Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Soya and cancer

Soya milk shake Cappuccino flavour
A soya milk and tofu diet reduces the risk of breast cancer, according to research. In an epidemiological study, women who were eating a lot of soy and soy products were 60% less likely than women who ate the least soya to have the "dense" tissue associated with breast cancer.

The following are also types of foods and drinks that protect against cancer by minimising the risk of developing tumors.

Tomatoes. Studies conducted in USA have shown that 3 servings per day greatly cut the risk of prostate cancer. Not only fresh tomatoes have this beneficial effect, but even pizza toppings, pasta sauce and tomato ketchup.

Brazil nuts and grains. They are all rich in the trace element selenium. Trials have found that selenium supplements help cut the risk of prostate cancer.

Broccoli and cabbage. They are rich in glucosinolates, which some studies have shown to reduce the risk of cancer by 50%. They appear to be particularly effective against both breast and colon cancer.

Strawberries. They contain antioxidant chemicals called coumarins. Antioxidants protect against cancer-causing agents. Other kinds of fruits and berries, including raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, raisins and prunes, also destroy in the blood free radicals which promote cancer.

Green tea. It is rich in antioxidants, which are substances effective against carcinogens (cancer-causing agents). Only one cup per day is recommended.

Garlic. Studies in the USA have shown that people who eat garlic more than twice a week are only half as likely to develop colon cancer as those who do not eat garlic.

Water. Drinking lots of water helps reduce the risk of bladder cancer, because it dilutes the concentration of cancer-causing agents and cuts the time that they are in contact with the bladder lining. A minimum of 8 cups per day are recommended.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Italian Animal Rights Party forms a new alliance

Italian Animal Rights Party
In preparation for the next European Parliament elections in June 2009, the Partito Animalista Italiano, Italian Party for Animal Rights, has formed an alliance with two other Italian parties: the Environmentalist Party and the Eurosceptics Party.

The new alliance will contest the European elections, which are now only a few months away, and has just joined the EUDemocrats, a Europe-wide, transnational party which has 6 members of the European Parliament in its midst and focuses on the issue of democracy in the European Union.

The new Italian coalition, called “Euro Scettici-Animalisti-Ambientalista”, has begun to get ready for the forthcoming European election and hopes to secure 1 or 2 seats in the European Parliament.

Does it sound ambitious?

"It’s entirely possible” replies Cristiano Ceriello of the Italian Animal Rights Party. “If the European election law, as it seems certain, remains the same, a party only needs 0.7 % of the national votes to elect a member of the European Parliament.

“According to the polls commissioned by us, our new alliance Euro Scettici-Animalisti-Ambientalisti should get 1.5% of the votes, which would allow us to gain 2 seats."

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Vegetarian easy

Pie with Mediterranean vegetables and Quorn, a meat substitute

Easy vegetarian

Becoming vegetarian is one of the choices you can make that are most beneficial for your health.

And, believe me, it is easy to be vegetarian.

Many people are worried that it can be difficult to give up their favourite foods.

But in reality food is an “acquired taste” literally. Mostly, we like what we are used to. That, for instance, explains why people of different cultures and culinary traditions have diverse palate and appreciate widely dissimilar dishes.

Most emphatically, the idea that meat and fish are tastier than vegetarian meals is a myth. In many cases it is the herbs, spices and vegetables that give flavour to meat-based dishes.

Have you ever wondered why we humans can eat many vegetables raw, but very few, if any, kinds of animal flesh without first cooking them? Does that not point to a certain instinctive difficulty for our digestive system in dealing with meat and fish?

I have been a vegetarian for almost all my adult life. If I now should have meat in any form, very likely I would feel sick. This (which would probably apply to the generality of vegetarians and vegans) shows that it is not something inherent in a vegetarian diet which makes it difficult to introduce, but rather a general principle of our eating patterns: sudden change is disruptive at first and needs time to adjust.

This is often the case in matters of the senses. Think of music. How many times, upon hearing it the first time, did you have an immediate rejection for a pop song or a classical piece of music which later became a joy for your ears?

It may take time to love good music, and it may take time to love good food.

Easy steps to vegetarianism

My first piece of advice, therefore, is: take it easy, make the change gradually. Let your taste buds get acquainted with and used to the new flavours.

My second piece of advice: do not think in terms of renunciations, but of replacements. Next time you are thinking of having a burger, choose a vegeburger instead. Or have a delicious fresh sandwich with plenty of fresh salad vegetables and succulent but not fat sauces like those sold by Subway, for instance. You don’t have to do this every time at first, but you can start by opting for a healthier alternative, say, half of the times, and then gradually increase the frequency.

Just to realize how alien meat-eating is to our nature, and we believe that it is natural only because we have become accustomed to it, think of how food poisoning is almost invariably associated with meat or, more infrequently, with other animal products but extremely rarely with foods of vegetable origin.

Even touching raw meat, poultry or fish without washing your hands can spread bacteria and lead to food poisoning. And even reusing the same utensils, plates, dishcloths, teatowels and sponges that have come into contact with raw meat, fish or poultry (even indirectly, for instance by cleaning a surface which has touched them) is dangerous, because bacteria from the raw juices will contaminate other food.

This could help explain why meat workers, people involved in the meat industry, are the unhealthiest workers: in the USA about 25 percent of all employees of meatpacking plants have job-related injuries or illnesses, that is as many as 4 times the national average for all private industry sectors.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Candidates on animal rights

Candidates on animal rights
The 2008 US presidential candidates should be assessed for their positions on animal issues as well.

Animal welfare has grown in importance in American politics in general and presidential elections in particular. Both candidates seem to have strong views on animal issues, albeit with some limitations.

Barack Obama and animal rights

The candidate for the Democratic Party, Senator Barack Obama, has been praised for his answer to a woman who asked him "What about animal rights?" during Obama's town hall meeting outside Las Vegas a few months ago.

Obama replied that he cares about animal rights very much, "not only because I have a 9-year-old and 6-year-old who want a dog." He said that he sponsored a bill to prevent horse slaughter in the Illinois state Senate and that he has been repeatedly endorsed by the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States).

"I think how we treat our animals reflects how we treat each other," he added. "And it's very important that we have a president who is mindful of the cruelty that is perpetrated on animals."

Good, diplomatic, generic way to answer a specific question; maybe Time's headline for this story, "Obama Pledges Support for Animal Rights", was a bit over-optimistic.

Still, he is considered a strong candidate on animal rights issues. He has co-sponsored new legislation to stop horse slaughter and export of
horses for human consumption, to upgrade federal penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, to ban possession of fighting dogs and being a spectator at
a dogfight. He also signed a letter requesting increased funds for enforcement of
the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal
animal fighting law. Sent letter to National Zoo expressing concern for
the care of Toni the elephant.

In his response to a questionnaire by the Humane Society Legislative Fund (which tries to pass animal protection laws at state and federal levels), Obama pledges support for nearly every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and says he will work with executive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make their policies more humane.

He believes that there is a link between cruelty to animals and violence in society: "I've repeatedly voted to increase penalties for animal cruelty and violence... In addition to being unacceptable in its own stead, violence towards animals is linked with violent behavior in general... Strong [animal cruelty] penalties are important and I support them... As president, I'd continue to make sure that we treat animal cruelty like the serious crime it is and address its connection to broader patterns of violence."

But... he has not yet co-sponsored important animal welfare bills, like the Pet Safety and Protection Act.

Besides, I do not see how Obama can reconcile the position that he professes on cruelty to animals and his support for the right to hunt wild game.

In April 2007 he said: "I don't hunt myself, but I respect hunters and sportsmen". And: "I'm a strong believer in the rights of hunters and sportsmen to have firearms".

Am I too cynical if I suspect a little insincerity in his proclaimed love for animals here?

John McCain and animal rights

His opponent, Republican Party's candidate Senator John McCain, is also strong on animal rights issues, uncharacteristically for a Republican candidate.

McCain co-sponsored new legislation to stop horse slaughter, backed a bill to stop the shipment of live birds between states for the only purpose of cockfighting, supported a bill to stop the killing of bears by ending trade in their gall bladders and other viscera and organs.

Senator McCain also took a position against the fur industry, by voting to eliminate a $2 million subsidy for the mink industry. And he voted against allowing drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, saving the thousands of animals who lived there.

He earned scores of up to 75 percent on the Humane Scorecard.

But... he voted in support of an amendment to the California Desert Protection Act allowing hunting for sport in the Mojave National Park, and apparently he is a supporter of hunting in general.

Looks like both candidates are weaker on hunting grounds.

Besides, neither of them really seems to have said anything or taken positions on the major areas of animal abuse, i.e. animal experimentation and factory farming.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Against bullfighting Spain

Barcelona is against bullfighting

Barcelona City Council took a historic vote when, on April 6 2004, it officially declared Barcelona, the capital of the region of Catalonia in Spain, an anti-bullfight city by 21 votes to 15, with two abstentions.

Two weeks before that resolution was passed, the city's Deputy Mayor, Jordi Portabella, had declared his opposition to bullfighting in front of hundreds of protesters, saying: 'Barcelona must act like a capital and be a pioneer in the abolition of bullfighting.'

Although the resolution does not ban bullfighting in Barcelona, it is nevertheless a landmark precedent, because Barcelona had historically been one of bullfighting's capitals, with 100 bulls being tortured and slaughtered every year in the city's bullrings in the bad old days, watched mainly by curious tourists.

However, a city council spokesman told the BBC that there has not been a large bullfighting following in the region since the 1960s.

Before the vote, nearly 250,000 people had signed a petition to ban bullfighting in the Catalonia region, of which Barcelona is the capital. In 2005 a law to ban bullfighting was proposed to the Catalan Parliament for the first time in Spanish history.

The majority of people in Barcelona are opposed to bullfighting and agree with Barcelona City Council's decision to declare the city an anti-bullfighting city, according to surveys.

The majority of those surveyed in Barcelona (63%) do not want bullfights to continue in their city, with more than half (55%) agreeing that Barcelona should declare itself an anti-bullfighting city.

Bullfights are viewed as cruel and non-educational by more than three quarters (76%) of those surveyed in Barcelona. In addition, the majority of the people in the city have never been to a bullfight (59%) and, of those that have, only 12.6% have been to one in the last 3 years. Overall, just 7% of all those surveyed see bullfights as being positive for Barcelona's reputation.

Of those surveyed in Barcelona, 98% agreed that animals suffer when mistreated and an overwhelming 96% thought that the suffering of animals for entertainment should be banned. These attitudes are similar to those revealed in previous surveys of people in Catalonia, the region of Barcelona.

Spain towns and cities against bullfighting

It's not just Barcelona. A 2007 Gallup opinion poll showed that over 72% of people all over Spain have no interest in bullfighting.

Since Barcelona declared itself an anti-bullfight city in April 2004, councils in other 44 towns and cities in Catalonia have declared themselves opposed to bullfighting. Other Spanish towns, including Torello, Calldetenes, and Olot, which has the second oldest bullring in Spain, have done the same.

Some cities in Spain, among which Calonge, Tossa de Mar, Vilamacolum, and La Vajol, have outlawed all bullfighting and bull runs. In Mexico, bullfights have been banned in Jalopa.

La Monumental, once Barcelona's main bullring, now houses a bullfighting museum, and Las Arenas de Barcelona, another bullfighting venue, is being redeveloped as a leisure and shopping centre.

Help the organizations that campaign against bullfighting in Spain

These successes are due to the work of some associations, both Spanish and international.

One of the most active organisations in campaigning against bullfighting in Spain and Latin America is the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

If Catalonia is at the forefront of the abolition of bullfighting in Spain, it's also thanks to them.

You can help the fight against bullfighting by giving donations to WSPA, and in this way you can support WSPA

Friday, May 16, 2008

World Society for the Protection of Animals help with Burma cyclone

WSPA emergency team gives primary care to a horse
When disasters strike, it is not just humans that suffer. Other animals suffer and die too.

Recent tragedies like the China earthquake and the Burma cyclone have affected huge numbers of animals.

What happens is that, in poor countries with extremely limited resources, the idea of giving priority to human victims means that other animals are left without any help, even when the human survivors depend on them for their livelihoods.

A leading international animal welfare charity’s work: WSPA

There are, luckily, organizations that are dedicated to helping animals internationally and are particularly needed in the case of calamities, as well as in campaigns to stop several forms of animal abuse on a daily basis.

Perhaps the most active association in this field of aiding animals in natural catastrophes is the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)

Disaster management is one of the categories of WSPA’s activity, and one of the reasons is that they say that animal welfare is a vital part of rebuilding of communities after a disaster.

In the event of the cyclone in Burma, an emergency veterinary team from the World Society for the Protection of Animals was in Thailand awaiting entry authority to cyclone-struck Myanmar to ascertain and then relieve the suffering of a large number of animals.

“No-one else, Governments, humanitarian NGOs or owners have the resources to care for these animals, most of which are owned by poor impoverished families” is the grim diagnosis of Philip Russell MBE (Member of the British Empire, an honour given by the Queen), Director of Disaster Management of the WSPA.

The association’s emergency response team is involved not only in first aid and veterinary assistance but in trying to stop the spread of diseases, by separating animals into temporary holding pens. Humid conditions, endemic diseases like Foot and Mouth, animals’ weakened immune systems, and overcrowded camps all contribute to a contagious environment where disease develops and spreads quickly. WSPA is there to help with veterinary checks and to introduce preventative measures, in particular vaccinations, antibiotics and de-worming.

Emergency food is also necessary, as it is improbable that there will be food for surviving animals.

“WSPA works to align animal welfare and humanitarian agendas to reduce poverty, hunger and disease in humans. Equally, by complementing humanitarian efforts in this way we increase the number of animals we protect,” explained Russell.

If you wish to help, you can give donations to WSPA, and in this way you can support WSPA

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Animals Count party for animals

Supermodel Twiggy is among Animals Count supportersA much-needed animals political party called Animals Count (supermodel Twiggy, pictured right, is among its supporters) has run in the recent London local election on 1st May, with a candidate for the Greater London Assembly, Jasmijn de Boo, and received 1,828 votes.

Considering that Animals Count contested only two London boroughs in the south of the city, Lambeth and Southwark, the fact that it was a new party and the limited budget available to it, 1.12% of the total votes was not a bad result.

“In a sense we are comparable to independent candidates in other constituencies, which typically received around 700 votes.” Jasmijn says. “Under the first-past-the-post-system people tend to vote more strategically rather than intuitively. Our result demonstrates that nearly 2,000 people in this constituency alone care so much about animal issues that they overcame their wish to vote strategically. I am confident we will grow and that the European Parliament elections in 2009 offer a real opportunity for Animals Count.”

There was fear that Animals Count, which is active in England, Wales and Scotland, would split the Green Party vote, although, given that party policies on animals, I cannot see how that can be a bad thing. However, the Green Party candidate for Lambeth and Southwark in fact gained 0.64% more votes than in the last election.

European political parties and elections

What is also interesting about this relatively new party is its Europe-wide scope. Its founder and chair, who was the candidate in the London elections, Jasmijn de Boo, is Dutch and was an active member of the highly successful Dutch Political Party for the Animals, which gained two seats in the General Elections in November 2006, nine seats in the Provincial Elections in March 2007 and one seat in the Senate in June 2007: a world first!

A similar party in Spain, Partido Antitaurino Contra el Maltrato Animal (party against bullfighting and maltreatment of animals - PACMA), won over 41,000 votes in the elections on last 9th March. Just over 61,000 votes would have been enough for a seat.

Similar political parties for animals also now exist in Germany, France and Canada.
"Animals Count aims to be part of the next big development in European politics," says Jasmijn. "We want to make London the world's leading city for animal protection."

Animals Count now has its eyes on the European Parliament elections, to be held in June 2009, and has already started preparing for them. This is a clever move, since early preparations are key to success.

The Dutch Party for the Animals (PvdD) was truly successful in the 2006 national parliament elections, and Animals Count wishes to use similar tactics and methods in the upcoming European polls.

In particular, it wants to imitate the PvdD’s use of state-of-the-art methods, like promotional video clips aired on TV and on its website, and use of celebrities who endorsed the PvdD and were the list-pushers (at the bottom of the list). The animations and clips were forwarded to members all over the country resulting in over 180,000 votes for the Party for the Animals.

Animals Count already has the support of several celebrities, including supermodel Twiggy (pictured above), legendary Queen’s guitarist Brian May who is also a scientist, actor Nicholas Ball, writer Jeffrey Masson, poet Benjamin Zephaniah, Prof. Robert Garner of Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester, and psychologist Dr. Richard Ryder.

In the run-up to the European Parliament (EP) elections Animal Counts intends to develop similar interesting, innovative campaign ideas. It is aware of competing with multimillion pound budgets of larger parties and the only way to get noticed is through media and email campaigns.

“The European Parliament is THE place to be represented as a political party for the animals” claims Jasmijn, “the Common Agricultural Practice (CAP) dominates the agenda (80%) and 50% of the European budget is spent on farming. This has huge repercussions on farmed animals in Britain (and obviously other Member States). Other important Directives include the Zoo Directive, the 86/609/EC Directive on the Use of animals in experimentation (currently under revision), the Transport Directive, etc. Many domestic laws are based on European guidelines; hence the importance of having a voice in the EP.”

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cancer and animals

Cancer experiment on monkey

Cancer relates to questions of animal ethics in two major ways:

1) Animal experimentation

2) Human nutrition and lifestyle.

Let’s start with animal experimentation. This broad field branches out into two main areas in association with cancer:

a) animal testing of carcinogenicity (cancer-inducing quality) of substances

b) cancer research on animals to find cures for humans.

Animal testing of carcinogenicity

Carcinogenicity studies on animals are used for all kinds of compounds, in particular synthetic substances, pesticides, food additives and all sorts of other chemicals. They, especially pesticides tests, have been largely instigated by the environmentalist movement, which has created, since Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring onwards, a public hysteria about a phantasmic connection between human cancer and man-made chemical substances in the environment.

The crude reality is that animal tests are a totally inadequate means of finding out whether a substance causes cancer in human subjects not just because of the important obstacle represented by species difference but also, more specifically, because of the extremely high dosages to which lab animals are subjected over a short period of time, as opposed to the low levels (mostly residues) to which humans are exposed over a long time.

Half of all the substances administered to animals at these near-toxic levels are carcinogenic in the test subjects, purely because of the local damage they cause in virtue of their massive amounts. Many of these chemicals are well-known for not causing cancer in humans at all.

What increases the risk of cancer in humans is something completely different, and we’ll get to that when we later discuss nutrition and lifestyle.

Of all the substances in our environment, one of the most seriously and lethally carcinogenic is asbestos, and here animal experiments have continuously misled researchers into believing that asbestos was safe simply because lab animals subjected to it did not develop the deadly form of cancer that we have known for decades to plague asbestos workers: mesothelioma. So, thanks to animal research, legislative measures to ban asbestos were delayed in the West by several decades, while workers and their families kept getting ill with asbestosis and tumors which could not be replicated in animals and therefore, so researchers thought, animal experiments had not “validated” the asbestos-mesothelioma causal connection.

Cancer research on animals

Cancer research on animals consists in taking healthy animals, mostly rodents, and trying to make them ill with cancer by various artificial means, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, in order to test on them possible treatments designed for humans. When researchers “luckily” succeed in making a healthy animal develop cancer, the tumor is not the same as the human one that it is supposed to model.

First of all, the aetiology of the disease is completely different. The causal mechanisms that induce cancer in humans are practically impossible to reproduce in a lab using animals. The most frequent causes of human cancer by far, as we shall see in more detail when we examine lifestyle, are smoking habits, bad nutrition choices, alcohol-drinking, lack of exercise, and all of these causal factors accumulate over a long period of time, often a lifetime, gradually and slowly. Lab animals, on the other hand, have to be made sick quickly, and they do not naturally indulge in all those cancer-risky lifestyle habits of which so many humans are so fond. So the means to induce cancer in them are necessarily artificial, different from the human causes, and designed to produce a rapid response.

Some common human cancers, like prostate, rectal and colon cancers, are rare in rats and mice, the cancer researchers’ favourite (most used) species. So experimenters have to labour particularly hard to inflict these tumours on rodents.

Regardless of the causes, moreover, cancer is not the same disease in different species of animals, human included. Cancer is not, strictly speaking, a disease, but an umbrella encompassing several ailments, according to the distribution of the various cancer sites. But animal tumours are not the same entities as human ones, even when they affect the same sites or are given, for reasons of convenience, the same name.

For instance, human bowel cancer affects a different part of the intestines (the colon or large bowel) from rats’ bowel cancer (the small bowel). And the mechanism of colon cancer in the two species is dissimilar: humans die because the cancer metastasizes, namely spreads to other parts of the body, whereas rats die because the colon is obstructed.

So, basically cancer researchers are studying something completely different when they use animals. The latter are not models of human cancer at all.

As a consequence, it should come as no surprise to learn that many of the various cancer treatments making the headlines, which have been tested on animals and found to be effective in them, turn out to be, when later administered to human subjects, ineffective or even harmful.

Human nutrition and lifestyle

We do not yet know how to cure cancer. Despite some improvement in therapy, this often fatal disease remains elusive to understand and refractory to cure. However, we know an awful lot about the risk factors that increase the probability of contracting cancer. Of all the areas of cancer research, the greatest progress has been made in cancer prevention. To stop cancer from developing in the first place remains the best option that we have.

And this, from many viewpoints (except perhaps if you consider laziness, addiction and force of habit), is extremely good news. Because all the major causes, or risk factors, of cancer are entirely under an individual’s control. They all pertain to a person’s lifestyle.

First comes tobacco, by far the major contributing factor to cancer incidence rates.

Then comes diet. We know very well what a cancer-preventing nutrition (and preventing other major diseases too) should be. Medical authorities and health experts advice is simple: avoid completely certain kinds of meat (namely, cured or processed meats like bacon and sausages), eat as little red meat as possible, reduce all types of meat and animal fats, replace them with proteins and fats of vegetable origin, and eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and grains.

And here we come to the other connection between cancer and animal ethics.

It looks like both our health and our morals point in the same direction. There is no real conflict of interests: what is good for us is also good for other animals, who could be spared the life-long torture of imprisonment in factory farms and the short but agonizing experience of the slaughterhouse.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Thalidomide tragedy, side effects, history

Drug testing on animals

What is Thalidomide

Thalidomide was one of the greatest cases in history of a drug disaster tragedy being caused by animal research.

First of all, Thalidomide had been tested on animals extensively prior to its marketing.

Even now, despite the clinical evidence to the contrary, British health authorities like the Medical Research Council maintain that the vast bulk of evidence from laboratory and animal tests is against thalidomide having any genetic effects.

The tragedy caused by Thalidomide in the 1960s was due to its teratogenic effects, ie effects on the foetus. Teratological effects of drugs were little known then. They were brought to public attention because of the Thalidomide tragedy on humans, therefore only after it. How on earth could animal researchers have thought of those effects before the disaster?

Even after the Thalidomide caused birth deformities in humans, researchers tried to reproduce the same effect in dozens of species of lab animals without success.

Take a look:

"As a consequence to the thalidomide tragedy there has been a marked upsurge in the number of animals used in testing of new drugs. Also drugs are now specifically tested on pregnant animals to supposedly safeguard against possible teratogenic effects on the human foetus. Vivisector's claim that if such tests were carried out prior to thalidomide's release, birth deformities in humans would have been discovered. This is of course sheer nonsense. 'In pregnant animals, differences in the physiological structure, function and biochemistry of the placenta aggravate the usual differences in metabolism, excretion, distribution and absorption that exist between species and make reliable predictions impossible.' (15) (Dr Robert Sharpe, former senior research chemist.)

"In fact when the link between human foetal abnormalities and thalidomide was established (through clinical observation), the world-wide explosion of animal testing, using a large range of species, proved very difficult to duplicate the abnormalities. (16) Writing in his book Drugs as Teratogens, J.L. Schardein observes: 'In approximately 10 strains of rats, 15 strains of mice, eleven breeds of rabbit, two breeds of dogs, three strains of hamsters, eight species of primates and in other such varied species as cats, armadillos, guinea pigs, swine and ferrets in which thalidomide has been tested teratogenic effects have been induced only occasionally.' (17) Eventually after administrating high doses of thalidomide to certain species of rabbit (New Zealand White) and primates could similar abnormalities be found. However researchers pointed out that malformations, like cancer, could occur when practically any substance, including sugar and salt, be given in excessive doses. (16)" [my emphasis]

Thalidomide's history in the USA

Some apologists of animal experimentation say that the reason why Thalidomide was never approved by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration, the US agency responsible for drugs licensing) in the US is that the FDA reviewer had previous experience in animal research and had refused to clear the drug for sale until better documentation of its effects were provided.

The reality is that the FDA reviewer in question, Frances Oldham Kelsey, had doubts about Thalidomide's safety because of side effects shown in human clinical trials.

The FDA website is very clear on this. In Frances Oldham Kelsey: FDA Medical Reviewer Leaves Her Mark on History it says:

"In December of 1960, three months after Richardson-Merrell submitted its application, the British Medical Journal published a letter from a physician, Leslie Florence, who had prescribed thalidomide to his patients. Florence reported seeing cases of peripheral neuritis, a painful tingling of the arms and feet, in patients who had taken the drug over a long period of time." [emphases added]

And here is another biographical note on Frances Kelsey:

"Dr. Kelsey continued to resist, pointing out in February 1961 that a study in England had indicated the new product caused 'a serious side effect on the nervous systems of patients who took the drug repeatedly,' so she asked for assurances that such side effects wouldn't occur. By May she had developed a theory that if thalidomide caused paralysis of the peripheral nerves, the drug probably would cause greater damage to the developing embryo." [emphasis added]

Better control

The answer is: better control of the effects of medicines after they have been marketed.

"We need to encourage doctors and drug companies to watch for, report and take note of side effects in order to protect patients properly. If proper drug surveillance techniques had been available in the 1960s the thalidomide problem would have been picked up much earlier. We still don't have proper post marketing trials in place." (from the source above)

Testing on humans is going to happen anyway, because any new drug which is marketed is an unknown, due to the unreliability of previous animal testing.

Let me repeat: you cannot make an unreliable method reliable by counterexamples.

Even if you happen to encounter cases where animal tests results have not been refuted by their application to humans, this does not alter the unreliable status of the method.

There are cases where there is a correspondence between human and non-human animals. But how do we know that? Because we transferred the results of animal testing on humans. That is, for all practical purposes, we tested them on humans.

It is an unavoidable fact.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The greatest scientific event of the millennium

Toxicity test rabbitNever before have I had such a clear feeling that animal experimentation has its days counted, and that supporters of vivisection have started seeing the writing on the wall.

As important as penicillin, double helix and computers

The most prestigious scientific body in the world, which advises the US government on scientific issues, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has released in June 2007 a report entitled “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: a Vision and a Strategy”.

The report was commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), another US federal body, responsible for thousands of safety (toxicity) tests on animals each year.

It is nothing short of revolutionary, and whoever knows the facts about animal experiments will realize its immense importance. Especially for people who know how much the American scientific establishment has historically been the most staunch supporter of animal research, this new report will be a blow.

The report’s authors convey very well its revolutionary meaning and the feeling that we have reached a turning point in biomedical research, in the very way they start it:

“Change often involves a pivotal event that builds on previous history and opens the door to a new era. Pivotal events in science include the discovery of penicillin, the elucidation of the DNA double helix, and the development of computers. All were marked by inauspicious beginnings followed by unheralded advances over a period of years but ultimately resulted in a pharmacopoeia of life-saving drugs, a map of the human genome, and a personal computer on almost every desk in today’s workplace.

Toxicity testing is approaching such a scientific pivot point. It is poised to take advantage of the revolutions in biology and biotechnology.”
[emphases added]

The report says:

“Advances in toxicogenomics, bioinformatics, systems biology, epigenetics, and computational toxicology could transform toxicity testing from a system based on whole-animal testing to one founded primarily on in vitro methods that evaluate changes in biologic processes using cells, cell lines, or cellular components, preferably of human origin.” [emphasis added]

Non-animal methods outperform animal tests

The superiority of non-animal methods of testing substances for toxicity to humans, compared to animal methods, is acknowledged by the report:

“The envisioned change is expected to generate more robust data on the potential risks to humans posed by exposure to environmental agents and to expand capabilities to test chemicals more efficiently. A stronger scientific foundation offers the prospect of improved risk-based regulatory decisions and possibly greater public confidence in and acceptance of the decisions.” [emphases added]

The report admits that the current animal method of testing has not been evaluated for its usefulness but rather used by inertia:

”The current system is the product of an approach that has addressed advances in science by incrementally expanding test protocols or by adding new tests without evaluating the testing system in light of overall risk-assessment and risk-management needs. That approach has led to a system that is somewhat cumbersome with respect to the cost of testing, the use of laboratory animals, and the time needed to generate and review data.” [emphases added]

There is acceptance in the report of the well-known problem that the extremely high levels of doses to which lab animals are subjected are a further element of unreliability and lack of predictive value of animal tests, given the huge discrepancy with the actual, much lower, doses of chemicals to which humans are exposed:

“Moreover, the vision will lead to a marked reduction in animal use and focus on doses that are more relevant to those experienced by human populations.” [emphasis added]

The report’s vision is that eventually non-animal strategies will completely replace animal-based toxicity tests and revolutionize safety testing.

The report recommends advanced non-animal methods using in vitro human cell lines in combination with computational methods and epidemiological studies. These new methods should also be employed in other areas of biomedical research currently using animals, and there is reason to hope that the new report may influence that development too.

The reference in the report to “paradigm shift” as the description for the new vision outlined there echoes Brute Science: Dilemmas of Animal Experimentation (Philosophical Issues in Science), a revolutionary book written by a philosopher and a biologist. The book uses science historian Thomas Kuhn’s concept of “paradigm” to explain the “sticky” nature of scientific enquiry, the prevailing scientific dogmatism which often makes change in normal scientific activity between “revolutions” so difficult. That echo seems to indicate that this report has taken on board criticisms made by the anti animal experimentation camp, to which the book generally belongs.

The future has already started

This milestone report comes at a crucial moment in the history of toxicity testing. The European Union has last year approved a new Regulation called REACH (Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals) which will require the largest mass animal testing programme in Europe’s history. It has just started and will see the testing of 30,000 chemicals on an estimated 10 to 50 millions animals.

This programme is closely watched by the US and the rest of the world as a pioneering enterprise. So it is the right moment for Europe to introduce the new methods and the new vision that this report so clearly recommends. Otherwise REACH could be an incalculable waste of money, time, resources without any benefit but possible harm to humans, and a totally pointless, immense source of animal suffering. Non-animal tests would provide more reliable data, produced more quickly and at an enormously lower cost than animal tests.

The “Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: a Vision and a Strategy” report, which has the purpose of guiding future research policy, has already had a momentous application: a Memorandum of Agreement was signed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health on 14th February 2008 aiming to end animal testing of chemicals and drugs.

Another cause for much happiness is that the hugely influential anti-visection Italian-Swiss author, the great Hans Ruesch, who wrote Naked Empress or, the Great Medical Fraud and many other books on animal experimentation, was able to see what appears like the beginning of the end for animal experimentation before he died on 27th August 2007, aged 94. He started me on this path when I was 17 years old and read his books.

This post is also a tribute to his memory. He can rightly be called the founder of the modern scientifically-based anti-vivisection movement. We will continue the fight that he began.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Vegetarian cats

With cats, giving them a meat-free diet is more difficult, whereas it is relatively easy to have vegetarian dogs. But it is not impossible to convert cats to vegetarian nutrition either.

A vegetarian lioness

In the case of felines as well, we have a "wild" model to look to. In America, in the '40s, there was a clamorous case of which the whole country and the world press talked. A lioness, Little Tyke, kept with other animals by a family in a ranch in Washington state, refused to eat meat. Georges Westbeau, her "adoptive father", in the book Little Tyke (A Re-quest book) (originally published by Pacific Press Pub. Assoc., 1956 and now reprinted) recounts that she was an extraordinarily tame animal, who lived in domestic peace with the herbivores of the ranch.

Little Tyke was also exceptionally healthy: one of the most experienced American zoo curators visited her and called her "the best specimen of the species" he had ever seen. The Westbeaus were still worried, because scientists kept saying that a lion cannot survive without meat. But despite their prolonged efforts, they could never make their lioness eat it. When in 1955 Tyke appeared live on the TV programme You asked For It, all America got emotionally involved in this modern tale of the Gubbio wolf. Unusual as the case of Little Tyke is, it clearly shows that even the most carnivorous of animals can live well without meat (and prefer it to boot).

Domestic cats' nutrition requirements

But what about domestic cats? It has long been thought impossible to convert these not easily deterred meat-eaters to vegetarianism. Many of those who accept a meat-free nutrition for dogs do not consider it suitable to cats. In this field we must thank Barbara Lynn Peden, an American supporter of a vegan diet for dogs and cats, who did not give up but started a really pioneering work. The book she wrote, Dogs & cats go vegetarian, documents the struggle she fought with tenacity and determination to solve the problem of finding a balanced diet for domestic felines without resorting to animal foods.

Her research starts with the recognition that cats do have special nutritional requirements. First of all they cannot transform beta-carotene, which is found in plants, into vitamin A (as do humans and dogs); therefore they need a pre-formed source of vitamin A. This problem has not presented great difficulties, though, because, even if a direct vegetable source of vitamin A does not exist, it's easy to find it as a nutrition supplement in tablets.

More complicated has been the question posed by taurine, an amino acid not essential for humans, whose body can synthetize it, but essential for cats. After months of research and toil among scientific literature, transoceanic conversations with biochemists and discussions with vets and dietologists, the obstinate Barbara has succeeded in finding a totally vegan source of taurine, first in an petroleum by-product and then in an organic, renewable resource.

The other two nutrients which have demanded a special enquiry and a series of trial and error attempts have been the arachidonic acid, a fatty acid which generally mammals (but, alas, not cats) synthetize from linoleic acid, and another fatty acid of the series ¤ë3 (omega 3). Both are present in the seaweed Ascophyllum.

How to turn cats vegetarian or vegan

So, after all the obstacles had been overcome, Barbara Lynn Peden has put together these substances in one supplement, and called it "Vegecat". This only needs to be added to the pussy's meal. Furthermore, to make it even more precise, Barbara and her husband have developed a series of recipes on the computer, using a model of 47 nutrients taken from the latest knowledge on cats' nutrition (the same has been done for dogs). They have selected easy to find ingredients, like soya, rice, hazelnuts, wholemeal bread, oats, oil, vegetables, brewer's yeast, and have come out with a variety of recipes suited to every kind of vegetarian nutrition: lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, vegan and crudist. The nutrients which were not to be found easily in the foods themselves have been added to the supplement Vegecat, so that to use the latter and to follow the recommended recipes guarantees a balanced and complete diet. Vegecat can be ordered from the Vegan Society or directly from the American producers.

Kitties, as everyone knows, are a bit fussy about food, and it's not easy to get them to change even a tinned food brand. Vets call the attachment to a particular food "fixed nutrition preference", and recommend a gradual change to something new. The ideal would be to add some of the new food to the old one, and then increase the dosage little by little, until one is totally replaced with the other over a few days.

Barbara Peden has the following advice to give: "One recipe may be preferred over another. Our own cat ate her lentil-based food just fine for many months, until we tried chickpeas. We found that she likes chickpeas so well that, if we gave her lentils after that, she'd 'hold out' for chickpeas. So, try different recipes until you find one he likes".

Although many are still perplexed, the view that cats, respecting the due precautions, can be vegetarian is now accepted by various scientific literature, among which a recent report of the United States' National Research Council, which says: "A pure source of taurine can be added to vegetable diets... A much higher level of zinc is needed if a dietetic regime of vegetable protein is followed".

UK government’s animal experimentation cover-up is unlawful, court rules

Making decisions on animal research is impossible if the relevant information is not disclosed. This is true for decisions to be made both in public policy and by the so-called people in the street.

This is why this recent event is an important victory.

The UK’s Information Tribunal on 30 January 2008 ruled that the government’s
withholding the details of the animal experiments it licenses in the country is against the law
because it violates the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), introduced in January 2005.

The case was brought by the BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) after the Home Office refused to reveal basic information about animal experiment licences: experiment’s purpose, what is to be done to the animals, how the applicants proposed to limit animal suffering and, crucially, how they proved it was essential to use animals rather than alternatives in their intended experiments. The BUAV was not looking for information on who is involved or where the research is occurring.

This ruling now means that the government will have to disclose much more information about what is done to laboratory animals, for what purpose, and what consideration has been given to non-animal alternative methods.

Andre Menache said in an interview:

“The other difficulty especially in the UK is this obsession with secrecy. The Freedom of Information Act came into effect in 2005 with respect to animal experimentation. I can tell you that the Home Office simply laughs in your face when you try and obtain information from them about animal experiments using the Freedom of Information Act. They simply say, ‘Sorry we have this information but we can't give it to you because of the activities of a small group of people who may endanger the safety of the researchers and institutions.'

“All this talk about transparency I'm afraid it's not happening and if it is happening then it's not happening fast enough. I would say transparency is a good thing but it's like passing a law which sounds good but it's unenforceable.”

Maybe now we can be a bit more optimistic than that.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Animal experimentation public opinion. An Update

Painful experiment on dog
A mixed bag of updates on the front of public opinion on animal experiments.

UK opinion polls on animal research

A UK national public opinion poll conducted by YouGov and published on 23rd July 2007 showed that 80 per cent of the British public supports a ban on experiments which cause suffering to animals.

The poll was sponsored by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Before regarding this as a victory for the anti-vivisection movement, we should consider that results of opinion polls tend to vary according to on whose behalf the research is conducted.

A similar UK national poll conducted by TNS and commissioned by the BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) in 2003 revealed that 76 per cent of the British public thinks that the Government should, as a matter of principle, prohibit experiments on any live animals which cause pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.

At the same time that the BUAV survey was conducted, other vivisection opinion polls were giving very different results. The reason of these variations lie in the way questions are formulated and how sympathetic to a certain cause the questioner is, because this latter fact influences the respondent’s answer by creating a certain expectation.

Besides, on the subject of animal research the people who have definite views - always against or always in favour - are few, with the absolutely favourable ones being fewer than the absolutely opposed. The vast majority do not have enough knowledge of the topic to develop an informed opinion, and therefore are particularly susceptible to the wording of the question because in that wording a certain amount of information is perceived to be hidden and a guide to the answer is found. Usually questions on complex issues like this are preceded by a statement, which gives away the position of the questioner but at the same time is used by the people polled as a help in making up their mind.

Consider this question:

“Non-animal research methods have replaced many tests previously done with animals. These are used if the Government judges them to be as good or better than animal methods.
The organisation PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) estimates that the Government spends up to £10 million each year on developing non-animal research methods and that the Government's total science research budget is around £5,000 million per year.
On the basis of this information do you think the Government should:
Increase the allocation of funds for developing non-animal research methods
Leave the funding unchanged
Decrease the allocation of funds for developing non-animal research methods
Don’t know”.

Now consider this:

“How strongly do you agree or disagree with this statement: I agree with animal experimentation for all types of research where there is no alternative?”

The first gives ample information that strongly suggests that animal experiments could be replaced if only there were a political will. The second does not seem a “leading question” as the other does, but it is exactly that, only more subtly, because it assumes, and conveys the impression, that there are cases where no alternative to animal experimentation exists, whereas this is entirely to be demonstrated; however, only a respondent who has devoted time and effort to study the issue would spot that (or a respondent intelligent enough to understand that the question’s underlying assumption is wrong in principle, even before one knows the relevant facts).

The lesson to learn from all this is that public opnion on this issue is not easy to assess without a bias inherent in the method of assessment which will skew the results (who is familiar with Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics will see here another example of the observer’s interference with the subject). So, when for instance animal experimenters and their apologists make statements about widespread public support for animal research, we must remember that the members of the public are only responding to the sort of data (or pseudo-data) that they are feeding them.

USA opinion polls on health charities and animal research

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, in July 2005 another poll conducted in the USA found that 67 percent of people said they were more likely to donate to a health charity that has a policy of never funding animal experiments than to one that does and 57 per cent said they would never donate to a charity that finances animal experiments.

Again, though, the sponsor of this investigation was an organization which opposes animal experimentation, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM).

Two more surveys had been previously conducted on the same subject. All three were held by Opinion Research Corporation International of Princeton, New Jersey, on behalf of PCRM. The percentage of people giving the above answers had increased regularly over the past 10 years, and the highest increase had been among the older generation, since the youngest were already mostly supporting humane donations even in previous polls.

The generation gap is a welcome result, showing that younger people are more opposed than others to animal experiments and therefore indicating a future trend away from support to vivisection.

This age-related difference in response to questionnaires on animal research very probably explains why opinion polls conducted online regularly favour anti-vivisectionist views in comparison with offline ones. The demographics of internet users, who belong disproportionately to younger age groups, are at work here.

This result is in harmony with what we know, i.e. that youngsters are more sensitive to animal issues generally, as other data show, for instance in the much higher percentage of vegetarians among teenagers and people in their 20s than in other age groups.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

End to animal testing historic agreement

A momentous decision of great historic significance has been made by three US agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Toxicology Program (NTP) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

On 14th February 2008 these government agencies have signed a “Memorandum of Understanding”, i.e. a legal document about an agreement among parties, aiming to end animal testing of chemicals and drugs for human use. The implementation of this ambitious plan will take years, but it is certainly an earthshattering event.

Considering that the USA is the country where the highest number of animal experiments are performed in the West (although, as always with vivisection, the exact figures are difficult to know) and the one whose scientific community has the greatest power, and also considering that these three agencies have been among the biggest funding bodies of animal testing, the news seems almost too good to be true.

But it is true. It appears that the various scientific inadequacies, best summarized in the lack of predictive value, of the animal experimentation method have finally been acknowledged by American regulatory agencies at the federal level.

Even the head of the NIH's National Human Genome Research Institute, Francis Collins, is involved in the new plan and said in reference to animal testing: “It was expensive, time-consuming, used animals in large numbers, and it didn't always work” [notice that wonderful use of the past tense].

PETA thinks that his invovement is a good sign, and adds: “…it’s going to take an intense, focused effort on the scale of the human genome project to get the job done.”

The federal agencies' new agreement is the product of work started in cooperation in 2005 by the EPA and the NTP to speed up toxicological testing. The recent, breakthrough decision was preceded last June by a study by the US National Research Council, which shows that a clear change of direction has been taking place. The study said:

“Recent advances in systems biology, testing in cells and tissues, and related scientific fields offer the potential to fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested for risks they may pose to humans. …The new approach would generate more relevant data to evaluate risks people face, expand the number of chemicals that could be scrutinised, and reduce the time, money, and animals involved in testing.”

There is a reference here to the non-animal methods which, according to the newly-announced agreement, will replace animal testing: essentially, in vitro cultures of human cells and tissues and computer-driven testing machines.

The EPA has already started evaluating 300 chemicals with the new techniques.The first phase should be finished this year, saccording to the director of the National Center for Computational Toxicology Robert Kavlok.

Thousands of chemicals can be tested at the same time by a method that uses a glass tray with 1,536 tiny wells with the width of a fraction of a millimeter. Each well holds a few hundred human cells grown in a test tube. A testing machine, guided by a computer, drips a different chemical into each well and after some time it shines a laser through each well to count the remaining cells. A computer analyzes the toxicity of each compound depending on how the cells react. All the data discovered will be put into a public database.

The agencies will begin by testing compounds previously tested on animals to confirm that the alternative tests using cells are accurate.

The best piece of news is perhaps all in this comment by Elias Zerhouni, director of the NIH. He said that animal testing won't disappear overnight, but the agencies' work signals the beginning of the end.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Carcinogens, food poisoning and meat

Cancer-causing substances

Meat contains a number of carcinogens. These include the nitrites used in meat processing, and residues of the many antibiotics routinely used in modern factory farming. Hardly surprising, then, that vegetarians have a 30% lower cancer rate than meat eaters, although carcinogens are not the only reason of this great difference in cancer incidence between the two groups.

Plant foods contain several substances which are believed to protect against cancer. Indoles, lignans, isoflavones, protease inhibitors and others have all been shown to be potent anti-carcinogens and may play an important role in the lower cancer incidence among vegetarians.

In contrast, cooked meat and fish contains carcinogens known as heterocyclic amines (HAs). These are present at high levels in the urine of people consuming cooked meats and have been shown to be metabolically active in humans. Evidence suggests meat-derived HAs may play a role in breast, colon and pancreatic cancer (Snyderwine 1994).

Food Poisoning

Studies have demonstrated that 53% of bovine carcasses and 83% of pig carcasses were contaminated with E coli. 18% of raw chicken from Britain and 64% of imported poultry contained salmonella. In a 1996 study, more than half of UK-bred chickens purchased from retail outlets contained campylobacter.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are more than 20,000 E. coli infections from meat every year in the United States.

Meat and milk account for most of the food poisoning in Britain, some of which lethal. Bacteria, which become resistant to the antibiotics that are continually pumped into farm animals, are passed on from livestock to human consumers, along with foecal contamination. Many cows in Britain's herds are infected with mastitis, the catarrh-like discharge which is not curbed by antibiotics. British milk is among Europe's worst: a diluted solution of hormones, antibiotics and pus.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Mesothelioma and asbestos

What is mesothelioma?

Mesothelioma is a form of malignant cancer affecting the mesothelium, a protective lining that covers most internal organs of the body. The mesothelium has different names in different parts of body.

The disease’s most common forms are peritoneal mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma. In the former, cancer cells develop in the peritoneum, the lining of the abdominal cavity.

In the latter, which is the most widespread form of mesothelioma, the affected site is the pleura, the membrane surrounding the lungs and lining the chest cavity.

Mesothelioma is a rare cancer, which in humans is almost invariably caused by exposure to asbestos, a material used in various sectors, in particular in the building industry. Most people (70-80 percent) who develop malignant mesothelioma have worked in jobs where they inhaled or were exposed to asbestos particles, asbestos fibres and dust.

As in all cancers, in both peritoneal mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma cells multiply in excess and without control.

Mesothelioma prognosis is usually not good; it is a fatal disease, and death often occurs within twelve months after diagnosis.

Mesothelioma treatment exists, in the forms of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy, but it has not so far been successful. Mesothelioma is generally resistant to treatment.

Malignant mesothelioma and asbestos: what delayed recognizing the link?

The link between cancer and asbestos in humans became known on the basis of clinical studies in the early 20th century, so much so that the first lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers were in 1929.

Following this discovery, researchers extensively tried to induce cancer in laboratory animals by exposing them to asbestos. The results of animal experiments were disappointing, because the painful lesions which were produced in animals disappeared after asbestos was withdrawn, so in them, unlike in humans, the disease was not permanent.

The current prevailing paradigm of biomedical sciences is such that only tests on animals in laboratory conditions can confirm or disproof a hypothesis. This is what scientists have been trained to believe. So if, say, a correlation between a chemical substance and the development of a disease is observed in human subjects through clinical studies of patients or epidemiological studies (surveying large numbers of people), that is not considered scientific evidence until it is “validated” on some other animal species in the controlled conditions of a lab.

This reliance on animal research has had the effect that the biomedical establishment did not believe in the link between asbestos and human cancer for several decades.

In 1965 the Annals of the New York Academy of Science “reassuringly” wrote:

“…a large literature on experimental studies has failed to furnish any definitive evidence for induction of malignant tumours in animals exposed to various varieties and preparations of asbestos by inhalation or intratracheal injection”. [my emphasis]

But the human-based evidence continued to grow. Many epidemiological studies have over the years established an association between exposure to asbestos and the development of several conditions, including diffuse pleural thickening, lung cancer, carcinoma of the larynx, asbestosis, gastrointestinal tumours, peritoneal mesothelioma and pleural mesothelioma.

The link between asbestos and mesothelioma was finally accepted and led to legislation banning asbestos in many Western countries.

But it was only in the late 1970s and 1980s that this occurred. In 1989 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned all new uses of asbestos.

So animal tests delayed the introduction of these safety laws by several decades. This is a recurring pattern: something similar happened when animal experiments failed to confirm a connection between smoking and lung cancer in humans, and preventative measures in that area were delayed by many years.

Mesothelioma symptoms may appear as long as 30 to 50 years after exposure to asbestos. This explains why, despite a ban on asbestos use in the West, the incidence of malignant mesothelioma is still increasing.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The half vegan monks who are the world's healthiest people

In Italy we have a saying which translates into English as “discovering hot water”, i.e. discovering the obvious.

The medical world has recently found, through a series of in-depth, comprehensive studies including a 10-year study, that one of the healthiest groups of people on earth eats fresh food, mostly vegetables, fruits, pulses and grains, in moderation, in a stress-free environment, within a close supportive community.

These lucky guys are the monks of Mount Athos, in Greece.

They are vegan for more than half of the year, and predominantly vegetarian the other half.

Despite their average venerable age, the 2,000 monks living in 20 ancient monasteries have virtually no heart disease, no cardiac arrests and no strokes, a zero-incidence of Alzheimer’s disease which astonished the researchers conducting the various studies, and unusually low rates of cancer, which in the case of prostate cancer is 4 times lower than the international average. The latter finding is even more remarkable when you know that the monks in that particular investigation were aged between 50 and 104. Their rates of lung, bowel and bladder cancer are zero.

Mount Athos monasteries, called by the British Guardian newspaper “a land without butter”, follow some simple rules.

Monks never eat meat, and only very sporadically eat fish. The bulk of their diet is rice, pasta, bread, pulses, fruits, vegetables, all entirely seasonal and home-grown in the monastery’s gardens.

More than 200 days of the year, including all Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and some religious periods like Lent and Advent, are called “abstention days” and strictly vegan, with only one meal per day.

The rest are non-fast days, on which dairy products, eggs, fish and home-brewed wine can be had. In moderation.

Each meal lasts 20 minutes, after which a bell rings and the monks have to leave the table.

Some of the monks’ favourite dishes are pasta with tomato sauce (who can blame them), rice with boiled greens and leeks, beans with oil, an aubergine, tomato and potato stew called "briam toulou", and chickpea patties.

Since 1994, scientists have regularly tested the monks for cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, some of the West’s most feared diseases, and found astounding low or even zero rates of them.

According to scientists, the single most important factor in the monks’ low cancer incidence is their high intake of plant foods.

Professor Haris Aidonopoulos, urologist at the University of Thessaloniki in northern Greece, said that the key seems to be a diet with plenty of plant proteins, free from meat. It has been proven, he continued, that a dietary intake of protein from lentils and beans prevents the absorption of toxins.

Claire Williamson, nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, concurs: “Using pulses as a source of protein is something we could all learn from. We tend to rely more on meat, fish, eggs and dairy for protein. Pulses are great for variety, and they provide lots of fibre and iron.”

Pulses, like peas, beans, lentils, soya, chickpeas, are also a low-fat source of protein.

Michalis Hourdakis, a dietician with Athens University, added: “Meat has been associated with intestinal cancer, while fruit and vegetables help ward off prostate cancer.”

“The monks have perfected the typical Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruit, vegetables, olive oil, bread, cereals and legumes and low in meat” said Maria Hassapidou, Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at Thessaloniki in Greece. “On Mount Athos, they have gone one step further by forfeiting meat and only occasionally eating fish, which means they have a very low intake of saturated fats and a high intake of Omega-3 fatty acids, both of which help further to prevent the incidence of cardiovascular disease.”

Friday, March 07, 2008

Junk food diet is killing UK's pets, say vets of leading charity

This problem is not strictly speaking an animal rights one, but it shows how bad eating habits are spreading from humans to their non-human companions. Some time ago I would have said that what follows confirms the unhealthy effects of a meat-and-high-fat-based diet on human subjects, but now my awareness that this type of inference does not travel across species differences is more acute and therefore I am more cautious about extrapolating this way.

Huge food portions and junk food are making our pets obese and causing serious illness: this is a warning from one of Britain's leading pet charities, The Blue Cross.

The charity revealed that at least 20% of the pets it treats at its animal hospitals across the UK are now overweight. Indeed the problem is now so great that many Blue Cross hospitals have had to set up weight clinics. The Blue Cross's hospital staff think that the number of overweight pets they see now has more than doubled in the past 10 years.

The problem is so widespread that the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelt to Animals), the British main animal welfare association, has created a special website, for it, http://www.petsgetslim.co.uk: the above picture is its introductory graphic.

Burgers, hot dogs, curries, even baked beans and pizzas are responsible for the increase in pets' weight. High fat, high sugar diets and huge portions of pet food, says the charity, are causing pets to become seriously ill. Most overweight pets will have a health problem which has been caused by or exacerbated by their weight. It's very sad because many of these pets no longer have a decent quality of life as they have great difficulty doing the simplest of things such as walking or breathing.

Vets at The Blue Cross animal hospitals connect the increase in obesity among the British public and the same phenomenon in their pets. Not just cats and dogs - they see overweight budgies and rabbits too. They even had to put a pet rat to sleep after he became so obese from being fed curries that he could barely move: this case exemplifies the extent of the problem.

In the last few years Blue Cross vets have seen a rise in the number of pets with diabetes which they believe is a direct result of diet. Diabetes, respiratory problems, arthritis, heart disease and skin complaints can all be caused by animals being overweight.

The Blue Cross believes that the problem can often derive from a lack of education about which foods are suitable and unsuitable for their pets. Recently at a Blue Cross hospital a client brought her very overweight dog in. The dog had chronic joint problems, not helped by his excess weight, and is on anti-inflammatory drugs to help keep him comfortable. The dog's human companion was adamant that she was feeding her dog a sensible diet. However she did say that she had problems giving her dog the tablets, so every day she bought a chocolate bar to hide the tablets in.

So, there is a need to educate people on what they should and shouldn't be feeding their pets; The Blue Cross's weight clinics have also that function, and the charity has produced leaflets with advice. You can see them on its website http://www.allaboutpets.org.uk where you can also vote in the survey "Is your pet overweight?" which is on its homepage at the moment.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Big changes for free-range hens & chickens in EU law & UK consumers demand

Good news on the free range front for hens and chickens. This year has started on a positive note in Europe and the UK with a series of news that promises well and has seen the involvement of the media in a useful role.

Hens kept in battery cages

EU confirms 2012 ban on battery cages

First, on 8th January 2008 the European Commission has upheld the decision made in 1999 by the European Union when it passed the Laying Hens Directive (1999/74/EC) to ban battery cages for hens by 2012 in all its member states. There will be no postponement, the Commission said in a published report.

There had been fears that the date of 2012 could be delayed, due to pressures from egg industry lobbies in many EU countries that continued for many years. The International Egg Commission had previously issued statements saying that the EU Laying Hens Directive sent a ripple around the world, with the global battery cage industry fearing a domino effect in other countries like the USA, Canada and Australia.

18 million is the number of hens still kept in battery cages a year in the UK, and over 200 million each year in the EU.

The European Commission’s report in January concluded that the cost of switching to cage-free eggs could be less than one cent of a euro per egg, but the higher welfare standards could give EU producers a commercial advantage over non-EU competitors.

“There is clearly a growing market for animal welfare friendly products,” states the report. “Recent Eurobarometer surveys on consumer attitudes to animal welfare revealed that the majority of respondents would be willing to pay more for eggs sourced through animal welfare friendly production systems.”

Explaining the reasons for the decision to uphold the ban, EU Commissioner for Health Mr Markos Kyprianou said: “The commission listened to the demands of EU consumers and has taken concrete action to improve the welfare of laying hens”.

And this brings us to the second good news item which highlights the power of the media when they get involved in animal issues.

Intensive farm of broiler chickens

UK consumers switch to free-range due to media coverage of factory farms cruelty

In the UK there has been a massive change in consumers habits following TV programs and newspaper coverage of poultry factory farming.

In January 2008 Channel 4, a major British TV network, broadcast a series of food programmes with celebrity chefs Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Jamie Oliver launching a high-profile campaign to show the general public what battery cages and broiler sheds mean for the animals. At the same time the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) placed advertisements in national newspapers to create what appeared a coordinated campaign. The Independent, a major UK national newspaper, published secret footage from an intensive farm exposing the cruelty inflicted on broiler chickens.

The effects of this have been huge, and perhaps unpredicted.
Sales of free-range poultry shot up by 35 per cent in January 2008 compared with January 2007, while sales of factory-farmed chickens slumped by 7 per cent, according to a survey by the market research company TNS. The trend has continued throughout February as well.

Supermarkets shelves have been emptied of free-range birds, causing complaints from frustrated shoppers eager to embrace the movement away from factory farming.

The increase in free-range chickens sales would have been even higher if producers had been able to keep up with the demand.

“But the new national sales data suggests that shoppers' priorities have shifted dramatically. If the TNS data was extrapolated to the rest of the UK, it suggests sales of factory-farmed chickens dipped by 10 million, while shoppers bought 4.4 million more free-range chickens. Overall, chicken sales were down by 4.8 per cent, perhaps because many people, when faced with an absence of free-range chicken, simply bought no chicken” writes The Independent.

Sainsbury's supermarket poultry department agreed with the picture of roaring free-range sales: "Sales are up 50 per cent year on year so it means we are selling more free-range than we have ever sold. It's also fair to say sales would have been much greater if we had stock to meet demand."

At the same time, several major British supermarket chains, Sainsbury's, Morrison, Co-op, Marks & Spencer and Waitrose, will stop selling battery eggs or have already done so. Something similar is happening with the sale of intensively-reared broiler chickens. Within just two years, UK supermarkets could be selling only eggs laid by barn, free-range and organic free-range hens. The Co-op has also set a target of 2010 for being cage-free on all egg ingredients of all its own label products.

Hellmann's UK has made a groundbreaking decision to become free-range on all its mayonnaise by June 2008. A company representative had been questioned on its use of battery eggs during one of the Channel 4 programs on factory farming.

The tidal change in consumers demand has made front page news.

Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who hosted some of the anti-factory-farming shows, intends to make a new television programme on chickens later this year. He said: "I am delighted we have helped create this change and I am delighted that, two months after the show, there appears to be no letting up.”