Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Wild-Caught or Captive-Bred Reptile Trade

"The scale is huge, much bigger than people realize"
"This trade is likely having a massive impact on ecosystems and populations of lesser-known animals."
Vincent Nijman, anthropologist, Oxford Brookes University, Britain

"These are the most blatantly questionable cases where we think something must urgently be done."
Mathias Loertscher, Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites)

"At most of these facilities, there was just no evidence of captive breeding actually happening. And at the one where breeding efforts did take place, that only applied to one to three species kept at their facility."
"If you have international demand for a species that only has a very small distribution, you have a big problem."
Mark Auliya, conservation biologist, Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany

"In the Indonesian context, there's a hell of a lot of snakes and reptiles out there, and for most species the issue of laundering through breeding farms is not resulting in negative impacts on populations."
Daniel Natusch, herpetologist, University of Sydney, Australia
Illegally traded green pythons (Morelia viridis) in the black market pet trade. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.
Illegally traded green pythons (Morelia viridis) in the black market pet trade. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

In 2016, Indonesian officials awarded a permit to PT Alam Nusantara based in Jakarta to export 45 "captive bred" echidnas. Echidnas, egg-laying mammals resembling hedgehogs, have produced a dilemma for zoos around the world attempting to breed the little creatures. They are not given to reproducing naturally in environments not their own. Over decades zoos around the world have been able to breed fewer than 50 echidnas. Something doesn't compute there.

Indonesian authorities authorized export of over four million captive-bred animals in 2016 alone. Experts know very well that it would be impossible to secure that number of animals that have been bred in captivity, not trapped in the wild, but taking animals out of their natural habitat is cheaper and far easier than committing to set up breeding operations. Tokay geckos are low-profit animals traded at high volume and as such not good candidates for breeding operations.

Caught in the wild geckos are sold for very low prices. Breeding of one million geckos, a trader would require breeding stock comprised of 140,000 females, 14,000 males along with 30,000 incubation boxes, 12,000 rearing cages and the work of hundreds of employees. Imagining a single facility geared to this kind of production, according to Dr. Nijman, would require an installation "the size of an aircraft hangar", to produce animals that sell for a few cents apiece.

It is not only Indonesia where questionable practices in the trade of animal species sold all over the world as pets occurs, but Indonesia certainly stands out as one of the major offenders in illicit trade. Indian star tortoises from Jordan, red-eyed tree frogs from Nicaragua, and savanna monitors from Ghana and Togo are also exported abroad purporting to be captive-bred, when in all likelihood, according to experts in the field, they are nothing of the sort.

Some 80 percent of 5,000 green pythons exported annually as captive-bred in Indonesia were illegally gathered in the wild, serving to deplete some island populations, cited a study published in the journal Biological Conservation. Dr. Auliya surveyed eleven registered reptile breeding facilities located in Indonesia, only to discover that merely one of them had the potential of being used for anything other than "laundering" wild animals.

Cites' investigations list five cases from Indonesia that have been examined -- the most of any country -- the result being that officials now are required to give proof that animals to be sold abroad such as Oriental rat snakes and Timor monitors have genuinely been captive-bred. Cites has the authority to bar international trade in those species.

Traders are  reliant on Indonesia's Cites authorities for responsible quotas reflecting sustainability to be set, according to Adri Tasma, owner of a reptile farm located close to Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. His installation specializes in green tree pythons. He was permitted the export of two thousand of these reptiles in 2015, but he was also authorized to trade in 45 other species, including critically endangered Sulawesi forest turtles and rare tricolour monitors.

He admitted having no idea why the government gave him permission to export these animals and went so far as to deny ever having sold them, for he had no license to breed or maintain them. The head of Indonesia's captive breeding at the Ministry of the Environment and Forestry explains that his country's quota list is regulated firmly, based on scientific data and that regional forestry officials monthly visit each farm for the purpose of counting breeding adults. The figures they acquire are then used to formalize export quotas ensuring sustainability.
Wild carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) are traded on a legal quota system, but researchers say the quota is often exceeded. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.
Wild carpet pythons (Morelia spilota) are traded on a legal quota system, but researchers say the quota is often exceeded. Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.

A recent study in Conservation Biology however, suggests the number Mr. Wirasena gave of ten percent "laundering" underestimates the problem greatly. Indonesia's quotas, the authors discovered, for 99 of 129 species had been calculated based on biologically impossible parameters. "I know sometimes the traders bribe my staff", Mr. Wiranto, director general of conservation of natural resources and ecosystems said.

In the United States, bearded dragons represent the most commonly sold lizards and there they are captive-bred, all likely descendants of specimens originally smuggled out of Australia. This is seen as a positive turn since the offsprings' availability as captive-bred animals may have resulted in the prevention of animals in the wild being removed. Further, according to some in the field, the pet trade's impact on many species is in fact, negligible.

A study conducted by Daniel Natusch, a herpetologist, conducted in Indonesia, showed that even though pythons were harvested, their numbers and size remained consistent over a two-decade period of study. "We can't only point fingers at Asia and Africa", observed Sandra Alther, a founder of Pro Wildlife, a Munich-based conservation group, "if we're one of the main destinations".

Illegally traded lizards (left to right): black tree monitor (Varanus beccarii), Reisinger's tree monitor (Varanus reisingeri), emerald monitor (Varanus prasinus), and the blue-spotted tree monitor (Varanus macraei). Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons.
Illegally traded lizards (left to right): black tree monitor (Varanus beccarii), Reisinger’s tree monitor (Varanus reisingeri), emerald monitor (Varanus prasinus), and the blue-spotted tree monitor (Varanus macraei). Photo courtesy of Jessica Lyons

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I, Virus

"Unimpeded by friction with the surface of the Earth, you can travel great distances, and so intercontinental travel is quite easy [for viruses]."
"It wouldn't be unusual to find things swept up in Africa being deposited in North America."
"If you could weigh all the living material in the oceans, 95 percent of it is stuff you can't see, and they are responsible for supplying half the oxygen on the planet."
"Viruses aren't our enemies. Certain nasty viruses can make you sick, but it's important to recognize that viruses and other microbes out there are absolutely integral for the eco-system."
Curtis Suttle, marine virologist, University of British Columbia

"Viruses modulate the function and evolution of all living things."
"But to what extent remains a mystery."
Matthew B. Sullivan, Ohio State
Joshua Weitz, Georgia Tech
Steven W. Wilhelm, University of Tennessee
Viruses and bacteria fall back to Earth via dust storms and precipitation. Saharan dust intrusions from North Africa and rains from the Atlantic.  Credit: NASA Visible Earth

More commonly the general layperson knows viruses as an inimical presence to human health. Scientists, however, are learning more about them all the time. Three of whom last year recommended a vigorous new initiative be undertaken to focus on their presence, to enable a greater understanding of viral ecology. Recognized as the elite predators of the world of microbes they cannot reproduce and are co-dependent on a host. When they attach to a host they take over cells and this process is called 'infection'.

This enables the virus to replicate, injecting its own DNA into the host and in the process those alien virus genes become useful to the host, resulting in their becoming an integral part of the host's genome. Research has progressed; recent research identified an ancient virus that at one time inserted its DNA into the genomes of four-limbed animals, the ancestors of homo sapiens. That minuscule part of the genetic code, the ARC, forms part of the nervous system of modern humans playing a vital role in human consciousness; nerve communication, memory formation and higher-order cognition.

Scientists estimate that between 40 to 80 percent of the human genome may have graduated from primitive viral invasions. Understanding the function and ecology of viruses and their prey will eventually enable better understanding of the role they play in the world's ecosystems, so research is geared at factoring their presence into an understanding of a formidable connection in how the world works.

In Spain's Sierra Nevada mountains, a team of international researchers set out to retrieve viruses falling from the sky, placing four buckets in position to gather any possible samples, the thought being that a stream of viruses circle the planet above our weather systems, below the level of height achieved by airplanes. This is an entirely new realm of scientific study. The team of scientists was amazed to collect around 800 million viruses falling on each square metre of Earth, surpassing expectations entirely in a magnitude never imagined.

It has been hypothesized that most of the viruses cascading down onto the Globe, are swept into the air by sea spray, with some of their numbers scattering in dust storms. Dr. Suttle and his team's findings were published in the International Society of Microbial Ecology Journal, the first to actually count the numbers falling to Earth, representing the virosphere. These viruses are held to originate on the planet but become upwardly swept. On the other hand, some researchers hold to the theory they may originate in the atmosphere.

And though viruses equate in most peoples' minds with illnesses like influenza-onset, as infectious agents inimical to people's health, as the most abundant organisms on the planet alongside bacteria, they are essential to existence in countless measure, from our immune system to our gut microbiome, to land and sea ecosystems, climate regulation and species' evolution, all aided by the vast array of unknown genes contained in viruses, spreading and inserting them in other species.

Dr. Suttle's laboratory experiments included filtering viruses out of seawater, leaving behind bacteria. With the viruses absent, plankton present in the water failed to grow, since microbes were not present to liberate nutrients in the organisms they infect. By altering the composition of microbial communities, viruses assist in the balance of ecosystems. A virus attacks algae as it spreads in toxic blooms in the ocean, causing it to explode and die, effectively putting an end to the outbreak.

virus
Credit: CC0 Public Domain     Viruses are the most abundant and the least understood entities on Earth. They might also exist in space, but as of yet scientists have done almost no research into this possibility.
Viruses are the most abundant and one of the least understood biological entities on Earth. They might also exist in space, but as of yet scientists have done almost no research into this possibility.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-01-viruses-space.html#jCp

But while viruses have an undeniably positive impact, they can also become invasively injurious to species, causing changes and leading to extinction. When West Nile virus altered the composition of bird communities, crows died while ravens thrived. Mosquito-borne avipoxvirus spreads into the mountains of Hawaiian forests, once too cold for mosquitoes to thrive.

An example of species' extinction occurred when a viral disease called rinderpest arose when the Italian army brought along a few head of cattle to North Africa in 1887 and the virus spread across the Continent, killing cloven-hoofed animals from Eritrea to South Africa, wiping out 95 percent of herds in some instances. "It infected antelope, it infected wildebeest and other large grazers across the whole ecosystem", explained Peter Daszak, president of Ecohealth Alliance.

Drought exacerbated the situation, the result being that large numbers of people died of starvation in lock-step with the spread of rinderpest killing the animals they depended upon as a food source. Two thirds of the Masai people who depended on cattle, died in 1891. An intensive round of vaccinations helped to completely wipe out rinderpest, in Africa and globally by 2011.

Berliner et al review current virology research pertinent to astrobiology and propose ideas for future astrovirology research foci. Image credit: Arek Socha / FL.
Berliner et al review current virology research pertinent to astrobiology and propose ideas for future astrovirology research foci. Image credit: Arek Socha / FL.

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Monday, April 23, 2018

Teach Who, What?!

"Most of the time, they [high school drug education] would give us these fact sheets on cannabis. Then we'd all take it out to the corner and get high and laugh at it because we thought it was stupid."
"They said if you use at all it's problematic. I knew that wasn't true, because I saw a lot of people using that didn't have a problem with it."
"They [adult authorities] really try to scare you, using fear tactics. So it kind of blurs the line for you: What information can I trust? What kind of things are they lying about?"
"If they would have said, 'If you have mental-health issues you are more likely to use [cannabis] as a coping mechanism', I might have reflected on that."
"I moved out, went to college, left the town where there wasn't much to do. I was just too busy to be getting high and not doing anything."
Heather D'Alessio, 22, Canadian aspiring to university

"The evidence shows that an abstinence, fear-based message does not resonate with the majority of kids. It tends to work best with the kids who are the least likely to use drugs in the first place."
"It's almost saying to kids, 'Look, the way we've communicated with you in the past hasn't always been effective'. Part of that is acknowledging they used to lump it [cannabis] together with every other illicit drug and just say, 'This is your brain on drugs'."
"They need to somehow distinguish their new messaging from that, and say, 'You have to believe it when we say there are additional risks when you use cannabis when you are a teenager and when you are younger."
David Hammond, professor of public health, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario
Pot enthusiasts of all ages gathered below the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill for the annual cannabis celebration known as 4-20. Julie Oliver /Postmedia

When authorities issue warnings of any nature on any topic the usual reaction of teenagers is an automatic suspension of belief, simply because this is the normal way that the teen-age brain assimilates information it rejects out of hand. Any cautions emitted from the mouths of adults are immediately suspect. The reaction that kicks in is one of rejection linked to an instant determination to take on whatever is being warned against.

Canada has the dubious distinction of being recognized as the country with the highest rates of marijuana use in the world. According to Statistics Canada, 20 percent of Canadian youth between the ages of 14 to 19 report having used marijuana at least on one occasion in 2015; it is not the teens who represent the highest users however, but people between the ages of 20 to 25, whose use is close to 30 percent. Since the Canadian government is on the cusp of legalizing recreational marijuana it has launched a new education campaign.
Who uses cannabis?

Pubic health advocates are very well aware of the threat that marijuana use in teenage to the low-20s can represent to the still-maturing brain. They and government are invested in educating young people of the potential dangers inherent in starting and using cannabis at too young an age. Impulsive teens tend to comport themselves as they see fit, however, even with the best-intentioned advice when it runs counter to their values that "everyone does it".

The cannabis-awareness campaigns launched by the federal government and considered a critical portion of the concerned effort to ensure that young people don't accustom themselves to frequent marijuana use once the drug becomes legal, in a sense ignore the fact that even in the current atmosphere of illegality the drug is easily acquired and widely used, by teens and anyone else interested in its narcotic, mind-altering effects.

"We don't know exactly what works in drug education, but we know what doesn't work", stated a cannabis policy researcher, adviser to the group Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy which is geared toward involving youth in the creation and delivery of useful educational programs. As it happens, Heather D'Alessio is also a board member for the student group which produced a tool kit for educators and parents on cannabis education.

Among other issues addressed in the tool kit is avoidance of high-potency products such as "shatter", and a caution on mixing pot with tobacco, along with reducing frequency of use. The purpose of the kit is geared to minimize the potential for any harm in cannabis use, stressing the importance of education based on evidence. Many young users fail to understand that driving while under the influence of pot is as dangerous as driving while inebriated.

Dr. Sinthuja Suntharalingam, staff psychiatrist at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, spoke of teenagers she has treated suffering psychotic episodes that too much marijuana use triggers. "They are quite taken aback that cannabis can do this. Some of the parents are using it themselves, so it's really hard for them to accept it (pot) can be causing this (psychotic episodes)." And no one wants to accept that cognitive deficits can result from using pot at an early age.

Ms. D'Alessio revealed her struggle with anxiety and depression in her teen years without being aware of any connection to her use of cannabis. "There was no discussion around lifestyle, or what makes some individuals more likely to have an (addiction) issue." She became so comfortable using pot that she was soon smoking daily and by Grade 11 was completely addicted. She faults the lack of useful education given to her and her peers in high school. Avoidance of responsibility in poor decision-making?

Eventually she underwent a psychotic episode, was hospitalized for several weeks, and recovered with the help of a course of anti-psychotic medication that enabled her to return to school. She has cut down on her cannabis use, though she still uses occasionally. Aware that her lungs could be impaired smoking pot, she no longer smokes, involved in sports and unwilling to compromise the things she values in life. Working full time, "I'm saving up for school. I have other priorities", she now says.

Cannabis consumption through the decades

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Naturopathic: Like Cures Like

"While I believe that homeopathy plays a complementary role for some families in their health, I have concerns that some people may delay or avoid proven effective treatments while relying on homeopathy alone."
"[Rabies is a] serious reportable communicable disease that is almost universally fatal in humans and in dogs."
"We are concerned that certain statements and posts she has made, in person and online, appear to be contrary to the public interest in the practice of the profession — and therefore require action on the part of the regulator to intervene."
Dr. Bonnie Henry, British Columbia provincial health officer

"The remedies are prepared to the point that not even one molecule of the original substance is left in the solution."
"It either works or it doesn't. If it doesn't work, then it doesn't matter what the remedies are made from, because if it's just water, who cares."
"If it does work, then we really should look at the great potential homeopathy has."
"It’s a sad day for Canada when a top health official, a medical doctor no less, causes alarm in the population because she expresses ‘grave concern’ that a homeopathic remedy made from rabies might infect someone and should perhaps be removed from the market."
"The headlines should read: 'Wonderful news: child greatly helped by a safe, effective and homoepathic remedy costing pennies. Great promise for children with behavioural and developmental disorders, a blessing for mankind.'
Anke Zimmermann, homeopathy practitioner, Vancouver
Anke Zimmermann

"We had some concerns about unprofessional conduct and adherence to a code of ethics."
"We also had some concerns about misrepresentation and over-statement of claims about a particular remedy and practice."
"We take no pleasure in filing a complaint against a registrant with our college."
"We are concerned that certain statements and posts she has made, in person and online, appear to be contrary to the public interest in the practice of the profession — and therefore require action on the part of the regulator to intervene."
Victor Chan, Co-president, B.C. Naturopathic Association
Naturopathic practitioner  Anke Zimmermann posted an article in a blog she maintains detailing her 'successful' treatment of a four-year-old boy using a rabid-dog saliva remedy. In her blog she detailed the boy's sleep and behavioural problems which she managed, with her skills as a naturopath to heal with great success. She described as a clinical case study, the child growling like a dog, unable to sleep, defiant and over-excited. And pleased that her remedy became a cure.

It was a post that came to the attention of British Columbia health authorities when an alternative-medicine group raised warning flags about the procedure used. For her part, Ms. Zimmermann stands by her treatment methodology, noting that the child had been once bitten by a dog. Her remedy, however, "worked very well", a source of pride for her. Yes, what she used contained saliva from a rabid dog, but no virus, she asserted would have remained after the usual extensive dilution process.

She removed her original post describing the treatment, she said in an interview after receiving hateful messages, some of which included threats to her person. A complaint has since been filed against her by the B.C. Naturaopathic Association, the claim being that she may have breached the Association's code of conduct and code of ethics for naturopathic doctors.

She is not, however, a member of the association, despite which the reproach against her is that her conduct reflects poorly on the organization and its medical practices. Health Canada approved the lyssin/hydrophobinum product, regulated as a natural health product. The company where the material was obtained by Ms. Zimmermann is not in possession of a distribution licence, however. And the sale of unlicensed natural health products is prohibited.

"Based on the information provided, Health Canada is opening a case for follow-up", and should it find non-compliance, action will be taken, noted the federal body. "Before a homeopathic product can be sold in Canada, it must meet Health Canada’s standards to demonstrate that the product is safe, meets the requirements set out in product monographs, and has been produced using modern quality standards."

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Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Le Veggie Burger"

"It is important to fight against false claims."
"Our products must be designated correctly; the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin."
Jean-Baptiste Moreau, MP for La Republique en Marche, cattle farmer

"[No food products containing a] significant part of vegetable-based matter [can be presented as meat]."
"Meat and vegetable-based products, like soya, which is very profitable for the producer compared to a pure meat beef steak, can be marketed in a way that gives the consumer the impression he is consuming meat only."
"[The] totally paradoxical [practise of presenting vegan products as having a] bacon taste [or being a] sausage substitute [is abhorrent]."
Partial text of a new French food bill

"It is just patronizing to suggest a cauliflower is a satisfactory substitute for a steak."
"Let's face it, a white broccoli covered in salt and pepper and griddled [sic] to within an inch of its life, hasn't got a patch on a medium rare rump with a side of pepperoni sauce, has it?"
British blogger
"A principle of equivalence between pure pork sausage and substitute of vegetarian sausage vegetarian is imposed on consumer," amendment read
"A principle of equivalence between pure pork sausage and substitute of vegetarian sausage vegetarian is imposed on consumer," amendment reads

Outrageous, to be sure. Purveyors of vegetable products daring to present them as equal to, or superior in taste and food value to their animal-derived counterparts. This unwholesome trend to demonize meat and in the process convince hungry people that their cravings can be satisfied by substituting vegetable-based products dressed up to emulate their animal-based distant -- very, very distant -- cousins is obviously enraging to the meat industry.

Imagine, parading vegetables as equal in robust taste and hunger-satiation to meat! They won't have it, they simply will not have it. So accusing the vegetarian industry of trying to hoodwink the public into believing that their pseudo-meat products can still their cravings for meat, the meat industry and its formidable lobby has convinced the French parliament that a law is overdue to subdue the false claims confusing poor French consumers who evidently cannot tell the difference between either.

To save them from themselves, it takes a stern law forbidding the very labelling of vegetables in any shape, form or combination of spiced-up presentations to trade on the risible fiction that it's as nutritiously delicious as any meat product. Mind, as a member of the European Union, it might be said that the pioneering work on this vital file has already been done.

For a year ago, the European Court of Justice -- no less -- issued a ruling that dairy-related terms such as "milk", "cream", "chantilly" and "cheese" will only be permitted use on products that have been manufactured with real, authentic animal milk. This decree was evidently spurred by a Marks & Spencer store in the United Kingdom selling "cauliflower steak" aka a slice of grilled cauliflower with herbs labelled "steak" pricing it at $3.50.

Those who watch their pence know that the price is outrageous given how inexpensive a whole cauliflower is, let alone masquerading it as a meat product. So, the purveyors of vegetables-as-meat have got their comeuppance. Not from a public that must surely be capable of differentiating vegetables from meat, but from the meat industry ticked off that upstart vegetable purveyors are muscling in on their meat territory.

Henceforth, it becomes illegal for vegetarian food producers to use nomenclature clearly linked to meat products, such as "steak", "merguez", "bacon", or "sausage" when referring to food not partially or wholly comprised of meat. Oh yes, even innocuous terms such as "bacon taste" will not be permitted, for inherent in that descriptive is an absolute falsehood.

As for French Parliamentarian and cattle rancher, Jean-Baptiste Moreau, he only has the consumer's peace of mind at heart, nothing more, nothing less. Current labelling,  he argues, tends to confuse consumers who may be led to believe they are consuming pure, high-quality meat rather than a meat-and-soy combination or a completely vegetarian product. Sad, that people can be so easily led astray, right?

Sausages on the barbecue with vegetarian sausages at the bottom and meat sausages at the top of the picture
Only meat-based products will be permitted to use the word "sausage" under new French legislation

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Friday, April 20, 2018

Neanderthals ... Human Cousins

"When you have symbols, then you have language."
"For all practical purposes, [Neanderthal] they were modern humans, too."
"Neanderthals have disappeared. So have Fuegian Indians. So have Greenland Vikings."
"Population extinction has been a part of human history forever."
"The Aviones finds [Cueva de los Aviones, a cave in southeastern Spain] are the oldest such objects of personal ornamentation known to this day anywhere in the world. They predate by 20 to 40 thousand years anything remotely similar known from the African continent. And they were made by Neanderthals. Do I need to say more?"
Joao Zilhao, archaeologist, University of Barcelona, Spain
Cave art breakthrough … a painting of a cow and horses at Lascaux, France.
Cave art breakthrough … a painting of a cow and horses at Lascaux, France. Photograph: Alamy

Researchers have combined forces (University of Barcelona, University of Southampton, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology) have produced a study establishing the existence of evidence that primeval Neanderthals could boast one of the principal hallmarks of cognitive sophistication, for they were capable of producing painted cave art, a realization that they could think in symbols and for all we know they may also have succeeded in achieving other human milestones of which no trace has been preserved.

In the mid-1800s, when fossils linked to Neanderthals and examination revealed their low, thick brow ridge on their skulls, it seemed to indicate that they may have been proto-humans of low intelligence, incapable of cognition. Since then, however, discoveries to follow have indicated that in fact Neanderthals were possessed of brains as large as that of homo sapiens, but within shorter, stockier bodies.

Still, during the early 1900s it was commonplace for Neanderthals to be described as gorilla-like beasts, a mere extinct branch of near-humanity, but nothing like the well-formed, intelligent creatures that humankind was to become. Current evidence construed from fossils and DNA indicates, however, that both living humans of today and Neanderthals had descended from a common ancestor dating back roughly 600,000 years ago.

For several hundred thousand years, ancestors of living humans left evidence of stone axe tools and spear blades. Humans in Africa were showing signs of abstract thinking 70,000 years ago, colouring and piercing seashells for ornamental purposes. Modern humans began arriving in Europe from Africa some 45,000 years ago and they left ivory carvings and cave wall paintings, while Neanderthals became extinct 40,000 years ago, a fossil record from Spain to Siberia attesting to their presence.

It has only been in recent years that researchers have discovered evidence linking Neanderthals to symbolic thought processes with archaeologists discovering Neanderthals used feathers and bird claws with which to make ornaments. Some scientific skeptics opt to transcribe those discoveries as mere copies of original thought, preferring to believe that Neanderthals had taken inspiration from modern humans they lived beside.

Within caves in Spain ancient paintings were discovered over the past century and there researchers discovered the presence of flowstones, milky crusts of minerals on cave walls, which covered parts of artworks. Researchers scraped away samples for dating purposes from three caves, to discover some of the art to be over 64,000 years old, about 20,000 years earlier than the first evidence of modern humans in Europe.

It was deduced that the artwork was produced by Neanderthals. In a cave on the Spanish coast Dr. Zilhao discovered shells, drilled and painted with ochre. He and colleagues found a layer of flowstone atop the rock where the shell jewellery had been discovered. In testing the flowstone it turned out to be about 115,000 years in origin; the pierced and coloured shells held to be slightly older. Strong evidence the shells were produced by Neanderthals.

At one time in the historical record, researchers had concluded that Neanderthals had died out because they were incapable of manipulating their environment to aid in survival. Now it is understood that Neanderthals developed in parallel with modern humans in Africa. It appears that the illusion of inferiority leading to their extinction is unjustified and what led to their disappearance is now attributed to evolutionary mechanics.
Even older still … a piece of red ochre with a deliberate zigzag engraving from Blombos cave, South Africa.
Even older still … a piece of red ochre with a deliberate zigzag engraving from Blombos cave, South Africa. Photograph: Anna Zieminski/AFP/Getty

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Making The Case For Pesticide-Free Produce

"Many shoppers don’t realize that pesticide residues are common on conventionally grown produce – even after it is carefully washed or peeled. EWG's analysis of tests by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that nearly 70 percent of samples of conventionally grown produce were contaminated with pesticide residues."
"The USDA tests found a total of 230 different pesticides and pesticide breakdown products on the thousands of produce samples analyzed. EWG's analysis of the tests shows that there are stark differences among various types of produce. The Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ lists the Dirty Dozen™ fruits and vegetables with the most pesticide residues, and the Clean Fifteen™, for which few, if any, residues were detected."
Sonya Lunder, Senior Analyst, Environmental Working Group (EWG)

"Food safety is a top priority for the Industry, from field to fork."
"The fresh produce industry seeks to ensure a safe, efficient and timely supply chain, allowing consumers to experience fresh fruits and vegetables at the peak of their performance."
Tom Stenzel, CEO, United Fresh Produce Association 
A produce stand

"A recent review article in the scientific journal Nature Plants makes the claim that organic produces 'foods that contain less (or no) pesticide residues, compared with conventional farming.'  That's not what the latest USDA-PDP (Pesticide Data Program) information about pesticide residues says. What that transparent source of tax payer-supported research indicates is that 40 different synthetic pesticide residues were detected on organic food samples at levels similar to what was seen for the comparable conventional food samples. In both cases the amounts are too small to be a health/safety concern, but this certainly does not fit the standard organic narrative."
"Finding synthetic pesticide residues on organic is not unprecedented.  Earlier, larger surveys of organic conducted by the USDA and by Canadian Food Inspection Agency found un-approved residues in at least 40% of samples.  The normal explanation of this is that it represents inadvertent spray drift or cross-contamination in harvesting bins etc.  Many of the detections are at such low levels they fit those scenarios, but interestingly when I looked at the conventional detections for the same 78 chemical/crop combinations, the organic detections were only significantly lower in 26 cases, and the organic detections were equal to or higher than those in conventional for 30 cases."
Dr. Steve Savage, Plant Pathologist, writer, public speaker, Forbes

The Environmental Working Group issues a yearly report card on pesticide residues found in fruits and vegetables, giving a heads-up to list those agricultural whole foods found to have the "highest loads of pesticide residues", and those which are discovered to have the least. The EWG also recommends that consumers hedge their bets by seeking out organic produce rather than conventionally grown, with the assurance that organics, though containing trace amounts of pesticides, carry far less and thus are safer to consume.

This year's report in the 2018 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce, strawberries were top-of-the-list for high pesticide residues, the third year they've made that distinctive lead. Avocados, on the other hand, are top of the "Clean Fifteen" list of those whole foods ranking produce testing positive for "few, if any, residues." Based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture tests examining 47 common fruits and vegetables for pesticide residue, the guide feels it presents a very accurate assessment of pesticide residues to enable them to advise people with a high degree of confidence which fruits and vegetables are best to avoid.

 Approximately 70 percent of conventionally grown, non-organic produce samples were found to be contaminated with pesticide residues, warns the EWG. In response, the U.S. Apple Association and other produce groups put out their own press releases, discounting the accuracy of the EWG's conclusions; the guide, they claim, is "inaccurate" and "harmful"
The Dirty Dozen
  1. Strawberries 
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
10. Celery
11. Potatoes
12. Sweet bell peppers

The Clean 15
  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Frozen sweet peas
  7 Papayas
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
10. Eggplants
11. Honeydews
12. Kiwis
13. Cantaloupes
14. Cauliflower
15. Broccoli


Fertility studies' classification of pesticide residues
High pesticide residue score Apples, apple sauces, blueberries, grapes, green beans, leafy greens, pears, peaches, potatoes, plums, spinach, strawberries, raisins, sweet peppers, tomatoes, winter squashes
Low to moderate pesticide residue score Apple juice, avocados, bananas, beans, broccoli, cabbages, cantaloupes, carrots, cauliflower, celery, corn, eggplants, grapefruits, lentils, lettuce, onions, oranges, orange juices, peas, prunes, summer squashes, sweet potatoes, tofu, tomato sauces, zucchini
"So, the bottom line is that there is no meaningful distinction between organic and conventional foods that the USDA tested in 2016. Both are quite safe and consumers should not hesitate to buy and consume these foods that are well documented to promote health. The real take-away is that consumers should be very wary of organic-funded organizations like the Environmental Working Group that are trying to manipulate them with fear. EWG ends its dubious list with a link to 'Donate Now' because 'EWG helps protect your family from pesticides!' Does convincing you to spend more for organic which has the same, low, safe levels of pesticide qualify as 'protection?' Such organizations deserve no respect or support."
Dr. Steve Savage, Plant Pathologist, writer, public speaker, Forbes


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