Posts about regulation

Another Bee Study Finds CCD is Likely Due to Combination of Factors Including Pesticides

Abstract of open access science paper funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae:

Recent declines in honey bee populations and increasing demand for insect-pollinated crops raise concerns about pollinator shortages. Pesticide exposure and pathogens may interact to have strong negative effects on managed honey bee colonies. Such findings are of great concern given the large numbers and high levels of pesticides found in honey bee colonies. Thus it is crucial to determine how field-relevant combinations and loads of pesticides affect bee health.

We collected pollen from bee hives in seven major crops to determine 1) what types of pesticides bees are exposed to when rented for pollination of various crops and 2) how field-relevant pesticide blends affect bees’ susceptibility to the gut parasite Nosema ceranae. Our samples represent pollen collected by foragers for use by the colony, and do not necessarily indicate foragers’ roles as pollinators. In blueberry, cranberry, cucumber, pumpkin and watermelon bees collected pollen almost exclusively from weeds and wildflowers during our sampling.

Thus more attention must be paid to how honey bees are exposed to pesticides outside of the field in which they are placed. We detected 35 different pesticides in the sampled pollen, and found high fungicide loads. The insecticides esfenvalerate and phosmet were at a concentration higher than their median lethal dose in at least one pollen sample. While fungicides are typically seen as fairly safe for honey bees, we found an increased probability of Nosema infection in bees that consumed pollen with a higher fungicide load.

Our results highlight a need for research on sub-lethal effects of fungicides and other chemicals that bees placed in an agricultural setting are exposed to.

The attempts to discover the main causes of bee colony deaths and find solutions continues to prove difficult years after the problems became major. The complex interaction of many variables makes it difficult. And special interest groups pushing pesticides and the like, which have seemed to be major contributors to the problem for years, make it even more difficult (by preventing restrictions on potentially damaging pesticide use).

The challenges in determining what is killing bees are similar to the challenges of discovering what practices are damaging human health. The success of studying complex biological interactions (to discover threats to human health) is extremely limited. I am concerned we are far too caviler about using large numbers of interventions (drugs, pesticides, massive antibiotics use in factory farms, pollution…).

Related: Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep DyingGermany Bans Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths (2008)Virus Found to be One Likely Factor in Bee Colony Colapse Disorder (2007)Study of the Colony Collapse Disorder Continues as Bee Colonies Continue to Disappear

Smoking Bans at Work and Public Places Result in Significant Drops in Hospitalization for Heart Attacks, Strokes and Asthma.

Laws that end smoking at work and other public places result in significantly fewer hospitalizations for heart attacks, strokes, asthma and other respiratory conditions, a new UCSF analysis has found.

The research provides evidence that smoke-free laws that cover workplaces, restaurants and bars have the biggest impacts on hospitalizations, reduce health care costs and also raise quality of life, the researchers said. The research is published in closed science journal; for an “association” (when you act as though your focus is just growing your income I have trouble seeing the claim for being an association as legitimate) to do that is particularly pitiful. Adding to the sad commentary on the lack of respect for open scient this is research done by a “public” university with grants from the federal government. So sad how little some that should care about science do when it conflicts with their outdated notions of how to publicize research. We really should not tolerate such behavior.

“The public, health professionals, and policy makers need to understand that including exemptions and loopholes in legislation — such as exempting casinos — condemns more people to end up in emergency rooms,” said senior author Stanton A. Glantz, UCSF professor of medicine and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UCSF. “These unnecessary hospitalizations are the real cost of failing to enact comprehensive smoke-free legislation,” he said.

The inquiry consisted of a meta-analysis of 45 studies published prior to Nov. 30, 2011. Altogether, the research covered 33 different smoke-free-laws in cities and states around the United States as well as several countries, including New Zealand and Germany. The laws variously prohibit smoking in such public spots as restaurants, bars, and the workplace.

The authors found that comprehensive smoke-free laws were followed rapidly by significantly lower rates of hospital admissions than before the laws went into force:

  • A 15% drop in heart attack hospitalizations;
  • A 16% drop in stroke hospitalizations;
  • A 24% drop in hospitalizations for respiratory diseases including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

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Patent Gridlock is Blocking Developing Lifesaving Drugs

How patent gridlock is blocking the development of lifesaving drugs by Michael Heller, Forbes

Since a 1980 Supreme Court decision allowing patents on living organisms, 40,000 dna-related patents have been granted. Now picture a drug developer walking into an auditorium filled with dozens of owners of the biotech patents needed to create a potential lifesaving cure. Unless the drugmaker can strike a deal with every person in the room, the new drug won’t be developed.

Nicholas Naclerio, who used to head the BioChip Division at Motorola , told Scientific American, “If we want to make a medical diagnostic with 40 genes on it, and 20 companies hold patents on those genes, we may have a big problem.”

And it’s not just drugs we’re losing. Today anything high tech–banking, semiconductors, software, telecom–demands the assembly of innumerable patents. Innovation has moved on, but we’re stuck with old-style ownership that’s easy to fragment and hard to put together. This debacle’s only upside is that assembling fragmented property is one of the great entrepreneurial and political opportunities of our era.

This is a critical problem I have written about before. The broken patent system is a serious problem that needs to be fixed.

Related: The Effects of Patenting on SciencePatent Policy Harming USA, and the worldPatenting Life is a Bad IdeaThe Differences Between Culture and CodeInnovation and Creative CommonsThe Value of the Public DomainThe Patent System Needs to be Significantly ImprovedAre Software Patents Evil?

Plugging America’s Broadband Gap

Plugging America’s Broadband Gap

Martin is concerned about a U.S. broadband gap. Only 60% of American households have speedy Net access. That puts the country in 15th place among developed nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation & Development. It’s a mighty fall from 2001, when the U.S. ranked fourth.

This is one of a number of facts that those in the USA seem ignorant of: we have a far worse internet and cell phone infrastructure than many countries. Those that think the USA is the leading technology country should be alarmed by such poor performance in a critical area such as internet infrastructure.

There are three basic options for catching up. The government can take the lead, making its own investments in broadband. Second, the government can mandate that existing providers make the service available more widely. Most realistically perhaps, the government can create incentives for private companies to roll out more broadband. That’s what Martin is trying to do. He wants to auction off wireless spectrum and require the winning bidder to provide free broadband throughout the country. The company could make money by selling advertising and advanced services.

The free service wouldn’t be the fastest on the market. The winning bidder would have to offer a minimum speed of 768 kilobits per second to 95% of the country within 10 years. Although that’s technically broadband, it’s about half the speed of today’s average U.S. broadband link.

Still, Martin’s proposal has drawn support because it has the potential to crack what has become a broadband duopoly. In most markets, only one telecom company and one cable provider offer the service. A third alternative with decent speed and big savings off the current $50 monthly average price could spark more competition. The leading contender to win the auction is M2Z Networks, a startup founded by former FCC staffer John Muleta.

The FCC approach is no panacea. It’ll provide competition at the low end of the market and will do nothing to bring the U.S. the blazing speeds common in Korea and Japan.

Related: China Builds a Better InternetInternet Undersea CablesUnderstanding Computers and the Internet

500 Year Floods

Why you can get ‘500 year floods’ two years in a row by Anne Jefferson:

Flood probabilities are based on historical records of stream discharge. Let’s use the Iowa River at Marengo, Iowa as an example. It reached a record discharge of 46,600 cubic feet per second* (1320 m3/s) on 12 June. That flow was estimated to have a 500 year recurrence interval, based on 51 years of peak flow records

When you are extrapolating beyond your data by an order of magnitude, the highest points in the dataset start to have a lot of leverage. Let’s imagine that there’s another big flood on the Iowa River next year and we do the same analysis. Now our dataset has 52 points, with the highest being the flood of 2008. When that point is included in the analysis, a discharge of 46,600 cubic feet per second* (1320 m3/s) has a recurrence interval of <150 years (>0.6%). It’s still a darn big flow, but it doesn’t sound quite so biblical anymore.

Urbanization and the adding of impervious surface is one cause of increasing flood peaks, but in Iowa, a more likely culprit is agricultural.

This post is a good explanation that the 500 year flood idea is just way of saying .2% probability (that some people confuse as meaning it can only happen every 500 years). But I actually am more interested in the other factor which is how much estimation is in “500 year prediction.” We don’t have 500 years of data. And the conditions today (I believe) are much more likely to create extreme conditions. So taking comfort in 500 year (.2%), or even 100 year (1% probability) flood “predictions” is dangerous.

It would seem to me, in fact, actually having a 500 year flood actually increases the odds for it happening again (because the data now includes that case which had not been included before). It doesn’t actually increase the likelihood of it happening but the predictions we make are based on the data we have (so given that it happens our previous 500 year prediction is questionable). With a coin toss we know the odds are 50%, getting 3 heads in a row doesn’t convince us that our prediction was bad. And therefore the previous record of heads or tails in the coin toss have no predictive value.

I can’t see why we would think that for floods. With the new data showing a flood, (it seems to me) most any model is likely to show an increased risk (and pretty substantial I would think) of it happening again in the next 100 years (especially in any area with substantial human construction – where conditions could well be very different than it was for our data that is 20, 40… years old). And if we are entering a period of more extreme weather then that will likely be a factor too…

The comments on the original blog post make some interesting points too – don’t miss those.

Related: Two 500-Year Floods Within 15 Years: What are the Odds? USGS – All Models Are Wrong But Some Are Useful by George BoxCancer Deaths – Declining Trend?Megaflood Created the English ChannelSeeing Patterns Where None ExistsDangers of Forgetting the Proxy Nature of DataUnderstanding Data

Protecting the Food Supply

A few weeks ago we posted about Tracking Down Tomato Troubles as another example of the challenges of scientific inquiry. Too often, in the rare instances that science is even discussed in the news, the presentation provides the illusion of simple obvious answers. Instead it is often a very confusing path until the answers are finally found (posts on scientific investigations in action). At which time it often seems obvious what was going on. But to get to the solutions we need dedicated and talented scientists to search for answers.

Now the CDC is saying tomatoes might not be the source of the salmonella after all: CDC investigates possible non-tomato salmonella sources.

Federal investigators retraced their steps Monday as suspicions mount that fresh unprocessed tomatoes aren’t necessarily causing the salmonella outbreak that has sickened hundreds across the USA.

Three weeks after the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers to avoid certain types of tomatoes linked to the salmonella outbreak, people are still falling ill, says Robert Tauxe with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The latest numbers as of Monday afternoon were 851 cases, some of whom fell ill as recently as June 20, says Tauxe, deputy director of the CDC’s division of foodborne diseases.

The CDC launched a new round of interviews over the weekend. “We’re broadening the investigation to be sure it encompasses food items that are commonly consumed with tomatoes,” Tauxe says. If another food is found to be the culprit after tomatoes were recalled nationwide and the produce industry sustained losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, food safety experts say the public’s trust in the government’s ability to track foodborne illnesses will be shattered.

“It’s going to fundamentally rewrite how we do outbreak investigations in this country,” says Michael Osterholm of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “We can’t let this investigation, however it might turn out, end with just the answer of ‘What caused it?’ We need to take a very in-depth look at foodborne disease investigation as we do it today.”

I am inclined to believe the FDA is not enough focused on food safety. Perhaps we are not funding it enough, but we sure are spending tons of money on something so I can’t believe more money needs to be spent. Maybe just fewer bills passed (that the politicians don’t even bother to read) with favors to special interests instead of funding to support science and food safety. Or perhaps we are funding enough (though I am skeptical of this contention) and we just are not allowing food safety to get in the way of what special interests want (so we fund plenty for FDA to have managed this much better, to have systems in place that would provide better evidence but they are either prevented from doing so or failed to do so). I am inclined to believe special interests have more sway in agencies like (NASA, EPA, FDA…) than the public good and scientific openness – which is very sad. And, it seems to me, politicians have overwhelmingly chosen not to support more science in places like FDA, CDC, NIH… while increasing federal spending in other areas dramatically.

Related: USDA’s failure to protect the food supplyFDA May Make Decision That Will Speed Antibiotic Drug ResistanceFood safety proposal: throw the bums outThe A to Z Guide to Political Interference in Science

Pesticide Laced Fertiliser Ruins Gardens

Home-grown veg ruined by toxic fertiliser

Aminopyralid, which is found in several Dow products, the most popular being Forefront, a herbicide, is not licensed to be used on food crops and carries a label warning farmers using it not to sell manure that might contain residue to gardeners. The Pesticides Safety Directorate, which has issued a regulatory update on the weedkiller, is taking samples from affected plants for testing.

Problems with the herbicide emerged late last year, when some commercial potato growers reported damaged crops. In response, Dow launched a campaign within the agriculture industry to ensure that farmers were aware of how the products should be used. Nevertheless, the herbicide has now entered the food chain. Those affected are demanding an investigation and a ban on the product. They say they have been given no definitive answer as to whether other produce on their gardens and allotments is safe to eat.

It appears that the contamination came from grass treated 12 months ago. Experts say the grass was probably made into silage, then fed to cattle during the winter months. The herbicide remained present in the silage, passed through the animal and into manure that was later sold. Horses fed on hay that had been treated could also be a channel.

Related: Effect of People on Other SpeciesPigs Instead of PesticidesPeak SoilFlushed Drugs Pollute Water

Germany Bans Chemicals Linked to Bee Deaths

Germany bans chemicals linked to honeybee devastation

Germany has banned a family of pesticides that are blamed for the deaths of millions of honeybees. The German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) has suspended the registration for eight pesticide seed treatment products used in rapeseed oil and sweetcorn.

The move follows reports from German beekeepers in the Baden-Württemberg region that two thirds of their bees died earlier this month following the application of a pesticide called clothianidin. “It’s a real bee emergency,” said Manfred Hederer, president of the German Professional Beekeepers’ Association. “50-60% of the bees have died on average and some beekeepers have lost all their hives.” Tests on dead bees showed that 99% of those examined had a build-up of clothianidin.

The company says an application error by the seed company which failed to use the glue-like substance that sticks the pesticide to the seed, led to the chemical getting into the air.

Related: The Study of Bee Colony Collapses ContinuesBye Bye BeesScientists Search for Clues To Bee Mystery

Funding Medical Research

Cheap, ‘safe’ drug kills most cancers

It sounds almost too good to be true: a cheap and simple drug that kills almost all cancers by switching off their “immortality”. The drug, dichloroacetate (DCA), has already been used for years to treat rare metabolic disorders and so is known to be relatively safe. It also has no patent, meaning it could be manufactured for a fraction of the cost of newly developed drugs.

Evangelos Michelakis of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, and his colleagues tested DCA on human cells cultured outside the body and found that it killed lung, breast and brain cancer cells, but not healthy cells. Tumours in rats deliberately infected with human cancer also shrank drastically when they were fed DCA-laced water for several weeks.

DCA attacks a unique feature of cancer cells: the fact that they make their energy throughout the main body of the cell, rather than in distinct organelles called mitochondria. This process, called glycolysis, is inefficient and uses up vast amounts of sugar.

Until now it had been assumed that cancer cells used glycolysis because their mitochondria were irreparably damaged. However, Michelakis’s experiments prove this is not the case, because DCA reawakened the mitochondria in cancer cells. The cells then withered and died

The University of Alberta is raising funds to further the research. Some look at this and indite a funding system that does not support research for human health unless there is profit to be made. Much of the blame seems to go to profit focused drug companies. I can see room for some criticism. But really I think the criticism is misplaced.

The organizations for which curing cancer is the partial aim (rather than making money) say government (partial aim or public health…), public universities (partial aim of science research or medical research…), foundations, cancer societies, private universities… should fund such efforts, if they have merit. Universities have huge research budgets. Unfortunately many see profit as their objective and research as the means to the objective (based on their actions not their claims). These entities with supposedly noble purposes are the entities I blame most, not profit focused companies (though yes, if they claim an aim of health care they I would blame them too).

Now I don’t know what category this particular research falls into. Extremely promising or a decent risk that might work just like hundreds or thousands of other possibilities. But lets look at several possibilities. Some others thoughts on where it falls: Dichloroacetate to enter clinical trials in cancer patients, from a previous post here – Not a Cancer Cure Yet, The dichloroacetate (DCA) cancer kerfuffle, CBC’s ‘The Current’ on dichloroacetate (DCA), Dichloroacetate (DCA) Phase II Trial To Begin (“Like hundreds (if not, thousands) of compounds being tested to treat cancer, DCA was shown by Michelakis’ group earlier this year to slow the growth of human lung tumors in a preclinical rodent model.”).
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Raised Without Antibiotics

Tyson is going to start selling chicken Raised Without Antibiotics. The overuse of antibiotics is a huge problem and the overuse in the raising of livestock is a huge problem.

“While we have great confidence in the quality of our traditional chicken, we’re also committed to providing mainstream consumers with the kind of products they want,” said Richard L. Bond, president and CEO of Tyson Foods. “According to our research, 91% of consumers agree it’s important to have fresh chicken produced and labeled ‘raised without antibiotics’,” Bond said.

Tyson started selling 100% All Naturalâ„¢, Raised Without Antibiotics chicken this week. The product is being distributed nationwide in newly-designed packaging highlighting that the chicken is raised without antibiotics and contains no artificial ingredients.

While it is nice they will start selling a portion of chicken raised without using antibiotics and endangering the health of the community by helping evolve super-resistant bugs this is really a pretty small step I would guess. The risk is not even mainly to the person eating the food pumped full of antibiotics it is to everyone when drug resistant bacteria are evolved through the overuse of antibiotics. Also, 100% All Natural is trademarked? Give me a break.

Nationwide Survey Reveals Most Americans are Unaware They Consume Beef and Poultry Raised on Antibiotics (2003)

“Antibiotic medicines are losing effectiveness on humans due to their increased use in animal feed,” said Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, JD, director of the food and environment program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Animals raised in natural environments rarely require the use of antibiotics. Americans who choose meat produced this way are making conscious decisions to ensure that antibiotics will still be working when they or their family need them.” The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are now fed to animals raised for human consumption in order to hasten the animals’ growth or prevent illness amid crowded, unsanitary conditions on factory farms.

Abuse of Antibiotics at Factory Farms Threatens the Effectiveness of Drugs Used to Treat Disease in Humans:

According to the Center for Disease Control, more than one-third of the salmonella poisoning cases in 1997 were found to be resistant to five antibiotics. Drug resistance in campylobacter bacteria, the most commonly known cause of bacterial food-borne illness in the United States, increased from zero in 1991 to 14 percent in 1998.

The European Union, on the recommendation of the World Health Organization, has banned the use of antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock animals when those drugs are also used to treat people. The Center for Disease Control has agreed with this position, but the U.S. government has failed to reduce the threat that ineffective antibiotics pose to human health. (Lieberman,, 1999)

To reduce serious health threats, the Food and Drug Administration should ban the use of antibiotics to promote livestock growth when those antibiotics are used to treat humans.