News Article | February 15, 2017
Pesticides that have been banned in Europe for the past three years have still been deployed more than 60 times around the continent during this period, say campaign groups. Since December 2013, it has been illegal to spray the seeds of flowering plants such as oilseed rape, maize and sunflowers with three neonicotinoids and a further pesticide. This is because there is evidence these substances harm bees, and bee populations are in decline. But farmers can apply to their governments for emergency authorisations to use the pesticides for up to four months. About half of the European Union’s member states have made use of this emergency clause, and in most cases the applications have provided little or no evidence in justification, say Bee Life, ClientEarth and Pesticide Action Network Europe, who obtained the paperwork from the European Commission. Romania tops the list with 20 exemptions. Finland has approved nine, Estonia seven and Bulgaria five. The UK has allowed three. A report by campaign groups says that more than 80 per cent of the applications contained nothing to demonstrate that there was a danger to plant production or ecosystems that couldn’t be dealt with by any other reasonable means – despite being required to show this. Many also failed to explain how they would limit or control the use of the pesticides, which is another requirement. And two of the applications were blank apart from administrative information, according to Dominique Doyle, a lawyer with ClientEarth and co-author of the report. The report claims 44 per cent of the exceptions should not have been granted because the applications were made by the pesticide or seed industries, or trade associations. A further 42 per cent were made by partnerships that included these industries. “This is contrary to the aim of the ‘emergency authorisation’ procedure, which is to help farmers protect their crops in an unforeseen event and member states to protect threats to ecosystems from exotic pests,” says the report. The authors accuse the Commission of passivity, saying it could make better use of its powers to demand more information, obtain technical advice from the European Food Safety Authority, or kick off procedures to get member states to withdraw their authorisation. “Although the Commission is aware of the abuse, it has never used its powers to stop or limit the harm to bees,” say the authors. Because of court cases relating to the ban this week, the Commission is unable to comment, although it rejected the accusation of passivity. It wrote to Romania last November complaining of “serious concerns” that it has authorised the use of neonicotinoids on sunflower, maize and oilseed rape seeds every year since the ban was enforced, and submitted little information to justify it.
News Article | February 14, 2017
It’s enough to make you cry over your moules frites. Scientists at Ghent University in Belgium recently calculated that shellfish lovers are eating up to 11,000 plastic fragments in their seafood each year. We absorb fewer than 1%, but they will still accumulate in the body over time. The findings affect all Europeans, but, as the most voracious consumers of mussels, the Belgians were deemed to be most exposed. Britons should sympathise – last August, the results of a study by Plymouth University caused a stir when it was reported that plastic was found in a third of UK-caught fish, including cod, haddock, mackerel and shellfish. Now, UK supermarkets are being lobbied to create plastic-free aisles by the campaign group Plastic Oceans Foundation, whose feature-length documentary, A Plastic Ocean, was released in Britain this week. We are finally paying attention to the pollution that has plagued our seas for years – the government is considering a refundable deposit on plastic bottles, and pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson recently switched from plastic to paper stems on its cotton buds. Evidently, there’s nothing like serving plastic up on a dinner plate to focus the mind. Whether your national obsession is moules frites or fish and chips, this problem goes way beyond Britain and Belgium. Contaminated fish and shellfish have been found everywhere from Europe, Canada and Brazil to the coast of mainland China – and plastic-eating fish are now showing up in supermarkets. The question is no longer: are we eating plastic in our seafood? What scientists are urgently trying to establish is just how bad for us that is. Another question we might ask: how did we get here? More than a century ago, in 1907, another Belgian, Leo Baekeland, a graduate of Ghent University, invented bakelite. It was, he later admitted, something of an accident, but this welcome development ushered in a colourful new age of plastics. Until then, we had, at great cost and effort, been manipulating products out of natural materials such as shellac, derived from beetle shells. (Charles Mackintosh’s first “mac” – which used derivatives of tar and rubber – must have been pretty pungent in a downpour.) Baekeland, who had moved to the US, saw commercial potential in an entirely synthetic replacement for shellac that would be suitable for mass production. Bakelite was lightweight, affordable, malleable and safe, but perhaps the greatest thing about the plastic Baekeland created, and those that followed, was its durability. Throughout the first half of the 20th century, innovations came thick (and thin) and fast – polystyrene, polyester, PVC, nylon. Soon, they were an inextricable part of everyday life. And then, in 1950, that scourge of the sea arrived: the throwaway polythene bag. In that decade, annual global plastic production reached 5m tonnes; by 2014, it stood at 311m tonnes – shockingly, over 40% of it for single-use packing. Now, plastic’s durability looks less of a boon than it once did. A study in Science Magazine in 2015 estimated that around 8m tonnes of plastic go into the sea each year. And, last year, a report for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation (launched in 2010 by the former round-the-world sailor to promote a more circular economy) estimated that, by 2050, the volume of accumulated plastics in the oceans will be greater than that of fish. Evidently a keen sailor, Baekeland retired in 1939, to spend time on his 70ft yacht, the Ion. Ninety years after his plastics breakthrough, in 1997, another sailor (since turned oceanographer and campaigner), Charles Moore, was traversing the ocean between Hawaii and California when he came across the now infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch, one of the five main subtropical gyres (circulating systems of ocean currents that draw floating debris into a kind of massive junk vortex). Ever since its discovery, there has been vigorous debate over the size of the patch, with descriptions ranging from the size of Texas to twice that of France. It is, in fact, impossible to definitively measure, because its size – and litter visible on the surface – changes with currents and winds, but its heart is thought to be around 1m sq km, with the periphery spanning a further 3.5m sq km, stretching roughly from the west coast of North America to Japan. An aerial survey last year by Dutch foundation The Ocean Cleanup found it is far bigger than previously estimated, while the UN’s environmental programme warns it is growing so fast that it is now visible from space. In 1997, Moore saw bottles, bags and bits of polystyrene. But what really worried him, and has occupied campaigners and scientists ever since, was the vast soup of tiny plastic particles swirling around below the junk. Moore returned in 1999 to measure the weight of these “microplastics”. “We found six times more plastic than plankton,” he said, sparking a flurry of worldwide research that has not let up since. Researchers from around the world pooled data over six years to 2013, and reached the conclusion that there are already more than five trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans, most of them microplastics. Microplastics – which range in size from 5mm to 10 nanometres – come from a number of sources. One culprit is “nurdles”, the raw plastic pellets shipped around the world for manufacturing, easily lost during transportation (in 2012 a typhoon spilled millions from a ship in Hong Kong). Recently, the spotlight has been on so-called microbeads, tiny plastic balls found in some cosmetic facial scrubs and toothpaste (many governments, including the UK’s, have moved to ban them). Like microfibres – the threads from synthetic clothes lost during laundry, and rubber debris from vehicle tyres – these tiny pieces of plastic are too small to be filtered out of our wastewater systems, and huge quantities end up in the sea. But it’s the single-use plastics for packaging, more than a third of everything we produce, that present the greatest problem. While many plastics don’t biodegrade, they do photodegrade – UV exposure eventually breaks all those plastic bottles and bags down into tiny pieces, which, in common with microbeads and fibres, potentially leach toxic chemical additives – PCBs, pesticides, flame retardants – put there by manufacturers. These tiny particles look like food to some species, and, last November, new research showed that common plastics attract a thin layer of marine algae, making them smell like nutritious food. In July 2015, a team at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory released film they had captured under a microscope showing zooplankton eating microplastic. Given that these tiny organisms form a crucial part of the food chain, the implications were immediately shocking. But a huge variety of the fish and shellfish we eat are consuming plastics directly too. Research published last year in the journal Science found that juvenile perch actively preferred polystyrene particles to the plankton they would normally eat. While most plastic has been found in the guts of fish, and would therefore be removed before eating, some studies have warned that microplastics, particularly at the nanoscale, could transfer from the guts to the meat (and, of course, we eat some species of small fish and shellfish whole). There is growing concern about toxins leaching – laboratory tests have shown that chemicals associated with microplastics can concentrate in the tissues of marine animals. Some commercially important species have seen the majority of their population affected. In 2011 in the Clyde in Scotland, 83% of Dublin Bay prawns, the tails of which are used in scampi, had ingested microplastics; so had 63% of brown shrimp tested across the Channel and southern part of the North Sea. A fortnight ago, Gesamp, a joint group of experts on the scientific aspects of marine environmental protection, published the second part of its global assessment on microplastics. It confirmed that contamination has been recorded in tens of thousands of organisms and more than 100 species. Last year, the European Food Safety Authority called for urgent research, citing increasing concern for human health and food safety “given the potential for microplastic pollution in edible tissues of commercial fish”. In the face of such widespread contamination, the outlook seems bleak. Yet Professor Richard Thompson, a leading international expert on microplastics and marine debris, is upbeat. He has been working in this field for 20 years. In 2004, his team at Plymouth University released the first research on marine microplastics, were the first to show microplastics were retained by organisms such as mussels, and it was their research that found plastic in a third of UK-caught fish. He is reassuringly unfazed about the recent headlines. “You would have to eat well over 10,000 mussels a year to reach the quantities of plastics the Belgian studies suggest,” he says. Even for Belgians, that seems excessive. And, crucially, there is no evidence of harm to humans from those quantities. He agrees contamination is widespread – and concerning – but it is “not yet a cause for alarm. Quantities are low, and at current levels human exposure is likely to be greater in the home or office than via food or drink.” But, he adds: “It’s only going to increase. If we carry on with business as usual, it will be a different story down the line, in 10, 20 years.” It’s important not to overstate the risks before they’re fully understood. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation pointed out in 2014 (pdf) just how reliant we have become on seafood as a source of protein – an estimated 10-12% of the global population relies on fisheries and aquaculture for their livelihood. Per capita fish consumption has risen from 10kg in the 1960s to more than 19kg in 2012, and seafood production is annually increasing at a rate of 3.2%, twice the world population growth rate. In other words, demand for seafood is increasing, just as its future viability is at risk. Something has to give – and it is increasingly clear that has to be our reliance on throwaway plastics. When you’re alone in the middle of the Southern Ocean, the nearest land is Antarctica and the closest people are manning the space station above, there’s time to think. If you’re Dame Ellen MacArthur, it sets you to thinking about the flaws of our global economy. As she tells it: “Your boat is your entire world and what you take with you when you leave is all you have, to the last drop of diesel and last package of food. There is no more.” Our economy, she realised, is no different: “It’s entirely dependent on finite materials we have only once in the history of humanity.” To MacArthur, the solution is simple – instead of using these resources up, we should design the waste element out of products in the first place. MacArthur, through her foundation, is working with industry leaders and others to approach design with end of life in mind. She has found one particularly strong ally in the Prince of Wales, whose International Sustainability Unit (ISU) is also working on how innovation and design can reduce the impact of plastic production on the environment. Two weeks ago, the ISU organised a working group, which included MacArthur, to look at plastic waste in the oceans. This is how Professor Thompson found himself on the banks of Rainham Marshes in Essex, collecting plastic debris with senior executives from Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Adidas, Dell and Marks & Spencer. Of what they picked up, about 80% was plastic bottles – those executives probably saw their own products spat back at them from the Thames. They were shocked, apparently, at the scale of it, which Thompson pointed out “was not inconsistent with beaches worldwide”. Then they all went to the recycling plant. Only a third of the UK’s annual 1.5m tonnes of recyclable plastic waste is recycled. While many drinks bottles are made of easily recyclable PET, some brands add plastic sleeves or colour the bottles, reducing their recyclability. The execs watched those bottles picked out, simply due to a lack of thought at the design stage. The idea of the circular economy is taking hold; there is now broad agreement that industry needs to move towards products that maximise recycling and re-use. As the Prince of Wales put it: “We do need to consider, from the very beginning, the second, third and, indeed, fourth life of the products we use in everyday life.” Thompson is heartened. “This growing recognition,” he says, “was not the case 10 years ago when industry pointed at consumers saying they were responsible … now it’s much clearer there’s responsibility on both sides.” And in what he describes as an exciting step forward, we might see the formation of a stewardship council for plastics, which will connect industries from manufacture through to recycling, and, as the Marine Stewardship Council does for fishing, accredit responsible practice. After all, plastic is not the enemy, it’s incredibly useful, not least in reducing food waste. What’s so positive about recent progress, Thompson points out, is that “unlike other environmental problems, this isn’t a case of us having to do without, we just have to do it differently”. Perhaps the shock of finding plastics returning to us on our dinner plates will help to bring that message home. “We’re on the edge of a major ecological disaster,” Thompson says. “Microplastics in seafood is an illustration of that. There are things we can do, but we need to do them now.”
News Article | January 29, 2017
Those of us who want to eat safe, healthy food awoke to a nightmare on Tuesday, a chilling interview on Radio 4’s Today programme. Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, made it crystal clear that any US trade deal struck by Theresa May would be contingent on the UK public stomaching imports of US foods that it has previously rejected: beef from cattle implanted with growth hormones, chlorine-washed chicken, and unlabelled genetically modified (GM) foods. Wiping the sleep from our eyes, we hoped it was just a bad dream, but the grim reality worsened. Martin Haworth, director of strategy at the National Farmers Union (NFU), was up next. Surely our own farmers, who have worked for decades to stricter EU standards shaped by consumers’ demand for safe, natural food, would reiterate their commitment to keeping them? Not a bit of it. Haworth’s only concern was that if such controversial American products were allowed into the country, British farmers should be able to use the same production techniques to ensure “an even playing field”. Do you find it credible that British farmers could beat the US’s vast industrial feedlots, hi-tech poultry plants and vast GM prairies at their own game? No matter, the NFU does. Later, at prime minister’s questions, the Scottish National party MP Angus Robertson pressed May for the reassurance that everyone who cares about food quality and safety badly wants to hear. Would she tell Trump she wasn’t prepared to lower our food safety standards? Judging from May’s evasive reply – she would improve trade through prosperity, growth, jobs, putting UK interests and values first – it seems entirely possible that she would bin existing food rules in order to clinch a deal. For decades, the food on our plates has been protected – albeit inadequately – by virtue of our EU membership. Food on British shelves differs in critical ways from the US equivalent. Citizens in Europe loudly opposed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) that sought to impose on us the US “Big Food” model. But now it looks as if Trump and May could usher in a bilateral version of TTIP with bells on. So the nightmare is real, although there is a ray of hope. Post-Brexit, we can’t continue to sell British food to mainland Europe unless it meets EU standards. And losing concrete business with the EU in the vain hope of gaining some notional trade advantage with the US sounds like a deal-breaker. Eighty-two pesticides are banned in the EU on health and environmental grounds – but not in the US. Among these 82 pesticides are permethrin, the broad spectrum insecticide that is classed as a likely carcinogen and suspected endocrine disruptor, and atrazine, a herbicide thought to affect the immune system, which has also been linked to birth defects. A US-UK trade deal opens the door to imports of American foods grown using these pesticides. The US would probably also lean on the UK government to relax our EU-set “maximum residue levels” for pesticides in food. Even people who boycotted US imported food would probably end up eating more residues in food because British growers would no longer have to control their spraying regimes to keep residues within EU limits. Derivatives of GM maize and soya are in thousands of processed foods in the US. American consumers’ demands to see them labelled have been quashed by lobbying from big biotech companies, notably Monsanto. In the US, the only way to avoid eating GM ingredients is to buy organic food to cook at home and never eat out. In the EU, foods made using GM ingredients must be clearly labelled as such, and consumers have shown repeatedly that they don’t want to buy them. The only GM foods currently on British shelves are sweet imported American junk foods, and cheap cooking oils aimed at the catering trade. No GM crops are grown commercially in the UK. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have all effectively banned their cultivation. Currently, EU states have the right to ban the import of GM food. In the event of a US-UK trade deal, farmers on both sides of the Atlantic might argue that GM labelling, and cultivation and import bans, are discriminatory barriers to trade. Processed foods in the United States typically contain many more additives and hi-tech ingredients than their equivalents in Europe. Several food additives banned in Europe are permitted in the US. These include petroleum-derived food colourings, azodicarbonamide, the chemical used to bleach flour that has been linked to asthma, and potassium bromate, a chemical that reduces the time needed to bake industrial bread. It has been associated with kidney, nervous system and gastrointestinal disorders. British companies could argue that if they are to compete with US imports on price, they must be allowed to use these problematic additives. In the US it’s perfectly legal to “wash” butchered chicken in strongly chlorinated water and to spray pig carcasses with lactic acid. Abattoir companies present these as belt-and-braces methods of reducing the spread of microbial contamination from the animal’s digestive tract to the meat. These practices aren’t allowed in the EU, and the dominant European view has been that, far from reducing contamination, they could increase it because dirty abattoirs with sloppy standards would rely on it as a decontaminant rather than making sure their basic hygiene protocols were up to scratch. There are also concerns that such “washes” would be used by less scrupulous meat processing plants to increase the shelf-life of meat, making it appear fresher than it really is. If the UK were obliged to accept chlorine chicken and acid-washed meat from the US, this would not need to be flagged up on product packaging because these washes and sprays would count as “processing aids”, which don’t need to be labelled. The EU has a general ban on the use of synthetic hormones to promote growth in farm animals because the European Food Safety Authority says that there isn’t enough data to fully assess potential human health risks, such as increased cancer, and early puberty. In the US, synthetic hormones are considered safe, and intensively reared beef cattle and dairy cows are often implanted with them. Pigs are also treated with the beta-agonist drug Ractopamine, which has hormone-like bodybuilding effects. Globally, there is heightened awareness that the overuse of antibiotics in farming is encouraging the emergence of bacterial infections in animals and humans that are resistant to key groups of these vital drugs. The latest data shows that 75% of medically important antibiotics in the US were given to farm animals. In the UK, the equivalent amount is lower (40%), largely because EU farmers have not been allowed to use antibiotics to make their animals grow bigger more quickly – or produce more milk. Once a UK-US trade deal was signed, US meat processors would be likely to see big opportunities to get their pork – and to a lesser extent, their beef – into the UK. These imports would probably be purchased by processed food manufacturers. And as their multi-ingredient products don’t have to list the country of origin of individual ingredients, there would be no sure way of avoiding eating milk or meat produced to less exacting US standards, unless you never ate processed food. Powerful US meat and grain corporations want the EU to drop restrictions on animal byproducts (abattoir offcuts and waste) in animal feedstuffs, arguing that it is a barrier to trade aimed at protecting our internal market. The American Feed Industry Association has already challenged this EU rule on the grounds that its industry experienced a 62% drop in exports over the past decade because of it. The practice of feeding slaughterhouse byproducts, such as brains and spinal cord, back to animals in their rations can result in outbreaks of livestock diseases: swine fever, foot and mouth disease and mad cow disease. It is thought to be the most likely cause of in humans. The UK’s willingness to accept imports of animal feed manufactured with animal byproducts (and GM soya) could be a prerequisite of any US trade deal.
News Article | February 15, 2017
MORRIS PLAINS, NJ--(Marketwired - Feb 8, 2017) - Two recently published scientific studies, built on findings from earlier research, show that BENEO's prebiotic chicory root fibers support digestive health by improving bowel regularity and softening stools, while being very well tolerated. With up to 30% of the western population (including children) affected by a low number of weekly bowel movements and hard stoolsi, the potential for using chicory root fibers in this area of digestive health cannot be underestimated. The first study by Antje Micka et al.ii, shows that chicory root inulin improves bowel function in adults and contributes to improved digestive health. The second study by Ricardo Closa-Monasterolo et al.iii, focuses on children between the ages of two to five years old and demonstrates that prebiotic chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose, support digestive health by improving stool consistency, while at the same time being very well tolerated. The clinical trial conducted by Micka et al. was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over design trial of 44 healthy, slightly constipated subjects (self-reported constipation defined as 2-3 stools per week). Participants were supplemented with 3x4g/day of BENEO's chicory root fiber, Orafti® Inulin, or placebo (maltodextrin). The supplements were delivered in a drink form that was consumed together with breakfast, lunch and dinner over a 4-week period and after a 2-week run-in phase. The results showed that BENEO's prebiotic chicory inulin significantly improved stool frequency per week without resulting in gastrointestinal discomfort. Chicory root inulin also contributed to improved overall wellbeing and satisfaction, evaluated by a validated quality of life questionnaire for constipated people. The research design followed the EFSA guidance documents for studies addressing digestive function (EFSA Gold Standard). It was also included in BENEO's dossier for a 13.5 claim that resulted in a positive opinion, as well as an exclusive claim for its prebiotic chicory inulin and digestive health. The study by Closa-Monasterolo et al. is the first to show that prebiotic chicory inulin and oligofructose also support normal bowel habits in children between the ages of two to five years old. It was a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled parallel group design. The children received a 2x2g/day combination of BENEO's Orafti® Inulin and Oligofructose, or placebo (maltodextrin), incorporated into yogurt or fresh cheese, for a 6-week period. Results showed that the chicory root fibers softened the stools of the constipated children and were as well tolerated as the fully digestible placebo. While there are several scientific studies that demonstrate the positive effects of prebiotic fibers, inulin and oligofructose, in infants and small children (0-2 years old)iv,v,vi, there was previously limited data on their effect in children between the ages of 2 to 5 years old. These results highlight the high level of importance of the recent study results. This is especially significant because the 2 to 5-year-old age group is particularly at risk of constipation due to their change in diet (overall low dietary fiber intake), toilet and potty training, as well as more exposure outside of the home (kindergarten), all of which may influence their digestive well-being. The physiological mechanisms underlying this digestive support by chicory root fibers are related to their prebiotic effect. They selectively stimulate the growth of bacteria promoting saccharolytic fermentation, in particular Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) described the underlying fermentation-driven mechanism in their positive opinion on Orafti® Inulin and the improvement of regularityvii. "Digestive health matters at every age," said Anke Sentko, Vice President Regulatory Affairs and Nutrition Communication at BENEO. "These two recent high-quality human intervention studies show once again that BENEO's prebiotic chicory root fibers effectively support digestive health in children and adults. Chicory root fibers, inulin and oligofructose, are the best studied prebiotic fibers. They support regularity as well as wellbeing, therefore meeting consumers' needs and making them an important area of focus for many food and drink manufacturers." BENEO's Orafti® Inulin and Oligofructose are natural, non-GMO, clean label prebiotic fibers that are derived from chicory root via a gentle hot water extraction method. These characteristics underline the uniqueness of these dietary fibers and differentiates them from others. For further information on BENEO and its ingredients, please visit: www.beneo.com and www.beneonews.com or follow BENEO on Twitter: @_BENEO or LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/beneo The BENEO-Institute is an organization which brings together BENEO's expertise from Nutrition Science and Legislation teams. It acts as an advisory body for customers and partners reaching from ingredient approval, physiological effects and nutritional composition to communication and labelling. The key nutritional topics of the BENEO-Institute's work include weight management, digestive health, bone health, physical and mental performance, the effects of a low glycaemic diet as well as dental health. The BENEO-Institute facilitates access to the latest scientific research and knowledge throughout all nutritional and regulatory topics related to BENEO ingredients. It provides BENEO customers and partners with substantiated guidance for some of the most critical questions in the food industry. BENEO is a division of the Südzucker Group, employs 900 people and has production units in Belgium, Chile, Germany and Italy. www.BENEO.com www.BENEOnews.com ii Micka A., et al (2016): Effect of consumption of chicory inulin on bowel function in healthy subjects with constipation: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, DOI: 10.1080/09637486.2016.1212819 iii Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferre, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llaurado, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., Escribano, J. (2016) The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International journal of food sciences and nutrition, 1-11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27931142 iv Closa-Monasterolo, R., Gispert-Llaurado, M., Luque, V., Ferre, N., Rubio-Torrents, C., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Escribano, J. (2013) Safety and efficacy of inulin and oligofructose supplementation in infant formula: results from a randomized clinical trial. Clinical nutrition (Edinburgh, Scotland) 32, 918-927. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23498848 v Wernimont, S., Northington, R., Kullen, M.J., Yao, M., Bettler, J. (2015) Effect of an α-lactalbumin-enriched infant formula supplemented with oligofructose on fecal microbiota, stool characteristics, and hydration status: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Clin Pediatr (Phila) 54, 359-370. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25297064 vi Veereman-Wauters, G., Staelens, S., van de Broek, H., Plaskie, K., Wesling, F., Roger, L., McCartney, A., Assam, P. (2011) Physiological and bifidogenic effects of prebiotic supplements in infant formulae. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 52, 763-771. http://journals.lww.com/jpgn/Fulltext/2011/06000/Physiological_and_Bifidogenic_Effects_of_Prebiotic.20.aspx vii EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies (NDA) (2015) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to "native chicory inulin" and maintenance of normal defecation by increasing stool frequency pursuant to Article 13.5 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. EFSA Journal 13 (1) 3951. Citation: "Inulin resists hydrolysis and absorption in the human small intestine, but reaches the large intestine essentially complete, where it is fermented to short-chain fatty acids, lactate and gases by colonic bacteria. This is accompanied by an increase in bacterial cell mass and a higher water content of digesta. In this way Orafti® Inulin leads to softer stools and facilitated excretion as well as to an enhanced propulsion of colonic contents via chemical and mechanical stimulation of the peristaltic reflex and hence an increase in the frequency of bowel movements."
News Article | February 21, 2017
Thinking about E numbers might stir up images of hyperactive children guzzling fluorescent soft drinks. But have you ever wondered what the E stands for? Looking at this system of food additives can help illustrate some of the tough issues facing the British government as it prepares to leave the European Union. The European Council introduced food colouring legislation in 1962 alongside a number classification system. In the 1990s the scheme was expanded to cover all additives permitted to be used in food sold in the EU and now forms a key part of UK food and drink regulation. The government wants to begin formal Brexit negotiations by the end of March, after which UK laws will be made "not in Brussels but in Westminster", according to Prime Minister Theresa May. So will the UK ditch E numbers and come up with a new system for assessing and labelling food additives? And what about the many other areas of UK regulation currently set by EU law? For a substance to be permitted for use as a food additive in the EU, it must be given an E number (the E stands for Europe). Codes like E101, E150d and E1209 are assigned to substances which change food colour, taste, shelf life or other properties. For example E160b, or annatto, gives Red Leicester cheese its distinctive glow. E numbers are often associated with processed food. Some, like E122, may have adverse effects on children prone to hyperactivity according to the NHS. But most are perfectly benign and lots are good for us, like E300, otherwise known as Vitamin C. At the moment if a food company comes up with a new additive, it must seek authorisation from an expert panel at the European Food Safety Authority. This EU body is made up of scientists from across the continent, including two from the UK. They are experts in chemistry, toxicology and other relevant fields and meet regularly to assess which additives are safe. Once agreed, these substances must be clearly labelled on food sold in the UK or elsewhere in the EU. As part of the Brexit process, the government has announced it will introduce a "Great Repeal Bill" in the next Queen's Speech. This will remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and enshrine all existing EU law into British law, before the government decides which to keep and which to jettison. This is likely to include EU regulations on food additives and labelling. However such an approach opens up a number of other questions. For example, what would happen when the EU changes its list of E numbers - will the UK adopt or ignore the new rules? If it adopts them, how does this square with the government's wish that laws be made in Westminster and if it ignores E number changes, will domestic food companies be able to trade freely with European suppliers? The government says it will push for the "freest possible trade" with the EU after Brexit. But if the UK decided to keep E numbers while not being under the jurisdiction of European courts, there would need to be a new system whereby the EU's remaining 27 states could verify that UK goods observe the rules, says Stephen Weatherill, professor of European law at Oxford University. "It is beyond complicated - and this is true of thousands and thousands of such matters," says Prof Weatherill. But not everyone agrees. "Some of the academics are making it more complicated than they need to," says Conservative MP Bill Cash, who chairs the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee and is a long-standing supporter of Brexit. He says the UK may choose to adopt standards like E numbers, but on the basis of voluntary compliance rather than by submitting to the EU's legal jurisdiction, enforced by the European Court of Justice. There are many other unresolved questions when it comes to E numbers. How will standards set by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation be incorporated, will the UK set up its own expert panel and will E numbers be renamed - "UK numbers" perhaps? Nobody is quite sure of the answers yet. These uncertainties hang over many areas of UK law which currently come from the EU, like farm subsidies, clean energy targets and fishing rules. But if non-EU Switzerland is a model, we may simply retain many existing structures. Switzerland uses E numbers and belongs to lots of similar schemes like the European Health Insurance Card. "There may not be as much change as people are trying to suggest there would be," says Mr Cash. The Brexit negotiations will involve plenty of big constitutional issues, but there are many apparently smaller things, like E numbers, which will need to be sorted out as well.
News Article | February 22, 2017
FILE PHOTO: An undated image taken with electronic microscope shows EHEC bacteria (enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli) in Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Brunswick, Germany. REUTERS/Manfred Rohde/Helmholtz-Zentrum fŸr Infektionsforschung (HZI)/File Photo LONDON (Reuters) - Superbug bacteria found in people, animals and food across the European Union pose an "alarming" threat to public and animal health having evolved to resist widely used antibiotics, disease and safety experts warned on Wednesday. A report on antimicrobial resistance in bacteria by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said some 25,000 people die from such superbugs in the European Union every year. "Antimicrobial resistance is an alarming threat putting human and animal health in danger," said Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU's health and food safety commissioner. "We have put substantial efforts to stop its rise, but this is not enough. We must be quicker, stronger and act on several fronts." Drug resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, which encourages bacteria to evolve to survive and develop new ways of beating the medicines. Wednesday's report highlighted that in Salmonella bacteria - which can cause the common and serious food-borne infection Salmonellosis - multi-drug resistance is high across the EU. Mike Catchpole, the ECDC's chief scientist, said he was particularly concerned that some common types of Salmonella in humans, such as monophasic Salmonella Typhimurium, are showing extremely high multi-drug resistance. "Prudent use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine is extremely important," he said. "We all have a responsibility to ensure that antibiotics keep working." Resistance to carbapenem antibiotics - usually the last remaining treatment option for patients infected with multi-drug resistant superbugs - was detected for the first time in animals and food, albeit at low levels, as part of EU-wide annual monitoring for the report. It said very low levels of resistance were observed in E. coli bacteria found in pigs and in meat from pigs. Resistance to colistin, another last-resort human antibiotic - was also found at very low levels in Salmonella and E. coli in pigs and cattle, the report said. Marta Hugas, head of EFSA's biological hazards and contaminants unit, noted geographic variations across the European Union, with countries in northern and western Europe generally having lower resistance levels than those in southern and eastern Europe and said this was most likely due to differences in the level of use and overuse of the medicines. "In countries where actions have been taken to reduce, replace and re-think the use of antimicrobials in animals show lower levels of antimicrobial resistance and decreasing trends," she said.
News Article | February 21, 2017
Researchers from the University of Burgos (Spain) have developed a fluorescent polymer that lights up in contact with mercury that may be present in fish. High levels of the metal were detected in samples of swordfish and tuna. According to the conclusions of another Spanish study, mercury exposure is linked to reduced foetal and placental growth in pregnant women. The presence of the toxic metal mercury in the environment comes from natural sources, however, in the last decades industrial waste has caused an increase in concentrations of the metal in some areas of the sea. In the food chain, mercury can be diluted either in organic form as methylmercury (MeHg+) or as an inorganic salt, the cation Hg2+. Now, researchers from the University of Burgos have created a fluorescent polymer, JG25, which can detect the presence of these two forms of mercury in fish samples. The development is published in the journal Chemical Communications. "The polymer remains in contact with samples extracted directly from the fish for around 20 minutes. Then, while is being irradiated with ultraviolet light, it emits a bluish light, which varies in intensity proportionally to the quantity of methylmercury and inorganic mercury present in the fish," explains Tomás Torroba, lead author of the paper. A portable polymer probe, which can be used in situ, was used to apply the technique to 2-gram samples from a range of fish species. The qualitative relationship between the mercury levels in fish and the increased fluorescence was verified using chemical analysis (called ICP-Mass). The research showed that the larger is the fish the higher are the levels of mercury: between 1.0 and 2.0 parts per million for swordfish, tuna and dogfish, around 0.5 ppm in conger eels and 0.2 ppm in panga. No mercury was found in farmed salmon. These are large fish and at the top of the food chain, but the metal is not present in captivity due to the lack of an industrial or natural source. The toxicity of fish depends on the amount mercury found in the fish presented in the diet. According to the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the tolerable weekly intake of methylmercury should be no more than one serving containing amounts over 1.6 μg/kg (micrograms per kilogram of fish) or 4 μg/kg for inorganic mercury (this amount is close to the one detected in the study). However, the current trend for this limit is to be lowered. For example, the United States food safety agency, the FDA, goes beyond this and recommends consuming no more than one portion per week of fish containing concentrations over 1 μg/kg, a tendency other countries are likely to follow. "Contamination of above 0.5 ppm in a food is already thought to be a considerable level," Torroba explains. "Several of the fresh tuna and swordfish samples we analysed exceed and even double this amount. This is why experts recommend that pregnant women reduce their weekly intake of certain types of fish, such as swordfish, due to possible risks to the foetus." In this context, a study led by researchers from the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research of the Community of Valencia (FISABIO, for its Spanish abbreviation) and the Spanish Consortium for Research on Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP, for its Spanish abbreviation) has shown that there is an association between prenatal mercury exposure and reduced placenta size and foetal growth. The study, carried out within the Environment and Childhood (INMA, for its Spanish initials) mother-child cohort project, aimed to evaluate this link using data on 1,869 newborns from different regions of Spain (Valencia, Sabadell, Asturias and Guipúzcoa). One of the largest studies carried out to date in order to determine mercury levels in umbilical cord blood samples and its association with different reproductive effects: measurements of foetal development (weight, height and head circumference at birth), placental weight, duration of pregnancy and risk of premature birth. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Research, show a relatively high average mercury concentration in umbilical cord blood (8.2 micrograms per litre), with a 24% of samples exceeding the WHO's provisional tolerable weekly intake equivalent. "A double in the cord blood mercury concentrations (e.g. a change in the concentration from 8 to 16 micrograms per litre) is associated to a 7.7 gram reduction in the weight of the placenta and also shows a pattern of negative association with the newborn's head circumference," explain Mario Murcia and Ferran Ballester, co-authors of the study. "However no relation was found with other parameters, such as duration of pregnancy." The results of the INMA project suggest that prenatal mercury exposure may, therefore, be affecting the development of the placenta and foetal growth. Although the magnitude of these potential effects is small, reduced placental weight has been linked to the risk of high blood pressure in adulthood. Head circumference, in turn, has been associated with subsequent cognitive development. Despite preventive and surveillance measures are been considered for foods, due to the positive effects on health that are also linked to consuming fish, the researchers urge for public health efforts in order to reduce human mercury emissions. José García-Calvo, Saúl Vallejos, Félix C. García, Josefa Rojo, José M. García, Tomás Torroba. "A smart material for the in situ detection of mercury in fish". Chemical Communications 52, 11915, 2016.
News Article | February 20, 2017
The presence of the toxic metal mercury in the environment comes from natural sources, however, in the last decades industrial waste has caused an increase in concentrations of the metal in some areas of the sea. In the food chain, mercury can be diluted either in organic form as methylmercury (MeHg+) or as an inorganic salt, the cation Hg2+. Now, researchers from the University of Burgos have created a fluorescent polymer, JG25, which can detect the presence of these two forms of mercury in fish samples. The development is published in the journal Chemical Communications. "The polymer remains in contact with samples extracted directly from the fish for around 20 minutes. Then, while is being irradiated with ultraviolet light, it emits a bluish light, which varies in intensity proportionally to the quantity of methylmercury and inorganic mercury present in the fish," explains Tomás Torroba, lead author of the paper. A portable polymer probe, which can be used in situ, was used to apply the technique to 2-gram samples from a range of fish species. The qualitative relationship between the mercury levels in fish and the increased fluorescence was verified using chemical analysis (called ICP-Mass). The research showed that the larger is the fish the higher are the levels of mercury: between 1.0 and 2.0 parts per million for swordfish, tuna and dogfish, around 0.5 ppm in conger eels and 0.2 ppm in panga. No mercury was found in farmed salmon. These are large fish and at the top of the food chain, but the metal is not present in captivity due to the lack of an industrial or natural source. The toxicity of fish depends on the amount mercury found in the fish presented in the diet. According to the recommendations of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the tolerable weekly intake of methylmercury should be no more than one serving containing amounts over 1.6 µg/kg (micrograms per kilogram of fish) or 4 µg/kg for inorganic mercury (this amount is close to the one detected in the study). However, the current trend for this limit is to be lowered. For example, the United States food safety agency, the FDA, goes beyond this and recommends consuming no more than one portion per week of fish containing concentrations over 1 µg/kg, a tendency other countries are likely to follow. "Contamination of above 0.5 ppm in a food is already thought to be a considerable level," Torroba explains. "Several of the fresh tuna and swordfish samples we analysed exceed and even double this amount. This is why experts recommend that pregnant women reduce their weekly intake of certain types of fish, such as swordfish, due to possible risks to the foetus." In this context, a study led by researchers from the Foundation for the Promotion of Health and Biomedical Research of the Community of Valencia (FISABIO, for its Spanish abbreviation) and the Spanish Consortium for Research on Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP, for its Spanish abbreviation) has shown that there is an association between prenatal mercury exposure and reduced placenta size and foetal growth. The study, carried out within the Environment and Childhood (INMA, for its Spanish initials) mother-child cohort project, aimed to evaluate this link using data on 1,869 newborns from different regions of Spain (Valencia, Sabadell, Asturias and Guipúzcoa). One of the largest studies carried out to date in order to determine mercury levels in umbilical cord blood samples and its association with different reproductive effects: measurements of foetal development (weight, height and head circumference at birth), placental weight, duration of pregnancy and risk of premature birth. The findings, published in the journal Environmental Research, show a relatively high average mercury concentration in umbilical cord blood (8.2 micrograms per litre), with a 24% of samples exceeding the WHO's provisional tolerable weekly intake equivalent. "A double in the cord blood mercury concentrations (e.g. a change in the concentration from 8 to 16 micrograms per litre) is associated to a 7.7 gram reduction in the weight of the placenta and also shows a pattern of negative association with the newborn's head circumference," explain Mario Murcia and Ferran Ballester, co-authors of the study. "However no relation was found with other parameters, such as duration of pregnancy." The results of the INMA project suggest that prenatal mercury exposure may, therefore, be affecting the development of the placenta and foetal growth. Although the magnitude of these potential effects is small, reduced placental weight has been linked to the risk of high blood pressure in adulthood. Head circumference, in turn, has been associated with subsequent cognitive development. Despite preventive and surveillance measures are been considered for foods, due to the positive effects on health that are also linked to consuming fish, the researchers urge for public health efforts in order to reduce human mercury emissions. Explore further: Mirroring a drop in emissions, mercury in tuna also declines More information: José García-Calvo et al. A smart material for the in situ detection of mercury in fish, Chem. Commun. (2016). DOI: 10.1039/C6CC05977E
News Article | February 15, 2017
As many as 20 EU countries are seeking to take the headquarters of the European Medicines Agency from the UK once Brexit is complete – and with it 900 highly skilled staff. Portugal has joined the competition for the EMA this week, which is fiercely sought after because acting as host is likely to have a huge knock-on effect for any country’s medical and pharmaceutical industry. As well as the loss of 900 staff, there is already deep concern in the UK about the ripple effect of the move on the industry. The EMA’s chief role is to act as the regulatory agency deciding if products are safe for the European single market. Two Portuguese ministers visited its HQ in Canary Wharf on Monday and acknowledged that competition to house the agency is going to be stiff across Europe. Nationals from every EU industry save Malta and Luxembourg work at the agency. France has 112 employees in the headquarters, and there are 50 British staff. No precise timetable for the transfer has been set, and the EMA itself will have no direct say in the decision. Germany is the single largest manufacturer of medical products followed by Italy, and Rome has been arguing that apart from the European Food Safety Authority, it has been given no major EU agency so far. Other countries making bids are the Netherlands, Ireland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Spain. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has acknowledged this month that the EMA would quit Britain as part of Brexit, largely because Theresa May has asserted that the UK would no longer be subject to the decisions of the European court of justice. The ECJ at present adjudicates appeals against EMA decisions or rulings that require interpretation of pharmaceutical legislation, such as the recent clash between Novartis and Apozyt over the use of the label Avastin. Hunt has promised the UK would keep the closest possible regulatory equivalence with the EU. Critics claim that this means UK firms would largely have to accept the rules devised in the EU if they are to trade in the single market. The Portuguese minister of health, Adalberto Campos Fernandes, said before the visit: “We have been actively engaged in the European medicine system from its inception and the Portuguese medicine agency, Infarmed, is highly regarded in the assessment procedures of medicines, being one of its major contributors in several roles.” Lisbon, like almost every candidate city, is touting itself as being committed to the EU, with a cosmopolitan culture and a vibrant medical research industry.
News Article | February 15, 2017
THERE’S no end in sight to the bird flu epidemic, which has struck poultry farms across Europe and the Middle East. Some 800,000 exposed, free-range ducks and geese are set to be slaughtered in south-west France this month to stop the H5N8 virus spreading further. Meanwhile, nine mute swans carrying the virus have died at a major colony at Abbotsbury in Dorset, UK, and 40 more swans may also have died from it. This flu strain has also been killing other bird species, including endangered ones, says the European Food Safety Authority. Infected white-tailed eagles, as well as peregrine falcons, crows and gulls, have been found dead in Europe. These birds may have caught the virus after eating birds killed by flu. “Given the pattern of spread, the virus is probably being carried by migrating ducks” “Given the pattern of spread, and the weather we have seen, I think it is being carried by mallard ducks on the short migrations they make during winter,” says Ab Osterhaus at the Research Centre for Emerging Infections and Zoonoses in Hannover, Germany. H5N8 doesn’t seem to be a threat to humans. It is similar to H5N1, a bird flu strain that has killed hundreds of people, but is thought to be less likely to jump to people. The winter flu season is just getting started in Europe, but fortunately H5N8 is believed to be unlikely to hybridise with human flu viruses – an occurrence that would pose a severe threat. This article appeared in print under the headline “Flu still killing birds”