Invasive species: the threat to human health

The damage that invasive species can cause to the environment and the economy are well known, but impacts on human health have been much less analysed. However, invasive species can cause impacts ranging from psychological effects, phobias, discomfort and nuisance to allergies, poisoning, bites, disease and even death. Invasives experts Giuseppe Mazza and Elena Tricarico of the University of Florence, Italy say that in addition to these direct effects, some work in more indirect ways. Humans are menaced by alien invasive species affecting the services provided by ecosystems. “These services are vital to our well-being: changes may decrease the availability of drinking water and of products from fisheries, agriculture and forestry, alter pollination and impoverish culture and recreation,” say Mazza and Tricarico.

Miluz
The invasive red swamp crayfish, linked to disease in fishermen (photo by Miluz).

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Universal health coverage: everyone, everywhere…what about cancer?

  World Health Day 2018

I’ve written about universal health coverage (UHC) before in the context of what’s covered under UHC in one country is not the same as another [Universal health coverage gains momentum in 2016] although there are agreed basics, the essential health services to deliver “health for all”.  The World Health Organization is focusing its efforts on supporting countries moving to UHC, and keeping the pressure on by running high profile events throughout 2018 on UHC beginning with  World Health Day, April 7th.

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Emerging contaminants – a growing concern?

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[Image credit: minthu]

Over the last 200 years, the global population has been growing at an exponential rate and according to the UN, is predicted to reach 8.5 billion by 2030. The population increase to date, has been supported by the development of agricultural, industrial and health care resources, which has led to the rise in the production and use of a variety of different chemicals.  In recent years, many of the substances, either used in or created by these industries have been named as “emerging contaminants” (EC’s).  Until very recently, the main focus of the impacts that chemicals cause in the environment was mainly attributed to heavy metals, active ingredients traditionally used in pesticides and persistent organic pollutants.  However, concern has been growing over the environmental and health risks of EC’s. Many EC’s are considered to be water pollutants, yet they remain largely unregulated by current water-quality standards.  So what are these chemicals and why are they a problem?

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Global health security, collaborating to stop epidemics

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Just three little words, “global health security”, but they represent such depths of meaning. A hundred years of modern scientific enquiry into infectious diseases such as yellow fever, malaria, and now zika. The wake up call of SARS and swine flu, where viruses with dramatic results leapt the species barrier. The galvanising effect of West Africa’s Ebola epidemic on the WHO, the international NGO and donor community and on governments. The concern over emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, so many of them zoonotic in origin.

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How Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) Enter the Food Chain in non-GMO Producing Countries

The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in livestock and crops, as well as trade and consumption of GMOs are highly controversial topics.

Proponents of genetic engineering argue that GMOs represent the only viable solution to food shortages in an ever-growing global population. They claim that the use of GMOs in agriculture and their consumption have caused no harm to livestock or humans so far. Heated debate also persists over GMO food labelling, with food manufacturers in the USA arguing that mandatory GMO labelling hinders the development of agricultural biotechnology, and may also "exacerbate the misconception” that GMOs endanger human health.

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Animals: GMO or non-GMO?

However, opponents of GMOs are far from convinced, and they are concerned about the potentially negative impact of GMOs on the environment, livestock and humans. The inevitability of GMO-contamination to some level has been widely recognised in non-GMO producing countries, but many countries, including EU countries, seek to control its spread. Opponents of GMOs are also concerned about the lack of data on the long-term effects of GMO use. These concerns have been effective in limiting GMO acceptance by the public.

Our guest blogger, Dr Tatjana Brankov of University of Novi Sad, Serbia, in her opinion piece below, describes how GMOs find their way to the daily diet of livestock, and subsequently to human diet, in different geographical regions of the world, including non-GMO producing countries.

To find out what this means for customers who want to avoid GMOs in their diet, or to farmers who want to keep their farms GMO-free, read on…

 

How Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) enter the food chain in non-GMO producing countries

by Tatjana Brankov, Faculty of Economics, University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

Edited by M Djuric, CAB International, Wallingford, UK 

A superficial review of the legislation on transgenic foods and feeds indicates that consumers in non-GMO producing countries consume GMO-free food. However, less attention is paid to the fact that GMOs can enter the food chain through the import of transgenic foodstuff and feedstuff or by contamination.

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Crops: GMO or non-GMO?

In some countries, transgenic food production is fully equal to conventional production. The concept of substantial equivalence, developed by the OECD and further elaborated by FAO/WHO “embodies the concept that if a new food or food component is found to be substantially equivalent to an existing food or food component, it can be treated in the same manner with respect to safety, i.e. the food or food component can be concluded to be as safe as the conventional food or food component” (FAO/WHO 1996). Such a situation exists in a number of countries, including the USA, where it has been estimated that up to 75% of processed foods on supermarket shelves, from soda to soup, and from crackers to condiments contain GMO ingredients (Center for Food Safety 2017).

On the other side, EU countries apply the precautionary principle as a guiding approach for trans-border movement of GMOs (Myhr and Traavik, 2002). As the EUR-Lex glossary explains, this principle “relates to an approach to risk management whereby, if there is the possibility that a given policy or action might cause harm to the public or the environment and if there is still no scientific consensus on the issue, the policy or action in question should not be pursued.”

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Lancet Countdown reports on climate and health

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[Photocredit: iStock]

Lancet Countdown has published its first annual report, monitoring how we are doing on action against climate change in relation to health. Its findings show that climate change is affecting health today and affects those in developing countries disproportionately. Twenty-five years of inaction on climate change have damaged our health, says the report, but it also found some promising signs of accelerating action in the last few years including increased research into climate effects on health, more funding directed at health and climate change and moves away from fossil fuels to renewable, cleaner energy boding well for heart and respiratory health.

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Taking back control of opioid prescription drugs

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Addiction is, by its very nature, about loss of control. The more I’ve been in this job and the longer I’ve lived, the more substances seem to be added to the addictive list. 

In the past few weeks, my early morning news on the radio has featured addiction to alcohol, to food, to gambling, to smart phones, to illegal psychoactive substances, and, the inspiration for this blog, to opioid prescription painkillers. Sadly yet more deaths and lives destroyed. 

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