Is Cornell’s Alliance for Science ‘brainwashing Indian scientists, farmers, decision-makers’ or ‘captivating the world’?

13 Apr

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A Cambridge reader has drawn attention to the activities of the Cornell Alliance for Science, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was set up in 2014 todepolarize the charged debatearound genetically modified foods (GMOs) by adding “a stronger voice for science”.

https://blogs.cornell.edu/onehealth/2017/09/15/gates-grant-seeds-cornell-alliance-for-science-10m-campaign/

To this end Rob Horsch, who worked for Monsanto for 25 years before moving to the Gates Foundation, was appointed as Deputy Director of the Cornell Alliance.

For four years he led the foundation’s agricultural research and development strategies which are said to have relentlessly promoted the use of GMOs and agrichemicals in Africa despite the opposition of Africa-based groups and social movements, who have voiced many concerns about genetically engineered crops. Assisting them in this work are 24 of their 27 ‘2018 Global Partners’ from African countries. Has Africa even greater cause for concern?

Strengthening public relations – aka propaganda?

Mr Horsch has been succeeded by Vanessa Greenlee who has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction. She ‘ensures team coordination to reach organizational goals’ and has ‘a passion for finding consensus through conflict’.

U.S. Right to Know, a nonprofit public interest, consumer and public health research group working for transparency and accountability in the nation’s food system, describes the Cornell Alliance for Science as a public relations campaign to promote genetically engineered foods and pesticides. The examples in their fact sheet show that the group:

  • misleads the public with inaccurate information about science;
  • elevates unreliable messengers who make false and unscientific claims; and,
  • partners with front groups that have worked with the tobacco industry or chemical industries to manufacture doubt about science that raises health concerns.

Shaping India’s agricultural future 

The India-based Cornell Sathguru Foundation for Development, established in 1994, is said to promote access to scientific innovation as a means of enhancing food security, improving environmental sustainability and raising the quality of life globally. A search, however, reveals little reward for its efforts.

One of the few entries found relates to a course funded by the US Department for Agriculture involving American and India students. No publications were reported during this period and the outcome was that Cornell was seeking funds to continue this work. Its genetic modification proposals have not been successful, apart from India’s now failing Bt Cotton sector.

On April 8th 2019, Joan Conrow, the managing editor of the Cornell Alliance for Science, published an article – Shaping India’s agricultural future – about a course held in February featuring ‘international and Indian experts in gene editing, science communications and the regulatory framework that governs the technology in India’. Matthew Willmann, director of Cornell’s Plant Transformation Facility, lectured on the latest advances in plant gene editing, often called CRISPR.

Dr Sarah Evanega, director of the Cornell Alliance for Science, who moderated the subsequent discussion, said hopefully “It was extremely rewarding to participate in an informed, civil conversation about a controversial topic that has captivated the world. India is clearly preparing to take its rightful place on the world stage of agricultural innovation.”

Genetic modification of agricultural seeds isn’t in the interest of the planet or its inhabitants”

This reflection preceded many points raised in Dr. David Perlmutters dialogue with Dr Evanaga last year. A few are summarised here:

  • Genetically modified (GM) crops are associated with an increased use of chemicals, like glyphosate, that are toxic to the environment and to humans. These chemicals not only contaminate our food and water supplies, but they also compromise soil quality and are actually associated with increased disease susceptibility in crops.
  • This ultimately leads to an increase in the use of pesticides and further disrupts ecosystems. And yet, despite these drawbacks, we haven’t seen increased yield potential of GM crops, although that has always been one of the promises of GM seeds.
  • The various toxic herbicides that are liberally applied to GM crops are having a devastating effect. In terms of the nutritional quality of conventional versus GM food, it’s important to understand that mineral content is, to a significant degree, dependent on the various soil-based microorganisms. When the soil is treated with glyphosate, as is so often the case with GM crops, it deprives the plant of its mineral absorption ability.
  • Whenever harmful chemicals like glyphosate are introduced into an ecosystem, this disrupts the natural processes that keep our environment healthy.
  • The USDA Pesticide Data Program reported in 2015 that 85% of crops had pesticide residues. These chemicals are also contaminating the supplies for other organisms in the surrounding environment.
  • GM seeds now account for more than 50% of global glyphosate usage.
  • These chemicals are harming the soil. the various organisms living in the soil act to protect plants and make them more disease resistant. Destroying these protective organisms with the use of these chemicals weakens the plants’ natural defence mechanisms and, therefore, will require the use of even more pesticides and other chemicals

Dr Perlmutter ends by saying that the argument that we need GMO food to feed the entire world population is absurd. GM crops have actually not increased the yield of any major commercialized food source (link leads to the report on the right) and concludes that traditional breeding outperforms genetic engineering ‘hands down’. In fact, soy — the most widely grown genetically modified crop — has actually experienced reduced yields. The promise of increased yield potentials with GM crops is one that we have not realized.

 

 

 

 

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Report research results separately to ensure new medicines are safe and effective for both sexes

19 Mar

“Women are not small men,” said Jeanine Roeters van Lennep. of the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam (right):

“There are biological differences in hormones and body composition. Women have smaller kidneys so it’s more difficult to clear medication. They have a different fat and water composition.”

A study published in February showed that trials were more likely to report results for women separately if they had a female lead author, with only one in three papers reporting results separately. The Lancet, which published that research, is one of the few major journals that tell researchers to analyse separately.

Research on drugs withdrawn from the market published by the United States General Accounting Office found that eight out of ten drugs withdrawn from the market between 1997 and 2001, after approval in the US, turned out to have higher health risks for women.

One example was Posicor, which was approved for the treatment of hypertension and angina and slowed or stopped the heart rate in otherwise healthy people, especially elderly women, and interacted with 26 different drugs.

Cholesterol-lowering statins are Britain’s most commonly prescribed medicine but in 45 trials Dr van Lennep analysed, 82% of those studied were men and only five trials made data available on men and women separately. This meant that there was not enough data to show statins prevented heart attacks, strokes and deaths in women with an acceptable number of side-effects, unlike for men.

She said it was probable that statins did work for women, with previous studies suggesting a similar benefit for both sexes, and is not advising women prescribed them to stop. However, she argues, doctors cannot be certain because of sexism which is largely unconscious:

“It’s shocking. Men forget to do sex-specific analysis, to be really polite about it. If 50% of the population is female you can’t just say it’s an optional extra. It’s a blind spot because right now the triallists are generally men. I don’t think it’s malice that they don’t want to perform this analysis; they just really don’t think about it . . . We think journals should make it compulsory to report results for men and women separately.”

A Times article summarises the problem: doctors argue that an absence of women in clinical trials and failure to report results by sex have resulted in an evidence gap that is likely to be hampering treatment. They insist that medical journals should force researchers to report results for men and women separately to be sure that new medicines are safe and effective for both sexes.

 

 

 

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Medic’s warning: prescribed medication caused a 50% increase in emergency admissions & nearly 100,000 hospitalisations a year in England

10 Feb

 

An article by Dr Mark Porter (December 2018) opens, “The first thing I do when faced with a poorly patient is to look at their medication to see if it could be responsible. You would be surprised how often it is”. Polypharmacy is rife: 1 in 18 of the population is taking ten medicines or more and potent pharmaceuticals carry risks as well as benefits. Millions of people are taking medication such as blood pressure pills and statins to prevent problems they may never have.

The really important message that reducing your risk of heart disease is best done by an improved diet and lifestyle is getting ‘crowded out’

Repeated campaigns have advocated mass medication – for example the February 2014 drive by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (the ‘health watchdog’) saying that the vast majority of men aged over 50 and most women over the age of 60 should take the drugs to guard against strokes and heart disease – though studies have suggested that up to one in five patients taking statins suffers some kind of ill-effect, including muscle aches, memory disturbance, cataracts and diabetes.

The Times reported on February 1st that a study published in the Lancet says all men over 60 and women over 75 are at high enough risk of cardiovascular problems to be eligible for the drugs. Professor Colin Baigent from Oxford University, a ‘co-investigator’, says “The risk of heart attacks and strokes increases markedly with age, and yet statins are not utilised as widely in older people as they should be”.

Dr Porter writes: “it is not illegal drug use in older people that concerns me most. I am embarrassed to report that prescribed medication exacts a far bigger toll on the nation’s health. Since 2008 there has been a 50% increase in the number of emergency admissions to hospitals for adverse drug events caused by medicines. In England alone such reactions are responsible for nearly 100,000 hospitalisations a year”.

He explains that anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen can work wonders for aches and pains from arthritic joints, but they have worrying side-effects and don’t mix well with many drugs commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure (BP). They can damage the lining of the stomach, causing life-threatening bleeds (responsible for thousands of admissions every year) and can lead to kidney failure (on their own and when taken with BP drugs).

More subtle reactions impairing the quality of life are far more common and much easier to miss. Dr Porter gives a few examples from an ‘endless list’:

  • Blood pressure and heart pills that cause coughs (e.g. ramipril) and erectile dysfunction.
  • The prostate drug tamsulosin that can make you light-headed and increase the risk of falling.
  • Statins that cause aches and pains and reduce mobility.
  • Sleeping tablets that lead to addiction.
  • Cramp pills (quinine) that can cause heart problems.

He gave a striking case history:

“An elderly man with “early dementia” and diabetes was admitted to a residential home on our patch, where the staff reported that their new resident just sat in the corner all day looking vacant. His drug chart revealed he was taking an old-fashioned treatment for diabetes (gliclazide) that was pushing his blood sugars too low. It was stopped and two weeks later he was a new man and back in his own home. It is a lesson I have never forgotten”.

In October, an analysis in the British Medical Journal cautioned against any expansion in prescribing. One of its authors, Dr John D Abramson, clinical lecturer in primary care, from Harvard Medical School, last night said: “I think we have become victims of the drug companies. All the research is funded by them, and the really important message – that reducing your risk of heart disease is best done by an improved diet and lifestyle – is getting crowded out.”

 

 

 

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Following today’s news about emergency admissions & hospitalisations a year in England due to medical error, we turn to iatrogenic disease and death

10 Feb

Up-to-date figures for iatrogenic disease and deaths (inadvertently caused by a surgeon or physician or by a medical or surgical treatment or a diagnostic procedure) are not readily available in UK or USA. the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General examining the health records of hospital inpatients in 2008, reported 180 000 deaths due to medical error a year among Medicare beneficiaries alone.

Paul Wearn from the Office for National Statistics – 9 June 2011 – finally answered a FOI request for information about the number of iatrogenic deaths each year: “ONS do not have a National Statistics definition for iatrogenic The causes most closely fitting this concept are ‘complications of medical and surgical care’, ICD 10 codes Y40-Y84. Table 5.19, from the annual ‘Mortality Statistics’ publication shows that there were 236 male deaths and 226 female deaths where the underlying cause was a complication of medical and surgical care, in England and Wales, for 2009”.

In the British Medical Journal (2016, sometinmes requires reader to login) Professor Martin A Makary, department of Surgery, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21287, USA explains that a major limitation of the death certificate is that it relies on assigning an International Classification of Disease (ICD) code to the cause of death so causes of death not associated with an ICD code, such as human and system factors, are not captured. can directly result in patient harm and death.

  • communication breakdowns,
  • diagnostic errors,
  • poor judgment,
  • and inadequate skill

Currently, deaths caused by errors are unmeasured and discussions about prevention occur in limited and confidential forums

Hospital committees undertake internal root cause analysis and departments hold morbidity and mortality conferences but these review only a fraction of detected adverse events and the lessons learnt are not disseminated beyond the institution or department.

Strategies to reduce death from medical error should include:

  • making errors more visible when they occur so their effects can be intercepted;
  • having remedies at hand to rescue patients
  • and making errors less frequent by following principles that take human limitations into account
  • death certificates could contain an extra field asking whether a preventable complication stemming from the patient’s medical care contributed to the death.
  • hospitals could carry out a rapid and efficient independent investigation into deaths to determine the potential contribution of error.
  • Standardized data collection and reporting processes are needed to build up an accurate national picture of the problem. 

World Health Organisation statistics show that strategies to reduce the rate of adverse events in the European Union alone would lead to the prevention – on average – of more than 750 000 harm-inflicting medical errors per year, leading in turn to over 3.2 million fewer days of hospitalization, 260 000 fewer incidents of permanent disability, and 95 000 fewer deaths per year.

 

 

 

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Over 159 American cities oppose section 9101 of the Federal Farm Bill blocking local pesticide controls

15 Dec

More than 150 U.S. cities and counties have created “organic-first” policies and in some cases banned the use of specific chemicals that may harm people or the environment.

PR Newswire refers to a letter sent by local officials to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi    noting that research has increasingly connected some pesticides with Parkinson’s disease and honey bee die-offs, A rapidly growing body of evidence links pesticides to a wide range of diseases and conditions including Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, leukemia, lymphoma, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, reproductive dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease, and variety of cancers including breast, colon, prostate and lung cancer.

Recognizing these risks, many communities have passed progressive policies to restrict the use of pesticides and protect our residents before any harm comes to them.

Some local officials in Irvine have opted to go further than federal or state laws and have restricted pesticide use on public land such as parks, sports fields and landscaped central road reservations. The city now uses organic products with ingredients such as corn gluten meal and oil from soybeans, lemongrass or rosemary.

Detailed information and photograph (above) may be seen in https://ocweekly.com/how-irvine-became-socals-first-non-toxic-city-7317638/

However, though the bill has attracted attention by legalizing hemp, bolstering farmers markets and rejecting stricter limits on food stamps pushed by House Republicans, California’s Orange County Register reports that a four-page provision (Section 9101) tucked away in the 748 page 2018 federal farm bill could block local governments in the United States from making their own rules about pesticides, ‘effectively neutering’ local control over pesticides, blocking cities, counties and school districts from restricting the use of on playgrounds and parks.

Felicity Arbuthnot draws attention to a report by the Environmental Working Group, commenting: “It truly says it all when government attempts to force people to eat cancer causing poison and feed it to their families and friends”. The EWG report records that:

  • the National League of Cities and
  • the League of California Cities, sent letters of opposition to congressional leaders.
  • The National Association of Counties – representing all 3,069 U.S. counties – and
  • a diverse coalition of over 170 organizations dedicated to public health urged Congress to reject the rider.
  • The National Audubon Society and
  • the American Academy of Pediatrics also sent letters.
  • A lettersigned by over 60 local officials in 39 communities from 15 different states, urged the conference committee to reach an agreement on a final 2018 farm bill that does not include this rider.

Despite all these representations, on 12th December, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 369 to 47. The next step to permanent legalization is the President’s signature.

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Will any British city follow Irvine’s lead? 

In 2017 Horticulture Week reported Edinburgh City Council’s decision to pursue an herbicide-reduction policy at the end of 2016 followed a year-long trial of alternatives to chemicals run by the council’s parks department. An online search revealed that similar moves have been proposed and discussed by councils in Dundee, Bristol and Belfast.

Today, the Times reported that Dublin city council is to use alternatives as part of a move towards a “herbicide and pesticide-free city” in the spring.  In 2015 Kaethe Burt-O’Dea (above) started a campaign to stop Dublin City Council from using a weedkiller. She is seen above near the community garden started up more than 10 years ago as a place for the street’s residents to compost their organic waste.

 

 

 

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The Berlin Declaration 2018: adopted by 64 regional GMO free European governments

19 Nov

The Network GMO Free Regions in Europe, comprised of 64 regional governments, have adopted the Berlin Declaration, that called for a European and global moratorium of Gene Drives and demanded that national governments as well as the EU take on this issue at the upcoming meeting of the 2018 Convention on Biological Diversity.

When presenting the declaration, the network’s President Dr. Beatrix Tappeser, said: “Let us continue the precautionary approach, and maintain our GMO Free pathway, that has served the European Regions so well over the past decade. There needs to be more public investment in the agriculture people really want.”

The declaration ends: “Considering the substantial concentration of market and research power in the seed and agrochemical business over the past decades, we see a need to increase the public engagement in maintaining and developing non-GM seed breeding, research and agricultural methods. Germ plasm of all plants and animals should be kept in the public domain and be maintained as one of the most valuable public goods of humankind. Public investment in agricultural research and development should guarantee that the whole range of options needed to address present and future challenges to agriculture; food production and resource management continue to remain at public disposal. We commit to contribute to a renaissance of public research and the development of public goods for future generations”.

The full text may be read here.

 

 

 

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Lincoln County Community Rights versus the politically supported pesticides industry

27 Oct

Felicity Arbuthnot draws attention to the achievements of Lincoln County Community Rights whose core members include the owner of a small business that installs solar panels, a semi-retired Spanish translator, an organic farmer who raises llamas, and a self-described caretaker and Navajo-trained weaver.

Although some of the world’s biggest companies poured money into a stealth campaign to stop the ordinance, and the Lincoln activists had no experience running political campaigns, these part-time, volunteer, novice activists managed to stop the spraying of pesticides that had been released from airplanes and helicopters in this rural county for decades.

The Lincoln County aerial spray ban, which passed in May 2017, is just one of 155 local measures that restrict pesticides. Communities around the country have instituted protections that go beyond the basic limits set by federal law. Some are aimed at specific pesticides, such as glyphosate, others list a few; while still others ban the chemicals altogether.

The upturn in local legislation is a testament to public concerns about the chemicals used in gardening, farming, and timber production, and reflect a growing frustration with federal inaction. In recent years, scientific research on pesticides has shown credible links between pesticides and cancerendocrine disruptionrespiratory illnesses and miscarriage, and children’s health problems, including neurobehavioral and motor deficits. As scientists have been documenting these chemicals’ harms, juries have also increasingly been recognizing them.

CropLife America, the industry group, which reported more than $16 million in revenue in 2015, represents and collects dues from the major pesticide manufacturers, including Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow AgroSciences LLC, and DuPont Crop Protection

It ranked state and local issues as the top of its list of “tier 1 concerns” for both 2017 and 2018, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept that pinpointed Oregon as ground zero for the fight. While it paid for all this, its name never appeared on the materials or was referenced in the local fight, which was instead framed as being led by local farmers.

Like the ordinance in Lincoln County, a similar proposal in neighboring Lane County didn’t just specify that aerial spraying would be outlawed, it asserted people’s “inherent and inalienable right of local community self-government.” Both measures were inspired by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which views the aerial spraying of pesticides as violations of citizens’ basic rights to clean air, water, and soil.

However, federal regulation has lagged behind both the research and public outrage

The Environmental Protection Agency has allowed glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp, to remain in use despite considerable evidence linking it to cancer. Under Donald Trump, the EPA also reversed a planned ban of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide linked to neurodevelopmental problems in children.

Frustrated by the lack of federal action, many people have turned to their towns and counties, only to find that they have been hamstrung by state laws forbidding local limits on pesticides. In 43 states, laws prevent cities, towns, and counties from passing restrictions on pesticide use on private land that go beyond federal law.

A provision in the Farm Bill now before Congress would extend that restriction to the entire country and could potentially roll back existing local laws. The House version of the bill that passed in June and is now being reconciled with the Senate version included a section that prevents “a political subdivision of a State” from regulating pesticides.And an appeal has been lodged against the Lincoln County aerial spray ban.

Read more about the tactics used and the money and individuals involved here: https://theintercept.com/2018/09/15/oregon-pesticides-aerial-spray-ban/

 

 

 

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