Helping farmers put real health on our plates

Farm animals antibiotics data raises post-Brexit trade fears

Source: The Guardian

Use of antibiotics on farms in US and Canada about five times the UK level, says report…

The overuse of antibiotics on farm animals is rife in some of the key countries with which the UK is hoping to strike a post-Brexit trade deal, a new report shows, raising fears that future deals will jeopardise public health and British farming.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada all allow farmers to feed antibiotics routinely to livestock to make them grow faster, and in the US and Canada farm antibiotic use is about five times the level in the UK, data compiled by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics shows.

Meat produced in this way is cheaper, because the animals grow faster and can be kept in overcrowded conditions. But the meat is soon to be banned in the EU, for safety and public health reasons.

Read full article: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/01/farm-animals-antibiotics-data-raises-post-brexit-trade-fears

Farm homeopathy: an inconvenient truth

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

The use of farm homeopathy is not a prerequisite of Whole Health Agriculture but many farmers who farm for health, use or have used homeopathy.

What Whole Health Agriculture shares with homeopathy is a belief in the critical importance of the body’s self-healing capacity, and the concept that health is a process of maintaining homeostasis (a stable internal environment) or balance.

The late Dr Peter Fisher (formerly Director of Research and Consultant Physician at the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine) described homeopathic treatment as aiming “to stimulate and direct the body’s self-healing capacity by triggering a reaction. The body reacts to stimuli, which have physiological effects (drugs or toxins) by attempting to maintain homeostasis (a stable internal environment). Homeopathy makes therapeutic use of this effect.”

Many farmers have used, and are successfully using homeopathy. Our own survey of the use of farm homeopathy and other alternative methods is revealing significant levels of success in reducing anti-microbial drugs across all types of farms and livestock types – from smallholders to large scale, commercial productions. We shall be reporting these findings over the coming months.

Yet for sceptics – and those who pretend to be objective but aren’t really – the real-life evidence of farming practice isn’t enough. They dismiss it as fantastical wishful thinking, or conspiracy or arrested development or belief in fairies.

But is there anything more fanciful than the notion that hard-headed, commercial farmers would make-believe or lie about the evidence of their own, eyes, and the weight of their wallets and say that farm homeopathy works if it doesn’t?

For these sceptics, so called “scientific evidence” is the be all and end all. Yet they avoid the questions: Which science? Whose science? Which methodology? Which observations are fit for purpose? And which assessments are designed for failure.

They also fail to own up to the fact that its not so long ago that ecology and biological interactions struggled to find appropriate methodologies, scientific analysis and statistical treatments. Ecological research eventually found methods that are fit for purpose and it is highly likely that this will eventually happen with wholistic approaches and disciplines.

In the mean time we have the evidence of farmer experience, and, less well known, is that there is a body research evidence which indicates that homeopathy works – in people and in animals, plants, other organisms and cells. Before his death in 2018, Peter Fisher reviewed this evidence.

It is not definitive but it is substantial enough not to be dismissed. And at a time when we are facing new disease challenges, it should not be dismissed.

We recently reported about the hypothesis that “old friends” micro-organisms play a critical role in the development and regulation of human immune systems. If living organisms – whether in soil, plants, animals or man – have the ability to self – regulate or organise a resilient immune response by adapting to challenges (internal or externally generated), it is not unreasonable to explore the possibility that there can be a mechanism that triggers or stimulates that response in a way which Peter Fisher describes.

But setting this speculation aside, it is clear from farmer experience that whole farm approaches to health – whether in crop or livestock systems – build the capacity to be resilient to challenges (pests, disease, virus, draught, extreme weather events) by finding a way back to balance (homeostasis).

The experience of farmer indicates that homeopathy is one way of assisting in that approach.

To use Al Gore’s headline phrase, this is “an inconvenient truth”. Or you can choose your own headline. How about a paraphrase of Lord Alfred Douglas poem, it is a “truth that dare not speak its name”, or rather that people dare not speak of.

On the other hand, you could choose the headline “homeopathy works” – OK?

Lawrence Woodward

Lawrence Woodward OBE

About the author:  I’m the chairman of WHAg, founder and director of the Organic Research Centre (ORC), and regularly advise & speak about the principles and methods of organic agriculture. 

The Ecology of Health

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

Every month, sometimes every week there is a new report on “health” and the need for new initiatives. Most get it wrong and when they do get something right, it seems to be by accident.

A recent one from the “think-tank”, Demos, is no exception. It’s called “Turning the Tables” and has a sub-heading “Marking healthier choices easier for consumers”. It contains some valid recommendations about making unhealthy choices more difficult to access but its thinking “tanks” badly because it hasn’t got a clue what a positive healthy choice might be,

This is a common theme. “Unhealthy” equals fat, salt, sugar, red meat and processed meat; ergo, “healthy” is simply the opposite and anything we can do to reduce foods and diets containing these things is good – irrespective of context, overall food and diet composition, and certainly, of food integrity and quality.

All of which leads directly to recommendations that the food manufacturing industry should be given support to reformulate food processing to produce “innovative” processed food and preservatives, lab-grown meat and meat substitutes using patents and other intellectual property right based technologies such as genome editing and synthetic biology.

In fairness, there are some reasonable recommendations and the report also contains interesting information about consumer buying dynamics.

But there is nothing about positive health management, nothing about production systems, and nothing about environment, farming and food interactions, what might be called the ecology of health.

Microbiome health: an ecological approach

However, in happy contrast, another recent report highlights a whole body of research work, observation and thinking which does this and, for us at least, improves our understanding of how that new “buzzword” – the microbiome – can be viewed from a Whole Health Agriculture perspective.

Writing in “The Conversation”, Jake M Robinson, a landscape researcher at the University of Sheffield, explains that “biodiversity loss could be making us sick”. Here are some of the key points he makes:

– Most of us know that we are losing biodiversity at a massive rate. But we may not realise that microbial diversity is a large part of that biodiversity loss. “And these microbes – bacteria, viruses and fungi, among others – are essential for maintaining healthy ecosystems. Because humans are a part of these ecosystems, our health also suffers when they vanish, or when barriers reduce our exposure to them.”

– Many people now realise that our bodies “harbour distinct microbiomes – vast networks of microbes”. “The human gut alone harbours up to 100 trillion microbes, which outnumbers our own human cells. Our microbes provide services that are integral to our survival, such as processing food and providing chemicals that support brain function.”

– However, there is less recognition that “Contact with a diverse range of microbes in our environment is also essential for bolstering our immune system. Microbes found in environments closer to the ones we evolved in, such as woodlands and grasslands, are called “old friend” microbes by some microbiologists. That’s because they play a major role in “educating” our immune systems.

– Part of our immune system is fast-acting and non-specific, which means it attacks all substances in the absence of proper regulation. Old friend microbes from our environment help provide this regulatory role. They can also stimulate chemicals that help to control inflammation and prevent our bodies from attacking our own cells, or innocuous substances like pollen and dust.”

– Exposure to a diverse range of microbes allows our bodies to mount an effective defensive response against pathogens. Another part of our immune system produces tiny armies of “memory cells” that maintain a record of all the pathogens our bodies encounter. This enables a rapid and effective immune response to similar pathogens in the future.

– Just as microbes have important roles in ecosystems, by helping plants grow and recycling soil nutrients, they also provide our bodies with nutrients and health-sustaining chemicals that promote good physical and mental health. This strengthens our resilience when facing diseases and other stressful times in our lives.”

Lessons for farming and land use

Robinson’s primary focus is on increasing biodiversity in urban settings to restore microbial activity aimed at improving the health of residents. He sees restoring natural habitats, growing diverse native plants, and providing access to safe, green spaces as key strategies.

These are just as relevant to farms – and of course many organic and health focussed farms are doing these things. The WHAg hypothesis is that there is a direct connection between the quality of diversity on farms and the food produced and the health of all those – people and livestock – who eat that food.

The concept of diverse microbial communities and “old friends” in the ecosystem being linked to those in human and animal bodies seems to fit into this hypothesis. It might be one explanation as to why health in all aspects of long established, whole farm systems appears to increase over time. Investigating this will be a key part of our research work in the next few years.

For now, we can’t see that the reductionist, technological approach to health of “think-tanks”, celebrity foundations and (probably) high profile “food strategy” task forces, which ignore the ecology of health, have much to commend them.

Here are some links, additional to those in the text above, for those interested.

One Week Eating Organic – Glyphosate Levels Drop 70%

Credit: Sustainable Pulse

A peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Research found that levels of the pesticide glyphosate in participants’ bodies dropped an average of 70% after six days on an organic diet. The study is one of the first to examine how an organic diet affects exposure to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Bayer’s weedkiller Roundup, the most widely used weedkiller worldwide. It also indicates that for the general population, the food they eat is a primary way they are exposed to this pesticide.

 

“It’s striking that levels of this toxic pesticide dropped so dramatically after less than a week. Given our results and related studies on how an organic diet rapidly reduces pesticide exposure, we could expect to see similar reductions in glyphosate levels in most Americans if they switched to an organic diet,” said study co-author Kendra Klein, PhD, senior staff scientist at Friends of the Earth. “That’s the good news. The bad news is that most of us are eating glyphosate-laden food continuously, resulting in daily doses of the chemical from breakfast through dinner.”

Microplastics distribution: The disease and pollution of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.

A particularly large collembolan (almost 2mm long) found in an oak forest in Ireland. Soil collembolan species are typically much smaller, paler, and might not have eyes. Together with microbes these animals help elements like nitrogen cycle between plants and soil.              Credit: Tancredi Caruso – Author

Microscopic animals are busy distributing microplastics throughout the world’s soil

King George Island, the largest of the South Shetland Islands, lies 120km, about a day’s sail off the northernmost tip of Antarctica. It’s a rugged place – home to seals, penguins, a few scientific bases and not much else. Though the climate is mild compared to the mainland, temperatures still barely reach above freezing in the summer months and the island is almost entirely covered in ice. If microplastics can enter the food web here, they can probably do so almost anywhere on earth.

But this is exactly what colleagues and I discovered, when we searched for microplastics inside tiny creatures found on King George Island. Our results, now published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, show that microplastics are becoming an integral part of the soil food web.

Microplastics are pieces of plastics smaller than a few millimetres, and usually much smaller than that. These bits and pieces break off from the hundreds of millions of tons of plastics that are produced each year, and collectively form a huge amount of waste. And, as plastic degrades only very slowly, it has dramatically accumulated in the environment, everywhere from the deepest ocean floors to the North and South poles.

Read the full article: https://theconversation.com/microscopic-animals-are-busy-distributing-microplastics-throughout-the-worlds-soil-141353

 

Be very wary of misleading papers and articles about “trendy” pet food diets

Dog waiting for dinner

WHAg Window – giving a view from our perspective…..

A new study on the changing pattern of diets fed to cats and dogs in English speaking countries has just been published in the Veterinary Record.

Although the vast majority of diets are still conventional, processed, bought in foods, the study shows a significant increase in the use of “unconventional” – homemade (HM) and/or raw animal products (RAP) and vegetarian ingredients.

Many people would think this is a good thing but in their summary of conclusions, the authors – who all have links to pet food manufactures or ingredient suppliers – highlight that “an increased risk of nutrient insufficiency and associated conditions have been attributed to unconventional feeding practices”.

However, the literature they cite is far from convincing and fails to show any evidence that the health of animals is actually being adversely affected any more than is the case with feeding conventional diets. The discussion of whether “unconventional” diets improve health is, predictably, thin.

Needless to say, media coverage of the study has focussed on the potential risks and not potential benefits and delights in knocking copy. “Trendy raw and vegan diets may cause health problems for cats and dog” is the Daily Telegraph headline.

The actual study deserves better treatment than this and a more intelligent, impartial summary conclusion than its authors give it. For example, the paper points out that:

  • “Trends in animal nutrition shadow trends in human nutrition, with increasing consumer interest in ‘natural’ and ‘holistic’ foods demonstrated in both human and pet feeding practices.” 

  • People who feed HM diets “may perceive these diets to be more palatable, or they may consider them to be healthier than processed commercial diets.”

  • “Feeders of RAP have been reported to have significantly different perceptions of the pet food industry, as well as animal health and nutrition than feeders of conventional diets.” 

  • “In particular, people who feed RAP to their pets had lower confidence in the advice of veterinarians, especially with respect to companion animal nutrition. They also reported concerns regarding the safety, quality and nutritional value of conventional foods, and perceived RAP as being more natural and healthier than conventional diets.”

  • “Promoters of HM diets and RAP claim that these foods will improve health, increase energy and even reverse chronic diseases such as cancer; however, there is currently a lack of peer-reviewed research to support these claims.”

All of which is familiar to those of us concerned about Whole Health.

 

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