Controversial Pesticides Are Suspected Of Starving Fish

Dan Charles wrote . . . . . . . . .

There’s new evidence that a widely used family of pesticides called neonicotinoids, already controversial because they can be harmful to pollinators, could be risky for insects and fish that live in water, too.

The evidence comes from Lake Shinji, which lies near Japan’s coast, next to the Sea of Japan.

Masumi Yamamuro, a scientist with the Geological Survey of Japan, says the lake is famous for its views of the setting sun. “It’s amazingly beautiful,” she says.

Lake Shinji was also the site of thriving fisheries. People harvested clams, and eels, and small fish called smelts. But, Yamamuro says, about a decade ago, people noticed that fish populations had declined drastically. “I was asked to investigate the cause of this decrease,” she says.

It was a puzzle. Yamamuro says the decline in fish populations did not seem to coincide with anything that people were keeping track of, like the lake’s salinity, or levels of pollution.

But she noticed something curious. One kind of fish in the lake was doing fine. This one had a more diverse diet; it could eat algae, as well as tiny insects in the water. The eels and the smelts that were dying off relied on insects and crustaceans for food. And that food source was vanishing.

“So we concluded [that] something killed the food of the eels and the smelt,” Yamamuro says.

She and her colleagues now believe that they’ve identified the culprit: pesticides called neonicotinoids.

The evidence is circumstantial. Right around the time the fish started having problems, early in the 1990s, farmers near the lake started using these pesticides on their rice paddies to control insect pests. Yamamuro also found traces of these chemicals in some parts of the lake. Those levels, she thinks, are high enough to cause problems for tiny aquatic animals. Also, neonicotinoids kill insects, but not the algae that the thriving fish were eating.

She and her colleagues just published their findings in the journal Science.

Jason Hoverman, an ecologist at Purdue University, in Indiana, says this study doesn’t really prove that neonicotinoids are guilty. There’s no historical data showing levels of neonicotinoids in the lake back when the fish started to die off.

But he says that it is logical to suspect them, and the new report is a good reminder that chemicals can have really complicated effects on an ecosystem.

“When we think about chemicals, we often just go right to direct toxicity, not thinking about the food web implications; the food of the fish, and the impact of the chemicals on that food,” he says.

Neonicotinoids have become really controversial in recent years. That’s partly because of how widely they’re used. Corn and soybean and other seeds that are coated with these pesticides are planted on close to 200 million acres of land every year. Also, neonicotinoids are extremely toxic to bees and other pollinators.

Scientists like Hoverman now are starting to pay much closer attention to the effects on insects that live in streams and rivers. “These chemicals can definitely end up in water. We apply them on land, but they don’t stay on land. The question becomes, are they at levels that are high enough to cause a problem?” he says.

Hoverman says that in some cases, it looks like they may actually be causing problems. But much of the time, scientists still are searching for the answer.

Source: npr

Seafood Bruschetta


8 ounces clams, in shell
8 ounces mussels, in shell
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
6 cloves garlic, 4 finely chopped, 2 whole
4 ounces shrimp (prawn tails) peeled and deveined
4 ounces squid, cleaned and coarsely chopped
4 tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 slices firm-textured bread


  1. Soak the clams and mussels in cold water for 1 hour Scrub the mussels.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
  3. Place the shellfish in a large frying pan over medium heat and cook until they open. Discard any that do not open.
  4. Remove the clams and mussels from their shells.
  5. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat and saute the parsley and half the chopped garlic for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Turn the heat to high and add the shrimp and squid and saute for 5 minutes (not longer or the squid will become leathery). Set aside.
  7. In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil with the remaining chopped garlic and tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes.
  8. Add the clams and mussels, season with salt and pepper, and simmer until the shellfish are cooked, 2-3 minutes.
  9. Toast the bread in the oven until crisp and golden brown.
  10. Rub the toast with the whole cloves of garlic and drizzle with the remaining oil.
  11. Top with the seafood and serve warm.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Modern Mediterranean Cooking

Biodegradable Straw Made From Food Waste

Josh Schonwald wrote . . . . . . . . .

Remember when the President of the United States got into the plastic straw business last summer, introducing “Trump Straws” because “liberal straws don’t work”?

Well, two Chicago entrepreneurs are now selling a “liberal” straw —100-percent biodegradable and compostable, fossil-fuel free, made from recycled food waste —that does work.

The AVO Beginning straw could make biodegradable straws great again by using an ingenious food waste innovation: upcycling discarded avocado pits.

The avocado straw, which started appearing in the Chicago market this summer, is produced in Morelia, Mexico by Biofase, a start-up whose young founder came up with a breakthrough way of creating a polymer by extracting a molecular compound from an avocado pit. According to Mexico Daily News, chemical engineer Scott Munguia spent a year and a half looking for the perfect Mexico-sourced bioplastic, testing mango and mamey sapote seeds, before settling on the avocado pit as the most viable, eco-friendly alternative to the fossil fuel-derived plastic straws that are discarded at a staggering rate (500 million a day in the U.S. alone, according to one estimate)

The most extraordinary aspect of the avocado straws, though, is how they work.

As the success of the “Trump straw” venture indicates, many people have issues with paper straws; although biodegradable, the colder the drink, the quicker paper straws deteriorate. For ice-obsessed Americans, this is a problem.

Enter the avo straw. I tested the straws in a variety of cold, iced drinks (sparkling water, hard seltzer, iced tea, Coke) at my home, and they held up beautifully— as good as any fossil-fuel based, turtle-nostril clogging plastic straw. “It holds up in water as cold as 20 degrees,” said Moses Savalza, one of the company’s co-founders. Savalza also told me that the avocado straw degrades in 240 days. (This is in contrast to conventional plastic straws, which can take more than 100 years to degrade.)

But AVO Beginning’s ice-friendly avocado straws face plenty of competition in an increasingly hot market for plastic straw alternatives.

As single-use plastic straws become increasingly taboo or illegal (cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. already have bans) and as more consumers complain about mushy paper straws, a wave of start-ups are vying for a slice of the eco-friendly straw market.

The alt plastic straw market includes start-ups pitching straws made from everything from hay, corn, and bamboo to pasta, rice, potato and even wild grass straws.

Although any of these straws are better for the environment than plastic, not all plant-based straws are created equal. They have varying durability in cold and hot temperatures, differing production costs, and environmental impacts. (For example, in the environmental blog Green Matters, writer Sophie Hirsh noted that the popular Australian brand Biopak’s eco-friendly utensils are only compostable in “commercial compostable facilities,” whereas the avocado-derived plastics can biodegrade in any natural conditions, including your backyard.

Of some of his chief eco-friendly competitors, Savalza said, “bamboo has good quality, but it’s too expensive, hay…it’s too fragile. Corn or potatoes. They use food.”

Indeed, the reason why the AVO straw make a case for “eco-friendliest of al” is not just because it disposes quickly (biodegrading in 240 days), it is because it’s made from waste.

AVO Beginning straws are made from the thousands of avocado pits that processors discard each day in Michoacan state, the epi-center of Mexico’s avocado industry; most of these pits come from ag giant Simplot, which has alone provided 450,000 pounds of pits for bioplastic production. This is the differentiator, Savalza said. “Paper straws.. you’re cutting down a tree. Straws made from potatoes, or cornstarch.. you’re using something that could be food or feed. With this, you’re not taking away from the supply chain.”

AVO Beginning is one of only two distributors of Biofase’s avocado-based bioplastics in the United States; the chief distributor is California’s Nostalgia de Mexico, said AVO Beginning co-founder Hugo Villasenor.

Since launching in June in Chicago Villasenor said, AVO Beginning has found a small group of enthusiastic early adopters, such as LYFE Kitchen, a small chain that stresses healthy and environmentally-conscious foods, and a Chicago-area catering company that works with corporate clients trying to reduce their plastic footprint. “These are clients that are willing to pay a little more for straws for the environmental benefit,” Villasenor said.

But for many other prospective clients, price is an obstacle. Although the straws are affordable for a bioplastic straw, at two-and-a-half to three cents per straw, Villasenor said that is still more than paper straws (roughly two cents) and plastic straws (less than a penny). For many small restaurants and cafes facing tight margins, this is still a deal breaker, Villasenor said.

Another big obstacle for AVO Beginning is that so many restaurants and cafes rely on a single vendor for their food service product needs. A major goal for AVO Beginning is to get a food service company, such as Sysco or Edward Don, to include AVO straws as part of their range of eco-friendly options. In addition to straws, AVO Beginning also sells knives, forks and spoons made from avocado pits using Biofase’s technology.

Both Villasenor and Savalza concede that another reason their early sales have been sluggish is because they’re both newbies. Villasenor has spent most of career as a restaurant server; Savalza’s background is in trucking and logistics. They’re new to food service sales, and acknowledge there’s a learning curve in figuring out how to reach new clients and decision-makers.

But when asked about the future of avocado-derived plastics, both are confident. “I know this straw will take off,” said Villasenor. “People understand that plastics are one of the great problems of today, and now they want to fix it.”

Source: ThHe Spoon

Vitamin D and Omega 3 Supplements Do Not Reduce Risk of Systemic Inflammation

Vitamin D and marine omega-3 fatty acids — also known as fish oil — are purported to have many health benefits, including reducing systemic inflammation. Signals of systemic inflammation are tied to diseases of aging and obesity, including cardiovascular disease, heart failure, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus, some cancers, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. While many consumers take supplements with the intention of lowering their inflammation and preventing disease, an analysis of the VITamin D and OmegA-3 TriaL (VITAL) by investigators at Brigham and Women’s Hospital indicates that neither vitamin D nor omega-3s were effective at reducing systemic inflammation. The team’s results are published in Clinical Chemistry.

“People commonly think that these supplements can prevent inflammatory diseases, but when a patient asks their doctor, ‘Should I take this supplement?’ doctors often don’t know what to advise because there haven’t been large scale clinical trials. VITAL provides a large dataset to address these questions,” said corresponding author Karen Costenbader, MD, MPH, director of the Lupus Program in the Division of Rheumatology, Inflammation and Immunity. “In this case, there isn’t a strong message that either supplement will reduce risk of systemic inflammation, at least not the biomarkers of disease.”

The VITAL study is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in which investigators tested the effects of supplements of vitamin D (2000 IU/day), omega 3s (1 gm/day) or both. For this analysis, Costenbader and colleagues tested levels of three known biomarkers of inflammation at the start of the trial and after one year of taking supplements or a placebo. They were interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-receptor 2, and high sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP).

The team found that neither supplement reduced the biomarkers at one year. Surprisingly, among those taking the vitamin D supplement, instead of decreasing, IL-6 levels rose by 8.2 percent. The investigators also report that among participants who had lower fish intake at the start of the trial, hsCRP levels did decline for those taking the omega-3 supplement.

The authors note that they analyzed biomarkers for only a subgroup of the original trial’s population — approximately 1,500 of the over 25,000 participants — but they carefully selected a representative sample. In addition, VITAL only tested one formulation each of vitamin D and omega-3 supplements. A multitude of supplements are available.

“While the bottom line is that we didn’t see a reduction in markers of inflammation for those who took either supplement, we did see that people whose fish intake was low at baseline had a reduction in one of the biomarkers of inflammation,” said Costenbader. “It will be interesting and important to see the results of future VITAL analyses, especially those that look at risk of diseases rather than biomarkers.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Study: Insomnia Symptoms Linked to Increased Risk of Stroke, Heart Attack

People who have trouble sleeping may be more likely to have a stroke, heart attack or other cerebrovascular or cardiovascular diseases, according to a study published in the online issue of Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

“These results suggest that if we can target people who are having trouble sleeping with behavioral therapies, it’s possible that we could reduce the number of cases of stroke, heart attack and other diseases later down the line,” said study author Liming Li, MD, of Peking University in Beijing, China.

The study involved 487,200 people in China with an average age of 51. Participants had no history of stroke or heart disease at the beginning of the study.

Participants were asked if they had any of three symptoms of insomnia at least three days per week: trouble falling asleep or staying asleep; waking up too early in the morning; or trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. A total of 11 percent of the people had difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep; 10 percent reported waking up too early; and 2 percent had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep. The researchers did not determine if the people met the full definition of insomnia.

The people were then followed for an average of about 10 years. During that time, there were 130,032 cases of stroke, heart attack and other similar diseases.

People who had all three symptoms of insomnia were 18 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have any symptoms. The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect the risk of stroke or heart disease including alcohol use, smoking, and level of physical activity.

People who had trouble falling asleep or staying asleep were 9 percent more likely to develop stroke or heart disease than people who did not have this trouble. Of the 55,127 people who had this symptom, 17,650, or 32 percent, had a stroke or heart disease, compared to 112,382, or 26 percent, of the 432,073 people who did not have this symptom of insomnia.

People who woke up too early in the morning and could not get back to sleep were 7 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that problem. And people who reported that they had trouble staying focused during the day due to poor sleep were 13 percent more likely to develop these diseases than people who did not have that symptom.

“The link between insomnia symptoms and these diseases was even stronger in younger adults and people who did not have high blood pressure at the start of the study, so future research should look especially at early detection and interventions aimed at these groups,” Li said.

Li noted that the study does not show cause and effect between the insomnia symptoms and stroke and heart disease. It only shows an association.

A limitation of the study was that people reported their own symptoms of insomnia, so the information may not have been accurate.

Also, the researchers did not ask participants about having sleep that was not refreshing; this is another common symptom of insomnia.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

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