Category Archives: Food

Map of the day: Farmland soil compaction


From the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization:

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

The effects of compaction on soil health are variable but they often result in the creation of impermeable soil layers close to the surface and local waterlogging. Compaction of the subsoil occurs under external pressure and may create impermeable layers within the soil that limit the nutrient and water cycles. The most common causes are a strong concentration of livestock particularly in drier climates around water-points, and the use of heavy machinery and inappropriate tilling practices, mostly undertaken in industrialized agriculture.

Oceans losing oxygen; West Coast affected early


Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

Deoxygenation due to climate change is already detectable in some parts of the ocean. New research finds that it will likely become widespread between 2030 and 2040. Other parts of the ocean, shown in gray, will not have detectable loss of oxygen due to climate change even by 2100.

The oceans are losing oxygen, and climate change is the culprit.

Areas earliest hit are the western coasts of North America and Africa and the northeastern coast of South America.

The result will be major shifts in marine life, including the development of major dead zones.

And given that much of the world depend son ocean fish for protein, the changes could portend serious human and political crises.

From the American Geophysical Union:

A drop in the amount of oxygen dissolved in the oceans due to climate change is already discernible in some parts of the world and should be evident across large parts of the ocean between 2030 and 2040, according to a new study.

Scientists know that a warming climate can be expected to gradually sap oceans of oxygen, leaving fish, crabs, squid, sea stars, and other marine life struggling to breathe. But it’s been difficult to determine whether this anticipated oxygen drain is already having a noticeable impact.

“Loss of oxygen in the ocean is one of the serious side effects of a warming atmosphere, and a major threat to marine life,” said Matthew Long, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study. “Since oxygen concentrations in the ocean naturally vary depending on variations in winds and temperature at the surface, it’s been challenging to attribute any deoxygenation to climate change. This new study tells us when we can expect the impact from climate change to overwhelm the natural variability.”

The study [$6 read-only, $38 to print — esnl] is published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

Cutting through the natural variability

The entire ocean—from the depths to the shallows—gets its oxygen supply from the surface, either directly from the atmosphere or from phytoplankton, which release oxygen into the water through photosynthesis.

Warming surface waters, however, absorb less oxygen. And in a double whammy, the oxygen that is absorbed has a more difficult time traveling deeper into the ocean. That’s because as water heats up, it expands, becoming lighter than the water below it and less likely to sink.

Thanks to natural warming and cooling, oxygen concentrations at the sea surface are constantly changing—and those changes can linger for years or even decades deeper in the ocean.

For example, an exceptionally cold winter in the North Pacific would allow the ocean surface to soak up a large amount of oxygen. Thanks to the natural circulation pattern, that oxygen would then be carried deeper into the ocean interior, where it might still be detectable years later as it travels along its flow path. On the flip side, unusually hot weather could lead to natural “dead zones” in the ocean, where fish and other marine life cannot survive.

To cut through this natural variability and investigate the impact of climate change, the research team relied on the NCAR-based Community Earth System Model.

The scientists used output from a project that ran the model more than two dozen times for the years 1920 to 2100. Each individual run was started with miniscule variations in air temperature. As the model runs progressed, those tiny differences grew and expanded, producing a set of climate simulations useful for studying questions about variability and change.

Using the simulations to study dissolved oxygen gave the researchers guidance on how much concentrations may have varied naturally in the past. With this information, they could determine when ocean deoxygenation due to climate change is likely to become more severe than at any point in the modeled historic range.

The research team found that deoxygenation caused by climate change could already be detected in the southern Indian Ocean and parts of the eastern tropical Pacific and Atlantic basins. They also determined that more widespread detection of deoxygenation caused by climate change would be possible between 2030 and 2040. However, in some parts of the ocean, including areas off the east coasts of Africa, Australia, and Southeast Asia, deoxygenation caused by climate change was not evident even by 2100.

Picking out a global pattern

The researchers also created a visual way to distinguish between deoxygenation caused by natural processes and deoxygenation caused by climate change.

Using the same model dataset, the scientists created maps of oxygen levels in the ocean, showing which waters were oxygen-rich at the same time that others were oxygen-poor. They found they could distinguish between oxygenation patterns caused by natural weather phenomena and the pattern caused by climate change.

The pattern caused by climate change also became evident in the model runs around 2030, adding confidence to the conclusion that widespread deoxygenation due to climate change will become detectable around that time.

The maps could also be useful resources for deciding where to place instruments to monitor ocean oxygen levels in the future to get the best picture of climate change impacts. Currently ocean oxygen measurements are relatively sparse.

“We need comprehensive and sustained observations of what’s going on in the ocean to compare with what we’re learning from our models and to understand the full impact of a changing climate,” Long said.

America’s childhood obesity epidemic continues


Sadly, not so surprising, given the fast food craze continues and media remain saturated with junk food advertising.

From Duke University:

The alarming increase in U.S. childhood obesity rates that began nearly 30 years ago continues unabated, with the biggest increases in severe obesity, according to a study led by a Duke Clinical Research Institute scientist.

“Despite some other recent reports, we found no indication of a decline in obesity prevalence in the United States in any group of children aged 2 through 19,” said lead author Asheley Skinner, Ph.D., associate professor at Duke. “This is particularly true with severe obesity, which remains high, especially among adolescents.”

Skinner, along with colleagues at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Wake Forest University, analyzed data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, a large, ongoing compilation of health information that has spanned decades.

Reporting online April 26 in the journal Obesity [open access], the researchers found that for 2013-2014, 33.4 percent of children between the ages of 2 through 19 were overweight. Among those, 17.4 percent had obesity, which includes a range from the lower end of the designation criteria to the higher end.

These rates were not statistically different than those from the previous reporting period of 2011-2012. Across all categories of obesity, a clear, statistically significant increase continued from 1999 through 2014.

“Most disheartening is the increase in severe obesity,” Skinner said.

The prevalence of severe obesity – correlated to an adult body mass index of 35 or higher – accounted for the sharpest rise from the previous reporting period. Among all overweight youngsters in the 2012-14 reporting period, 6.3 percent had a BMI of at least 35, which was defined as class II obesity. Another 2.4 percent of those had severe obesity, defined as class III, which was consistent with an adult BMI of 40 or more.

For the previous reporting period, 5.9 percent of youngsters had class II obesity, and 2.1 percent of those were at class III levels.

“An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course,” Skinner said. “Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults.”

Sarah Armstrong, M.D., a pediatrician and director of the Duke Healthy Lifestyles Program who was not involved in the study, said the population-wide findings in the study are consistent with what she sees in her clinical practice. While families are more attuned to the health effects of obesity, she said, reversing the problem is as difficult one-on-one as it is nationally.

“Certainly progress has been made in addressing the issue in our country,” Armstrong said. “But this study highlights that we may need to be more disruptive in our thinking about how we change the environment around children if we really want to see that statistic move on a national scale.”

Skinner said the study has limitations, relying on two-year data that provides a snapshot in time across a wide population. But she said the NHANES database is a broader source than those used in studies that found declines in obesity rates among smaller or segmented populations.

“We don’t want the findings to cause people to become frustrated and disheartened,” Skinner said. “This is really a population health problem that will require changes across the board — food policy, access to health care, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work.”

In addition to Skinner, study authors include Eliana M. Perrin of UNC-CH and Joseph A. Skelton of Wake Forest.

The study received no outside funding.

Fructose damages brain genes, impairs memory


High fructose corn syrup, the stuff that’s replaced table sugar in everything from soft drinks to catsup, has been definitively linked to  damage to the brain’s genetic structure.

So your mom was right: Drinking all that Coke and Pepi really does cause brain damage.

We’ve long been concerned about fructose here at esnl, given that it’s been linked to impairments in brain healing, accelerated aging, rapid growth of pancreatic cancer cells, and much more, but the latest research, in a rational world, would at the very least lead to a ban on the sale of products containing the stuff in public school cafeterias, lunch rooms, and hospitals.

From the University of California, Los Angeles:

A range of diseases — from diabetes to cardiovascular disease, and from Alzheimer’s disease to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — are linked to changes to genes in the brain. A new study by UCLA life scientists has found that hundreds of those genes can be damaged by fructose, a sugar that’s common in the Western diet, in a way that could lead to those diseases.

However, the researchers discovered good news as well: An omega-3 fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, seems to reverse the harmful changes produced by fructose.

“DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable,” said Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology. “And we can see why it has such a powerful effect.”

DHA occurs naturally in the membranes of our brain cells, but not in a large enough quantity to help fight diseases.

“The brain and the body are deficient in the machinery to make DHA; it has to come through our diet,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and of integrative biology and physiology, and co-senior author of the paper.

Fructose impairs memory

DHA strengthens synapses in the brain and enhances learning and memory. It is abundant in wild salmon (but not in farmed salmon) and, to a lesser extent, in other fish and fish oil, as well as walnuts, flaxseed, and fruits and vegetables, said Gomez-Pinilla, who also is a member of UCLA’s Brain Injury Research Center.

Americans get most of their fructose in foods that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener made from corn starch, and from sweetened drinks, syrups, honey and desserts. The Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans consumed an average of about 27 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup in 2014. Fructose is also found is in most baby food and in fruit, although the fiber in fruit substantially slows the body’s absorption of the sugar — and fruit contains other healthy components that protect the brain and body, Yang said.

To test the effects of fructose and DHA, the researchers trained rats to escape from a maze, and then randomly divided the animals into three groups. For the next six weeks, one group of rats drank water with an amount of fructose that would be roughly equivalent to a person drinking a liter of soda per day. The second group was given fructose water and a diet rich in DHA. The third received water without fructose and no DHA.

After the six weeks, the rats were put through the maze again. The animals that had been given only the fructose navigated the maze about half as fast than the rats that drank only water — indicating that the fructose diet had impaired their memory. The rats that had been given fructose and DHA, however, showed very similar results to those that only drank water — which strongly suggests that the DHA eliminated fructose’s harmful effects.

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

Monsanto presses Argentina for GMO royalties


Monsanto, the most ruthless troglodyte with the biggest club in the Big Agra tribe, is waging a legal war on Argentine farmers they claim are using the company’s patented GMO soybeans without paying the piper.

Their targets are farmers they charge have held onto seeds from previous harvests, as well as those farmers whose own crops have been contaminated by pollen from nearby fields planted with Monsanto crops.

Until the determination of just which crops contained Monsanto DNA was determined by Monsanto’s own labs, though the Argentine government has passed legislation requiring determinations to be made by stare-run labs.

From MercoPress:

Monsanto has rejected a request by Argentina for more time to collect monies owed by small farmers for royalties on genetically modified soybean seeds. Argentine agricultural minister Ricardo Buryaile and members of his staff have met with Monsanto representatives, including chief operating officer Brett Begemann to request a waiver on the monies owed.

The seed company rejected that request, two unnamed Monsanto staff told press agency Bloomberg. The firm also rejected a request for more time to collect the royalties from small farmers.

Monsanto is set to challenge Argentina’s attempts to retain control over lab analysis to verify the origin of its grain exports.

On April 15, the Argentine government of President Mauricio Macri passed a resolution that gives the Agriculture Ministry control of the analysis of seeds in the country, a move that would render obsolete a Monsanto-funded network of labs set up to detect its seeds at Argentine ports and help enforce payment.

Fast foods send edocrine disruptors soaring


We’ve long suspected that the plastics and similar compounds that have become so central to our lives poses threats the our health.

The simple truth is that plastics are organic chemicals, and many of them are being shown to mimic the actions of the endocrine system, the glands that regulate the processes that keep our bodies running, causing a whole host of medical problems, with some cases of ADD being the .latest linked to endocrine disruptors.

And now, from George Washington University, comes a study linking fast food consumption to higher levels of one family of those chemiclas:

People who reported consuming more fast food in a national survey were exposed to higher levels of potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, according to a study published today by researchers at Milken Institute School of Public Health (Milken Institute SPH) at the George Washington University. The study, one of the first to look at fast-food consumption and exposure to these chemicals, appears in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

“People who ate the most fast food had phthalate levels that were as much as 40 percent higher,” says lead author Ami Zota, ScD, MS, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute SPH. “Our findings raise concerns because phthalates have been linked to a number of serious health problems in children and adults.”

Phthalates belong to a class of industrial chemicals used to make food packaging materials, tubing for dairy products, and other items used in the production of fast food. Other research suggests these chemicals can leach out of plastic food packaging and can contaminate highly processed food.

Zota and her colleagues looked at data on 8,877 participants who had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food. These participants also had provided researchers with a urinary sample that could be tested for the breakdown products of two specific phthalates—DEHP and DiNP.

Zota and her colleagues found that the more fast food participants in the study ate the higher the exposure to phthalates. People in the study with the highest consumption of fast food had 23.8 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. And those same fast food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP metabolites in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing.

The researchers also discovered that grain and meat items were the most significant contributors to phthalate exposure. Zota says the grain category contained a wide variety of items including bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes and noodles. She also notes that other studies have also identified grains as an important source of exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals.

In addition, the researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging–Bisphenol A or BPA. Researchers also believe exposure to BPA can lead to health and behavior problems, especially for young children. This study found no association between total fast food intake and BPA. However, Zota and her colleagues found that people who ate fast food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast food consumption.

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

Headline of the day II: Good news/bad news


From the New York Times:

Acreage for Genetically Modified Crops Declined in 2015

Only three countries — the United States, Brazil and Argentina — account for more than three-quarters of the total global acreage. And only four crops — corn, soybeans, cotton and canola — account for the majority of biotechnology use in agriculture. In many cases, more than 90 percent of those four crops grown in those three countries, and in other large growers like Canada, India and China, is already genetically modified, leaving little room for expansion.