Opinion: Chinese Food Practices will Affect Spread of Pandemics

David Fickling wrote . . . . . . . . .

With the world’s largest high-speed rail network, a payments system that’s largely conducted via phone apps, and half the world’s solar-power plants, China often looks like a country at the technological frontier. When you consider how it feeds itself, though, it’s still just catching up.

About 44 per cent of the country’s livestock in 2010 were still raised in backyards and traditional mixed farms, where they mingle with crops and other animals. While that’s a dramatic fall from a generation ago, when about 97 per cent of livestock were raised in traditional conditions, it trails countries like the U.S. and Europe, where 95 per cent or more of pigs and poultry are raised in socalled “intensive systems” — in common parlance, factory farms.

That transition is likely to be a major factor in the spread of new diseases such as the coronavirus, which, as of Monday, has killed 361 people since it was first detected last month in Wuhan. Chinese cities with a combined population of 56 million were put on lockdown to contain the virus. How China handles the changes taking place in its food industry will determine the future of infections for everyone on the planet.

Epidemics are a product of urbanization. Only when humans started to pack themselves into densely populated cities around 5,000 years ago were infections able to attain the critical mass needed to kill us in large numbers. The worldwide disease outbreaks we call pandemics started to emerge only when our urban civilization went global.

Think about that in terms of the livestock industry and the implications are concerning. In the space of 50 years or so, factory farming has “urbanized” an animal population that was previously scattered across small and midsize holdings. Epidemic conditions that once only affected humans can increasingly pose threats to our food animals, too.

Then consider each animal as a potential laboratory for the mutations that can cause new epidemics to emerge. Globally, the population of farm animals is about three times that of humans. Some of the most serious disease outbreaks in recent decades have resulted from infections crossing the species barrier from intensively farmed livestock to people.

H5N1 avian flu may have started to spread when migratory birds wound up in close proximity to the new intensive poultry farms that sprang up across eastern China in the 1990s. The origins of the H1N1 swine flu

pandemic are harder to unpack, but several studies have suggested diverse origins relating to global movements of pigs and poultry between Europe, Asia and North America.

The Wuhan virus, similarly, was first found among people linked to the city’s wet market. As my colleague Adam Minter has written, the conditions in these open-air stalls — where many animals are slaughtered to order or taken home alive — are a major factor in the spread of disease in China in recent years.

It’s not all bad news. Precisely because they’re such potent sources of infection, biosecurity measures and surveillance on intensive farms are generally much tighter than they are on traditional holdings. China’s bureaucracy has often been characterized by secrecy and indecision in the face of epidemics and food safety problems. It seems to take strong direction from the top for this stasis to be reversed, so it’s good that President Xi Jinping has called for action around the latest outbreak.

Even so, the devastating spread of African swine fever over the past year suggests that food safety is still weaker than it should be.

The changing nature of the retail grocery trade may improve matters. As amazing as the persistence of China’s wet markets may seem to outsiders, it’s easy to overlook how quickly they’re fading. Until the 1990s, supermarkets didn’t exist, rationing was common, and meat in many areas was a treat reserved for rare occasions like the Lunar New Year festival.

Nowadays, the market share of modern grocery stores is about 65 per cent, according to Euromonitor International. That puts far more of the meat supply chain into large-scale facilities with better biosecurity procedures.

The bigger problem is likely to be a political one. Food-safety measures work best where there’s a high degree of trust in society. Farmers are most likely to pay the personal costs of following hygiene rules when they think they can benefit more from the integrity of the system than from smuggling infected livestock. As even Beijing acknowledges, trust is one commodity that’s in short supply in China these days.

Source : Winnipeg Free Press newspaper

Noodle Baskets with Chicken Lime Salad


peanut or corn oil, for deep-frying
9 oz fresh thin or medium Chinese egg noodles

Chicken Lime Salad

6 tbsp sour cream
6 tbsp mayonnaise
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
grated rind and juice of 1 lime
4 skinless, boneless chicken thighs, poached and cooled, then cut into thin strips
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 cucumber, cut in half lengthwise, seeds removed and sliced
salt and pepper
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
several fresh basil leaves, torn


  1. These impressive-looking baskets are not difficult to shape and cook, but allow yourself a few practice runs first.
  2. To shape noodle baskets, you can use 2 spider web slotted spoons from an Asian store. Spread the noodles out and place in a mesh spoon. Then place a second mesh spoon over the top and hold the two handles tightly together as you dip the baskets into the oil.
  3. Alternatively, you can buy a special set of 2 long-handled wire baskets that clip inside each other, which you can buy at gourmet kitchen stores. Dip the larger wire basket in oil, then line it completely and evenly with one-quarter of the tangled noodles. Dip the smaller wire basket in oil, then position it inside the larger basket and clip it into position.

  4. Heat 4 inches oil in a wok or deep-fat fryer to 350-375°F/ 180-190°C, or until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds.
  5. Lower the baskets into the oil and deep-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until the noodles are golden brown. Remove the baskets from the oil and drain on paper towels.
  6. Unclip the 2 wire baskets and carefully lift up and remove the small one. Use a round-bladed knife, if necessary, to prise the noodle basket from the wire frame. Repeat to make 3 more baskets. Let the noodle baskets cool, then fill and serve, or store in an airtight container for several days.
  7. To make the salad, combine the sour cream, mayonnaise, ginger, and lime rind. Gradually add the lime juice to taste. Stir in the chicken, carrot, cucumber, and seasoning to taste.
  8. Cover and let chill. Just before serving stir in the herbs and spoon the salad into the noodle baskets.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Noodles

More Evidence Texting Pedestrians are Accidents Waiting to Happen

Lisa Rapaport wrote . . . . . . . . .

Smartphone users who text while they walk are more prone to accidents than pedestrians who just listen to music or talk on their phones, a research review suggests.

Compared to people who didn’t text while walking, those who did appeared to look left and right less often before crossing streets, the analysis found. Texting was also associated with higher odds that pedestrians would bump into other people or things in their paths or experience near-misses.

“Smartphone use that takes a pedestrian’s eyes off the traffic environment has a higher potential safety cost than activities that do not curtail scanning,” said study co-author Jeff Caird of the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Turning on ‘do not disturb’ while walking may allow pedestrians to reflect and be aware of their environment,” Caird said by email.

For the analysis, researchers examined data from 14 experimental studies assessing the impact of smartphone use on pedestrian safety. Altogether, these smaller studies involved 872 pedestrians.

The smaller studies typically included simulations designed to mimic what pedestrians might experience while walking down a sidewalk or crossing a street. Simulations had features such as curb-like platforms and treadmills with projection systems to duplicate what people might see on a street.

Participants were asked to perform a variety of street-crossing tasks multiple times during simulations, repeating the activities without a smartphone and while occupied by a variety of smartphone activities like texting, talking, browsing the web or listening to music.

Texting was associated with higher rates of near-misses in collision analyses compared with listening to music or talking on the phone, researchers report in Injury Prevention.

Texting and browsing the web on a phone were also tied to slight increases in the time it took to start crossing the street.

Talking on the phone was associated with a small increase in the time taken to start crossing the road and slightly more missed opportunities to cross the road safely.

One limitation of the analysis is that simulation results might not necessarily reflect what happens on city streets. Another drawback is the potential for people to use phones differently in lab settings than they would normally.

Even so, the results add to evidence already suggesting that smartphones can distract pedestrians and contribute to injuries, said David Schwebel, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved in the study.

“The message for all of us is that we should cross the street undistracted,” Schwebel said by email. “We should treat pedestrian street-crossing just like we treat driving: put the smartphone aside when engaging in traffic.”

If people can’t help using the phone while they’re walking along busy sidewalks, they should still have the good sense to pause what they’re doing and look up from their screens when they need to cross the street, Schwebel said.

“Don’t cross the street while using your smartphone,” Schwebel added. “Put the phone in your pocket or purse or even just in your hand and start using it again when you’re safely on the sidewalk – or better still, sitting on a park bench.”

Source: Reuters

Study: Meat Still Isn’t Healthy

Serena Gordon wrote . . . . . . . . .

After a weekend of football-shaped pigs-in-a-blanket, you probably don’t want to hear that the latest study on red and processed meat found that these foods boost your risk of heart and blood vessel disease.

The study also found that meat ups your risk of premature death.

“Consume red and processed meats in moderation because even two servings or more a week are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and mortality,” said study senior author Norrina Allen, director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago.

These latest findings might seem to contradict an earlier study — published in the fall in the Annals of Internal Medicine — that had meat fans cheering. That study reported researchers couldn’t say with certainty that eating red meat or processed meat caused cancer, type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

That study was heralded by many as a green light to eat those foods with abandon. But plenty of studies that came before found links between red and processed meat and health harms. And major health organizations, such as the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society, were quick to recommend against stuffing sausages and other meats back into your diet.

In 2015, a World Health Organization evidence review concluded that processed meats are a proven cancer-causing substance and that red meat probably is, too.

The new research included six prospective studies of nearly 30,000 adults. A prospective trial is one that follows people over time and periodically collects data on their health. In this case, participants were followed for up to 30 years.

The researchers found that those who ate just two servings of processed meats a week had a 7% higher risk of heart disease and stroke. Processed meats include deli meats, hot dogs, bratwurst, sausage and bacon.

Folks who ate two or more servings of unprocessed red meat — such as beef or pork — had a 3% higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Poultry also showed a link, but Allen said the finding was inconsistent and would need to be replicated in another study. There was no association with fish and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Eating two or more servings a week of red meat or processed meat was associated with a 3% increased risk of dying during the study. Fish and poultry were not tied to a higher risk of dying.

The more red and processed meats people ate, the greater their risk of heart disease, stroke and premature death, Allen said.

But just how do these foods increase these risks?

Allen pointed to high amounts of saturated fat and sodium as likely culprits. Plus, she said, if you’re eating a lot of meat, you’re probably not getting enough fruits and vegetables.

Allen said she would “recommend eating red and processed meat in moderation. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains — they have beneficial effects.”

Dr. Jeffrey Mechanick is director of the Marie-Josee and Henry Kravis Center for Cardiovascular Health at Mount Sinai Heart in New York City. He wasn’t part of the study, but reviewed the findings.

“This is a respected and reputable group, and this study is coming on the heels of the previous controversial paper,” Mechanick said. “These results support what we’ve commonly believed.”

But he said it’s important not to fixate on just one aspect of the diet.

“There’s no single food that dictates whether a lifestyle is healthy,” Mechanick explained. “If you have an overall healthy eating pattern, having bacon with your eggs isn’t going to mitigate your health.”

Like Allen, he said the focus should be on eating more vegetables and fruits. Mechanick suggested five to 10 servings a day. He added that diet isn’t the only important factor in your health: It’s also important to get plenty of physical activity and work on reducing your stress levels.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Source: HealthDay

Persistent Asthma Linked to Increased Risk for Heart Rhythm Disorder

People with persistent asthma could be at 1.5 times higher risk of developing a heart rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation than those without asthma, new research shows.

The study used data collected on 6,615 people in six areas around the country who were followed for nearly 13 years. When the study started, none of the participants had heart disease. Researchers concluded that the 150 participants with persistent asthma – those who required medication daily to control their condition – were more likely to be diagnosed with AFib than those without asthma.

Inflammation is a risk factor for both asthma and AFib, and the study found people with persistent asthma had the highest levels of inflammation. But the research also suggests there may be more than inflammation connecting asthma to an irregular heartbeat.

“We initially suspected that the link between asthma and atrial fibrillation may be explained by high levels of common inflammation markers in the blood at the baseline of the study,” said study author Dr. Matthew Tattersall, an assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “These inflammation markers are higher in asthmatics and independently predict atrial fibrillation.”

But when he and his colleagues adjusted for those inflammation blood markers, the relationship between asthma and AFib did not significantly change, Tattersall said. That led them to believe “there may be specific unique patterns of inflammation not identified or even other non-inflammatory pathways that may be driving an increased risk.”

Previous studies done in other countries also have found a link between asthma and AFib. One study in Norway, with 54,567 adults, found having asthma was associated with a 38% increased risk of AFib.

The new study is the first in the U.S., according to study authors, and the first to include a racially diverse group of people; 27% of participants were African American, 12% Chinese and 22% Hispanic. The research was published Tuesday in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology.

At least 5.2 million Americans are living with atrial fibrillation. The condition is marked by a quivering or irregular heartbeat called an arrhythmia. It can cause heart failure and other heart-related complications, as well as blood clots. If a clot leaves the heart and travels to the brain, it can cause a stroke.

People with untreated AFib are nearly five times more likely to have a stroke than those who do not have this heart problem.

Over 25 million Americans have asthma, a chronic disease caused by inflammation in the bronchial tubes, or airways, in the lungs. People with persistent asthma are prescribed daily controller medications to keep their airways from tightening up and prevent coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath or chest tightness.

Patients and doctors need to know about the association between asthma and AFib, said Dr. Marc Miller, a cardiac electrophysiologist and an assistant professor of cardiology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. But he cautioned the study doesn’t show asthma is causing AFib.

“The theory is they both have a common origin – systemic inflammation,” said Miller, who was not involved with the study. “But we don’t know if that is the reason asthma patients get atrial fibrillation or if it’s the therapies being used to treat the asthma that are inducing the atrial fibrillation.”

Tattersall said the connection between the two conditions suggests doctors should be talking to their asthma patients about the importance of heart-healthy behaviors, such as exercise, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet.

“Being aware there is this association means we need to help patients focus on these primary prevention things we know we should be doing but that are often the hardest things to do,” Tattersall said. “But they can help with asthma and they can also reduce risk for atrial fibrillation.”

Source: American Heart Association

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