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More holistic approach needed when studying diets of our ancestors

Researchers have long debated how and what our ancestors ate. Charles Darwin hypothesized that the hunting of game animals was a defining feature of early hominids, one that was linked with both upright walking and advanced tool use and that isolated these species from their closest relatives (such as ancestors of chimpanzees); modified versions of this hypothesis exist to this day. Other scholars insist that while our ancestors’ diets did include meat, it was predominantly scavenged and not hunted. Still others argue that particular plant foods such as roots and tubers were of greater importance than meat in the diets of these species.

Research technology has come a long way since Darwin’s time, making possible the kind of analysis early scholars could only have imagined. Recent work has presented reconstructions of early hominid diets on the basis of chemical makeups of fossil tooth enamel, evidence of microscopic wear on teeth, and advanced studies of craniodental anatomy, to name a few.

However, according to Ken Sayers (Georgia State University) and C. Owen Lovejoy (Kent State University) in an article published in the December 2014 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology, although modern-day technology provides valuable insight, such tools alone cannot provide a complete picture of the diet of early hominids. Instead, they should be included — alongside other methodologies — in holistic studies grounded in the fundamentals of modern evolutionary ecology.

Sayers and Lovejoy suggest that researchers should examine a species’ particular habitat and “whole-body” anatomy, including digestion, locomotion, and possible cognitive abilities. In particular, foraging theory — a branch of evolutionary ecology that investigates animal feeding decisions through the lens of efficiency principles — is especially important to consider, as it demonstrates that diet is regulated by the potential value and costs of exploiting individual food items (whether plant, animal, or other) and by the relative abundance of the most profitable foods. In the case of the earliest-known hominids, evidence about their morphology and likely cognitive abilities — in addition to data obtained from modern technologies — provide little support for a reliance on any one particular food type. Rather, these species likely had a broadly omnivorous diet that became increasingly generalized over time.

According to Sayers and Lovejoy, the early hominid diet can best be elucidated by considering the entire habitat-specific resource base and by quantifying the potential profitability and abundance of likely available foods. Furthermore, they warn that hypotheses focusing too narrowly on any one food type or foraging strategy — such as hunting or scavenging or any one particular plant category — are too restrictive and should be viewed with caution. Modeling these species’ diets instead “requires a holistic, interdisciplinary approach that goes beyond merely what we can observe chemically or through a microscope, and draws from ecology, anatomy and physiology, cognitive science, and behavior.”

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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Regulations needed to identify potentially invasive biofuel crops

If the hottest new plant grown as a biofuel crop is approved based solely on its greenhouse gas emission profile, its potential as the next invasive species may not be discovered until it’s too late. In response to this need to prevent such invasions, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed both a set of regulatory definitions and provisions and a list of 49 low-risk biofuel plants from which growers can choose.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute, recognized that most of the news about invasive biofuel crops was negative and offered few low-risk alternatives to producers. She and her colleagues set out to create a list of low-risk biofuel crops that can be safely grown for conversion to ethanol but realized in the process that regulations were needed to instill checks and balances in the system.

“There are not a lot of existing regulations that would prevent the planting of potentially invasive species at the state or federal levels. For example, there are currently only four states (Florida, Mississippi, Oregon, and Maryland) that have any laws relating to how bioenergy crops can be grown and that include any language about invasive species — and, for the most part, when those words do appear, they are either not defined or poorly defined,” said Quinn.

In approving new biofuel products, Quinn said that the EPA doesn’t formally consider invasiveness at all — just greenhouse gas emissions related to their production. “Last summer, the EPA approved two known invaders, Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpurem (napier grass), despite public criticism,” added U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres, who co-authored the research to define legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear scientific definition of what it means to be invasive. The team of researchers used fundamental biological, ecological, and management principles to develop definitions for terminology commonly used to describe invasive species.

“Our definition of invasive is ‘a population exhibiting a net negative impact or harm to the target ecosystem,’ for example,” Quinn said. “We want to establish guidelines that will be simple for regulators and informed by the ecological literature and our own knowledge. We also need to recognize that some native plants can become weedy or invasive. It’s complicated and requires some understanding of the biology of these plants.”

Quinn said that ideally the definitions and suggested regulations could become part of a revised Renewable Fuels Standard administered by EPA, which would require Congress to make the changes. The proposed regulations could also be adopted at the state level.

“Some of the biofeedstocks currently being examined by the EPA for approval, like pennycress, have a high risk for invasion,” Quinn said. “Others have vague names such as jatropha with no species name, which is problematic. For example, there are three main Miscanthus species but only sterile hybrid Miscanthus × giganteus types are considered low risk. However, the EPA has approved “Miscanthus” as a feedstock without specifying a species or genotype” Quinn said. “That’s fine for the low-risk sterile types but could mean higher-risk fertile types could be approved without additional oversight.”

According to Quinn, the white list, which includes 49 low-risk feedstock plants, will serve to clear up the confusion about plant names. The list was developed using an existing weed risk assessment protocol, which includes 49 questions that must be asked about a particular species based on its biology, ecology, and its history of being invasive in other parts of the world.

“Those questions are difficult to answer for new taxa, including plants that haven’t been around long or have just recently been developed by breeders,” Quinn said. “This will be the first time that they are out in the environment so we don’t know what their potential for invasiveness is. But the white list offers plenty of choices of plants that are already commercially available, and the feedstocks on the list have a number of different industrial uses.”

Quinn stressed that the native plants that are included in the white list are only recommended as the native genotypes grown in their native region, because although a plant may be native to a part of the United States, it could be considered invasive if grown in a different region.

“For example, Panicum virgatum is the variety of switchgrass that is low risk everywhere except for the three coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, but future genotypes that may be bred with more invasive characteristics, such as rapid growth or prolific seed production, may have higher risk.”

The researchers believe that the white list provides producers with clearly identified low-invasion risk options and may reduce conflicts between objectives for increasing renewable fuel production and reducing unintended impacts and costs resulting from the propagation of invasive plants.

“Resolving regulatory uncertainty: legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks” was published in an issue of GCB Bioenergy. Co-authors include Elise Scott and James McCubbins from the Energy Biosciences Institute, A. Bryan Endres and Thomas Voigt from the University of Illinois, and Jacob Barney from Virginia Tech.

“Bioenergy feedstocks at low risk for invasion in the U.S.: A ‘white list’ approach” was published in Bioenergy Research. Co-authors include Aviva Glaser from the National Wildlife Federation, Doria Gordon from the Nature Conservancy, and Deah Lieurance and Luke Flory from the University of Florida.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Regulations needed to identify potentially invasive biofuel crops

If the hottest new plant grown as a biofuel crop is approved based solely on its greenhouse gas emission profile, its potential as the next invasive species may not be discovered until it’s too late. In response to this need to prevent such invasions, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed both a set of regulatory definitions and provisions and a list of 49 low-risk biofuel plants from which growers can choose.

Lauren Quinn, an invasive plant ecologist at U of I’s Energy Biosciences Institute, recognized that most of the news about invasive biofuel crops was negative and offered few low-risk alternatives to producers. She and her colleagues set out to create a list of low-risk biofuel crops that can be safely grown for conversion to ethanol but realized in the process that regulations were needed to instill checks and balances in the system.

“There are not a lot of existing regulations that would prevent the planting of potentially invasive species at the state or federal levels. For example, there are currently only four states (Florida, Mississippi, Oregon, and Maryland) that have any laws relating to how bioenergy crops can be grown and that include any language about invasive species — and, for the most part, when those words do appear, they are either not defined or poorly defined,” said Quinn.

In approving new biofuel products, Quinn said that the EPA doesn’t formally consider invasiveness at all — just greenhouse gas emissions related to their production. “Last summer, the EPA approved two known invaders, Arundo donax (giant reed) and Pennisetum purpurem (napier grass), despite public criticism,” added U of I professor of agricultural law A. Bryan Endres, who co-authored the research to define legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks.

Part of the problem is that there is no clear scientific definition of what it means to be invasive. The team of researchers used fundamental biological, ecological, and management principles to develop definitions for terminology commonly used to describe invasive species.

“Our definition of invasive is ‘a population exhibiting a net negative impact or harm to the target ecosystem,’ for example,” Quinn said. “We want to establish guidelines that will be simple for regulators and informed by the ecological literature and our own knowledge. We also need to recognize that some native plants can become weedy or invasive. It’s complicated and requires some understanding of the biology of these plants.”

Quinn said that ideally the definitions and suggested regulations could become part of a revised Renewable Fuels Standard administered by EPA, which would require Congress to make the changes. The proposed regulations could also be adopted at the state level.

“Some of the biofeedstocks currently being examined by the EPA for approval, like pennycress, have a high risk for invasion,” Quinn said. “Others have vague names such as jatropha with no species name, which is problematic. For example, there are three main Miscanthus species but only sterile hybrid Miscanthus × giganteus types are considered low risk. However, the EPA has approved “Miscanthus” as a feedstock without specifying a species or genotype” Quinn said. “That’s fine for the low-risk sterile types but could mean higher-risk fertile types could be approved without additional oversight.”

According to Quinn, the white list, which includes 49 low-risk feedstock plants, will serve to clear up the confusion about plant names. The list was developed using an existing weed risk assessment protocol, which includes 49 questions that must be asked about a particular species based on its biology, ecology, and its history of being invasive in other parts of the world.

“Those questions are difficult to answer for new taxa, including plants that haven’t been around long or have just recently been developed by breeders,” Quinn said. “This will be the first time that they are out in the environment so we don’t know what their potential for invasiveness is. But the white list offers plenty of choices of plants that are already commercially available, and the feedstocks on the list have a number of different industrial uses.”

Quinn stressed that the native plants that are included in the white list are only recommended as the native genotypes grown in their native region, because although a plant may be native to a part of the United States, it could be considered invasive if grown in a different region.

“For example, Panicum virgatum is the variety of switchgrass that is low risk everywhere except for the three coastal states of Washington, Oregon, and California, but future genotypes that may be bred with more invasive characteristics, such as rapid growth or prolific seed production, may have higher risk.”

The researchers believe that the white list provides producers with clearly identified low-invasion risk options and may reduce conflicts between objectives for increasing renewable fuel production and reducing unintended impacts and costs resulting from the propagation of invasive plants.

“Resolving regulatory uncertainty: legislative language for potentially invasive bioenergy feedstocks” was published in an issue of GCB Bioenergy. Co-authors include Elise Scott and James McCubbins from the Energy Biosciences Institute, A. Bryan Endres and Thomas Voigt from the University of Illinois, and Jacob Barney from Virginia Tech.

“Bioenergy feedstocks at low risk for invasion in the U.S.: A ‘white list’ approach” was published in Bioenergy Research. Co-authors include Aviva Glaser from the National Wildlife Federation, Doria Gordon from the Nature Conservancy, and Deah Lieurance and Luke Flory from the University of Florida.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Stricter controls of wastewater reuse on crops needed to meet WHO guidelines

Wastewater used to irrigate agricultural crops in countries where water is scarce may contribute to significant public health risks such as diarrheal disease in children from rotavirus. A new study of these risks found that wastewater used to irrigate vegetable plots in Asian countries poses health risks that may exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The authors recommend that stricter wastewater regulation may be needed to protect the health of farmers and consumers worldwide.

The new findings come at a time when climate change and increasing population pressure requires the development of methods to produce more food with fewer irrigation resources. Wastewater reuse is an economical method to grow food, but wastewater carries microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa that can contaminate food and cause disease. Asia accounts for the majority of the world’s reuse of wastewater in irrigation, and given that China is the world’s most populous country, millions of people may be exposed to health risks from contamination. However, normal cooking temperatures and food preservation strategies can reduce the risks posed by microorganisms and viruses.

Although health studies can trace the incidence of disease in a population, conducting extensive experimental work and collecting sufficient data can be cost-prohibitive. Food systems researchers Hoi-Fei Mok and Andrew J. Hamilton of The University of Melbourne in Australia instead created a statistical model to characterize the health risks posed by wastewater used to grow Asian vegetables. The reach of the Asian vegetable market extends well beyond Asia. Their paper, “Exposure factors for wastewater-irrigated Asian vegetables and a probabilistic rotavirus disease burden model for their consumption,” recently appeared in the electronic version of the journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

The researchers first determined the volume of water retained by three commonly grown Asian vegetables, and then used a statistical model to estimate rotavirus disease burdens associated with wastewater irrigation. Rotavirus is associated with diarrheal disease in children, and was chosen as the focus of the study because diarrheal disease is associated with 74 percent of wastewater-related deaths, 90 percent of which occur in children. According to the WHO, diarrheal disease is the second leading global cause of death in children under five years old, and is responsible for the deaths of approximately 760,000 children each year. Diarrhea can last several days, and can leave the body without the water and salts that are necessary for survival. Most people who die from diarrhea actually die from severe dehydration and fluid loss.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that the probability curves of the annual disease burden “exceeded the WHO’s threshold for acceptable level of risk from wastewater reuse by two to three orders of magnitude.” Some vegetables posed greater risk than others, because leaf shape affects the amount of wastewater and contaminants that are retained. Vegetables such as bok choy posed the least risk and choy sum the greatest risk, whereas lettuce and gai lan had similar risk profiles. The viral decay rate also varies depending on the plant. The authors say that more research on the rate of viral decay on various crops would increase the accuracy of risk estimations.

The probability of rotavirus infection is affected by uncertainty in virus concentration and variation in vegetable consumption. For example, the mean daily per capita lettuce consumption in Australia is 21.81 grams lettuce/person day, compared to a mean of 171.94 grams lettuce / person day in China, although there is seasonal variation in consumption patterns.

The dose-response model, which characterizes the relationship between exposure level to contaminants and the probability of developing disease, is a source of uncertainty in the risk assessment. The rotavirus infection rates were based on data from an infectivity trial in adults, but rotavirus primarily affects children. Lower doses induce infectivity in children faster than adults, so the estimated disease burdens from the researchers’ statistical model may underestimate the actual risk to children. Collecting rotavirus infectivity data for children would improve the accuracy of risk assessments of the threat.

Although there are Chinese national standards and regulations for the reuse of wastewater, they present only threshold concentrations for bacteria such as E. coli, not viruses. Furthermore, while there are regulations relating to water quality, there is no guideline for risk management around wastewater reuse in China. The risk management approach involves more pro-active identification and management of risk, rather than relying on post-treatment testing for managing reuse schemes. Considering the global increase in wastewater use for agricultural irrigation, assessing the health risks from reuse schemes is necessary to develop better wastewater management policies to protect public health.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Risk Analysis (SRA). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Stricter controls of wastewater reuse on crops needed to meet WHO guidelines

Wastewater used to irrigate agricultural crops in countries where water is scarce may contribute to significant public health risks such as diarrheal disease in children from rotavirus. A new study of these risks found that wastewater used to irrigate vegetable plots in Asian countries poses health risks that may exceed World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines. The authors recommend that stricter wastewater regulation may be needed to protect the health of farmers and consumers worldwide.

The new findings come at a time when climate change and increasing population pressure requires the development of methods to produce more food with fewer irrigation resources. Wastewater reuse is an economical method to grow food, but wastewater carries microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa that can contaminate food and cause disease. Asia accounts for the majority of the world’s reuse of wastewater in irrigation, and given that China is the world’s most populous country, millions of people may be exposed to health risks from contamination. However, normal cooking temperatures and food preservation strategies can reduce the risks posed by microorganisms and viruses.

Although health studies can trace the incidence of disease in a population, conducting extensive experimental work and collecting sufficient data can be cost-prohibitive. Food systems researchers Hoi-Fei Mok and Andrew J. Hamilton of The University of Melbourne in Australia instead created a statistical model to characterize the health risks posed by wastewater used to grow Asian vegetables. The reach of the Asian vegetable market extends well beyond Asia. Their paper, “Exposure factors for wastewater-irrigated Asian vegetables and a probabilistic rotavirus disease burden model for their consumption,” recently appeared in the electronic version of the journal Risk Analysis, published by the Society for Risk Analysis.

The researchers first determined the volume of water retained by three commonly grown Asian vegetables, and then used a statistical model to estimate rotavirus disease burdens associated with wastewater irrigation. Rotavirus is associated with diarrheal disease in children, and was chosen as the focus of the study because diarrheal disease is associated with 74 percent of wastewater-related deaths, 90 percent of which occur in children. According to the WHO, diarrheal disease is the second leading global cause of death in children under five years old, and is responsible for the deaths of approximately 760,000 children each year. Diarrhea can last several days, and can leave the body without the water and salts that are necessary for survival. Most people who die from diarrhea actually die from severe dehydration and fluid loss.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that the probability curves of the annual disease burden “exceeded the WHO’s threshold for acceptable level of risk from wastewater reuse by two to three orders of magnitude.” Some vegetables posed greater risk than others, because leaf shape affects the amount of wastewater and contaminants that are retained. Vegetables such as bok choy posed the least risk and choy sum the greatest risk, whereas lettuce and gai lan had similar risk profiles. The viral decay rate also varies depending on the plant. The authors say that more research on the rate of viral decay on various crops would increase the accuracy of risk estimations.

The probability of rotavirus infection is affected by uncertainty in virus concentration and variation in vegetable consumption. For example, the mean daily per capita lettuce consumption in Australia is 21.81 grams lettuce/person day, compared to a mean of 171.94 grams lettuce / person day in China, although there is seasonal variation in consumption patterns.

The dose-response model, which characterizes the relationship between exposure level to contaminants and the probability of developing disease, is a source of uncertainty in the risk assessment. The rotavirus infection rates were based on data from an infectivity trial in adults, but rotavirus primarily affects children. Lower doses induce infectivity in children faster than adults, so the estimated disease burdens from the researchers’ statistical model may underestimate the actual risk to children. Collecting rotavirus infectivity data for children would improve the accuracy of risk assessments of the threat.

Although there are Chinese national standards and regulations for the reuse of wastewater, they present only threshold concentrations for bacteria such as E. coli, not viruses. Furthermore, while there are regulations relating to water quality, there is no guideline for risk management around wastewater reuse in China. The risk management approach involves more pro-active identification and management of risk, rather than relying on post-treatment testing for managing reuse schemes. Considering the global increase in wastewater use for agricultural irrigation, assessing the health risks from reuse schemes is necessary to develop better wastewater management policies to protect public health.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Risk Analysis (SRA). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Conserving potato agrobiodiversity: Top-down and bottom-up approach needed

Mashed, smashed and fried, Americans love potatoes, but only a few varieties are grown in much of North American agriculture. In South America, where potatoes originated, more than 5,000 varieties continue to exist. A Penn State geographer is gathering all the information he can about the agrobiodiversity of these uniquely adapted tubers with an eye toward sustainability of this fourth largest food crop worldwide.

“In the U.S. we rely primarily on 10 to 12 types of potatoes total,” said Karl Zimmerer, department head and professor of geography. “In fact, mostly we use only 5 to 8 varieties. In South America, by contrast, there are 74 different types of potatoes in a single field. The fields, tubers and landscapes are visually stunning.”

Zimmerer has studied high-agrobiodiversity land use for over 20 years, but until recently, those studies have been on the ground. He first looked at diversity within individual potato fields and then scaled up to individual communities and landscapes. People in a community have expert knowledge of 150 to 180 varieties of potato, he said.

“People in Peru, for example, love to eat potatoes and think that theirs are vastly superior to what we have in flavor, texture, starchiness and color,” said Zimmerer. “They want to hang on to their high-agrobiodiversity potatoes and we want them to hang due to nutritional, ecological and other conservation advantages.”

Scaling up even more, Zimmerer looked at potato fields on the landscape level — typically groups of 5 to 15 communities — and regions that contain upward of 30 or 40 communities. Remote sensing approaches made this easier, but still only supplied part of the answers to identifying agrobiodiversity hotspots — biologically rich but environmentally and socioeconomically threatened areas — and creating ways to protect these areas and conserve these crops. Because the major potato growing area encompasses large parts of northern South America, Zimmerer needed a novel approach, which he presented today (Feb. 15) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, where he organized a symposium on new agrobiodiversity discoveries needed for sustainability.

“There are 4,000 to 5,000 different varieties of potato in Chile, Colombia, Northern Argentina, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela,” said Zimmerer. “Up until now, the areas where varieties grow were just designated as large, undifferentiated shapes on the map. In order to support agrobiodiversity, we have to have an idea of large-area agrobiodiversity concentrations, so we have to look from the top down.”

With this approach, identifying and analyzing region-scale areas of concentrated agrobiodiversity are important, as are the global institutions such as the International Potato Center in Peru. But perhaps the most important part of the top down study is the knowledge held by expert potato taxonomists who have long histories of geographically extensive work.

“One example is Alberto Salas who has 60 years of experience and has vast geographic and agrobiodiversity knowledge,” said Zimmerer. “He is a Peruvian who has worked from Chile to Venezuela and has an extraordinary knowledge of major areas where diverse potato types are located.”

While many experts are local to potato growing areas, other experts come from Europe and North America. To assemble an expert database of information about locations of potato hotspots, Zimmerer uses a two-pronged approach. For those comfortable with computers, he asks them to delineate on Google Earth maps the regions of concentrated agrobiodiversity. For those uncomfortable with computers, the same tasks can be performed using paper maps.

Once the regional hotspot locations are on the electronic map, other information such as elevation, socioeconomic characteristics and slope becomes available. Information from the various experts can also be compared.

With so many varieties, it is difficult for even the local farmers to identify and keep track of the potatoes growing in their and their neighbor’s fields. Zimmerer’s approach may eventually be used for visualizations that help enable the local crowdsourcing of this agrobiodiversity.

“The local farmers generally identify their potatoes on their culinary properties and uses — floury, soup making or freeze drying,” said Zimmerer. “Interestingly, the culinary uses correspond to the elevations where the potatoes grow — soup potatoes have the lowest elevation, floury potatoes in mid elevation and freezing potatoes are the highest.”

This type of information from the knowledge systems of farmers — often women — coupled with top down image analysis, visualization and geographic information systems can supply important information for sustainability and conservation. Combining the top-down and bottom-up information provides novel knowledge and new strategies for sustainable use of the extraordinarily high levels of biodiversity within the Andean potatoes.

Zimmerer is already applying this approach to other crops such as corn, which also includes many unique types with geographic dynamics being a key to adaptation and sustainability.

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The above story is based on materials provided by Penn State. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Clearer labels needed on drugs containing animal products

Dr Kinesh Patel and Dr Kate Tatham say most medications prescribed in primary care contain animal derived products and it is unclear whether they are suitable for vegetarians.

They call for improved labeling, similar to those on food, to help inform doctors, pharmacists and patients about the content of medicines. And they stress that concerned patients should not stop taking their medication without consulting their doctor first.

Specific dietary preferences regarding animal products in food are common in the general population. Influences such as religion, culture, economic status, environmental concern, food intolerances, and personal preferences all play a part in the foods that people choose to consume.

Yet many patients and doctors are unaware that commonly prescribed drugs contain animal products — and simply reading the list of ingredients will not make it clear whether the product meets the patient’s dietary preferences.

Problem ingredients include lactose (often extracted using bovine rennet), gelatine (sourced from cows, pigs and occasionally fish) and magnesium stearate (traditionally sourced from cows, pigs and sheep) although some manufacturers now use vegetarian alternatives.

Last year a campaign to vaccinate children in Scotland against influenza was halted because of concern in the Muslim community about pork gelatine within the vaccine.

Even though the absolute levels of animal products in many medications are likely to be minimal, the authors say doctors need to consider this when prescribing “to avoid non-adherence, which is a major healthcare concern.”

To ascertain the scale of the problem, they identified the 100 most commonly prescribed drugs in UK primary care in January 2013. Of these, 73 contained one or more of lactose, gelatine, or magnesium stearate. But they found that information on the origins of the contents was difficult to obtain, unclear, inconsistently reported, and sometimes incorrect.

“Our data suggest that it is likely that patients are unwittingly ingesting medications containing animal products with neither prescriber nor dispenser aware,” they write.

They call for improved drug labeling, mirroring those standards advised for food. However, they acknowledge it is unlikely that any labeling standard could address all dietary requirements, “and the ultimate solution would be to eliminate animal derived products where possible from medications.”

They point out that lactose is already produced by some manufacturers without using rennet, magnesium stearate can be made chemically without animal ingredients and vegetarian capsules to replace gelatine are already available.

“Although vegetarian friendly ingredients may be more expensive than those produced by traditional processes, the costs would diminish as production expanded and they would limit the exposure of patients to products they find unacceptable,” they conclude.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Clearer labels needed on drugs containing animal products

Dr Kinesh Patel and Dr Kate Tatham say most medications prescribed in primary care contain animal derived products and it is unclear whether they are suitable for vegetarians.

They call for improved labeling, similar to those on food, to help inform doctors, pharmacists and patients about the content of medicines. And they stress that concerned patients should not stop taking their medication without consulting their doctor first.

Specific dietary preferences regarding animal products in food are common in the general population. Influences such as religion, culture, economic status, environmental concern, food intolerances, and personal preferences all play a part in the foods that people choose to consume.

Yet many patients and doctors are unaware that commonly prescribed drugs contain animal products — and simply reading the list of ingredients will not make it clear whether the product meets the patient’s dietary preferences.

Problem ingredients include lactose (often extracted using bovine rennet), gelatine (sourced from cows, pigs and occasionally fish) and magnesium stearate (traditionally sourced from cows, pigs and sheep) although some manufacturers now use vegetarian alternatives.

Last year a campaign to vaccinate children in Scotland against influenza was halted because of concern in the Muslim community about pork gelatine within the vaccine.

Even though the absolute levels of animal products in many medications are likely to be minimal, the authors say doctors need to consider this when prescribing “to avoid non-adherence, which is a major healthcare concern.”

To ascertain the scale of the problem, they identified the 100 most commonly prescribed drugs in UK primary care in January 2013. Of these, 73 contained one or more of lactose, gelatine, or magnesium stearate. But they found that information on the origins of the contents was difficult to obtain, unclear, inconsistently reported, and sometimes incorrect.

“Our data suggest that it is likely that patients are unwittingly ingesting medications containing animal products with neither prescriber nor dispenser aware,” they write.

They call for improved drug labeling, mirroring those standards advised for food. However, they acknowledge it is unlikely that any labeling standard could address all dietary requirements, “and the ultimate solution would be to eliminate animal derived products where possible from medications.”

They point out that lactose is already produced by some manufacturers without using rennet, magnesium stearate can be made chemically without animal ingredients and vegetarian capsules to replace gelatine are already available.

“Although vegetarian friendly ingredients may be more expensive than those produced by traditional processes, the costs would diminish as production expanded and they would limit the exposure of patients to products they find unacceptable,” they conclude.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Agriculture and Food News — ScienceDaily

Full Disclosure: Changes to Poultry Inspections Needed to Protect Public Health

For the past 15 years, USDA conducted a pilot project to inform how we modernize our inspection process – all to ensure that meat and poultry is safe to eat. Today, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), released a report on the project, known as the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), and how FSIS has relied on it to propose a modernized approach to inspecting poultry.

While an initial scan of the press coverage may lead you to believe that GAO discredits this proposal, that is not the case. GAO gave HIMP a thorough review and made just two recommendations, both of which FSIS is already working to fulfill.

GAO chose not to include some facts that also deserve public disclosure. FSIS put forward this proposal because data shows that a system like HIMP will prevent at least 5,000 more foodborne illnesses annually. The study that FSIS has conducted of HIMP provides an appropriate basis on which to judge the merits of this system. Approximately 10 years ago, FSIS asked an independent group of experts in poultry microbiology, statistical evaluation, poultry food safety and public health to evaluate our study.

These experts supported FSIS’ study design and found that that our approach was valid. But GAO’s report does not mention this food safety conclusion.

GAO’s report also assumes that the basis for moving forward with this proposal is to improve efficiency and save taxpayer dollars. Although it does accomplish both of those things, as FSIS made clear to GAO, this proposal is first and foremost about making food safer. As an agency responsible above all for protecting consumers from foodborne illness, we are obligated to ensure a more modern and better system at hand. In other words GAO did not evaluate this from a public health angle – Rates of illness caused by Salmonella and Campylobacter have been stagnant, even showing occasional rises, in recent years. We must reverse this trend, and if we are to do so, one thing is clear: we cannot continue inspecting poultry the way we have been for over 50 years.

Here is what the data tells us:

  • Under the HIMP, FSIS inspectors complete more inspection tasks “off the line” that verify that the plants they work in continuously satisfy food safety performance standards.
  • Fecal material, the primary avenue for pathogen contamination, appears about half as often in HIMP establishments as it does in non-HIMP establishments. HIMP establishments are also checked four times more often for fecal material by FSIS inspectors as are non HIMP establishments.
  • The average positive rate for Salmonella in HIMP establishments is 20% lower than the average positive rate in non-pilot establishments.

If finalized and implemented broadly, this new inspection system would enable FSIS to better fulfill our food safety mission. Nothing in the GAO’s report contradicts this basic fact.

Food Safety News