Category Archives: Food

Fish pee’s a key to keeping coral reefs healthy


Yes, you read that right.

Fish urine, especially that of larger fish, plays a critical nutritional role in keeping the globe’s imperiled coral reefs healthy at a time when they are threatened by climate change and ocean acidification.

There’s only one problem: Those same fish are being netted up in growing numbers to feed the planet’s human population, as well as its pets.

From the University of Washington:

Coral reefs wouldn’t be the same without their beautiful fish.

A diversity of colorful, beautifully patterned species lives in tandem with coral reefs around the world, having adapted their appearance, body structure and lifestyle to take refuge in the folds of spiny, spongy, slippery reefs.

Recent studies suggest that coral reefs, however, are just as dependent on these fish for key nutrients that help coral grow. When fish urinate, they release phosphorus into the water. This phosphorus, along with nitrogen excreted as ammonium through the gills of fish, is crucial to the survival and growth of coral reefs.

A new study[open access] appearing Aug. 16 in Nature Communications takes this a step further, finding that in coral reefs where fishing occurs, nearly half of these key nutrients are absent from the ecosystem.

The main reason? Fewer large-bodied and predator fish to pee nutrients into the water, the study found.

“Part of the reason coral reefs work is because animals play a big role in moving nutrients around,” said lead author Jacob Allgeier, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.

“Fish hold a large proportion, if not most of the nutrients in a coral reef in their tissue, and they’re also in charge of recycling them. If you take the big fish out, you’re removing all of those nutrients from the ecosystem.”

Paper co-authors Abel Valdivia at the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco and Courtney Cox at Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida, surveyed 143 fish species at 110 sites across 43 Caribbean coral reefs that varied in the amount of fishing pressure sustained — ranging from marine preserves that banned all fishing to heavily fished reefs where large predator fish are almost gone.

The researchers found that reefs with more large, predator fish had healthy levels of nutrients, while reefs depleted of large fish had nearly 50 percent fewer nutrients, including phosphorous and nitrogen, essential to their survival.

Lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Proof: Ads manipulate children’s food choices


And as the second entry in this post reveals, those choices can have serious consequences.

First up, news of a new study [we’d title it “This is your brain on sugar”], reported by Elsevier — and in a rarity, the full report is available for free from the global academic study giant:

Food advertising is a multi-billion dollar industry, with approximately $1.8 billion annually aimed at children and adolescents, who view between 1,000 and 2,000 ads per year. Some studies have shown that there is a relationship between receptivity to food commercials and the amount and type of food consumed.  In a new study scheduled for publication in The Journal of Pediatrics, researchers studied the brain activity of children after watching food commercials and found that the commercials influence children’s food choices and brain activity.

Twenty-three children, 8-14 years old, rated 60 food items on how healthy or tasty they were. Dr. Amanda Bruce and researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center and University of Missouri-Kansas City then studied the children’s brain activity while watching food and non-food commercials and undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). According to Dr. Bruce, “For brain analyses, our primary focus was on the brain region most active during reward valuation, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.” During the brain scan, children were asked whether they wanted to eat the food items that were shown immediately after the commercials.

The researchers found that, overall, the children’s decisions were driven by tastiness rather than healthfulness.  However, taste was even more important to the children after watching food commercials compared with non-food commercials; faster decision times (i.e., how quickly the children decided whether they wanted to eat the food item shown) also were observed after watching food commercials.  Additionally, the ventromedial prefrontal cortices of the children were significantly more active after watching food commercials.

Food marketing has been cited as a significant factor in food choices, overeating, and obesity in children and adolescents.  The results of this study show that watching food commercials may change the way children value taste, increasing the potential for children to make faster, more impulsive food choices.  Notes Dr. Bruce, “Food marketing may systematically alter the psychological and neurobiological mechanisms of children’s food decisions.”

A second study reveals the costs of obeying those ads

Few products are as aggressively advertised as soft drinks sweetened with that nasty high fructose corn syrup [previously and ominously].

Yet the costs of indulging in that commercially nurtured sweet tooth can result in a lifetime of misery, as demonstrated in a new study from a Virginia Tech nutritional epidemiologist.

From Virginia Tech:

Think one little sugary soda won’t make a difference on your waistline? Think again.

If people replace just one calorie-laden drink with water, they can reduce body weight and improve overall health, according to a Virginia Tech researcher.

“Regardless of how many servings of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, replacing even just one serving can be of benefit,” said Kiyah J. Duffey, an adjunct faculty member of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and independent nutrition consultant.

Consuming additional calories from sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks, and sweetened coffee can increase risk of weight gain and obesity, as well as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Duffey’s findings, which were recently published in Nutrients, modeled the effect of replacing one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage with an 8-ounce serving of water, based on the daily dietary intake of U.S. adults aged 19 and older, retrieved from the 2007-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

There’s more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Map of the day: Where folks eat the most meat


From Views of the World, the blog of Benjamin Hennig, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at Oxford University:

Cartogram showing countries resized according to their tgotal excess meat consumption compared to the global average per capita consumption. Countries with below average consumption don’t appear.

Cartogram showing countries resized according to their total excess meat consumption compared to the global average per capita consumption. Countries with below average consumption don’t appear.

Coca-Cola: A proud sponsor of the Nazi Olympics


Corporations are, if nothing else, emphatically devoid of conscience, marketing their wares wherever the promise of profit glimmers.

By 1936, anyone who kept up with the news knew that Hitler’s Germany was the most transgressive the modern world had ever seen, openly breaching the limitations on its military mandated by the Treaty of Versailles and ruthlessly purging Jews and other ethnic minorities from the public sphere, with dark hints of things to come.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment, planned the Nazi Olympics as a public spectacle to confirm the glorious nature of his regime, and luring corporations from across the Atlantic as corporate sponsors of his masterpiece.

"Visit the Olpmipc Games in Berlin. . .Drink CocaCola, always ice cold."

“Visit the 11th Olympic Games in Berlin. . .Drink CocaCola, always ice cold.”

One eager participant was that most iconic of brands, Coca-Cola, seeing the games as an opportunity to forge an identity with the regime.

Coke laid out the cash and flooded Germany with billboards and other forms of promotion.

One of the least controversial ads featured a German sprinter leading the pack, a reminder that a nice cold drink was the perfect antidote to the  summer heat in Berlin and enjoy the massive stadium built by Hitler’s architect, Albert Speer.

Playing up to the Nazis

How better to identify itself with the Hitler regime than to appropriate one of its most infamous slogans: Ein Volk. Ein Reich. Ein Fuhrer [One People, One Empire, One Fuhrer]. In Coca-Cola’s own version, it became One People, One Empire, One drink, adding the familiar international motto, “Coke is it.”

BLOG Nazi coke

 

A wartime embargo leads to a new brand

When the war began, German bottlers couldn’t import the coca and cola nuts needed to produce the brown beverage, so at Keith’s command, company chemists came up with a substitute, using, among other things, whey powder derived from the leavings of cheesemakers and the residue from apple cider presses.

BLOG FantaStuck for a name for his new beverage, Keith turned to his employees for suggestions, telling them to let their Fantasie [fantasy] run wild.

One salesman, knowing that the best way to please a boss is to feed him back his own idea, came up with the winner. The company came up with a bottle similar to the Coke original, but with out the characteristic profile.

And thus a brand was born.

Early last year, on Fanta’s 75th anniversary, German television featured a commemorative ad, celebrating those “good old times” when Germany’s innovators created such a marvelous beverage.

The ad didn’t sit too well with countless Germans and countless others who lost parents, grandparents, spouses, and siblings during those “good old times,” and the ad was pulled and the requisite apology issued.

Still, major American corporations [including GM and IBM] and banks [including the one which George H.W. Bush’s father helped set up and profited from] made lots of money off the Third Reich. Indeed, it was IBM’s mechanical computers that enabled to Nazis to keep track of Jews in Germany and lands the Nazis conquered and send them on their ways to death camps, where more records were compiled by IBM’s Hollerith machines.

A more detailed look at Coke’s Nazi connection

During his tenure as a lecturer at Harvard Law School, food and drug public interest attorney Peter Barton Hutt wrote a very perceptive essay about the relationship between Coke’s German subsidiary and the Hitler regime. [Though the essay is no longer on the Harvard server, the KillerCoke website has reposted it.]

As the time Coca-Cola GmbH was headed by a German national, Max Keith, who worked hard to develop strong ties to the Nazi regime.

Hutt writes:

It has been suggested that Coke’s success was directly related to the “striking parallels” between Coca-Cola GmbH and the nation at large. Hitler was a proponent of American mass-consumption and welcomed America’s efficient methods of production (although he was anti-American in all other respects). Interestingly enough, Keith’s looks and personality have been compared to those of Hitler, and Keith’s enthusiasm for Coke was seen by some of his employees, who were often overworked, as evidence of his fanatical tendencies. It seems that Company and government interests overlapped. The Nazis regarded mass-production and mass-consumption as crucial building blocks of their new society, and they must have been impressed by Coca-Cola’s modern means of producing a uniform product. Additionally, Coke’s advertising strategies reflected values central to the Nationalist-Socialist society.

Keith supplied Coca-Cola for the athletes and visitors at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, where Hitler was the proud host to the nations of the world, and where Woodruff was a guest. An abundance of Coke’s advertising supported the Third Reich. Keith zeroed in on special events (as Woodruff had done in America) to further Coke’s image, not as an American drink this time, but as a German drink in Nazi Germany. For example, Coca-Cola appeared at Hitler youth rallies, as “Coca-Cola trucks accompanied the marchers, hoping to capture the next generation.” In 1937, at a “Working People” Exhibit displaying the accomplishments of the German worker during the first five years of Hitler’s rule, Coca-Cola set up a miniature bottling plant “with a miniature train carting Kinder beneath it…at the very center of the fair, adjacent to the Propaganda Office.” In March of 1938, when Hitler’s troops went into Austria, Keith convened the annual concessionaire convention, with 1,500 people in attendance. Keith sat at the main table (a large swastika draped in front of him), and encouraged his workers to continue their “march to success.” The ceremony ended with a “Sieg-Heil” to Hitler. In April of 1939, at the tenth anniversary of the German Coca-Cola business, Keith gloated that the past year had been historic because Hitler had annexed Austria and Sudentland; yet the spread of Coca-Cola during 1938 was a close second. This strategy of direct association with Nazi leaders and of lending support to events propagandized by Nazi ideology sent a powerful message to the German consumers and government by signaling that Coca-Cola was on Germany’s side.

This show of support for Nazis was perhaps an aggressive advertising technique designed to combat slander against the company. In 1936, Herr Flasch, who manufactured an imitation drink called Afri-Cola, began circulating flyers depicting Coca-Cola bottle caps from the U.S. with Hebrew inscriptions. Although the inscriptions were nothing but an indication that Coke was kosher, the flyers claimed to prove that Coca-Cola was a Jewish company. Sales plummeted, and Nazi party headquarters cancelled their orders. Keith denounced the accusations in The Stuermer, the official Nazi publication renowned for its vicious attacks against Jews. Coke was able to survive the fiasco, probably through the aggressive marketing techniques described above. Again, ironically, the Coke bottles in question pronounced that they were kosher to appeal to the American Jewish population at home; yet here was Keith, denying that Coca-Cola was a Jewish company, because to be a Jewish company would be a terrible thing.

When a GMO bacterium almost killed the planet


We have long maintained that genetically modified organisms may be the most dangerous of all human creations, dwarfing in potential nuclear weapons, overpopulation, and all the other sundry horrors that haunt our nightmares.

And we’ve already come perilously close.

From The Big Picture:

How One GMO Plant Nearly Took Down the Planet…

Program notes:

The very same day that President Obama signed the DARK Act into law – the USDA confirmed that 22 of Monsanto’s unapproved GMO wheat plants were growing in a field in Washington State. No one knows how it got there – and that should raise alarm bells.

The universe beneath out feet

Stephen Nottingham is a biologist and writer. He has a doctorate in the field of agricultural entomology and is one of Britain’s most ardent advocates of agroecology [previously], the science of working with rather than against nature to produce the food and other plant and animal products that keep us and our civilization alive.

The fundamental element of agroecology is the earth itself, the soil that gives rise to most of those foods and goods, and if it is anything else, the soil beneath our feet is a vast and complex ecosystem, and must be considered whenever we release new genetic creations into our environment..

In his book Genescapes: The Ecology of Genetic Engineering, Nottingham writes:

Agricultural soil typically contains around 600 million bacteria, approximately three miles of mycorrhizal fungal hyphae, about 10,000 protozoa, and between 20 and 30 beneficial nematodes, in a teasponful. . .Elaine Ingham, author of the Oregon Klebsiella sstudy, has critized tests routinely performed by the EPA to evaluate genetically engineered microorganisms for environmental release, in which they use microcosms containing sterile soil. The results cannot provide any information about how the GMO will behave in the field, in terms of effects on soil ecology or on other organisms. In addition, no realistic data on exchange of genetic information between different bacteria can be obtained in sterilized soils.

Genetic exchange with GMOs is now a given

The genetically engineered organisms do exchange their artically manipulated genes with other organisms is a given, though one mightily resisted by the corporations which sell them.

UC Berkeley’s Ignacio Chapela, a friend of the blog, was fired because of his research showing that genes from Monsanto’s herbicide-resistant corn had infected the native corn varieties of Mexico, the nation which gave the world one of its major staple food crops.

His ouster followed a well-financed campaign by the company, using false fronts and academic shills.

It took a lawsuit to win Chapela tenure, and subsequent research has confirmed his findings.

Herbicide-resistant genes have also jumped into weeds, creating new breeds of so-called superweeds and prompting a search for ever more powerful plant killers.

Given that nature had countless billions of ready recruits, we can be certain of one thing: The arms race will never end as corporations seek to maintain their exorbitant profits and maintain their deadly grip on the planet’s food supplies.

Back to that Klebsiella planticola experiment

Dr. Ingham, a soil micobiologist and author of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Soil Biology Primer, was a professor at Oregon State University in 1992 when she supervised the experiments that discovered the deadly nature of the microbe just weeks before it was scheduled for approval for release.

Here’s what she wrote about the discovery, via San Francisco State University:

Field burning of plant residues to prevent disease is a serious cause of air pollution throughout the US. In Oregon, people have been killed because the cloud from burning fields drifted across the highways and caused massive multi-car crashes. A different way was needed to get rid of crop residues. If we had an organism that could decompose the plant material and produce alcohol from it; then we’d have a win-win situation. A sellable product and get rid of plant residues without burning. We could add it to gasoline. We could cook with it. We could drink grass wine-although whether that would taste very good is anyone’s guess. Regardless, there are many uses for alcohol.

So, genes were taken out of another bacterium, and put into Klebsiella planticola in the right place to result in alcohol production. Once that was done, the plan was to rake the plant residue from the fields, gather it into containers, and allow it to be decomposed by Klebsiella planticola. But, Klebsiella would produce alcohol, which it normally does not do. The alcohol production would be performed in a bucket in the barn. But what would you do with the sludge left at the bottom of the bucket once the plant material was decomposed? Think about a wine barrel or beer barrel after the wine or beer has been produced? There is a good thick layer of sludge left at the bottom. After Klebsiella planticola has decomposed plant material, the sludge left at the bottom would be high in nitrogen and phosphorus and sulfur and magnesium and calcium-all of those materials that make a perfectly wonderful fertilizer. This material could be spread as a fertilizer then, and there wouldn’t be a waste product in this system at all. A win-win-win situation.

But my colleagues and I asked the question: What is the effect of the sludge when put on fields? Would it contain live Klebsiella planticola engineered to produce alcohol? Yes, it would. Once the sludge was spread it onto fields in the form of fertilizer, would the Klebsiella planticola get into root systems? Would it have an effect on ecological balance; on the biological integrity of the ecosystem; or on the agricultural soil that the fertilizer would be spread on?

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Chart of the day III: America’s beer goggles score


After a brief supremacy of wine during the Dubya era, the latest numbers from Gallup reveal that beer is solidly ahead [a head?] as America’s tipple of choice:

BLOG Beer

Venezuelan program brings agroecology home


We’ve had a long fascination with agroecology, the practice of growing food with the use of environmentally damaging synthetic fertilizers and corporatized seeds and pesticides.

Giving the ever-growing corporate domination of the American university, it’s no surprise that the best-paid academic scientists are busily churning out highly profitable patented pesticide, veterinary drugs, and plants and animals for the Big Agra and Big Pharma.

UC Berkeley, which once had one of the country’s finest agroecology programs, has dropped it ad huge Big Agra bucks have flooded the campus, most notably in the form of a half-billion-dollar BP-funded program to create cellulose-chomping bacteria designed to poop out the basic ingredient of clean-burning, high-energy fuel.

So far, with all the original cash spent, there’s still no superfuel, but, golly, there was all that cash, and all those wobnderful corporate connections.

To paraphrase an old and very sexist joke, they know what UC Berkeley is, and they’ve already established the price.

So it’s up to countries like Cuba [previously] and Venezuela [previously] to give backing to agroecological programs.

And that brings us to this report on one Venezuelan agroecology program, via teleSUR English:

Agroecology: A Latin American Movement

Program note:

Is Agroecology a viable option for Latin America? This small Venezuelan institute may have the answer.