

Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Monsanto, and Syngenta are five of the world’s six biggest pesticide and seed corporations. There are claims, which I find credible, that the “Big 6” and their products bear major responsibility for pesticide-resistant weeds and insects, and are implicated in impoverishment of small farmers, collapse of honeybee colonies, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity and soil fertility—all serious attacks on the common good. And similar consolidation continues in most every sector of the economy.

As individual corporations grow in size, global reach, and political power, we see a corresponding shift in the primary function of national governments—from serving the interests of their citizens to assuring the security of corporate property and profits. They apply police and military powers to this end, subsidize corporate operations, and facilitate corporate tax evasion. They let corporations off the hook with slap-on-the-wrist fines for criminal actions. Rarely, if ever, do they punish top executives.

We the People never voted to yield our sovereignty to transnational corporations. Nor was the corporate takeover a response to public need.

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Neoliberalism Is Creating Loneliness, That’s What’s Wrenching Society Apart

George Monbiot writes for The Guardian:

What greater indictment of a system could there be than an epidemic of mental illness? Yet plagues of anxiety, stress, depression, social phobia, eating disorders, self-harm and loneliness now strike people down all over the world. The latest, catastrophic figures for children’s mental health in England reflect a global crisis.

There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.

In Britain, men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs. The modern overseers of the poor ascribe individual blame to economic circumstance. Endless competitions on television feed impossible aspirations as real opportunities contract.

Consumerism fills the social void. But far from curing the disease of isolation, it intensifies social comparison to the point at which, having consumed all else, we start to prey upon ourselves. Social media brings us together and drives us apart, allowing us precisely to quantify our social standing, and to see that other people have more friends and followers than we do.

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Is the Bayer-Monsanto Merger Too Big To Succeed?

David Francis writes for Foreign Policy:

Image resultIt took $66 billion — the largest all-cash transaction in history – for German biotech giant Bayer to win control over Monsanto, the global seed market leader. The takeover creates a very unique — and to some, very unsettling — kind of corporate beast, one tasked with feeding billions as temperatures rise and farmlands shrink.

If the merger goes through — and that’s a very big if, given that both EU and American regulators are likely to carefully scrutinize the deal — the new firm would corner more than a quarter of the world market for seeds and pesticides. In the United States, it would control some 58 percent of cottonseed sales. According to Vox, the new company would be the largest agribusiness in the world, selling 29 percent of the world’s seeds and 24 percent of its pesticides.

That puts one firm in a pole position to influence, and potentially control, how the world feeds itself. Regulators are likely to investigate whether the merged company will be too big and able to squeeze farmers and shoppers at the price register. And it comes as the rest of the agribusiness industry is also consolidating, in part to counteract slumping commodity prices due to the economic slowdown in China, which trickles down and forces farmers to spend less on supplies.

The specter of greater market power for firms that make the seeds that many poor farmers need to buy each spring before planting is sparking panic in the developing world.

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Heroin, Nazis, and Agent Orange: Inside the $66 Billion Merger of the Year

Lydia Mulvany reports for Bloomberg:

Image result for monsanto bayer historyTwo giants of the farming and chemical industries agreed to merge Wednesday in a $66 billion deal: the U.S.’s Monsanto and Germany’s Bayer, the original maker of aspirin. It’s the year’s biggest deal and will create the world’s largest supplier of seeds and farm chemicals, with $26 billion in combined annual revenue from agriculture. If the merger goes through, it will combine two companies with a long and storied history that shaped what we eat, the drugs we take and how we grow our food.

Bayer: Then & Now

Two friends making dyes from coal-tar started Bayer in 1863, and it developed into a chemical and drug company famous for introducing heroin as a cough remedy in 1896, then aspirin in 1899. The company was a Nazi contractor during World War II and used forced labor. Today, the firm based in Leverkusen, Germany, makes drugs and has a crop science unit, which makes weed and bug killers. Its goal is to dominate the chemical and drug markets for people, plants and animals.

Monsanto: Then & Now

Monsanto, founded in 1901, originally made food additives like saccharin before expanding into industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals and agriculture products. It’s famous for making some controversial and highly toxic chemicals like polychlorinated biphenyls, now banned and commonly known as PCBs, and the herbicide Agent Orange, which was used by the U.S. military in Vietnam. It commercialized Roundup herbicide in the 1970s and began developing genetically modified corn and soybean seeds in the 1980s. In 2000, a new Monsanto emerged from a series of corporate mergers.

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The Shady History of Big Sugar

David Singerman writes for The New York Times:

On Monday, an article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar. This study, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, helped set the agenda for decades of public health policy designed to steer Americans into low-fat foods, which increased carbohydrate consumption and exacerbated our obesity epidemic.

This revelation rightly reminds us to view industry-funded nutrition science with skepticism and to continue to demand transparency in scientific research. But ending Big Sugar’s hold on the American diet will require a broader understanding of the various ways in which the industry, for 150 years, has shaped government policy in order to fuel our sugar addiction.

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Harvard’s Sugar Daddy

Michael Cook reports for Bio Edge:

Harvard nutrition researchers in the 1960s were suborned by the sugar industry to deflect the attention of the public away from its baneful role in chronic disease, claim hard-hitting articles in JAMA released this week.

Based on studies of the archives of the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), researchers found that in the early 1960s three Harvard scientists were paid US$6,500 (about $50,000 in today’s dollars) to write a review of research into the role of sugar and fat in heart disease. The sugar industry selected the papers and the resulting two-part review, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, minimized the role of sugar and painted saturated fat as the villain. Its conclusion was that “there was ‘no doubt’ that the only dietary intervention required to prevent CHD was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat in the American diet.” The SRF’s intimate involvement in the study was not disclosed.

The links of the scientists to the sugar industry were scandalously close. Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department at the time, and the senior author of the 1967 research review, was an ad hoc member of the sugar industry’s scientific advisory board.

This lack of transparency and conflict of interest may have had far-reaching effects. For the next 50 years, nutritionists focused on fighting fat while underestimating the role of sugar in coronary heart disease. For years they warned of the dangers of fat, leading people to eat low-fat, high-sugar foods which have contributed to America’s obesity epidemic.

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