Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Gene-edited Crops

Gene editing of crops and livestock may soon be permitted in England for the first time under a consultation launched by the government on Thursday.

Ministers said changing the current strict rules, which originate from the EU and make gene editing for crops and livestock almost impossible, would bring widespread benefits to consumers and farmers, including healthier food, environmental improvements and better animal welfare.

But some environmental and animal welfare groups raised concerns that loosening the rules could lead to lower animal welfare, for instance if the technology was used to promote faster growth over animal health, or to enable livestock to be kept in crowded conditions.

Gene editing involves cutting and splicing sections of DNA within a single genome to bring about changes that were previously possible only through lengthy selective breeding of plants and animals. 

This is a different process from genetic modification, which involves introducing DNA from one species into another, and which will continue to be subject to a near-total ban.

George Eustice, the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, said:

Gene editing has the ability to harness the genetic resources that mother nature has provided, in order to tackle the challenges of our age. This includes breeding crops that perform better, reducing costs to farmers and impacts on the environment, and helping us all adapt to the challenges of climate change.

Through gene editing, crops could be developed that require fewer pesticides or

fertilisers, or which have enhanced nutritional properties. For instance, tomatoes that can lower blood pressure have recently been licensed for sale in Japan. 

Animal genes could also be edited in ways that would allow the breeding of livestock that was resistant to key diseases, which would reduce the need for antibiotics and so the likelihood of developing resistant superbugs.

However, Peter Stevenson, chief policy adviser at the campaigning group 

Compassion in World Farming, said the ways in which livestock had been bred for profitable traits in the past suggested the development of gene editing would be harmful to animals.

He pointed to genetic selection for broiler chickens, whereby the fast growth rates gave rise to leg abnormalities and lameness, and in laying hens, selecting for high egg production caused osteoporosis, leaving the hens vulnerable to bone fractures.

Breeding animals resistant to diseases would only encourage farmers to stock them more intensively, he added, leading to overcrowding and lower animal welfare. “This is pushing us down the industrial farming route,” he warned. “It is entrenching an antiquated system of farming that we would do better to abandon.”

Gareth Morgan, head of farming at the Soil Association, said: “We question the speed with which the government is using Brexit to pursue a deregulatory agenda in this area. It is vital that citizens and farmers who do not wish to eat or grow gene-edit

ed crops or animals are offered adequate protection.”

Prof Gideon Henderson, chief scientist at Defra, said the government had made clear its commitment to upholding animal welfare standards: “The motivation for this is not lowering animal welfare standards – it’s about the benefits

Gene editing has been made possible through the development of tools such as Crispr Cas9,  which allows scientists to finely target sections of DNA to remove or change and it’s got to be better.

Ref: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/jan/07/gene-editing-of-crops-and-livestock-may-soon-be-permitted-in-england

Sunday, 23 May 2021

The Health Benefits of Raw Honey

Many people believe that raw honey provides more health benefits than regular honey. Is raw honey more healthful, and what are the differences?

Honey is a sweet, syrupy, golden-coloured liquid made by honeybees. Honeybees store honey in the beehive to use for food and nutrients. Raw honey comes directly from the hive while regular honey undergoes processing before being bottled.

In this article, we look at the differences between raw and regular honey, including processing, health benefits, uses, and possible risks.

Raw honey vs. regular honey

Raw honey comes straight from the hive.

People use honey for food and medicine. Humans may have been using honey medicinally for as long as 8,000 years.

Originally, people would have used raw honey, but today, most honey on supermarket shelves is processed, usually through pasteurization, which involves intense heating. Many of these processed types of honey may contain added sugars.

What is raw honey?

Raw honey comes straight from the honeycomb. The beekeeper will usually just filter the honey to remove small bits of debris, including pollen, beeswax, and parts of dead bees. They do not pasteurize the honey.

Raw honey appears cloudy or opaque because it contains these extra elements. It is still safe to eat.

What is regular honey?

Regular, or pasteurized honey, is clear and smooth. The pasteurization process improves the honey’s appearance, increases its shelf-life, and kills yeast cells that can affect the taste of the honey.

However, some people believe that pasteurization reduces the number of antioxidants and nutrients in the honey.

How do they differ?

Raw honey is naturally cloudier than regular honey due to honeycomb debris that is too small to be filtered out.

Raw honey tends to have more variation in colour and texture than regular honey. The colour of raw honey may change depending on what flowers the bees pollinated.

While no large studies have confirmed that raw honey is more nutritious than regular honey, some small studies suggest that raw honey may offer extra health benefits.

Benefits

Studies show that raw honey contains a variety of beneficial ingredients.

Raw honey contains specific components that can offer health benefits. Pasteurization and other processes may remove or reduce some of these elements, which include:

  • bee pollen, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • bee propolis, a glue-like substance that helps keep the hive together
  • certain vitamins and minerals
  • enzymes
  •  amino acids
  •  antioxidants

There is a lack of controlled studies comparing pasteurized and raw honey. However, some source
s report that pasteurized honey contains few — if any — of the health benefits of raw honey. Because pasteurization exposes the honey to high temperatures, it may destroy or remove honey’s natural properties.

This means that raw honey may offer more powerful health benefits, in terms of healing wounds and fighting infections, than regular honey. 


Many studies have found that raw honey has health benefits. Usually, these benefits come from natural ingredients that regular honey may not contain.

A 2015 review study about the benefits of bee pollen reports that it has:

  •  antioxidant properties
  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • antibacterial and antifungal action
  • pain-relieving properties

These properties make bee pollen a useful addition to honey and can contribute to honey’s natural ability to heal wounds and kill bacteria.

Bee pollen also contains amino acids, vitamins A and C, and small amounts of nutrients including calcium, magnesium, and sodium.

Raw honey contains bee propolis

Bee propolis is the sticky substance that bees use to build their hives and hold the structures together. This glue-like substance not only helps the bees, but some scientists believe that it is healthful for humans as well.

A review study from 2017 reports that bee propolis, found in raw honey, may have:

  • anti-inflammatory effects
  • anti-cancer and antiulcer action
  • antifungal effects

Bee propolis also contains B vitamins, vitamins C and E, magnesium, potassium, and beneficial enzymes.

Pasteurization may destroy antioxidants

Some people believe that pasteurization removes some of the healthful antioxidants in honey.

There are no official studies on how pasteurization changes antioxidant levels in honey, but studies show that heating processes decrease the antioxidant level in other foods.

Raw honey contains flavonoids and phenolic acids that have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress in the body. Research has linked oxidative stress to many chronic health conditions, including cancers.

Studies suggest that the antioxidants in honey may have anti-cancer effects against different types of tumours.

The types of antioxidants found in raw honey vary depending on the kind of flowers that the bees pollinated.

Regular honey may contain sugars or additives

Some regular honey products contain added sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup.

Studies show that some products labelled as “honey” may not be 100 percent real honey, but contain sweeteners, such as brown rice syrup.

Raw honey does not contain any ingredients other than the honey from the beehive.

Is raw honey organic?

Not all raw honey is organic. Organic honey may still have undergone processing and pasteurization.

Therefore, if a person is looking for honey that contains bee pollen and other beneficial ingredients, they will need to make sure that the label states “raw.”

Risks

Infants under 12 months old must not eat honey. However, it is safe for people to consume both raw and regular honey, though it is a good idea to avoid types of honey that contain added sugars.

Both raw and regular honey may contain tiny amounts of a bacteria known as Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria can cause botulism, which is a rare form of food poisoning.

Honey is safe for most people over 12 months of age. However, infants 12 months of age and younger should not eat any honey, including raw and regular honey. A baby’s digestive tract has not yet developed enough to fight off the bacteria.

In rare cases, people who have a severe pollen allergy may react to raw honey, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. People who have severe pollen allergies should speak with a doctor or allergist before eating or using raw honey.

People who are allergic to bee pollen should also avoid raw honey and other bee products.

How to find raw honey

To find raw honey, look for products that say “raw” on the label. Products labelled as “organic” or “pure” may not necessarily be raw.

The appearance of the honey product can help a person work out whether it is raw. Regular honey looks very clear and smooth, while raw honey tends to have a mixture of colours and a cloudy or creamy appearance.

Raw honey is widely available in stores and at farmers’ markets. People can also choose between brands of raw honey online.

Raw honey may crystallize more quickly than regular honey. Placing the jar of honey in a pot of hot water will melt the crystals and turn it liquid again. Be careful not to overheat the honey, as this may destroy some of its nutrients.

Other types of honey

Regular honey may contain added sugars.

There are many different types of honey, each with their own characteristics, and some people may find it confusing to work out their differences.

Common types of honey and their properties are as follows:

  • Raw honey — comes straight from the hive and is available in filtered or unfiltered forms.
  • Regular honey — pasteurized and may contain added sugars.
  • Pure honey — pasteurized but contains no added ingredients.
  • Manuka honey — made by bees that feed on the manuka bush. It may have additional health benefits.
  • Forest honey — made by bees that take honeydew from trees instead of nectar from flowers. It is often darker than other kinds of honey.
  • Acacia honey — made by bees that feed from the flowers of the black locust tree. It is often lighter than other types of honey.

Summary

There are no definitive studies that confirm whether raw honey is better for a person’s health than regular or pasteurized honey. However, experts have found several possible health benefits linked to some of the ingredients in raw honey, including pollen and bee propolis,

Pasteurization may damage or destroy antioxidants and other beneficial elements in honey. The process of pasteurizing honey can make honey smoother and more aesthetically appealing, but it may also reduce its health benefits.

Because raw honey contains the original natural ingredients without processing, it may be the better choice for people who use honey for health reasons.

References: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324966#summary

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

A true picture of modern British farming

Demand for cheaper food and lower production costs is turning green fields into industrial sheds to process vast amounts of meat and poultry

A short walk along a public footpath a few miles from the river Wye in Herefordshire 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 are giant US-style “megafarms”. In what are well publicised, nearly 800 of these occur throughout the UK. The biggest of these megafarms 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.

Get the data

Information from the Environment Agency and local authorities to get a comprehensive picture of modern British farming. 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.

The big farms say they are led by consumers - people want to buy cheap meat, and intensive farming is the only way to efficiently satisfy that demand. But critics say factory farms blight local communities, subject animals to prolonged distress and push out small producers - and that we do not need the vast quantities of meat we consume.

There have been many calls on the government to review whether the regulations around intensive units were robust requiring of domestic regulations to meet the emerging landscape and to take the place of European Union legislation post-Brexit.

The majority of Britain’s poultry meat is produced by a handful of large companies all of which are privately-owned. A number of the main supermarkets and fast food chains now source meat from companies operating such megafarms.

Most permit-holding intensive farms (86%) in the UK are poultry farms

High demand for low-cost meat

The rise in intensive farming has been fuelled by Britain’s demand for cheap meat, especially chicken. Close to a billion birds are slaughtered each year, almost all of them intensively-farmed. The majority of the UK’s megafarms are poultry units. Growing free-range and organic chickens requires a lot of space - about four square metres per animal for organic birds. Intensive farms typically have about 15 chickens per square metre, or an area about the size of an A4 sheet of paper for each bird.

Space per chicken on intensive farms = 4 square metres

Space per chicken on organic farms

Intensive farming also allows farms to carefully control the temperature and humidity of chicken units, and give just the right amount of additive-boosted feed and chlorinated water for optimal growth in a short time. The lifespan of an average intensively-farmed chicken is 35 days.

The efficiency of the system is illustrated in the product prices. A review of five major supermarket chickens shows basic, value or own brand chicken – raised on intensive farms - costs between £1.99 and £2.73 per kg for a whole roasting bird. Organic chicken – i.e. birds kept in a smaller flock, given access to the outdoors, and fed on additive and GM-
free grain grown on that farm - costs between £6.00 and £7.04 per kg per roasting bird. 

While demand for free range eggs has risen substantially in the last two decades, free range and organic chicken still only accounts for a tiny proportion of the market - just 3% and 1% respectively.

Some farms producing free-range poultry products - mainly eggs - are actually large enough that they are classified as intensive. But the Bureau has calculated at least three quarters of intensive poultry farms are factory-style units with some or all birds permanently housed indoors - and the figure could be higher as not all records have been made available.

Advanced technology

Currently there has been little demand to stop the growth of intensive farms and move to organic farming since organic farms would take up much more space. Intensive farms maintain high environmental, hygiene and welfare standards when they are run properly. I think people think of hens roaming around a farm but that image is no longer the case – sadly, that is not how chicken is farmed any more.

One billion chickens bred and slaughtered for meat in the UK per year

The industry body for pig farmers  argue that farmers had to operate intensive systems to compete with cheap European imports. Intensive farms have to meet many different regulations to get an Environment Agency permit, she said, and the biggest farms have excellent resources to maintain welfare standards, such as specialist vets on site. There was also a lack of consumer demand for free-range meat.

Many people like the idea of a family farm but they don’t know what an actual farm looks like and the scale of big farms allow them to afford to invest in green technologies. On large modern farms it’s easier to create and maintain the right environment, meaning that our animals are raised somewhere that is warm, dry and clean, and the risk of air borne diseases, such as avian influenza, is greatly reduced.

Through investing in fewer, larger facilities it may be possible to make the best use of scarce agricultural land and reduce the environmental impact of such farms. For example, the use of energy derived from biomass that can be used on these farms. 

Inside a poultry megafarm

A typical megafarm such as the one described in Herefordshire, there are  four sheds each housing 42,000 chickens. From this farm nearly 1.3 million chickens a year are produced for the giant food company Cargill, which supplies Tesco.

Inside, the sweet sickly odour is overpowering. You can’t see the floor for chickens. The sheds have some hay bales and wooden perches.

Apparently, there is enrichment: windows so they get daylight and fresh air… 

The chickens are bred to grow quickly, provide a good yield of meat, eat little feed and be disease-resistant. They are trucked in as chicks. Each batch of chickens is called a “crop” and he has about eight crops a year, cleaning the sheds in between each one.

Not a single antibiotic has been used since the site was set up two years ago. Instead, a product which changes the birds’ gut flora is used (rather like a probiotic but for chickens). The sheds are heated by a biomass boiler fuelled by recycled timber waste. The hatchery, feed mill, and factory, all owned by Cargill, are within 15 miles. Responding to complaints from neighbours, the farm keeps local people in work, like the truck drivers who deliver chicks, feed and shavings. 

An inhumane industry?

The critics paint a different picture, saying cheap meat comes at a cost for society at large. Intensively-farmed animals suffer more disease and other health problems, they say, also pointing to the stress created by early weaning and confinement, which can lead to animals starting to injure and cannibalise each other.

The campaign group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) believes intensive farming is inhumane, and cannot be justified by efficiency arguments. It has launched a campaign highlighting what it calls the UK's factory farming hotspots. According to CIWF there are nearly 17 million factory farmed animals in Herefordshire, 15 million in Shropshire and 12 million in Norfolk.

Bringing animals off the land and cramming them into factory farms is not only cruel to animals but also has far reaching effects on human health, wildlife and the planet and whilst it sounds like a space-saving idea, it ignores the fact that vast amounts of land are used elsewhere to grow food for them – often in huge crop fields doused in chemical pesticides and fertilisers – squeezing wildlife out, as industrial farming methods sweep the planet.

Farms can be breeding grounds for food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter, E.coli and salmonella. In intensive farms the close proximity of the animals can mean diseases spread quickly. This has historically meant the widespread use of antibiotics, the use of such drugs by poultry farmers had dropped significantly in recent years.

Industrial-scale farming also produces huge amounts of manure, carcasses, silage and dirty water, all of which can have significant environmental impacts even when disposed of properly. People living in the shadows of megafarms complain of lorries clogging up local roads as they transport grain and waste, and picturesque rural areas being spoiled by foul smells and ugly buildings.

More importantly, the continued overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms is contributing to widespread antibiotic resistance and consequently the biggest human health threat we face.

Unacceptable’ bacteria levels found on US meat may fuel fears over UK trade deal. Samples of pork and poultry showed high levels of salmonella and E coli in new study

Campaigners fear that a failure to protect UK food standards in law means that a future trade deal with the US might allow more cheaply produced meat to flood the UK market. Downing Street has repeatedly refused to agree to any parliamentary restrictions or so-called “red lines” on its negotiating position in US trade talks. Campaigners may feel their arguments are bolstered by the preliminary findings of a five year study being carried out at George Washington University by Prof Lance Price, which tested meat from US shops and found that about 14% of the poultry samples and 13% of the pork had traces of salmonella.

Testing also revealed that more than 60% of the pork products had E. coli on them, as did around 70% of the beef products, 80% of the chicken products, and more than 90% of the turkey products. 

Unclean greens: how America's E. coli outbreaks in salads are linked to cows

Meanwhile a review of the impacts of Covid-19 on US livestock found that several poultry plants were given government permission to increase the speeds of their production lines, the amount of chicken meat being condemned and discarded owing to suspected contamination fell 10% from the same period in 2019. During the Covid pandemic some poultry plants were given government permission to speed up their production lines. 

A successful farming future rests on how the government shapes trade deals with countries around the world and supports farming in the months and years ahead.

Many are worried that a US trade deal would open the floodgates to worsening standards. The UK’s Food Standards Agency advice is that if raw meat is handled correctly and the correct cooking procedures are followed, the risks to health from E coli and salmonella are eliminated.

The cocktail of chemicals, carcinogens, poisons, hormones, faeces and other health hazards in American food processing, and the effects they have on the human body and mind, is stomach-churning. So is the way they treat their farm animals.

We live in a society where the wealth of the few is more important than the health of everyone else but many fear that this is where we are heading if we don’t break the Westminster stranglehold.

American pork is SIX times more likely to contain salmonella than the British variety, claims study amid fears over food standards in a US-UK trade deal. Other worrying statistics from a recent programmes aired on Channel 4 Dispatches:

  • E. coli allegedly found in 90% of turkey products destined for US supermarkets
  • US pork up to six times more likely to have salmonella than UK pork, study claims
  • 13% of pork samples tested for salmonella in US meat were positive for bacteria
  • E. coli was also found by experts in 80% of chicken, 70% of beef and 60% of pork

European regulators are much more rigorous in their testing of how farming practices could impact the health of consumers. British farmers are rightly concerned that quantities of such products could begin appearing on UK supermarket shelves if standards are lowered in order to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with countries like America.

References:
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/18/rise-of-mega-farms-how-the-us-model-of-intensive-farming-is-invading-the-world
  2. https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2017/jul/19/how-do-we-deal-nightmare-mega-farms-post-brexit-food-insecurity
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/uk-has-nearly-800-livestock-mega-farms-investigation-reveals
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/uk-has-nearly-800-livestock-mega-farms-investigation-reveals
  5. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-07-17/megafarms-uk-intensive-farming-meat