Category Archives: Agriculture

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, oil, air, climate, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with the Express Tribune and a Pakistani vaccination crisis:

Sehat ka Ittehad struggles as WHO recommends extension of restrictions

There has been no documented international spread of the poliovirus since March 2014 – with the exception of “one new exportation from Pakistan into Afghanistan documented after 13 November 2014″.

The fourth meeting of the International Health Regulations Emergency Committee announced the spread of polio still constitutes a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern”. The committee has recommended extending the “temporary recommendations” for another three months. Among others, these include declaring a national public health emergency, restricting departure of any residents from the country if they lack an international certification of vaccination and maintaining these measures till the country has stopped exporting polio. The WHO statement is available on their website.

Hours after the WHO pointed to Pakistan as the only country still spreading the preventable, crippling virus. Sehat ka Ittehad’s recent drive came to a close and left at least 33,601 children unvaccinated, but not without efforts to the contrary.

And closer to home for esnl, a deadly hospital-based outbreak spreads, via the Guardian:

Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA investigates outbreak of deadly ‘superbug’

  • Hospital says four patients have been infected with bacteria from a contaminated medical scope, and 67 other people may have been exposed

The Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles announced a possible “superbug” outbreak linked to gastrointestinal devices, the second hospital in a month to link the potentially deadly germs to devices called duodenoscopes.

The bug, called carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae (CRE), is a bacteria resistant to some of medicine’s strongest antibiotics. The duodenoscope is a difficult-to-clean, complex flexible tube inserted through the throat of patients to check for issues in the upper intestines.

Cedars-Sinai hospital officials linked four transmissions of CRE to duodenoscopes. The hospital sent letters and home-testing kits to 71 more patients who may have been exposed between August 2014 and February 2015, “out of an abundance of caution”.

From the Associated Press, regulatory failure:

Maker of device in ‘superbug’ outbreak lacked FDA clearance

The manufacturer of a medical instrument at the center of a recent “superbug” outbreak in Los Angeles did not receive federal clearance to sell an updated version the device, according to officials from the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA confirmed that Olympus Corp. did not seek agency clearance for the redesign of its specialized endoscope, which it began selling in 2010. FDA clearance is required for all substantive updates to medical devices sold in the U.S.

Despite the lack of clearance, the FDA said doctors should continue using the device because it’s not clear that a federal review would have prevented the recent infections in patients.

From National Geographic, a story we’ve been covering since our earliest posts:

Chemical Exposure Linked to Billions in Health Care Costs

Researchers conclude they are 99 percent certain that hormone-altering chemicals are linked to attention problems, diabetes, other health problems.

Exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals is likely leading to an increased risk of serious health problems costing at least $175 billion (U.S.) per year in Europe alone, according to a study published Thursday.

Chemicals that can mimic or block estrogen or other hormones are commonly found in thousands of products around the world, including plastics, pesticides, furniture, and cosmetics.

The new research estimated health care costs in Europe, where policymakers are debating whether to enact the world’s first regulations targeting endocrine disruptors. The European Union’s controversial strategy, if approved, would have a profound effect on industries and consumer products worldwide.

Linda Birnbaum, the leading environmental health official in the U.S. government, called the new findings, which include four published papers, “a wake-up call” for policymakers and health experts.

From Newsweek, one of those chemicals and twisted regulatory semantics:

BPA Is Fine, If You Ignore Most Studies About It

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is either a harmless chemical that’s great for making plastic or one of modern society’s more dangerous problems. Depends whom you ask.

BPA is in many types of plastics and the epoxy resins that line most aluminum cans, as well as thermal papers like receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, a hormone especially important in sexual development, and the fact that it’s all over the place worries many people. Newsweek spoke with about 20 scientists, leaders in the field of BPA research, and the majority say it is likely (though not certain) that the chemical plays a role in a litany of health concerns: obesity, diabetes, problems with fertility and reproductive organs, susceptibility to various cancers and cognitive/behavioral deficits like ADHD.

“There’s too much data consistent across studies…time and time again…to ignore it and suggest BPA has no effect on humans,” says Gail Prins, a physiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

But the plastic industry, researchers it funds and, most important, many regulatory agencies—including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)—say BPA is safe for humans at the levels people are exposed to.

From VICE News, and not so surprising for students of history:

Deforestation May Be Helping to Spread the Plague in Africa

The destruction of forests is known to cause the release of massive amounts of greenhouse gases, destroy critical wildlife habitat, and increase soil erosion, which can lead to deadly floods and landslides.

But converting forests to farmland can also increase the spread of the plague, according to researchers at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB).

“It pops up every other year or so, and the number of cases per year is quite variable and it’s also poorly reported,” Hillary Young, an ecologist at UCSB, who led the study, told VICE News. “So we don’t have a good sense of the number of cases per year in the region.”

Madagascar’s complex climate woes, via IRIN:

Disaster-prone Madagascar battles flooding and drought

Authorities in Madagascar are struggling to respond to increasingly severe flooding in the central highlands region of the country that includes the capital, Antananarivo, in addition to a prolonged drought in the south.

The latest round of flooding, which started when three rivers that cross Antananarivo – the Sisaony, Ikopa and Imamba – burst their banks during a storm on 24 February, has left 19 people dead and an estimated 36,000 displaced, according to the National Office for the Management of Risks and Catastrophes (BNRGC in French). A further 40,000 people were displaced in 13 other districts.

On Wednesday, BNRGC issued a new alert warning that a low-pressure system just off the island’s west coast was expected to bring more torrential rainfall to the central highlands region. Several neighbourhoods in Antananarivo remain braced for further flooding and landslides over the coming days.

Getting bad air off their chest, via the Los Angeles Times:

Cleaner air is linked to stronger lungs in Southern California children

Cleaner air has for the first time been linked to bigger and stronger lungs among school-age children, according to findings released Wednesday from a two-decade study in Southern California.

The research by USC scientists, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found the region’s steep decline in air pollution since the mid-1990s is strongly associated with “statistically and clinically significant improvements” in children’s lung function and growth.

The analysis, which studied more than 2,000 children in five cities over the years, provides the strongest evidence yet that years of government regulations to reduce air pollution in California and across the nation are paying off with measurable improvements in children’s health.

The accompanying graphic tells the story:

BLOG Lungs

From the Associated Press, and we wonder just how safe those “small” levels are over time?:

FDA study finds little evidence of antibiotics in milk

In an encouraging development for consumers worried about antibiotics in their milk, a new Food and Drug Administration study showed little evidence of drug contamination after surveying almost 2,000 dairy farms.

In response to concerns, the agency in 2012 took samples of raw milk from the farms and tested them for 31 drugs, almost all of them antibiotics. Results released by the agency Thursday show that less than 1 percent of the total samples showed illegal drug residue.

Antibiotics and other drugs can end up in milk when they are used on dairy cows to keep them healthy. Small levels of drugs are allowed in milk, but residues that go beyond certain thresholds are illegal.

Some delightful news for bees, via DutchNews.nl:

Amsterdam bee population is booming

Amsterdam bee population is booming Society March 5, 2015 Honey comb and a bee workingBee populations may be in trouble elsewhere but in Amsterdam there are now 61 different bee species, up from 51 in 2000, according to new research.

The most common bee in the city is the common furrow (Lasioglossum calceatum) while the hairy-footed flower bee, which was very rare in 2000, now lives in abundance in the city’s Vondel park, the research shows.

The research was commissioned by the city council. Bee expert and researcher told the Parool the city council should be extremely pleased the city has such committed people managing its green spaces. ‘The city can thank their expertise for the increase,’ he said.

Ten years ago the city council took a new, environmentally-friendly approach to its green areas and roadside verges. It no longer uses pesticides and wild flowers have been sown in many places. Specific bee friendly projects have also been set up.

After the jump, Brits sign a Mexican dirty energy deal, an oil company settles a cleanup complaint in Peru, Britain’s central bank sounds a fossil fuel alert, Oklahoma scientists play Big Oil’s music, Feds find the Arctic oil they want drilled will most likely lead to a major oil spill, allegations industry corrupted Europe’s clean air laws, separating fossil fueled climate change from oceanic changes, flooding predicted to triple in 15 years, a new African environmental alliance announced, Brazilian peasants seize a paper plant over plans to plan GMO trees, Arctic Sea ice thinning accelerates, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with more radioactive leaks, local communities protests TEPCO’s concealing of a major leak for ten months, another radioactive fuel removal planned, evacuees plagued with blood clots, the governor calls for extending reconstruction programs, Japanese tourism recovers from Fukushimaphobia, nearby factories suffer from major labor shortages, regulators find major flaws in plans for the restart of another Japanese nuke plant shut down after the earthquake that shattered Fukushima, a lawsuit challenges plans for a new British nuke plant, and, finally, fears over new Nuclear plants in a Pakistani seismic hot spot. . . Continue reading

DroughtWatch: No changes for California


From the United States Drought Monitor, all of California save for a tiny spot at the state’s far Southeast, remains in drought, with a large portion [including most of the state’s agricultural heartland] remains at the highest level:

BLOG Drought

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, autism, fracking, nukes


And more. . .

We begin with a new outbreak from Outbreak News Today:

Norovirus: Dozens of staff and patients sickened at Phoenix VA

At least 35 people, including 16 patients and 19 staff members at The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center have contracted norovirus. According to a hospital press release, everyone infected was from two inpatient mental health units and to date, all but three have fully recovered.

The Phoenix VA hospital stopped taking new patients at two mental health units with 48 beds on the hospital’s fifth floor. VA officials have embarked on a cleaning regimen to rid the hospital of the highly-contagious virus. Some steps included limiting staff members who are allowed to access the affected floors and using paper trays to deliver food, according to Phoenix VA Health Care spokeswoman Jean M. Schaefer.

Norovirus is a highly contagious viral illness that often goes by other names, such as viral gastroenteritis, stomach flu, and food poisoning.

From Al Jazeera America, deadly outbreaks from an instrument of healing:

Medical scope now tied to Wisconsin superbug outbreak

  • Congressman considers bill to force states to notify federal agencies of superbug outbreaks and medical device failures

A medical device called a duodenoscope that’s been linked to recent deadly superbug infections across the country was also connected to a 2013 outbreak at a Wisconsin medical facility that infected five people, America Tonight has learned.

Health officials at the Wisconsin Department of Health Services confirmed the five patients were sickened with NDM1 – a subgroup of an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” known as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE, that’s responsible for two deaths at UCLA’s Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles since October and dozens of serious infections around the country in recent years.

Meanwhile, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, another Los Angeles hospital, announced Wednesday that four patients there were infected with the deadly superbug due to a dirty duodenoscope and that 64 more patients may have been exposed since August.

From the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control [PDF], measles numbers on another continent:

Germany- update

A large measles outbreak is ongoing in Berlin. As of 24 February 2015, media report nearly 600 cases. The outbreak that started in October 2014 initially affected asylum seekers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia but has now spread to the general population. According to media, at least two cases in Berlin have been linked to the United States. One involved a woman who developed symptoms in the United States before travelling to Berlin. A second involved a child who developed the infection after returning from the United States of America. There has been one death in an 18 months old unvaccinated toddler. The child fell ill in the Reinickendorf district of Berlin on 12 February with fever and cough and later rash. The child was hospitalised due to worsening condition on 14 February and died in hospital on 18 February. The child was not vaccinated against measles and had no pre-existing conditions.

Denmark

Media report two epidemiologically linked cases of measles in children in Copenhagen.

Serbia- update

Since November 2014 and as of 13 February 2015, 228 cases of measles have been reported in Serbia in several outbreaks affecting numerous areas of the country. This is an increase of 105 cases since 26 January 2015, the last monthly update.

Kyrgyzstan – update

According to WHO, Kyrgyzstan has reported 7477 cases between May 2014 and February 2015. The first case was identified in Bishkek city on 3 May 2014, but the number increased dramatically in 2015.

From BBC News, causation:

Autism is largely down to genes, twin study suggests

Autism is caused by genetic make-up in 74-98% of cases, a Medical Research Council study of 516 twins indicates.

The King’s College London team said 181 of the teenagers had autism, but the rate was far higher in the identical twins, who share the same DNA. The researchers told JAMA Psychiatry tens if not hundreds of genes were involved, and they do not rule out environmental factors entirely.

Both twins in each pair had been raised by their parents in the same household.

The World Health Organization issues a call:

WHO calls on countries to reduce sugars intake among adults and children

A new WHO guideline recommends adults and children reduce their daily intake of free sugars to less than 10% of their total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day would provide additional health benefits.

Free sugars refer to monosaccharides (such as glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (such as sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and drinks by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.

“We have solid evidence that keeping intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake reduces the risk of overweight, obesity and tooth decay,” says Dr Francesco Branca, Director of WHO’s Department of Nutrition for Health and Development. “Making policy changes to support this will be key if countries are to live up to their commitments to reduce the burden of noncommunicable diseases.”

The WHO guideline does not refer to the sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables, and sugars naturally present in milk, because there is no reported evidence of adverse effects of consuming these sugars.

Much of the sugars consumed today are “hidden” in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets. For example, 1 tablespoon of ketchup contains around 4 grams (around 1 teaspoon) of free sugars. A single can of sugar-sweetened soda contains up to 40 grams (around 10 teaspoons) of free sugars.

From the Los Angeles Times, kicking the habit. . .sort of:

McDonald’s to phase out serving chicken raised with antibiotics

McDonald’s Corp. will phase out over the next two years the use of chickens raised with antibiotics important to human health in a step to combat resistance to antibiotics.

The Oak Brook, Ill. fast food giant said Wednesday that later this year it will also begin selling only milk from cows that are not treated with the artificial growth hormone rbST.

Farmers in the company’s supply chain can continue to use ionophores, a type of antibiotic not used for humans, on their chickens.

From the Guardian, Aussie bananas threatened:

Queensland banana farm quarantined after testing positive for fungal disease

  • Biosecurity experts warn Panama TR4 disease could pose a serious threat to the banana industry in Australia

A north Queensland banana farm has been quarantined after testing positive for a potentially destructive fungal disease.

Biosecurity Queensland has warned that the Panama TR4 disease would have serious consequences for the state’s banana industry if it spread from the plantation near Tully, south of Cairns.

Panama, a soil fungus, was found in the Northern Territory in 1997 and has since spread to a number of areas in the Top End, but this is the first time it has been detected at a Queensland plantation.

Science covers sewer diagnostics:

Pollution, human health tracked with sewage microbes

Microbiologists have a new way to tell whose sh-t is dirtying the waters. A survey of sewage across the United States shows that every city has a distinct microbial character that can reveal signs of health, such as how obese its residents tend to be. Dozens of the microbes identified in the survey are common throughout the United States, and could provide better ways to tell whether bacterial pollution comes from humans.

The human gut is filled with microbes that are proving ever more important to health and disease. To understand the diversity of these bacteria—collectively called the gut microbiome—and how their numbers and types vary through time, microbiologists have isolated and sequenced DNA from stool samples of hundreds of individuals. But Mitchell Sogin, a molecular evolutionist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Sandra McLellan, a microbiologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, wanted to take a much broader view and study the microbiomes of entire human communities. In addition, they were looking for a better indicator of human fecal pollution.

To do that, they needed to figure out how to assess the microbiomes of large numbers of people at once. They recruited wastewater treatment plant operators from 71 U.S. cites to collect more than 200 samples of incoming sewage. They then sequenced DNA in the samples and determined its origin. About 15% of the isolated sewage DNA belonged to microbes found in humans, Sogin and McLellan’s team reported online last week in mBio. Many of the rest are microbes that live in sewer pipes. Using a technique developed by Sogin and his colleagues, which can more precisely determine which bacteria are present in a large sample of feces, the researchers identified about 60 types of bacteria that were common to people in all of the cities. Because they seem to be found wherever humans are, these 60 may be a more reliable way to determine if human feces are contaminating a waterway, McLellan says.

From StarAfrica, African climate change costs:

Africa’s climate adaptation costs to hit $50 billion -UNEP

Africa, the continent with warming deviating most rapidly from “normal” conditions, could see climate change adaptation costs rise to $50 billion per year by 2050, even assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C this century, according to a new United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

Released on Wednesday at the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), Africa’s Adaptation Gap builds on UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report 2014, which showed that the world is not currently headed in the right direction for holding global warming below 2°C.

This latest Africa Adaptation Gap report also builds on UNEP’s Global Adaptation Gap Report 2014, which found that adaptation costs in all developing countries together could climb as high as $250-500 billion per year by 2050.

Produced in collaboration with Climate Analytics and the African Climate Finance Hub, the report says deep global emissions reductions are the best way to head off Africa’s crippling adaptation costs.

After the jump, California beach town voters nix downtown oil drilling, groundwater-endangering oil wells ordered to close in the Golden State, a vote to overturn Obama’s Keystone veto fails, Canadian frackers cast eyes on Spain, Chinese media invoke a foggy Cone of Silence, termites saving the soil, an endangered Cuban bat, on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with massive numbers on a radioactive water leak, an order to look for all possible sources, and a long time remains before a watery resolution, and very slow progress in securing land for interim radioactive soil storage, lifelong monitoring ordered for Fukushima cleanup workers, massive dissatisfaction over the government’s handling of the disaster, more delays for another reactor restart, and desperate dreams of a nuclear power economic boom zone. . . Continue reading

EnivroWatch: Illness, pols, climate, water, nukes


We begin with the latest measles update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, first with the numbers:

BLOG Measles graf

Then the distribution:

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From January 1 to February 27, 2015, 170 people from 17 states and the District of Columbia were reported to have measles [AZ (7), CA (113), CO (1), DC (2), DE (1), GA (1), IL (15), MI (1), MN (1), NE (2), NJ (2), NY (3), NV (8), PA (1), SD (2) TX (1), UT (2), WA (7)]†. Most of these cases [125 cases (74%)] are part of a large, ongoing multi-state outbreak linked to an amusement park in California.

From the United Nations News Center, another global health tragedy:

Over 5 billion people worldwide lacking access to essential medicines, says UN Report

Three quarters of the world population has no access to proper pain relief treatment, according to a report by the United Nations body charged with overseeing Governments’ compliance with international drug control treaties, which was released in London today.

Around 5.5 billion people still have limited or no access to medicines containing narcotic drugs such as codeine or morphine the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) says in its Annual Report for 2014, which went on to point out that around 92 per cent of all morphine used worldwide is consumed by only 17 per cent of the world population, primarily living in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

The report, which calls on Governments to address the discrepancy in order to comply with International Drug Control Conventions, notes that natural disasters and armed conflicts around the world can further limit access to essential medicines and the Board stressed that in cases of emergency medical care, simplified control measures can be applied.

For example in the Philippines following the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the Board pointed out to all countries as well as to providers of humanitarian assistance the simplified procedures for the export, transportation and delivery of medicines containing substances under international control.

In its Report, the INCB notes that drug control measures do not exist in a vacuum and that, in their implementation of the drug control conventions, States must also comply with obligations under other treaties, including international humanitarian law and their international human rights obligations, such as allowing civilians to have access to medical care and essential medicines during armed conflicts.

Additionally, the INCB noted that States were charged with deciding specific sanctions for drug-related offences, but should avoid application of the death penalty for such cases.

Newswise covers a question of costs:

U.S. Spends More on Cancer Care, Saves Fewer Lives than Western Europe

  • Dartmouth study finds costly U.S. cancer care may provide less value than previously thought

Despite sharp increases in spending on cancer treatment, cancer mortality rates in the United States have decreased only modestly since 1970, Samir Soneji, PhD of Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center and The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy & Clinical Practice has found. Refuting previous studies, Soneji published his paper “New Analysis Reexamines the Value of Cancer Care in the United States Compared to Western Europe,” today in the March issue of Health Affairs.

“Our results suggest that cancer care in the U.S. did not always avert deaths compared to Western Europe and, when it did avert deaths, it often did so at substantial cost,” explained Soneji. “The greatest number of deaths averted occurred in cancers for which decreasing mortality rates were more likely to be the result of successful prevention and screening rather than advancements in treatment.”

U.S. cancer mortality rates decreased by 12 percent since 1970, compared to a 62 percent decrease for heart disease. Such findings have raised questions about the additional value of U.S. cancer care derived from the additional spending, in comparison to the situation in other high-income countries. This study compared U.S. and Western European spending between 1982 and 2010 for 12 of the most common cancers.

Compared to Western Europe, the U.S averted 67,000 breast cancer deaths, 265,000 colorectal cancer deaths, and 60,000 prostate cancer deaths between 1982 and 2010. The U.S. experienced 1,120,000 excess lung cancer deaths in this study period compared to Western Europe. The ratio of incremental cost to quality-adjusted-life-years saved equaled $402,000 for breast cancer, $110,000 for colorectal cancer, and $1,979,000 for prostate cancer. These amounts exceed most accepted thresholds for cost-effective medical care. The U.S. lost quality-adjusted-life-years despite additional spending for lung cancer where the cost was negative $19,000 per quality-adjusted-life-year saved.

From the Washington Post, a medical enigma:

Mystery paralysis in children is perplexing parents — and researchers

For most of the children who fell ill last year during an outbreak of enterovirus, the symptoms were relatively mild — fever, runny nose, coughing and sneezing.

But then there was this mystery: More than 100 kids suffered an unexplained, polio-like paralysis that struck quickly but even now continues to stump researchers and upend the lives of the families across the country.

For Priya Duggal and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the biggest puzzle is why those children became paralyzed while their brothers and sisters, who also were exposed to the virus, escaped largely unscathed.

From the Times of India, tallying an outbreak’s toll:

40 more dead as swine flu toll climbs to 1,115

Swine flu claimed the lives of 40 more people in the country as the toll from the disease reached 1,115 while the total number of cases breached the 20,000 mark.

The Health Ministry said that 1,115 persons have succumbed to the H1N1 virus while the number of those affected by it stands at 20,795 on March 1.

With heavy rainfall lashing Delhi and other parts of the north, health officials said it was difficult to ascertain whether the rains will have any effect on the incidence of swine flu.

However, the officials said that, during monsoon, the virus increases and it was possible that whatever decline was being seen over the last few days in the intensity of the disease may not continue. They said that there will be no decrease in the virus due to the rains and added that high temperatures are a deterrent for the virus.

Outbreak News Today covers an online virus of another sort:

Colorado: Craigslist kitten turns out rabid, 20 people get rabies prophylaxis

A 6-month-old kitten obtained on Craigslist has turned out positive for the nearly 100 percent lethal virus, rabies, requiring nearly two dozen people to receive rabies post-exposure prophylaxis.

The family of four from northeast Colorado Springs named the kitten Jello. The owners said the cat was fine for 2 weeks and then the black cat “took a turn for the worse” and got very sick. The family’s two other dogs and a cat had to be put down since they were exposed.

El Paso County Public Health officials say the kitten tested positive for rabies late last week.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Laboratory performed the initial test and the CDC is in the process of determining the type of rabies the kitten had.

Another group of Liberian healthcare workers asks for hazard pay, via the Liberian Observer:

Health Workers at TB Annex Demand Hazard Benefits

At least 101 workers at the TB Annex Hospital are demanding payment of hazard benefits owed them by the Ministry of Health for the past six months.

The patients at the hospital, located directly behind the Health Ministry in Oldest Congotown, are infected with tuberculosis which is a very highly contagious disease.

The health workers told this paper that their benefits are due for the period September 2014 to February 2015.

They stated that during the heat of the Ebola virus disease (EVD) crisis, they did not close the hospital but remained there at their own risk, taking care of hundreds of TB patients who came in daily when most other health centers and hospitals were closed.

GMOoooos, via BBC News:

Scientists produce TB-resistant cows

Scientists in China have produced a herd of genetically engineered cows that are better able to ward off bovine TB infection.

The long-term goal of the research is to avoid the need to cull livestock by breeding disease resistant cattle.

Bovine TB is a risk in many areas, including New Zealand, England and Wales, and parts of Africa and Asia. In the UK over 26,000 cattle were slaughtered in 2013 at a cost to taxpayers of £100m.

Politically cowed, via the New York Times:

Indian State Passes Beef Ban Championed by Right-Wing Hindus

The western state of Maharashtra this week became the first Indian state to ban the possession and sale of beef, imposing fines and up to five years in prison for violations.

The ban, which was passed on Monday, came as an amendment to a 1972 law prohibiting the slaughter of cows, which has been expanded to ban the slaughter of bulls, bullocks and calves. The slaughter of water buffaloes will still be allowed under the new law, subject to permission from the authorities. The populous western state includes Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.

The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, championed by right-wing Hindu organizations, was first passed in 1995 but languished for two decades under a governing coalition between the Indian National Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won a clear majority in state elections last October, after Narendra Modi, the party’s leader, took office as prime minister in May.

Cognitive pollution, via  Medical Daily:

Air Pollution Slows Cognitive Development In Children Due To Brain Inflammation

Schools that are located near busy roads may be more dangerous than remote schools due to the increased levels of air pollution generated by passing cars, a new study finds.

Toxic chemicals found in the air pose a growing concern for scientists studying brain health, especially among adolescents. Experts call them neurotoxicants, and they’ve been linked with a higher risk of suicide, autism, and the myriad direct physical effects of breathing in harmful air, such as asthma and diseases of the lungs.

“From animal studies we know that ultrafine particles cross the blood brain barrier, interact with the microglial cells, which in turn affects neurons,” said Dr. Jordi Sunyer, lead author of the recent study from the University of Barcelona. This can result in chronic low-grade brain inflammation, he added, which delays brain maturation.

And from EcoWatch, Oedipus Bush:

Jeb Bush Trashes Father’s Clean Air Legacy to Woo Far Right-Wing

Jeb Bush trashed the Clean Air Act last week. He was speaking to the far right-wing Club for Growth, notorious for mounting mostly unsuccessful challenges from the right against Republican candidates during congressional primaries.

The Clean Air Act is estimated to achieve almost $2 trillion in yearly benefits to the American people by 2020. These vast benefits are delivered in the form of “significant reductions in air pollution” related premature death and illness, improved economic welfare of Americans, and better environmental conditions.” The estimated annual costs to achieve these benefits will be about $65 billion by 2020.

So this staggering Bush senior achievement is one that Bush junior singles out for condemnation. It’s bewildering. One might even say it takes one’s breath away.

After the jump, endless drought woes for the Golden State, a rich California coastal city looks to desalination, an Environmental Protection Agency disclosure fail rebuked, air pollution kills hundreds of thousands of Europeans a year, China hopes for an air pollution reprieve, mineral water home delivered as Sao Paulo taps run dry, a Mexican mine hit with a river pollution fine, a call for Costa Rican shark protection, prison-farmed fish for sale at Whole Foods, a new threat from the DEA — Utah rabbits dazed on legal weed, a key African food staple lags behind growing populations, and the FBI comes a-knockin’ at the doors of Keystone Pipeline foes, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with another year’s radioactive water cleanup delay, an Olympic Fukushima food fare bid, and corporate payouts continue, plus Mount Everest grows a crown of human feces. . . Continue reading

EbolaWatch: Cautions, risks, protest, an arrest


And more, but we begin with the cautionary, first from the Guardian:

Ebola death toll in west Africa ‘could be much higher than initial estimates’

  • Brussels conference attended by three west African presidents warned of funding shortfall in reaching zero-cases target and a death toll higher than first thought

Regional and world leaders have called on the international community to scale up their efforts to rebuild the nations devastated by Ebola amid fears the death toll from the outbreak could be even higher than previously thought.

Although the epidemic, which has ravaged Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, appears to be drawing to a close, the secretary general of the Red Cross warned that the true number of victims could be substantially greater than official estimates.

“Even though statistics show that over 9,000 people died of Ebola, our volunteers on the ground were called on to bury 14,000, which means that many more died from Ebola,” Mohammed El-hadj Assy told a conference on the Ebola crisis in Brussels on Tuesday.

Another cautionary note, via the United Nations News Center:

Ebola: UN tells Brussels meeting world must ‘stay on course’ to get to, remain at zero cases

Representatives of United Nations organizations engaged in the response against Ebola today pledged their support to the worst-affected West African countries in “each stage of this journey; the drive to zero, the early recovery, the medium and longer term development.”

The pledge was made at a high-level international conference on Ebola sponsored by the European Union in Brussels, Belgium, aimed at maintaining global attention on the crisis, taking stock of the fight against the epidemic and on coordinating next steps and discussing the recovery process.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said that current phase of the response “is the hardest part and a bumpy road” and urged the international community to remain fully engaged until the task is completed, especially as the virus is moving and as some communities are reticent about being engaged in the response.

Dr. Nabarro, as well as World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan, both emphasized the need to build trust with communities to eradicate the disease, which has affected nearly 24,000 people with more than 9,714 deaths.

“We need to build trust with the communities,” Dr. Chan said, and added: “Without meaningful community engagement, we will not get to zero cases.”

More cautionary news, via NBC News:

The Next Ebola Zone: Report Finds 28 High-Risk Countries

Where else could an epidemic of Ebola or some other disease come? Try Somalia, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Haiti, Ethiopia, Central Africa Republic, Guinea, Niger, and then Mali. They all have weaker health care systems than Sierra Leone, Save the Children warns [PDF].

The group, which has been fighting the epidemic ravaging Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, says 28 countries have near-nonexistent health systems.

Public health experts agree that poor health systems helped Ebola turn from a series of outbreaks into a full-fledged epidemic. It’s infected nearly 24,000 people and killed around 10,000 by official count. People carried the virus to the U.S., to Europe and to neighboring countries.

Another Save the Children story, via the Guardian:

Save the Children head apologises for upset over award to Tony Blair

  • Charity’s UK chief executive admits its ‘global legacy’ honour to former British prime minister has damaged the organisation

Save the Children has apologised to those who were upset by its decision to give Tony Blair a “global legacy award” last year, saying the prize was bestowed solely for the former British prime minister’s work on Africa and was not intended as a celebration of his “wider legacy”.

On Tuesday Justin Forsyth, CEO of Save the Children UK and a former aide to Blair, admitted the move had damaged the international charity.

The prize, which was given to Blair by the US arm of Save the Children (STC) last November, drew immediate criticism from inside and outside the organisation.

An internal letter, signed by more than 500 staff members, said the award was not only “morally reprehensible, but also endangers our credibility globally”, and called for it to be withdrawn.

Reuters covers calls for help:

Ebola-hit countries seek help to repair their economies

The three West African states hardest hit by the Ebola outbreak asked for help from donors on Tuesday to repair the damage to their economies now that the epidemic seems to be waning.

Leaders of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone voiced confidence at a major international conference on the Ebola outbreak in Brussels that they were winning the battle but said they must remain focused on stamping out new infections.

The epidemic has killed around 10,000 people in the three countries and delivered a severe setback to their economies, which had previously been performing well.

“Victory against the virus is in sight but we must guard against complacency. There will not be total victory until we get to a resilient zero (new cases) in the three most affected countries,” Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma told the conference.

The Associated Press covers one of those pleas:

Liberia calls for Ebola ‘Marshall Plan’ to rebuild economies

Liberia’s president on Tuesday called for an Ebola “Marshall Plan” to help rebuild economies in West African nations devastated by the virus.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said that “we need our international partners to remain committed to us,” as the number of deaths from the disease approaches 10,000.

Sirleaf told fellow regional leaders and delegates at an international conference on Ebola in Brussels that restoring economic growth in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone is a long-term and costly task.

And from FrontPageAfrica, opposition encountered:

How Liberian Protester Upstage EJS White House Welcome

The central theme in the long sought meeting on the part of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with US President Barack Obama took place on Friday at the White House, and ironically “corruption” became the menu and not the usual diplomatic pomp and pageantry reserved for visiting deserving heads of state, especially for a leader who “won” the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize that deservedly was also won by historical black heroes: Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Barack Obama himself.

That this dreaded word, corruption became the focus of the US President in lecturing Sirleaf may have had a sidekick to it by engineered a determined group of Liberians in the United States who not only protested but also wrote the US President.  And how they did it so effectively forms the basis for this essay..

The group knew it would be the second and perhaps the last of such meetings between the two: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president, a publicity craving Nobel Laureate and lame duck leader invited into the most powerful office on earth, and coincidentally and historically is occupied by the first black president of the United States of America. So what could have gone wrong for President Obama to preach corruption to Ellen?

After the jump, a notable Liberian landmark, on to Sierra Leone and Ebola official detained, a call for a young leadership, prenatal care suffers under Ebolaphobia, on to Guinea, with hunger and anger on the rise, plus Liberians blocked at the border. . . Continue reading

EnviroWatch: Outbreaks, GMOs, toxins, nukes


We begin with an Indian outbreak, via BBC News:

Swine flu: India health minister urges calm

Indian Health Minister JP Nadda has urged the public not to panic, as the number of deaths so far this year from swine flu passed 900 from 16,000 cases.

Rajasthan and Gujarat are among the worst affected states. Officials in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, have announced restrictions on public gatherings as a precautionary measure.

The current outbreak, which began in December last year, is India’s deadliest since 2010.

A parallel development from Outbreak News Today:

Hong Kong adult flu deaths near 300, more H7N9 reported on the mainland

With the additional six influenza related fatalities reported in Hong Kong adults during the past day brings the total deaths in the city to 295, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) of the Department of Health reported Friday.

Since the beginning of the year, Hong Kong has seen a 398 severe influenza cases requiring hospitalization, including the 295 deaths.

The vast majority of cases, nearly 96 percent, were A(H3N2) seasonal influenza.

In related news, the Health and Family Planning Commission of Anhui Province on Mainland China reported two additional human cases of avian influenza A(H7N9).

From the U.N. News Center, a call for help with a new outbreak:

Humanitarian community must move quickly to halt cholera spread in Malawi – UN

With 39 cases of cholera in the last two weeks, including two deaths, the United Nations children’s agency in Malawi is on high alert for spread in southern border areas where highly-populated camps for people displaced by the floods are located, according to a press statement released today.

With Malawi’s Ministry of Health having confirmed the cases – the first in the last three years – there are serious concerns that a rapid spread of infection could lead to a larger outbreak that already over-burdened health services may not be able to contain.

“As humanitarian actors in Malawi, we need to move quickly to stop any further spread of this disease,” said UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in Malawi, Mahimbo Mdoe. “These displaced populations are extremely vulnerable, particularly those with low-immunity, such as malnourished children.

UNICEF is working to support the Government with mobile health services, as well as safe water, sanitation and hygiene services, which are critical factors in preventing the spread of cholera.”

The New York Times covers a vaccination crackdown:

Pakistani Officials Issue Arrest Warrants Over Refusals of Polio Vaccine

Determined to curb Pakistan’s polio crisis, police officials in the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa said Friday that they had issued hundreds of arrest warrants for parents for refusing to vaccinate their children.

“We had 13,000 to 16,000 refusal cases,” the deputy police commissioner for Peshawar, Riaz Khan Mahsud, said in an interview. “There is total determination on our part. We shall convince parents of the good of vaccinating their children, but if they refuse, we shall detain them. There is no leniency.”

The police in other districts of the province also reported issuing warrants, though no official total was released.

And BBC News conforms a diagnosis:

Distinct stages to chronic fatigue syndrome identified

Distinct changes in the immune systems of patients with ME or chronic fatigue syndrome have been found, say scientists.

Increased levels of immune molecules called cytokines were found in people during the early stages of the disease, a Columbia University study reported. It said the findings could help improve diagnosis and treatments.

UK experts said further refined research was now needed to confirm the results.

From BBC News again, the human condition:

Leukaemia mutations ‘almost inevitable’, researchers say

It is “almost inevitable” that your blood will take the first steps towards leukaemia as you age, researchers show.

The cancer is often associated with children, but some types become more common with age.

The study, published in the journal Cell Reports, showed 70% of healthy people in their 90s had genetic errors that could lead to leukaemia. The researchers warn that the number of cases could soar as life expectancy increases.

China Daily covers a crusade:

Former celebrity TV anchor on crusade against pollution

A former celebrity TV presenter has released a self-funded documentary about smog, inspired by her sick daughter.

Chai Jing’s one-year project, Under the Dome, marks a comeback for the former presenter and journalist with China Central Television following the birth of her child. It adds a sentimental touch to a matter of public interest with Chai not only an independent observer but also a concerned mother.

After ending a decade with the state broadcaster early last year, Chai shunned public attention to focus on taking care of her daughter, who was diagnosed with a tumor as a fetus and underwent surgery as a new-born baby.

“I saw smog through my daughter’s eyes,” Chai said while presenting her film. She recounted how the little girl was confined indoors, patting the window to vent her frustration at being unable to play outside.

From CCTV America, a related story:

Chinese government investigation uncovers high polluting factories

Program notes:

Officials from China’s environment protection agency said they’ve carried out a series of undercover investigations. They sought-out high levels of pollution discharged by factories across the country. CCTV’s Jie Bai reported on the startling results they uncovered.

From Al Jazeera America, the impact of skepticism:

In the war over GMO labeling, Big Food loses the PR battle

  • Analysis: Food industry efforts to quash labeling initiatives further hurt genetically modified foods’ image

Despite two decades of assurances from biotechnology firms, food processors, federal regulators and even a substantial share of scientists that GMO foods are safe, ballot initiatives and citizen petitions seeking labels on GMO foods are springing up as quickly as the industry can pay — or sue — to defeat them. Meanwhile, sales of foods labeled GMO-free have been steadily gaining ground on consumer shopping lists, and polls suggest that more Americans than ever favor labels that identify GMO foods.

This has even some supporters of genetic engineering wondering if it’s time to rethink the labeling question. “If you give people a choice and value, that wins,” said David Ropeik, a risk-communication consultant. He has begun calling on the industry to let go of its “fear of fear” and embrace GMO labeling, which is required in at least 64 other nations, including Japan, Australia, Russia, Brazil and more than a dozen European countries.

A related story from the Guardian:

Trans-Pacific Partnership could prevent clearer food labelling – health advocates

  • Under the free trade deal, a foreign company could sue the government if sales dropped after labelling was introduced, says the Public Health Association

Australia’s Pacific free-trade deal could stand in the way of clear country-of-origin labelling being considered by the Abbott government in the wake of the hepatitis A outbreak linked to imported frozen berries.

Michael Moore of the Public Health Association said under the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) a foreign company may be able to sue the Australian government for loss of revenue as a result of Australian products being given an “unfair advantage”.

The agreement, which is being negotiated in secret, includes Australia, New Zealand, the US, Peru, Chile, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan. The deal would bring down the trade and legal barriers between member countries as well as their foreign corporations.

From the Los Angeles Times, public disservants:

LAFD failed to inspect hundreds of hazardous sites, state says

The Los Angeles Fire Department has failed to properly inspect hundreds of hazardous sites scattered across the city, exposing the public to increased risks from potential spills and mishandling of toxic substances, according to a state report released Friday.

The 24-page California Environmental Protection Agency study found breakdowns in numerous aspects of the LAFD’s oversight and monitoring of chemical factories, laboratories and other storage facilities that deal with dangerous substances.

“Their program has fallen apart,” said Jim Bohon, head of the state unit that conducted the review. “They are failing in environmental management in a very gross way.”

Another firefighter crackdown, via BBC News:

Argentina fire chief sacked over Patagonia blaze

The head of Argentina’s national fire control agency has been sacked as a huge forest fire threatens to engulf a renowned national park in Patagonia.

Jorge Barrionuevo was sacked during a visit to the region by the government chief of staff.

The fire is advancing towards Los Alerces National Park, which is home to larch trees dating back more than 1,000 years. The flames have already destroyed 200sq km (77 sq miles) of forest.

From the New York Times, hopefully better late than never:

Mexico Moves to Save Endangered Porpoise

The Mexican government is making a final effort to save the vaquita, a tiny porpoise that has been driven to the edge of extinction as a result of illegal fishing for another endangered species that is served as a delicacy in China.

Scientists say that fewer than 100 of the vaquita, a marine mammal, remain in its habitat, the northern Gulf of California. Several thousand fishermen working there depend on the yearly shrimp catch for a modest living.

The fishermen’s gillnets, stretching for miles across the sea, have long been a lethal threat to the vaquita, which become entangled in them and die. But over the past few years a new threat has emerged: illegal fishing for a large fish called the totoaba whose swim bladder is dried and cooked in soup in China, where some consumers believe it has medicinal properties. The vaquitas are also caught and killed in the nets set for totoaba.

On to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, first with a bureaucratic beatdown from the Asahi Shimbun:

Nuclear watchdog takes TEPCO to task for delay in leakage report

The nation’s nuclear watchdog body slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Feb. 27 over its failure to disclose information on the leakage of radioactive rainwater into the sea from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Plant operator TEPCO disclosed many months later that a drainage ditch near the wrecked reactors showed high concentrations of radiation and rainwater had leaked into the sea outside the enclosed harbor.

“TEPCO must reflect seriously (on the delay). We are concerned that the company’s efforts to secure a safe environment will be unable to obtain trust (from the people),” said NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka during a meeting in Tokyo that TEPCO President Naomi Hirose attended.

Next, a visitor, via Kyodo News:

Abe views Fukushima site for radioactively contaminated waste

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday viewed a site in Fukushima Prefecture for interim storage facilities for radioactively contaminated soil and other waste generated in cleanup work following the 2011 nuclear disaster.

“I hope to speed up the decontamination work to ensure reconstruction,” Abe said as he looked at the facilities under construction from the roof of the Futaba town hall under the guidance of Futaba Mayor Shiro Izawa.

The mayor asked Abe for constant support for the town’s reconstruction given that the local authorities took the bitter decision to host the facilities.

From the Asahi Shimbun, a hot zone drive-through, complete with a roadside radiation meter:

Entire Joban Expressway set to open with completion of Fukushima stretch

A major artery connecting Tokyo to the coastal Tohoku region will open March 1, with the completion of the final stretch that runs past the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

BLOG FufuksignThe final 14.3-kilometer section connecting the Joban-Tomioka interchange with the Namie interchange, both in Fukushima Prefecture, is to open after prolonged construction delays due to the nuclear disaster that unfolded in March 2011.

However, along one stretch, running 8 km, radiation levels are high enough that residents are not permitted to return to their homes for the foreseeable future.

Finally, from NHK WORLD, something else to worry about:

IAEA: Japan needs more anti-nuclear terror steps

Experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency have acknowledged overall improvements in anti-terror measures at nuclear facilities in Japan. But they say more needs to be done to safeguard them.

The IAEA team, comprising 8 experts from the US and 5 other countries, stayed in Japan for 2 weeks through Friday.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority says the experts heard about anti-terror legislation and resources from officials with the authority, the National Police Agency and related ministries and agencies.

The experts also visited the Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizokuka Prefecture and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s research center in Ibaraki Prefecture to see what’s being done to make them safe from terrorism.

Abby Martin’s swan song: An insightful look at Cuba


Abby Martin’s final week at the helm of RT America’s Breaking the Set with an insightful look at Cuba, offering a rare, and comprehensive, look at the people and its political, economic, and agricultural systems.

In the face of overwhelming opposition and subversion from Washington, fueled by the Cuban exile dominance of the electoral votes of Florida, the small island nation 90 miles from U.S. shores, and the subsequent fall of the Soviet Union, its main base of support, Cuba faced enduring struggles, yet endured.

In the process, it has created revolutions in healthcare and agriculture, becoming the only nation in which cities provide most of their own food from intensive and organic neighborhood gardens and educating a cadre of physicians who have provided much, often most, of the total global response to medical emergencies around the world.

The outstanding examples set by Cuba in these fields have made a mockery of the enduring U.S. embargo against the island nation, leaving Israel Washington’s only ally in opposition to full normalization of relations.

In these three segments, Abby Martin demonstrates the skills she has honed during, first, her years as an unsalaried journalist at Berkeley Community Television, then during the three years at the helm of her RT America news magazine.

So sit back and enjoy a remarkable work of journalism.

From Breaking the Set:

Cuba Part I: Revolution, Sabotage & Un-Normal Relations

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with a historical look at the tensions between the US and Cuba that have led the two countries to the negotiating table to normalize relations. Abby then discusses the major areas of contention when it comes to these negotiations and where they currently stand. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with members of the largest delegation of peace activists to visit Cuba since the normalized relations announcement, highlighting the role of grassroots diplomacy. BTS than talks to average Cubans both in Havana and in Miami about their views on the state of US-Cuban relations. BTS wraps up the show with an interview with Kenia Serrano, a high ranking Cuban parliament member and President of The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, about everything from internet access to the crackdown on free speech in the country.

Cuba Part II: Ebola Solidarity & Castro’s Daughter on Gay Rights

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin highlights part II of BTS’ eight day trip to Havana, Cuba, starting with an interview with Cuban doctor, Katiel Llorente Izabelez, who explains how Cuba has managed to maintain such a high life expectancy rate, despite the lack of access to up to date medical supplies. BTS producer, Cody Snell, then speaks with students at the Latin American School of Medicine, an international medical school set up by the Cuban government that provides free tuition to low income individuals that want to become doctors. Abby then discusses how Cuba managed to send the largest contingent of doctors to fight the ebola crisis in West Africa, and how this is just the latest example of the country’s medical internationalism. Abby then goes over the US programs meant to encourage Cuban doctors to defect and how this undermines international health efforts. BTS wraps up the show with an exclusive interview with Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President, Raul Castro, and director of Cuba’s sexual education program CENESEX, about the biggest challenges facing Cuba’s gay community.

Cuba Part III: The Evolution of Revolution

Program notes:

On this special episode of Breaking the Set, Abby Martin features the third installment of BTS’ trip to Cuba, focusing on reforms to the country’s economic and agricultural models. Abby first gives an overview of how Cuba’s organic movement evolved and the challenges of the country’s food subsidy system. Abby then speaks with agricultural co-op founder, Miguel Angel Salcines Lopez, about how Cuba’s cooperative and food system works. Abby then talks to Ernesto Blanco, owner of La Fontana restaurant in Havana, about the difficulties of operating a private business in Cuba and how entrepreneurs are being impacted by recent economic reforms. Abby then speaks with Ricardo Alarcón, Cuba’s former minister of foreign affairs and president of the People’s National Assembly of Power, about the normalization process with the US and the biggest hurdles still remaining in the negotiations.