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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cholesterol Drugs Linked To Eye Damage, JAMA Study Confirms Anew

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Cholesterol Drugs Linked To Eye Damage, JAMA Study Confirms Anew

Posted on: Friday, September 27th 2013 at 9:30 am

Cholesterol Drugs Linked To Eye Damage, JAMA Study Confirms Anew

A new study published in JAMA Ophthalmology titled, "Association of Statin Use With Cataracts: A Propensity Score-Matched Analysis," reveals that the top-grossing, cholesterol-lowering drug class known as statins is significantly increasing the risk of cataracts within exposed populations.[1]

Statin-induced eye damage will be a surprising finding to some, especially to statin drug advocates who have argued that the purported 'antioxidant' effects of statins 'may slow the natural aging process of the lens.' This latter, strictly theoretical benefit is increasingly being disproved by the biomedical literature. In fact, last year, we reported in an article titled, "Blind To The Truth: The Eye-Damaging Effects of Statins," on findings published in Optometry and Vision Science, revealing that statin drugs users have a 48% higher risk of pathological eye lens changes commonly associated with cataract formation.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye which leads to a decrease in vision, and is a leading cause of blindness in the world. The most commonly identified causes are aging, trauma and excessive UV radiation exposure, along with a still poorly understood genetic component. While there is preclinical evidence that the opacity of the lens can be reversed through natural substances such as wheatgrass,[2] the most common conventional approach is to treat the condition with surgery, which does nothing to mitigate or undo the underlying causes.

Researchers at San Antonio Military Medical Center, San Antonio Texas, compared the risks for development of cataracts between statin users and nonusers, using a military health care system database. The study design was described as follows:
"Based on medication fills during fiscal year 2005, patients were divided into 2 groups: (1) statin users (received at least a 90-day supply of statin) and (2) nonusers (never received a statin throughout the study). Among 46 249 patients meeting study criteria, we identified 13 626 statin users and 32 623 nonusers."
The main results were reported as follows:
"For our primary analysis, we matched 6972 pairs of statin users and nonusers. The risk for cataract was higher among statin users in comparison with nonusers in the propensity score-matched cohort (odds ratio, 1.09; 95% CI, 1.02-1.17). In secondary analyses, after adjusting for identified confounders, the incidence of cataract was higher in statin users in comparison with nonusers (odds ratio, 1.27; 95% CI, 1.15-1.40). Sensitivity analysis confirmed this relationship."
In other words, the risk for cataract was between 9% and 27% higher in statin users, leading the study authors to conclude: "The risk for cataract is increased among statin users as compared with nonusers. The risk-benefit ratio of statin use, specifically for primary prevention, should be carefully weighed, and further studies are warranted."

What is important to point out is that the human eye is an extension of the nervous system, which is the second most lipid- and cholesterol-concentrated tissue type next to adipose tissue in the human body. The lenses of mammals, but particularly the human lens, is extremely stable due in part to its cholesterol content. Amazingly, this is why the only reported lipid remaining in a frozen mammoth 40,000 years after its death was from its lens membranes.[3] Therefore, given the crucial role that cholesterol plays as a structural and functional biomolecule within the eye, is it any wonder that cholesterol-inhibiting drugs adversely affect them?

Also, considering that statin drugs bear a wide range of additional health risks, with over 300 known adverse effects associated with their use extensively documented in the biomedical literature [see our Statin Drug database], the reported cardiovascular benefits of this drug class may not be significant enough any longer to justify their use.  To the contrary, the research increasingly indicates that statin drugs are both muscle-damaging (myotoxic) and nerve-damaging (neurotoxic) – a concerning heart-damaging (cardiotoxic) combination, as the heart muscle is a highly nerve-dense muscle.

At the very least, patients need to be adequately informed of their risks in order for the medico-ethical principle of informed consent to even be possible.  Failing that, the drug-based default approach in using statin drugs for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease violates the most basic ethical and likely legal rights of their patients.

For extensive documentation of the potential adverse health effects of statin drugs, as well as research into scientifically vetted natural alternatives, read any of our recent reports on the topic:

There already exists an extensive body of preclinical and even some clinical research on natural cholesterol-lowering substances. We have spent years indexing this research in order to make it freely available on our natural research database. You can view that research here [Cholesterol-Lowering Substances]. Please be aware that by providing access to information we are not providing medical advice. It is very important for the health consumer to understand, as well, that when combining natural interventions with drugs you risk profound, even deadly interactions. It is advisable, therefore, to search out the help of a licensed health professional, preferably with an integrative medical background to assist you with your health problems.

For additional research, please feel free to visit (or share with your health practitioner) our research page: Health Guide: Statin Drugs.

For health care practitioners, consider using our Professional Database Features, to greatly enhance your ability to retrieve, comprehend and disseminate the biomedical information on our multiple databases.


[1] Jessica Leuschen, Eric M Mortensen, Christopher R Frei, Eva A Mansi, Vasudha Panday, Ishak Mansi.Association of Statin Use With Cataracts: A Propensity Score-Matched Analysis. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013 Sep 19. Epub 2013 Sep 19. PMID: 24052188

[2] GreenMedInfo.com, Research > Ailments > Index: C's > Cataract

[3] Douglas Borchman1,* and Marta C. Yappert. Lipids and the ocular lens  J Lipid Res. 2010 September; 51(9): 2473–2488.  doi:  10.1194/jlr.R004119 PMCID: PMC2918433

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of GreenMedInfo or its staff.

Are You Roundup for 2? FYI



Roundup Ready Soybean Patent Expiration

The first-generation Roundup Ready® soybean trait – the world’s most widely adopted biotech trait, planted by farmers on billions of acres since 1996—comes off patent in 2015.

Since the launch of Monsanto’s first-generation Roundup Ready soybeans in 1996, agricultural technology and science has advanced by leaps and bounds. Scientists mapped the soybean genome, developed better trait insertion techniques and identified better traits to help farmers yield more bushels per acre. One result of all three of those accomplishments has been Monsanto’s development of Genuity® Roundup Ready 2 Yield® trait technology.

Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait technology is the next-generation of the Roundup Ready soybean trait. Monsanto developed Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait technology to deliver more yield and profit potential to farmers while maintaining the weed control benefits of the original Roundup Ready system. Farmers have planted more than 50 million acres of the second-generation trait since it launched in 2009.

Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait technology and Roundup Ready trait technology are protected by different patents. While the Roundup Ready soybean trait patent expires in 2015, the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait is protected by patents for many more years. As the first-generation Roundup Ready soybean trait approaches patent expiration, here are some things that stakeholders should know.

Farmers and Saving Seed

The first possibility of planting seeds saved from Roundup Ready soybean varieties will occur in spring 2015 (using seeds from the crop planted and harvested in 2014). Farmers who are interested in replanting saved Roundup Ready soybeans will need to check with their seed supplier to find out if the variety they are interested in can legally be saved and replanted. In addition to the trait patent, most Roundup Ready soybeans are protected by other forms of intellectual property, such as varietal patents. These variety patents will continue to be valid after (and usually long after) the Roundup Ready trait patent expires.

Farmers will not be able to save seed from Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans, either now, in 2015, or for many years beyond that. The Roundup Ready soybean trait and Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean trait are protected by different patents. The trait patents on the Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield trait are not expected to expire until near the end of the next decade.

Seed Companies and Trait Technologies

Seed companies will have the choice to offer their preferred trait technology to farmers. As far as Monsanto’s soybean traits, seed company licensees will have the opportunity to choose to offer the first-generation Roundup Ready soybean trait, the improved next-generation Genuity Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybean trait or both as part of their soybean trait technologies offerings for farmers. Seed company licensees can make the business plans that make the most sense for their operations and their customers.

Regulatory support

Even though the Roundup Ready soybean trait will no longer be on patent, it will continue to be regulated for export because it is a biotech trait. Monsanto expects to maintain full global regulatory support for the Roundup Ready soybean trait through 2021. This enables farmers to continue to market their soybeans around the world for the next 8 years and, perhaps beyond, if a third party is interested in taking responsibility for the relevant regulatory packages beyond that time.

Patent Protection, Innovation and Choice

The fact that Monsanto and other biotech companies continue to invest in the development of new soybean traits that will benefit farmers indicates the U.S. patent system provides incentive for innovation. The transition of the first-generation Roundup Ready soybean technology into the public domain represents another benefit – patent expiration provides a means for public access to the technology. This system motivates individuals as well as companies, to invest in all types of new technologies that make U.S. farmers and our economy more competitive.
Monsanto and Roundup Ready varieties
Monsanto has communicated that, after the trait patent has expired, it will allow farmers to save certain Roundup Ready soybean varieties. This permission applies only to a limited number of varieties. Here are a couple things that farmers need to know:
First, the permission will apply only to varieties developed by Monsanto breeders; other breeders and the companies they work for are likely to enforce their variety patents to prevent the saving and replanting of seed. Farmers should not assume that all seed sold under Monsanto brands was developed by Monsanto breeders; some of the varieties we offer have been in-licensed by us from third party breeders. Saving and replanting seed without a license to do so under the applicable variety patents would infringe those patents.
If farmers are interested in saving and replanting first-generation Roundup Ready soybeans in 2015 or after that, they will need to ensure that they have applicable licenses to do so under any variety patents that cover that seed, and they will need to observe the rules about how that seed can be saved (e.g., only from their own farm back onto their own farm). At a minimum, farmers will need to check with their seed supplier to ensure they have the correct licenses and that they understand the limits of those licenses.
If farmers want to save seed sold under another brand, they need to check with the company selling that brand. The breeder who developed that seed is under no obligation to allow that seed to be saved. Before saving seed, farmers will have to determine whether the company selling the seed is able to provide them with a license to save seed under the variety patents and if that company is willing to let the farmer save the seed.
Second, any seed of Monsanto varieties that is to be saved has to be harvested from the farmer’s own fields, and replanting of that seed is allowed only on that farmer’s fields. It would be illegal to provide saved seed to others for replanting or to obtain saved seed from others and plant it on your own farm.

3 Scary Misconceptions About One of the Most Widely Prescribed Drugs for Heart Attack Prevention

  Personal Health  


3 Scary Misconceptions About One of the Most Widely Prescribed Drugs for Heart Attack Prevention

Statins are a classic example of a misused medicine.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Andrew S.

With statin medications, used to prevent heart attacks, among the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S., most people make certain assumptions:
  1. There is solid science for their use.
  2. There is no doubt that their targeted mechanism of action prevents a heart attack.
  3. No less costly approaches exist.
None of these is entirely true.
When it comes to any widespread medical treatment, most people want to trust that the health recommendations they receive are for their benefit. People don’t want to have to evaluate the credibility of their doctor’s medical advice, no less the premises of the healthcare system. While many treatments are effective, it’s not wise to overlook that the economic motive sometimes intrudes in the health equation. This occurs because the interlocking sectors of the current healthcare system blur important ethical boundaries, and in some cases erase them.
The intrusion of economics into health science is most noticeable in the gaps between health claims and actual outcomes. When seemingly “evidence-based” research is shaped by market considerations, healthcare treatments may fall short in delivering favorable aggregate health results.  In this article, I’ll explore the gap through the disputed science, and protectionism accorded one of the most widely prescribed medications in the conventional medical arsenal: Statin drugs.

Conspiracy of False Hope

Currently, 24 million Americans take statin medications that lower cholesterol as so-called “secondary prevention,” which research has demonstrated to be effective. Secondary prevention means deterring subsequent heart attacks and strokes in those who have already experienced a heart attack.
In contrast, “primary prevention” is the prevention of cardiac incidents in people who have yet to experience any cardiac problems.  Though initially approved by the FDA only for the purpose of secondary prevention, statins are now in even wider use for primary prevention, despite the fact that the medical evidence of their efficacy for this specific use is sketchy. Encouraged by pharmaceutical companies, doctors often prescribe drugs beyond their proven scope of efficacy, with the result that millions can be on drugs that may or may not work, and may have harmful side effects (which can include muscle weakness, kidney damage, blood sugar levels, memory loss, and cataracts).
Statins are one of the most well-known examples of this standard practice of extended use of a drug beyond its area of solid efficacy. How does this happen?
"There's a conspiracy of false hope," explained Harvard Medical School's John Abramson, a critic of widening statin use. "The public wants an easy way to prevent heart disease, doctors want to reduce their patients' risk of heart disease and drug companies want to maximize the number of people taking their pills to boost their sales and profits."
Phrases like “simple, fast, and easy,” are droned repetitively in all forms of health advice from the self-help to the medical realms. They speak to a population too pressured, preoccupied or concerned with economic goals to spend much time taking care of themselves (or each other for that matter). People are entrained by all forms of medical advertising to go for the quick fix.


The Science for Statin Use

Prescribing statins to prevent heart disease seems like a bone fide quick fix. Except that there is a debate as to whether science has demonstrated their efficacy for “primary prevention.”
That claim rests upon the findings in a sole study.
Today, the results of the so-called JUPITER study ("Justification for the Use of Statins in Primary Prevention," published in 2008) serve as the principle basis for the statin prescriptions doctors write for millions of people who have never had heart attacks and who take them as per their doctor’s advice to prevent heart attacks.
A trio of articles published in the June 2010 Archives of Internal Medicine (AIM) revisited the JUPITER study to probe whether the efficacy claim for primary prevention is borne out by the data. The scientists found that, “contrary to widely held belief, statins do not drive down death rates among those who take them to prevent a first heart attack.” Further, a critical analysis in this same issue of AIM probed how the JUPITER trial was conducted. This probe revealed, “Potential ethical, clinical and financial conflicts of interest at work in the execution of the JUPITER study.” The authors concluded that the widely hailed trial was "flawed" and raises "troubling questions concerning the role of commercial sponsors."
What was at stake in the study outcome was "tens of billions of dollars of revenue for the sponsor over the patent life of the drug … as well as potentially millions of dollars in royalties for the principal investigator," wrote Lee Green of the University of Michigan Medical School.
As Green admitted, "Doubtless, both sponsor and investigative team believe they made their design decisions for the right reasons… But social psychology research provides abundant evidence that we human beings both respond strongly to self-interest incentives and firmly believe that we do not. "
You don’t need a PhD degree in psychology or sociology to understand the economic inducements that might motivate doctors evaluating drugs they have developed, weighing in on studies they have conducted, or made by companies they work for. Even though countless doctors and scientists operate with impeccable integrity, they do so within a system that permits and rewards a lack of integrity. Condoned practices (and regulatory policies) permit the potential for cross-contamination of interests, rather than offering frameworks that prevent or limit them.
Melissa Healy writing in the L.A. Times noted that:
In an ideal world, debate over the clinical virtues or vices of a drug would be long settled by the time the medication saw a meteoric rise in use. But in a healthcare system that relies on commercial incentives to spur drug development, prescription medications are a product like any other.
Government regulatory agencies, in this case the Food and Drug Administration, are supposed to act as public watchdogs. But those familiar with the workings of the FDA question the agency's ability to manage the activities of the pharmaceutical industry. Healy adds:
The FDA assesses drugs' safety and effectiveness for specific use; but its judgments are based on preliminary data, most of it generated by a drug company seeking approval for its product. Once the agency approves a drug for marketing, the company that makes it will move quickly and aggressively to expand the universe of patients taking its product.”
What about down-line physicians urged to fall in with these recommendations? Were all the cardiologists in the U.S. prepared to take out their prescription pads based on the questionable JUPITER study results? Yes, they were, because these results were soon thereafter instated as “standard practice.”
As noted in an article in the English medical journal, The Lancet, when the U.S. revised its guidelines for primary prevention of cardiac disease, it did so by moving the previously established benchmark for statin use: It lowered what doctors characterized as optimal cholesterol levels. That meant that millions of people who previously had cholesterol safely within the designated “optimal” range, now learned that overnight their numbers had become too high. There was no change in their actual cholesterol level. What changed was the benchmark.
An additional 23 million people thereby became candidates for statin use, which as the study authors note, “offers huge economic implications for the manufacturers of statins.”
Who changed the guidelines?
Writes Mark Hyman, “Eight of the nine panel members who established these new guidelines had industry ties. An independent group of over 30 scientists in a letter to the National Institutes of Health publicly opposed these recommendations.” While it’s laudable that honest physicians stood up and attempted to clean house, it’s unfortunate that this is not an isolated instance of corruption.
Similar to the panel that established the new cholesterol guidelines, expert medical panels are routinely convened to create medical practice guidelines, Hyman points out. Physicians rely on these guidelines to “determine what medications to use and how to keep up with best practices. Yet scientists and physicians with financial ties to the industry or to the drugs being evaluated are allowed to participate in the panels and shape their decisions.
For example, Hyman says, “in a survey of 200 expert panels, one-third of the panelists had a financial interest in the drugs they evaluated.”
So while most members of the general public are wowed by the promise of objective science, the rules accepted in actual practice stray from the objective ideal.

The Right Mechanism of Action?

By designating a lower cholesterol level as optimal, the vested panelists instantly broadened their market. But since extending treatment to non-cardiac patients failed to reduce death rates, the rationale for treatment must be examined.­ Were lowered cholesterol levels a sound determinant for decreasing cardiac risk? Would a drug that lowered cholesterol levels wind up lessening the incidence of cardiac disease and death?
Not necessarily.
According to a National Public Radio piece, “Doctors call the practice of using a drug to move a biochemical marker, ‘treating the numbers’ — trying to get a patient's test results to a certain target, which they assume will treat — or prevent — disease.”
But a study released in 2010 questions that widespread practice. The study found that people taking a drug that lowers cholesterol saw no corresponding change in major arterial plaque, believed to be a precursor to cardiac disease. 
“It reminds us of something that we often forget: the number isn't the outcome. And this raises concerns that just lowering the number doesn't get you where you want to be," Steve Atlas of Massachusetts General Hospital told the NPR reporter.
For nearly 50 years, medical treatments have targeted high levels of “bad” cholesterol as the prime contributor to plaque formation and cardiovascular illness. But over time, an increasingly vocal group of scientists have questioned the sequence of cholesterol, then plaque, then cardiovascular illness as the prime mechanisms for heart disease.
For example, aspirin, a widely used over-the-counter approach to lowering heart attack risk, and one recommended by many cardiologists, targets inflammation, not cholesterol levels. A more recent and growing body of medical thought targets inflammation as the precursor to cardiovascular illness.


The Most Effective and Low-Cost Treatment?

Statins are not the only treatment option. A natural food called red yeast rice has similar properties. When used in combination with lifestyle changes for patients who could not tolerate statins due to side effects, the supplement was found to be effective in lowering cholesterol just as effectively as statins. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center website, the red yeast rice component monocalin K, has the same chemical composition as certain statins and produces a similar effect.
Some researchers think that's why red yeast rice lowers cholesterol. But others point out that the amount of monacolin in red yeast rice is less than you would find in the prescription drug. They think there may be other substances in red yeast rice that help lower cholesterol. More research is needed.
Statins cost approximately $100 per month in the US (400 percent the cost in the UK, a study comparing the two countries found). One month’s supply of red yeast rice costs from $13 to $20, a fraction of the cost. But there is one problem. In deference to the pharmaceutical producers of statins, in 1998, the FDA declared that the presence of monocalin K transformed the supplement into an “unapproved drug.” The FDA requires supplement manufacturers to excise the active component from their products, even though it is naturally found in the food. It’s unclear whether some trace amounts of the active components may remain in certain products.
James S. Turner, chairman of Citizens for Health, a grassroots health advocacy group, questions the rationale by which a government agency favors the business interests of the manufacturers of a synthesized product, while demanding that supplement manufacturers remove naturally occurring components in food products. This policy is part of the legal continuum that permits companies to patent genes and seeds.
On what basis does an agency charged with serving the public compel citizens to pay higher prices for a drug when a food is available at lower cost? Until a better-informed public makes the FDA accountable for such policy decisions, the favored status accorded pharmaceuticals will likely continue.
Alison Rose Levy @alisonroselevy writes on health, food and the environment. Her Web site is healthjournalistblog.com and her weekly radio program on Progressive Radio is Connect the Dots.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Does "Corporate Farming" Exist? Barely.


| Wed Sep. 25, 2013 3:00 AM PDT
American Gothic with businessman

Goaded on by small-is-good gospel, plenty of people have adopted a Manichean view of modern US farming: large, soulless corporate enterprises on one side, human-scale, artisanal operations on the other.

Take, for example, Chipotle's much-discussed new web ad, which tugs at the heartstrings by painting a haunting picture of a small-time farmer who finds himself working for—and then competing against—a fictional industrial-farming behemoth.
Reality is a lot more complicated. While there are plenty of mega-corporations in the food industry, they rarely do the actual farming themselves.

A USDA study released in August found that 96.4 percent of US crop farms are "family farms," or "ones in which the principal operator, and people related to the principal operator by blood or marriage, own more than half." That number doesn't leave a lot of room for corporate farmers, does it?

The story is a bit—but not that much—different in meat production. Pork, and pork only, actually has corporations raising significant numbers of livestock. Here are the largest hog producers in the United States, lifted from an interesting 2010 paper by Tufts University researchers Tim Wise and Sarah Trist:

Wise and Trist, 2010

Smithfield, recently bought by the Chinese conglomerate Shuanghui International (in a deal just approved by Smithfield's shareholders), is obviously a massive, globe-spanning corporation. Not only does it raise about 1 in 5 American hogs, it also has a 31 percent share of the hog-processing market, Wise and Trist show. When Smithfield directly raises 1.2 million hogs per year, that's corporate farming.

But after Smithfield, things change quickly. As the above chart shows, the nation's fourth-largest hog producer, Iowa Select Farms, has a 2.5 percent market share. Yes, that's a lot of hogs—150,000 per year, to be exact—but the vast majority of America's other 70,000 pig farms tend to be family-owned operations. It's true that they usually operate under contract with mega-processors like Smithfield and peers like Tyson and JBS. But these aren't corporate-owned farms.

In beef, the last stage of conventional cow production—fattening them for slaughter—is largely dominated by big players. Here (from a 2010 paper by Texas Tech University ag scientist M. L. Galyean) are the biggest operators of feedlots—those massive, infamous pens where cows spend their last days chomping on corn and soy-based feed, laced with dodgy additives:

Galyean, ‎2011

And here are the dominant processors, the corporations that slaughter the fattened cows and cut them into beef (note how Cargill and JBS appear on both lists):

But again, the farms that supply the feedlots—that raise the calves until they are ready to be fattened in those corporate-run confined finishing operations—are almost exclusively family-owned businesses, as this 2011 USDA paper shows. And there are more than 700,000 of them.

As for chicken, the USDA counts more than 17,000 operations producing "broilers," or meat chickens. Very few of them are owned by companies like Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride (a JBS subsidiary), or Perdue—the mega-processors that slaughter and package most birds. According to the USDA, farms directly owned by those giants account for just 1 percent of total broiler production. The bulk of the rest are family-owned, albeit working under contract to a big processor:

Chart: USDA

So what's going on here—why is the perception of "corporate farming" so widespread when actually almost all of the country's food is being grown or raised by family-owned operations?

It might have something to do with the fact that corporate agribusiness is indeed very real—it's just that it has carved out the most profitable parts of food production for itself, while leaving the dirty, uncertain work of farming for others.
The reality is that farming itself is generally a terrible business. There's much more—and much easier—money to be made by selling farmers the raw materials of their trade—like seeds, fertilizer, or livestock feed. And there's also plenty of money in buying farmers' output cheap (say, corn or hogs) and selling it dear (as, say, pork chops or high-fructose corn syrup). In his excellent 2004 book Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, Richard Manning pungently describes the situation:
A farm scholar once asked an agribusiness executive when his corporation would simply take over the farms. The exec said that it would be dumb for the corporation to do so, in that it is not free to exploit its employees to the degree that farmers are willing to exploit themselves.

Tomorrow, I'll lay out, with charts, just how tough it is for farmers caught between the huge corporate suppliers and the huge corporate buyers.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why Is The Food Industry Poisoning Us With Trillions of Nanoparticles?

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Why Is The Food Industry Poisoning Us With Trillions of Nanoparticles?

The U.S. food industry is notorious for poisoning the very consumers who drive their multi-billion dollar enterprise, even spending millions against their right to informed consent (truthful GMO labeling). So, is it any wonder that this deregulated and increasingly deranged juggernaut is experimenting on its own customer base by exposing them to trillions of toxic nanoparticles?

A new study published in Biomedicine and Pharmacotherapy titled, "Effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in human gastric epithelial cells in vitro," reveals for the first time that the nanoparticle form of the common "whitening" agent known as titanium dioxide is capable of inducing "tumor-like" changes in exposed human cells.[1]

Whereas previous cell research has established that titanium dioxide (TiO2) is cytotoxic (cell damaging),[2] this is the first study of its kind to find exposed cells undergo a 'phenotypal' transition from normal to cancerous cell traits, including an increased rate of cell proliferation and a decrease in programmed cell death – hallmark features of precancerous and/or cancerous cells associated with 'immortalization.'
Owing to the fact that the researchers tested human gastric epithelial cells, a type of stomach cell in direct content with material we eat, and considering the broad range of drug, personal care and food products nanoparticle TiO2 is commonly used within, the toxicological implications of these findings are deeply concerning.

We Are Already Eating Titanium Dioxide

TiO2 is a naturally occurring oxide of titanium, and has a wide range of industrial applications as a "whitening" pigment in plastics, ceramic glazes and paints. It is used in sunscreens as a UV absorbing "sun protection factor," due to its high refractive index.  Most of our risk of exposure comes from its use in toothpaste, drugs and excipient-heavy supplements as a pill coating, and food products, including even milk (to 'improve' appearance and texture).

Indeed, given that TiO2 is found in thousands of consumer products, the odds are that you are already being exposed to a significant quantity of them on a daily basis.  As reported by Everydayhealth.com, "You ingest around 100 trillion nanoparticles every day, researchers at Binghamton University and Cornell University say."

So, what are some common brands who use it? Nanotitanium is found in products produced by Jello, Nestlé, M&M's, Mother's, Mentos, Albertson's, Hostess and Kool Aid.

Below is a table from the 2012 E Magazine article "Eating Nano" revealing its presence in common U.S. packaged goods.

Nanoparticles and Common Food Brands


Is Titanium Dioxide Regulated?

Much like present day radiobiological risk assessments for technologies like mammography were developed long before the discovery of DNA, making it impossible to comprehend their DNA-damaging properties at that time, present day biosafety regulations of TiO2 were determined long before the advent of nanotechnology.  In both cases, the true harms of these technologies were -- and still are -- greatly underestimated.

As a result of this information gap, TiO2 is currently classified as 'generally recognized as safe' (GRAS) by the FDA, regardless of format. Remarkably, the FDA still allows titanium dioxide in sunscreens "at concentrations of up to 25 percent alone and 2 to 25 percent in combination with any proposed Category I sunscreen active ingredient" without considering the toxicity differential of particle size.[3]Considering that concentrations as low as 0.001% by weight have been found to exhibit clear cytotoxicity within exposed cells,[4] the biosafety regulations governing TiO2  are as great as 5 orders of magnitude or higher less stringent than they should be to protect the consumer.

Nanoparticles are so small they are below the threshold of visibility. This is one reason why they are used for sun protection factor, as 100 nanometers or smaller particles will not leave the white pasty appearance on the skin associated with larger particles.  What you can't see, however, is still there – and in the case of nanotitanium, may slip through the surface layers of our skin into more sensitive tissues, as well as our blood stream. This is also why, if you use sunscreen, you should make sure the ingredients say "non-nanoparticle" when describing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. And this rule applies to purportedly 'natural' brands as well.

Technically, a nanoparticle, also known as a 'ultrafine particle,' is a particle that is sized within the nanometer scale: literally, anywhere between 1-100 billionth (nano) of a meter in diameter.  Going up in scale, larger particles are known as 'fine particles,' sized between 2,500 and 100 nanometers, and so-called 'coarse particles' are sized between 10,000 and 2,500 nanometers.

How 'Smaller' Can Indicate A Much Larger Problem

Nanotechnology inverts the unsophisticated logic of conventional toxicology risk assessments: namely, that the smaller the amount of something (concentration or size), the less harmful it is. We have seen how this logic has failed with petrochemical-derived chemicals like benzene, considered toxic in the parts-per-trillion range, and endocrine disrupters like bisphenol A and parabens, which exert powerful hormone-mimicking properties that sometimes increase as their concentration decrease. More recently, Monsanto's Roundup herbicide (glyphosate), was found to exhibit estrogenicity (and concomitant carcinogenicity) in the parts-per-trillion concentration range. There is also the case of so-called 'low dose' radioisotopes such as depleted uranium, whose relatively low radiolytic decay relative to gamma-ray emitting plutonium generates the illusion that it is safer (recent research performed by the U.S. Army's own Radiobiological Research Institute indicates these "lower risk" radiation sources cause up to a million-fold more damage than present risk models explain due to a phenomenon known as the photoelectic effect).

In other words, less is not only more, but when it comes to particle size, smaller sizes often convey exponentially higher toxicity than larger ones.

Why Are We Not Being Protected?

So, why isn't more being done to protect the consumer from the clear and present health threat represented by nanotechnology? Considering that the Food and Drug Administration does exactly that: administers and/or executes the interests of the food and drug manufacturers, we are supplicating to the wrong entity. The FDA is at least consistent by deciding to allow the food industry to govern itself, but what about the food industry's liability in saturating our food supply with trillions of nanoparticles per serving, without warning the consumer?

According to Tom Philpot, writing for Grist in 2010, "As with GMOs, the strategy seems to be: release into the food supply en masse first; assess risks later (if ever)."

This strategy, while a seemingly successful short-term business model for nanotechnology stakeholders, is utter insanity when one considers the long-term fall out it will have on the industry once millions wake up to the fact they have been treated, once gain, like guinea pigs.

Moreover, as a growing body of peer-reviewed research on the dangers of nanoparticles accumulates, the millions who have already been exposed unknowingly to their ill effects have a legal right to sue for damages.  The food industry's increasingly nefarious stance towards the very consumers who ensure their continued business defies logic, and indicates just how unethical their business model really is.

There is really only one answer to this problem. As with unlabeled GMOs, the consumer must refuse to consume them, forcing the manufactures to bow to the holy dollar and reformulate; or, better yet, the 'consumer' must learn how to redefine itself entirely by becoming, once again, a producer, one garden (urban, suburban or rural) at a time. By growing and eating whole foods directly from the earth, we eliminate a wide range of health hazards the mass market food industry has built into their disease-promoting business model.

[1] Monica Catarina Botelho, Carla Costa, Susana Silva, Solange Costa, Alok Dhawan, Paula A Oliveira, João P Teixeira. Effects of titanium dioxide nanoparticles in human gastric epithelial cells in vitro. Biomed Pharmacother. 2013 Aug 23. Epub 2013 Aug 23. PMID: 24051123

[2] GreenMedInfo.com, Research > Problem Substances > Index: T's > Titanium Dioxide

[3] FDA. Sunscreen Drug Products for Over-the-Counter Human Use; Amendment to the Tentative Final Monograph; Enforcement Policy. Federal Register. 1998;63:56584–56589.

[4] Julia X Yu, Thomas H Li. Distinct biological effects of different nanoparticles commonly used in cosmetics and medicine coatings Cell Biosci. 2011; 1: 19. Published online 2011 May 19. doi: 10.1186/2045-3701-1-19

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Americans Are 110 Times More Likely to Die from Contaminated Food Than Terrorism



Americans Are 110 Times More Likely to Die from Contaminated Food Than Terrorism

Cantaloupe vs. al-Qaeda: What's more dangerous?

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Andrea Danti
This article first appeared on Truth-Out.org
One of the most important revelations from the international drama over Edward Snowden's NSA leaks in May is the exposure of a nearly lunatic disproportion in threat assessment and spending by the US government. This disproportion has been spawned by a fear-based politics of terror that mandates unlimited money and media attention for even the mosttendentious terrorism threats, while lethal domestic risks such as contaminated food from our industrialized agribusiness system are all but ignored. A comparison of federal spending on food safety intelligence versus antiterrorism intelligence brings the irrationality of the threat assessment process into stark relief.
In 2011, the year of Osama bin Laden's death, the State Department reported that 17 Americans were killed in all terrorist incidents worldwide. The same year, a single outbreak of listeriosis from tainted cantaloupe killed 33 people in the United States. Foodborne pathogens also sickened 48.7 million, hospitalized 127,839 and caused a total of 3,037 deaths. This is a typical year, not an aberration.
We have more to fear from contaminated cantaloupe than from al-Qaeda, yet the United States spends $75 billion per year spread across 15 intelligence agencies in a scattershot attempt to prevent terrorism, illegally spying on its own citizens in the process. By comparison, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is struggling to secure $1.1 billion in the 2014 federal budget for its food inspection program, while tougher food processing and inspection regulations passed in 2011 are held up by agribusiness lobbying in Congress. The situation is so dire that Jensen Farms, the company that produced the toxic cantaloupe that killed 33 people in 2011, had never been inspected by the FDA.
In the past 10 years, outbreaks of foodborne illness have affected all 50 states, with hundreds of food recalls annually involving many of America's leading brands, including Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Taylor Farms Organics, Ralph's, Kroger, Food 4 Less, Costco, Dole, Kellogg's and dozens of others. There have been multi-state recalls of contaminated cheese, organic spinach, salad greens, lettuce, milk, ground beef, eggs, organic brown rice, peanut butter, mangoes, cantaloupe and hundreds of other popular foods.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, foodborne pathogens have killed an estimated 36,000 people in the United States. During this same period, terrorism has killed 323 Americans worldwide. Imagine for a minute if food safety threats were marketed to the public in the same lurid fashion as terror threats. Here is a sample press release:
WASHINGTON, DC - Homeland Security announced today that America is under attack by deadly terrorist cells. These terrorists often originate overseas. The threat to our security is credible. They can destroy our way of life and must be stopped. They have no respect for individual life or democratic freedoms. They operate on a cellular basis and hide in darkened spaces. They kill over 3,000 innocent Americans each year and are likely to strike again at any moment. These deadly operatives are masters of disguise, often concealing themselves in peanut butter sandwiches, spinach salads, hamburgers, milkshakes or gourmet cheeses. Their leaders have code names such as E-coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Staph Bacteria and Hepatitis A. We urge all Americans to be alert.
With profound respect for the memory of the 2.997 people who lost their lives as a result of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Americans are 110 times more likely to die from contaminated food than terrorism, with 1 in 6 sickened every year at an annual cost to the economy of nearly $80 billion. Children and the elderly are the most vulnerable because their immune systems are weakest.
The disproportion in risk versus spending when comparing terrorism and food-borne illness makes it clear that US threat assessment with respect to terror is irrational. It distorts the entire federal funding process and needs to be overhauled.


Inflating the Risk of Terrorism is a $14 Trillion Business

With only a few thousand al-Qaeda members worldwide, and an ideological leadership core now reduced to 300 to 400 individuals, few of whom operate outside the Muslim world, it is not far-fetched to suggest that delusional paranoia is driving US policy and budgeting in the "War on Terror." Excluding September 11, 2001,fewer than 500 Americans have been killed by terrorism in the past 40 years.
In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, Michael Morell, deputy director of the CIA, listed the top three security threats to the US as Syria, Iran and North Korea, in that order.
Michael Cohen, a political and foreign policy fellow at the non-partisan Century Foundation, noted that "What is most striking about Morell's warnings is, in fact, the stunning hollowness of the threats he describes. If Syria, North Korea and Iran are truly what threaten us, we have little to fear from the world outside our borders." Cohen adds that ". . . when the US fights a major war these days, it is generally because they've started it - with consistently disastrous results."
Food-borne illnesses have killed tens of thousands of Americans and hospitalized nearly 1.5 million since Sept. 11, 2001.  However, a 24/7 propaganda marketing campaign by America's extravagantly funded terror-war-surveillance machine ensures that spending on these two threats is in inverse proportion to the comparative risks.
Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project estimated total 2011 national security spending of $1.22 trillion, with $751 billion in spending on the bloated Department of Homeland Security (DHS) between 2002 and 2013. The NSA budget is secret, although estimates range as high as $52.6 billion per year.
Extrapolating from these figures, we have had an obscene expenditure of at least $12 to $14 trillion on national security in the past 12 years. This spending orgy has produced a massive and illegal surveillance state, two enormously destructive and destabilizing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the large scale militarization of domestic policing, with training courtesy of Israeli special forces. In spite of the obvious erosion of constitutional rights and freedoms that has accompanied the new panopticon terror-war-surveillance state, the entire $14 trillion apparatus failed to prevent two deranged murderers from carrying out the Boston Marathon bombings, in spite of multiple detailed warnings from Soviet intelligence beforehand.
It is time to rethink our priorities. In an age of global corporate agriculture and food distribution, when the ingredients in a single street taco from a San Francisco food truck travel 64,000 miles, twice the circumference of the earth, to arrive on your paper plate, $1.1 billion is not enough money to address the lethal, tangible and ongoing threat from food-borne pathogens. We need to begin diverting money from the NSA and the $14 trillion national security state to the FDA, just for starters.


The Food Safety and Modernization Act Under Siege

Food safety experts both in and out of government agree that the FDA's food inspection programs are chronically underfunded and understaffed, receiving $1 billion or less per year from 2005 to 2010. Absent adequate funding, the FDA is relying to an ever-increasing degree on voluntary monitoring and reporting by food producers at a time when a few large corporations have begun to consolidate their control of our food supply. Four corporations control 83.5 percent of beef slaughterin the US, with similar figures for poultry and pigs. US food imports have doubled in the past 10 years. Nearly two-thirds of fresh fruits and vegetables sold in the United States are now imported, yet the FDA inspected just 6 percent of domestic food producers and 0.4 percent of food importers in 2011.
The internationalization of the food supply chain makes inspection, tracking and monitoring of food more complex than at any time in US history. Until we find alternatives to the corporate industrial model of agriculture, we need increased spending, and tougher, more proactive standards for food safety and intelligence.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) was passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Obama in 2011 with exactly this intention.
Although it is far from perfect, FSMA is intended to not only increase FDA funding, but to shift US food safety programs from a defensive posture to an aggressive, preventive posture. FSMA was originally supported by large agribusiness lobbyists, but a 2012 amendment that exempted small farmers with annual gross revenue under $500,000 turned the larger agribusiness players against the bill.
FSMA has therefore faced a tough path to implementation because of Republican obstructionism in the House and intense lobbying by agribusiness, which deploys an army of Congressional lobbyists to thwart FDA oversight, spending $133 million in 2009, with an additional $65 million in campaign contributions in the 2008 election cycle.
During the first week of August, for example, as Russia's grant of asylum to Edward Snowden set off an international media frenzy, Republicans in Congress generated almost no media attention as they quietly derailed funding to implement FSMA. Bowing to pressure from corporate fruit growers, they objected to FSMA's more stringent standards and inspection requirements.
During FSMA hearings by the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Dan Benishek, (R-MI), who sits on the committee and whose Northern Michigan district includes corporate fruit and produce growers, introduced a new amendment to conduct a "scientific and economic analysis" of the proposed new FSMA food safety requirements. Benishek is a Tea Party favorite who was endorsed in 2012 by AgriPAC, the lobbying arm of the corporate-funded Michigan Farm Bureau. (MFB) The MFB is also one of Benishek's top donors.
Sandra Eskin, director of the food safety campaign at the Pew Charitable Trusts, says Benishek's amendment could "significantly delay" the implementation of FSMA. "What this provision does is totally undermine the process we have for regulations in this country," said Eskin, noting that FDA has already published regulatory impact reports that include analysis on the costs and benefits of each proposed rule.
While FSMA funding and implementation is stalled for the foreseeable future, the NSA budget is so safe, the agency is planning to double the size of its facilities and operations over the next 10 years, surpassing the Pentagon in square footage. At the same time, proposals for minuscule cuts in the bloated Pentagon or DHS budgets consistently draw howls of protest from a bi-partisan chorus of Congressional leaders, most of whom depend on Pentagon and/or DHS spending in their home districts.


Taking Action

A coalition of food advocacy groups is fighting to secure adequate funding and full implementation of FSMA. In August, 2012, the Center for Food Safety (CFC) and theCenter for Environmental Health (CEH) sued the FDA and its commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, to force implementation of new FSMA regulatory and food inspection programs. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ordered the FDA to begin meeting FSMA deadlines immediately.
The FDA has until mid-2015 to comply fully, but the FSMA amendment introduced by Rep. Benishek throws the entire FSMA compliance and implementation process into doubt. Getting to full implementation requires continued political pressure from voters, who can work through organizations such as CFC and CEH to multiply their efforts.


Looking Ahead and Shifting Public Opinion

To focus on domestic quality of life issues such as food safety, the manipulative and irrational hold of the fear-based, terror-war-surveillance complex on our national psyche, politics and economy has to be broken. This may seem like an impossible task, but the terror-war state is not impregnable. It has failed miserably by turning malignantroutinely exaggerating threats, spying on its own citizens, succumbing to bureaucratic bloat and failing to maintain the adroit, flexible intelligence and response mechanisms required to fight terror.
A July 26, 2013, nationwide poll by Pew shows 56 percent of the public believe we need stricter limits on anti-terrorism surveillance, 70 percent think intelligence data is used illegally, and for the first time since Pew began asking the question, a 47 percent to 35 percent majority are more concerned with threats to civil liberties than terrorism. Recent Reuters polling also reveals 53 percent of Americans oppose a US military attack on Syria.
This shift in public opinion may be modest and is certainly overdue, but it is nonetheless an opportunity to begin redefining homeland security and working for a radical change in national priorities. Food safety should just be a start. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year from a long list of preventable or controllable risks. In 2001, the worst year for terrorism deaths in US history, with nearly 3,000 fatalities, diabetes killed 71,372, there were 29,573 gun deaths and 13,290 were killed by drunk drivers.
When working for change, it is worth remembering the example of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. (UFW) During their massively underfunded, but still successful boycotts of grapes and lettuce in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the UFW mounted a national field and PR campaign, using volunteers to hand out flyers at grocery stores across the nation. By taking their nonviolent campaign directly to the public at street level, they ultimately convinced millions of consumers not only that farm labor wages and conditions were inhumane, but that the same pesticides and chemicals that were sickening farm workers who picked grapes and lettuce were also dangerous to their own families if they consumed these foods.
Said Chavez, "I think one of the great, great problems . . . is confusing people to the point where they become immobile." We cannot afford to become immobile. Every small victory that contributes to a new narrative beyond the politics of fear and terror is meaningful, whether in improved food safety or reduced gun violence.
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.
Michael Meurer is a SpeakOut contributor.