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The importance of bees

There are few creatures as iconic as bees. Regarded as sacred and symbolic by cultures throughout our history, it is in the bee that we see a symbol of all that is pure and natural, as well as reflections of our own social constructs, from the committed worker to the dedicated drone and the majestic queen. The bee acts as a totem for humans – an emblematic depiction serving as a reminder of our ancestry and potential.

Beyond their symbolic value, bees provide a vital function to life on earth, pollinating around a third of all the fruit and vegetables we eat. If humans were to take up the job of pollinating our own crops it would cost the UK alone around £1.8bn a year.

So it should come as a grave concern that there has been an overall decline in both bumble bees and honey bees over the past 50 years. This was highlighted in an independent review of the evidence on the status and value of pollinators published by Defra in 2014 to support The National Pollinator Strategy: for bees and other pollinators in England.

There are a number of factors that experts believe are contributing to falling bee populations. They include habitat loss, climate change, pesticides including neonicotinoids, pests and disease and invasive species. Thankfully however there a number of small things that each person can do to help support bee populations.

  1. Honey bees need beekeepers to help them fight the pests and viruses that are now all too common in their hives.
  2. Encourage bumblebees by building bee homes or just set up some hollow canes to tempt them to come and build their nests.
  3. Planting bee-friendly flowers and plants mean the bees will be able to forage on a wider variety of flora.
  4. Whether it’s a bumblebee or a honeybee – be nice. Don’t swat or kill them and provide sugar water if they need a boost.

According to Albert Einstein, if bees disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live. Ironically the only species that could vanish from the planet and have zero negative effect upon nature would be humans.

Would the world be better ruled by machines?

Would the world be a darker place ruled by robots or are they really our knights in shiny armour? Humanity at the mercy of technology has been a core theme of science fiction for decades, but over the years audiences have seen the origins of this threat gradually shift. From the far reaches of “Forbidden Planet” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” more recent cinema has tended towards presenting a more home-grown menace of Skynet in “The Terminator“, “The Matrix” and even “I, Robot“. But is there really anything to fear? Well, according to the late, great, robotic-voiced Professor Stephen Hawking:

“The development of full artificial intelligence (A.I.) could spell the end of the human race.”

 

This worrying claim is based upon the certain notion of arriving at a point in the not too distant future known as “the singularity” – where A.I. matches and then surpasses human intelligence. At this point, would a machine that can outthink its human master free itself from the shackles of humanity and become something much more powerful (perhaps, even better) than us? Dr. Joanna Bryson doesn’t think so.

A specialist in A.I. at the University of Bath’s Department of Computer Science, Dr. Bryson argues that A.I. and machine learning should not be seen as an intelligent entity in its own right. Bryson thinks we should view it as a tool or extension of humanity which, if managed correctly by us, could offer a huge number of benefits to our world. We are already beginning to see this in intelligent systems that analyse health and environmental data that raise early alarms, machines that operate and respond in dangerous and emergency situations, technology for more safe and efficient self-driving transportation, as well as ‘smart’ information systems such as Siri, Google and Bing.

But to what end? If we are already happy for machines to manage the trivial for us, then why would we not sacrifice an even greater amount of control to systems that operates purely on intelligence and logic? Would it not be more beneficial for us to be governed free of often controversial constraints such as religion, politics, greed, and war? Dr. Bryson doesn’t think so. Not only does she view it as really nihilistic to entertain the idea of machines living for us, but in fact, far from becoming more removed from humanity, Dr. Bryson has presented research that demonstrates A.I. has even started adopting our existing human biases. Her analysis of search engine results revealed that some seemingly neutral search terms deliver results with a greater association of a particular gender or race, for example “technology” often being associated with men and “unemployment” regularly being associated with African Americans. Further examples of A.I. learned bias has also been observed by others, such as ‘Tay’ – a Microsoft developed chat-bot, designed to talk on Twitter like a teenage girl that eventually became obsessed with sex, herself and Hitler.

So, overall, it seems that we’re actually unlikely to see the mechanical colossus of 1950s drive-ins crashing around our cities seeking to “DESTROY ALL HUMANS!”. Bryson believes that it is impossible for A.I. and machine learning to detach itself from the inherent flaws of its creators – humans. This means that it’s all down to us to create a better future – if that is what we want. It is us, as a species, that has the true power, and it is us that needs to learn and grow if we are ever going to be able to fully harness the positive power of the innovative, life and world-altering technology of A.I. Perhaps that is even more scary a thought.

6 health trends for 2017

fitness-fashion

Lifestyle health – incorporating health and fitness into all aspects of our lives is our top prediction for 2017

Another trip around the sun and as much as things change the more they stay the same. But what a year it has been what with Brexit and Trump, each telling us that, for better or for worse, people are no longer willing to be bossed around by the established system. HealthGauge has been out there in the field talking to the gym goers, entrepreneurs, trainers and scientists all year long and core to many of the trends we are observing is a realisation that our modern, highly technology focused lives, whilst in some ways more convenient, do also come at the cost of our mental and physical wellbeing. 2017 could see a further “rage against the machine” as more of us try to reclaim what being human is meant to be about.

1. Lifestyle Fitness

Lifestyle fitness is a mega-trend that continues to reshape western society. Health and fitness is no longer isolated to single, purpose specific, products, places and events, but rather it touches every part of our lives:

1.1 Fit is the new cool – Whilst fitness wear of the past featured scruffy looking tracksuits that came off in the changing room and stayed off, modern fitness wear continues to make waves in the world of fashion. Pushing in two directions, fitness related items such as yoga pants and trainers have become accepted as a key feature of modern fashion, with women’s trainers even outselling high heels. Whilst at the high-end of fashion there are a growing number of designers joining the likes of Yohji Yamamoto and Kanye West in creating designs with inspiration rooted in sportswear. The further expansion and integration of activewear into modern fashion is a dead cert.

1.2 Gyms are the new nightclub – Putting aside the superficial similarities of dreadful European house music, women covered in make-up and guys posing for one-another in vests, gyms have started to usurp the nightclub in terms of their social relevance. Instagram, the loathsome window into the souls of the vacuous and self-obsessed, is chockablock with the selfies of gym rats, whereas it’s been a decade since anything associated with clubbing has been seen in a positive light. Gyms and fitness groups are the places that people go not just to get fit but to socialise with friends, make new ones and then tell the world about it. 2017 could see new developments in this space as owners and hosts realise the potential value in the growing cultural significance of these environments.

1.3 Fitness vacations – The idea of working out whilst on holiday still sounds as mad as a box of frogs but the concept is catching on. Again, a shift in what is considered cool may be playing a part. Ibiza, once the spiritual home of Balearic house music and the place to be up until circa 2000, has along with the music lost its cool. For those past spewing up a litre of vodka over the glittery shoes of Geordie girls at Lineker’s Bar, a holiday that actually makes feel good does have growing appeal.

1. 4 Fit for life – One major shift between generations is an improved awareness of health. We are now inundated with more accurate health information and advice than ever. The false information and “wives tales” that our parents lived by, comfortable in the certainty of “getting old gracefully”, just doesn’t scan with generation x. Sure there are more people than not who choose to ignore this information, but many are taking it on board and making lifelong commitments to live as long and strong as is currently humanly possible.

2. Plant sources

The scourge of the veganazi is an annoyance that we must endure for the time-being, but in spite of this fad, which is certain to die down in due course, the appeal of plant source foods looks certain to grow across the board. Many of us are embracing the endless benefits of plant-based foods as a lower cost, environmentally sustainable and animal-friendly source of quality nutrition. We have already seen coconuts sweep across the food market, but the next big hitter is looking to be plant waters as they offer a neutral taste that works both on and off the field with the added natural benefits extra antioxidants and natural minerals.

ray by misfit3. Technology takes a back seat

The fitness world loves to sell us loads of useless garbage that it convinces us we need in order to stay healthy. The truth is that if you want to know whether or not you’ve been eating too much or working out too little, all you need is to stand naked in front of a mirror. Sure we loved the Nike+ Fuelband when it came out but the world has changed and people now want a more discrete form of background health monitoring. This can been seen in the new designs of the Jawbone and Misfit shine which are no longer garish hunks of plastic with flashing lights but rather elegant, solid state accessories. The use of the data we gather is also finding a better function. There is limited value in monitoring yourself on a day to day basis whilst trying to achieve some goal you don’t truly care all that much about. The true value in this data lies is the the long term where it can be used to inform our doctors and enable for medicine to become more preventive and less fatalist. It comes as no wonder that health insurance companies such as Prudential have been keen to issue Apple Watches for free in return for cheaper health insurance.

4. Back to basics fitness

As with technology, many of us have become wise to the gimmick. That ab workout station you bought after watching a 20 minute infomercial that included a full set of Tupperware no longer seems like the wisest purchase after you’ve tripped over it for the hundredth time, despite not even as much as a glimpse of them abs you were promised. We really don’t need all this stuff in order to get fit and people are returning to tried and tested modes of fitness. Classic weight lifting, boot camps and boxing right through to parkour are all booming at the moment because fitness needs to be easily accessible and easy to integrate into our lives without involving winches and pulleys. We expect to see more functional fitness using bodyweight or partner exercises as well as re-functioning our surrounding into a workout environment.

5. People power

Isolation in fitness is to a larger degree seen as an outdated way to workout. This is analogous with how more people are choosing to workout together more often. Group fitness is as strong as ever due to the lifestyle fitness trend and this is also being aided by new social fitness platforms that enable people to break into and share fitness more easily without the restrictions of memberships that separate us. In addition, we are seeing more use of crowd funding to bring new products and services to market.

6. Recover

“Push yourself to the max” and other slogans like it have been thrown around for years, but the reality of pushing yourself to the max “24/7” is that you will inevitably become injured and therefore no longer to be able to walk right let alone push anything to any max. Folks are cottoning on and learning that recovery is an equally important aspect of your fitness game as the work you put in. Foam rolling is a common site in gyms all over and we expect to see further developments in this space in addition to what we are already seeing with the use of electro-stimulation to control and relax muscles after intensive workout

Pulseroll

Should governments put vitamin-d in food?

Vitamin-D can be synthesised via exposure to sunlight and it is also found in lots of animals produce like fish, meat, eggs and milk. The key benefits of vitamin-D are on the density of bones and teeth but it is also thought to helpful in fighting off depression, common sickness such a cold and flu as well as some diseases. Sadly the usual culprit of our modern lifestyles seems to be acting once again to hinder our health by disrupting our vitamin-D intake. Spending more time indoors, in big polluted cities that block out light as our environment as a whole becomes more wet and cloudy whilst we eat less foods rich in the macronutrient.

There have been numerous reports of vitamin-D deficiency, with Public Health England describing the situation as a “pandemic” (read more), and a new review of existing data published in the British Medical Journal estimates that if more food were fortified with vitamin-D it could prevent millions of cases of cold and flu. 25 studies involving more than 10,000 people have shown vitamin-D to be useful in preventing respiratory tract infections, with researchers concluding that fortifying widely eaten foods would improve public health.

Should governments take control of our nutrition?

The idea of government intervention into public nutrition is by no means new. The history of water fluoridation dates back to early 19th century America as an attempt to tackle public tooth decay, despite conspiracy theorists of the 1950-60s claiming it was a communist plot to undermine American public health. As well as water fluoridation, much of modern America’s milk is already fortified with vitamin-D, but should it be a government’s place to intervene in this way?

One could indeed argue that an overall saving could be made through not having to deal with the combined cost of medicine and lost work days to cold and flu or treatment for conditions such as osteoporosis. But what precedent does this set and what are the potential risks?

The UK is already pushing ahead with legislation for a sugar tax to start in April 2018, but why stop there? Why not a fat tax, or a tax on artificial ingredients and additives, perhaps even a tax on the processed meat that the world health organisation classified as a carcinogen in 2015 (read more). In fact why tax at all? Would it not be easier to ban such foods and drive funding directly to more healthy food sources? In the future could we see more drastic interventions as governments try to balance the cost and logistics of maintaining our ever expanding population by feeding citizens on nutritionally approved rations?

The risk that such steps pose is in how they could act to mitigate responsibility for people to understand and manage their own health. Already people are relying more on upon fast and convenience foods as issues such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and obesity increase. A better solution perhaps would be greater investment in education and to provide clear information that cuts through all the noise enabling people to reclaim their own health.

Stand up desks: healthy or hipster?

stand up desks
Around the world’s more cosmopolitan cities, the working environment has gone through something of a transformation. Disney Pixar lead the way by breaking away from the norms of dull, imposing desk and cubicle working spaces to open plan play-pens filled with table tennis, video games and ball pits. Soon to follow were the likes of Google, turning the historically dull domain of web programming into what resembles the brainwashing compound of a Crayola sponsored cult. These days a stroll around the back alleys of San Francisco, London or Bristol will provide glimpses into the world of the co-working hub, where hipsters congregate under the pretence of collaboration, just to sit in what is essentially an office, but one that’s been made to look like your home. Common features of co-working hubs include retro-video game stations, with ornamental Atari 5600s seeing if the can break the high score for dust accumulation, oversized couches so teams of adults can feel like children gathering for story time and the obligatory stand up desk.

Health benefits

Standing desks are not as new as you might think with records of their use dating way back through history with even Leonardo da Vinci being amongst its adopters. Standing desks have gained popularity of late due to purported health benefits, although these benefits have not yet been clearly established and there are no approved health claims that can be associated with their usage. Having said that there are some areas where the potential benefits seem obvious.

First is weight management, as supporting your own bodyweight uses more energy than not. According to recent studies, use of a standing desk increases the heart rate by an average 10 beats per minute equating to an additional calorific expenditure of 20-50 calories per hour which could add up to 306 to 750 calories per week – about the same as a decent gym session.

More importantly is that all this sitting is slowly killing us. Numerous studies all conclude that the more we sit the more we are susceptible to metabolic risk,which is associated with diabetes and heart disease (read more). The more we sit, the higher risk of mortality from all causes.

desk bikeSit down, you’re making me nervous

Remaining active is obviously beneficial to health and our world has become configured to sit us down in one chair or another. You’re either sat around on without a job on benefits or hoping to one day earn enough money so that you just sit around enjoying yourself with daily grind of work a distant memory. But does being active and working in an office really mix?

Whilst activity may offer health benefits, standing idle all day also has its cons. A 2005 Danish study following nearly 10,000 working adults over 12 years found that those who did the most sitting on the job were 44% less likely to receive hospital treatment for varicose veins. On top of that, let’s face it you look daft, like you’re about to perform and impromptu DJ set, whilst missing out on all the fun swinging and swivelling that chairs offer.

Sure we should move more, but activity has a time and a place. Standing desks play into the notion that we are all too busy and must therefore find ways to multitask in order that there be no downtime. It is this mindset – that being seen to be working is of vital importance, that poses the greatest risk. The truth of the matter is we are all most likely working too much, unnecessarily, with half of our time wasted on pointless meetings about things that, in the end, don’t really have that much consequence. We’ve all just bought into this meme of saying how busy we are to cover the fact that we aren’t really doing anything and we don’t want to be seen as time wasters. For most of us our work isn’t all that vital to sustaining the human race. Take a day off and the planet will keep spinning.  In fact taking more breaks and time off has been shown to improve productivity as it allows us to step out of one mental space, review things in terms of the wider perspective, then return refreshed and with a clear plan of action.

Run or ride to work, hit the gym a lunch or in the evening and spend some time milling around, but in the meantime sit down, answer a few emails and stop worrying about trying to everything at once.

Ageing to be cured by 2035

London’s GIANT 2016, an event showcasing the leading technologies, innovations and future opportunities in health technology, opened its conference series with one of the field’s most notable characters.

Aubrey de Grey is an English biomedical gerontologist, currently the Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation. He is also editor-in-chief of the academic journal Rejuvenation Research, author of The Mitochondrial Free Radical Theory of Aging and co-author of Ending Aging.

Known for his view that medical technology may enable human beings alive today to live indefinitely, Aubrey’s lecture opened by addressing attitudes to aging and how the common acceptance that age-related degeneration is an inevitability that we must simply accept as part of being alive. He argues that, like any complex machine, the human body might be spared the scrapyard if adequate efforts are put towards maintenance. And by maintenance De Grey does not mean the slight diet changes that provide a slight boost to longevity, but rather fully repairing damage to the entire body at a cellular level.

Explaining the theory of how a gerontologic approach would enable humans to live for an indefinite period, Aubrey went on to share his frustrations as to the lack of progress that has been made in this area whilst geriatric medicine, focused upon managing degeneration and death, receives huge sums of money every year yet provides only marginal benefits to life extension.

Aubrey pushed for a combination of research, investment in research and a change in attitudes if we are to begin reaching “escape velocity” in the next 20 years.

Vegan vs Omnivore

Having explored the animal welfare, environmental and health implications of vegan and omnivorous diets, within the context of the modern world, one stands as a clear winner in terms of having less of harmful impact upon the planet.

Leave that animal alone

Were we all to take on board the lesson that a parent teaches a child when telling them to “stop chasing that pigeon”, then our relationship with nature would be transformed.

By abstaining from the exploitation of animals veganism would, in theory, provide a compelling solution to the lion’s share of the world’s animal welfare issues. If humans no longer took an interest in animals as a commodity and left them to roam the earth, then this would massively reduce the amount of harm that comes to them. Even the potential for humans to cause unintentional harm to animals by way of such factors as oil slicks or de-habitation through building development would be reduced in a truly orthodox vegan world as greater preventative measures would be taken.

Natural omnivorism (i.e hunter-gatherer behaviour), remains true to nature in the intrinsic order of the natural food chain with the apex predator residing at the top, whilst the position of vegans stands to circumvent this. But in the context of the modern world, it is neigh-on impossible to maintain an omnivorous livestyle in perfect balance with nature unless you live on a nature reserve or as part of an indigenous tribe.

Organic free-range farming has the potential to provide animals with happy lives but in some cases (e.g chicken and egg production), a huge number of unnecessary animal deaths are unavoidable under any system. The fact of the matter is that the priority for most of the population are factors such as taste, quantity and cost, which funds a factory farming system with interests centred purely on profit margins and reducing the costs that higher welfare standards demand. Until omnivores universally reject factory farmed food and accept the cost for free-range organic, there can be no progress on animal welfare.

“Saving” the world

With the announcement that the planet’s atmosphere has crossed the 400ppm carbon tipping point, there has been a bleak shift in how environmental conversation is discussed. Future strategies seem to no longer focus on saving the planet but rather slowing the rate of decline as perpetual climate change now seems an inevitability. But in the meantime, as we remain optimistic that science might yet find a solution, how can we act to slow the rate of environmental decline?

As with animal welfare, our dysfunctional relationship with nature is central to the damage we have caused to our environment. As hunting and gathering became farms and then factories we have lead ourselves down the dead-end of our own demise. The systems designed to feed the world’s exponentially growing population are amongst its biggest polluters using up water, energy and land resources whilst simultaneously pumping out billions of tonnes of CO2 into the air as well as animal waste and chemicals into our rivers and oceans.

Side by side comparison places veganism as hands down winner when it comes to the environmental impact. Livestock production uses many times more resources and generates many times more pollution than plant-based agriculutre. There is no denying that a reduction in the consumption of animal products would reduce human impact on the environment.

The nutritional chasm

Comparing vegan to omnivorous diets is a no brainer. To eliminate completely highly nutritious foods that offer an abundance of health benefits, many of which that are exclusive to animal products, puts vegans at a disadvantage. Vegan campaigners often claim that nutrient quantities can be matched but on closer inspection, the macro-nutrient quality is not equivalent. Certainly, there are benefits from eating more vegetables but this is not something veganism offers exclusively as omnivores can eat anything vegans can.

Aiming to get as much of our nutrients as possible from whole, minimally processed food sources is a universal recommendation and for vegans where this isn’t always possible, supplementation is recommended to fill nutritional gaps in one’s diet. Whilst it is not impossible to get all the nutrients one needs from a plant based diet, it can be difficult to achieve optimum nutrition on plants alone.

Moving forwards

What we learn from examining and comparing these lifestyles is that there are many ways can move forwards both individually and as a whole.

Vegans could aim to adopt a less aggressive attitude in how they adopt the lifestyle, eating more local and seasonal foods whilst avoiding soy and “fake” processed food. The use of supplements to fill dietary gaps is also recommended.

For omnivores there must be more emphasis on taking responsibility for the food we eat, prioritising quality, animal welfare and environmental credentials over cost.

Universally the common threat is factory farming and eating foods which either due to design, production, transportation or processing causes cruelty to animals, environmental destruction and damages our health.
For all of us combating the overeating of meat choosing instead to eat meat of a higher quality, as well as local, organic and GM free foods would be a step in the right direction.

Is Pokémon Go good for you?

Pokemon Go Map

Pokemon Go maps the game world onto the real world encouraging users to get out and explore


Pokémon Go has been a surprise, slam-dunk, app-sensation for Nintendo, estimated to have overtaken Twitter’s 65 million active user base in just 7 days. It comes as a huge boost adding $9 billion to the market value of a company that in recent years has slipped into niche obscurity within its traditional market. In fact, its most recent platform the Wii U, launched in 2012, delivered the least unit sales of any Nintendo console in the company’s history.

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is a free gaming app that combines a number of mobile technologies. Once the app is downloaded onto a smartphone, it integrates with Google Maps, appropriating the real world as the gaming environment. Users must then physically travel to points on the map where Pokémon are set to spawn, with their location verified via GPS. Once in range, the phone’s camera is used to provide an augmented reality projection of a Pokémon, which you must then capture, enabling for it to be used in battles against other user’s Pokémon.

Pokemon Go Plus

Go play outside

Rather than games and mobile devices acting to promote sedentary behaviour, Pokémon Go has the reverse effect.
When developing Pokémon Go, the Nintendo/Google collaboration Niantic Labs intentionally designed the app to promote physical activity. The key physical benefit is that users are required to go outside and walk several kilometers in order to both catch Pokémon, as well as using activity tracking inputs to incubate and hatch eggs. This is perhaps the most revolutionary move in gaming since Nintendo’s Wii (codenamed project revolution), introduced motion control. Both Jawbone and Cardiogram for Apple Watch have recorded that activity from average Pokémon Go users almost doubled.

One issue that arises through such extensive use of mobile technology is the drain on the battery. To overcome this Nintendo is also launching the Pokémon Go Plus – a wearable device that is essentially an activity tracker, allowing for users to shut down the app on their phone whilst still recording motion in order to hatch eggs.

Go meet people

An unexpected benefit of the app is amongst users suffering autism or social anxiety. By forcing players outside of their isolated comfort zone, the game provides enough distraction from their fears and inner monologue to enable people to break free and interact with other humans. What’s more, these interactions are far more friendly than the troll infested game lobbies of XBox shooters. The majority of Pokémon Go players are actually in their 20s and what we are seeing is a “rise of the nerds”, commonly experienced at college, where activities disregarded as weird and geeky by teens are later enjoyed and celebrated as young adults. This is true social gaming the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the arcades of the 80s.

Go carefully now

Whilst Pokémon Go has its benefits there have been cases of users being injured due to misadventure. The act of walking around a real work environment full of traffic, trip hazards and unscrupulous people, whilst staring at a phone may, of course, result in some users coming a cropper. Some criticism has also been leveled at the developers for locating some spawn point in places that may be unsafe for some users (i.e children going to remote locations). There are also the sedentary diehards for whom the prospect of catching a rare and distant Pokémon doesn’t involve a nice walk, but rather another drive in the car.

But overall Nintendo has once again opened a new world of possibilities which could spell further health benefits for users and we can’t wait for some mushroom-fuelled Mario Parkour.

Tesco to stop selling caged eggs by 2025

Battery Chickens

Image courtesy of Farm Sanctuary

Tesco has today announced that it is to stop sourcing eggs from caged hens by 2025. This comes after the retailer conducted a detailed review of its egg sourcing strategy, which included consultation with suppliers, industry experts, and other key stakeholders.

The move is the latest initiative designed to ensure Tesco sources products in a sustainable way. Tesco recently launched its Fair For Farmers Guarantee for fresh milk which demonstrates how every own label pint of milk helps support British dairy farmers. Tesco has also introduced guaranteed high-value contracts for British potato growers, and sustainable farming programmes for lamb farmers and producers of cheese.

Earlier this year the supermarket launched new fresh produce ranges, including a number of Farm Brands and its Perfectly Imperfect range, which allows Tesco to take more fresh produce from British growers – up to 95 percent of their crop. Tesco has also pledged to source more of the seafood it offers customers in a sustainable way, in partnership with the Marine Stewardship Council.

Matt Simister, Tesco’s Commercial Director for Fresh Food said:

“Our decision on caged hens is one of a number of Tesco initiatives designed to ensure sustainable sourcing, and improve animal welfare… We carried out an extensive and collaborative review with our suppliers and key industry experts to help us work through how best we can move to 100% cage-free eggs. This will ensure we give our supplier partners the certainty they require, to make the significant and necessary investments needed for the new farming systems.”

Working with supplier partners, Tesco will transition to 100% cage-free eggs, moving to alternative sourcing methods, such as barns, free range and organic. At present, some 43% of the 1.4 billion eggs sold by Tesco each year come from caged eggs, also known as enriched colonies. Some 57% of eggs sold by Tesco in the UK come from Free Range or Organic methods.

Life without plastic

Lego nature

Image courtesy of Kyle Hale

The well-known documentary “Plastic Planet” by Werner Boote starkly illustrates the dangers of plastic and synthetics for human beings and also shows how ubiquitous plastic is. Motivated by this multiple award-winning film, a family of five from Styria completely avoided plastics in their home environment for several months. Environmental medicine experts from MedUni Vienna monitored them and analyzed their urine samples at the start of the experiment and again two months in. The main finding of this human biomonitoring study: even if one avoids plastics as far as possible in the home, a certain amount of exposure is inevitable from chemicals and from the environment. The study has now been published in the leading journal “Environmental Research”.

In the middle of November 2009, family K started to eliminate plastics from their home, the first experiment of its kind in the world. All everyday items made of plastic were replaced by corresponding plastic-free products, as far as possible. This even went as far as replacing plastic toothbrushes with toothbrushes made from wood and animal hair (pig bristles). At the same time, they took great care only to eat food that had not (or hardly) been in contact with plastic.

Hans-Peter Hutter of MedUni Vienna’s Institute of Environmental Hygiene, explains:

“There are many aspects to the plastics problem. It concerns not only plasticizers (phthalates) but also flame retardants, fragrances and dye-stuffs. For example, even very low concentrations of phthalates can affect essential biological processes such as enzyme activity or the hormone system”

The family’s morning urine was measured at the start of the experiment and after a two-month period, during which they had avoided plastics at home – this only being possible to a limited extent at work and in school – to measure 14 phthalate metabolites and Bisphenol A (BPA), which have a health impact. The outcome: even though they avoided every possible contact with plastics at home, they still had a certain bioburden, so that the health effects are minimal. Hutter: “The experiment and study show: there is no way for us to avoid this exposure.” Moreover, the family in question was already very aware of following a healthy lifestyle, so that their exposure to plastics was already below average. That meant that the plastic avoidance campaign had even less effect upon their bioburden.

Call for a stricter chemicals policy

The environmental medicine experts therefore emphasize that it is very important to redouble efforts to implement a more restrictive chemicals policy, to help avoid plastics in everyday life – not only because of various substances that are harmful to health but also to avoid waste and to avoid spreading these substances into the environment.

In some cases the harmful exposure due to individual products is very small. This has always been the argument put forward by individual companies. However, what is important is the total exposure due to the widespread use of plastics. Nowadays, this is very high. Apart from plasticizers (phthalates), problematic substances include other so-called industrial chemicals, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, nonylphenol and Bisphenol A, which are associated with plastics. This is an area of research that the environmental medicine experts at MedUni Vienna and scientists from MedUni Vienna’s Centre of Public Health have been addressing for a long time.

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