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

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

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.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Genome editing: invasive and hollowing out the whole

Credit: natural products global

Genome editing is the new “sustainability” buzzword. In the recent House of Lords consideration of amendments to the Agriculture Bill there were frequent references to “precision breeding”, “new plant breeding techniques” and “modern breeding methods” for plants and livestock – all of them euphemisms for genome editing.

This latest incarnation of genetic engineering technology is not one particular method. It is a whole suite of them with differing characteristics. But you wouldn’t know that from the sweeping generalisations made about this “game-changing” technology which, it is claimed, is “akin to natural processes” but “more precise” and has such benefits and negligible risk that it should immediately be freed of regulatory oversight where it will lead the way in a transformative “bioeconomy”.

In the past, such claims for GMOs have been met with incredulity, a healthy dose of scepticism and more than a little bit of ridicule from NGOs and civil society. Not now. There is an increasing willingness to accept that genome editing has – at least the potential – to advance the cause of “sustainable” food and farming, have animal welfare benefits and more speedily tackle some of the difficult issues caused by climate change.

Some have begun accept the claims that genome editing impacts in a way that is similar to natural processes and could be accepted in regenerative, agroecological and even organic farming. One of our partners, Beyond GM, has been running a programme called “A Bigger Conversation” exploring the claims, perspectives and attitudes surrounding genome editing. Some of the findings have been surprising – from all sides.

Surprising support for genome editing

The latest event in this programme was a webinar which started out to explore the broader issues of “sustainability” – whatever that means nowadays, which all the panelists, including WHAg’s Lawrence Woodward, agreed isn’t very much.

But when the conversation got down to the potential benefits of genome editing some really controversial things emerged.

Compassion in World Farming CEO Philip Lymbery was concerned that adoption of genome editing could entrench industrial farming systems but he nevertheless, supported it’s use in some circumstances. He asked:

“What if, chickens were successfully gene edited so the only eggs with female embryos are viable…If successful, this technology could be a revolution, ending at a stroke, the killing of birth of 5 billion sentient creatures a year.”

In an earlier BGM meeting, support had been expressed for the use of genome editing to deal with dehorning cattle.

Lymbery also voiced support for cell-based meat analogues. While not all of these involve genome editing some of them do.

Organic farmer Guy Singh-Watson also offered some support for gene editing, noting: “I’m not adamantly against the technology” and that “If you could give us a blight resistant potato, I would find it very hard to argue against.” He, nevertheless expressed real concerns around the system, which seems to go hand in hand with GM technology.

As the “Bigger Conversation” programme has revealed these perspectives are becoming more widely held.

The antithesis of whole health

It might be there is a role for genome editing in something that is called “sustainability” but Lawrence Woodward is adamant that it is the antithesis of a whole system approach to health, which is built on the integrity of the whole living organism, be it soil life, plants, animals and man within a living, functioning ecosystem.

Woodward and Hugh Jones, Professor of Translational Genomics for Plant Breeding at Aberystwyth University recently had an online exchange about these concepts and practices. The discussion can be viewed here and from it lots of background references to genome editing, plant breeding approaches, the wholistic philosophy behind the organic approach to health and perspectives on gene function can be accessed.

In the exchange Woodward notes that, “The development of the concepts of organic plant breeding and seed has been primarily driven by ideas rooted in, anthroposophical, holistic, socially focussed agroecological perspectives. From these emerge the precept to “respect the genome and the cell as an indivisible functional entity” and to “follow the concept of respecting integrity of life.”

The consequence of this precept for organic plant (and animal) breeding is that: “any technical or physical invasion into the isolated cell is refrained from and plant specific crossing barriers are respected, irrespective of potential benefit risk assessments.”

Genome editing is clearly invasive and is not wholistic. There have not been enough studies to determine how much of a risk it is to the process of health and well-being. There are no studies to indicate any benefit to the function of the process of health but as the rationale behind genome editing is to “cut and paste”, “cut and delete”, it is surely reasonable to call it “hollowing out the whole”.

Watch the full-length video recording of the webinar here.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

Meg’s Musings – Why I have a beef with the EAT-Lancet Commission

Cattle in field in summer

The EAT-Lancet commission report was released this week, grandly entitled “Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT-Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”This commission’s report promises to save the planet by transforming the food and agriculture sector by radically changing our diets. Globally. For everyone, wherever and whoever they may be.Eye roll time. Here …