New Zealand bans vaginal mesh implants

Ministry of Health asks suppliers to stop marketing the mesh until they have proven its safety

New Zealand has become the first major country to effectively ban vaginal mesh implants in response to safety concerns over the surgery.

The countrys Ministry of Health announced on Monday that it had written to leading mesh suppliers asking them to stop marketing the products from January or prove that their products are safe.

Ministry of Health spokesman, Stewart Jessamine, told a New Zealand radio station: Were always cautious about the use of the word ban, but effectively the companies are agreeing no longer to sell these products … in New Zealand from the 4th of January.

The move goes considerably further than recent announcements in other countries, such as Australia and the UK, which only restrict the use of pelvic mesh operations for organ prolapse. In New Zealand, the use of mesh implants to treat urinary incontinence, which accounts for the vast majority of mesh operations, will also be effectively banned, according to an announcement posted on the government website.

The decision has been applauded by campaigners, many of whom argue that the potential complications of mesh surgery, which include chronic pain and implants cutting through the vagina, are unacceptable. However, doctors expressed concern at the far-reaching nature of the ban.

It is now widely accepted that vaginal mesh should not be routinely offered for prolapse, where the pelvic organs bulge into the vagina. But many doctors maintain that mesh surgery to treat stress urinary incontinence can have advantages over traditional surgery and believe that these procedures should continue to be offered.

This makes New Zealand the only country in the world to have banned all of these procedures and will leave women without effective surgical options for these debilitating conditions, said Giovanni Losco, a urologist in Christchurch and spokesman for the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand.

Carl Heneghan, professor of evidence-based medicine at the University of Oxford, says the medical profession needs to acknowledge that there have been major failings in regulation and act to address the issue. If they dont then other regulators may also react with outright bans.

[New Zealand] is basically saying we cant guarantee patient safety, he added.

Jessamine said that the decision had been taken after reviewing data on mesh safety provided in November by the Australian government, which had been carrying out its own inquiry into the use of pelvic implants. Weve reviewed that data and come to the opinion that the data is sound and we now believe the risks of the use of these products in the pelvis for prolapse and stress incontinence far outweighs the benefits, he said.

Weve got an ability within our legislation to limit the use of those products, to discourage and ultimately remove those products from the market, he added.

Owen Smith, a shadow cabinet minister, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on surgical mesh implants, described the announcement as hugely significant. Its the first major country to effectively ban mesh for all pelvic operations. Its precisely what weve been calling for in the UK.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/12/new-zealand-bans-vaginal-mesh-implants

Cutting Down on Cow Burps to Ease Climate Change

In a cream-colored metal barn two hours north of Wellington, New Zealand, a black-and-white dairy cow stands in what looks like an oversize fish tank. Through the transparent Plexiglas walls, she can see three other cows in adjacent identical cubicles munching their food in companionable silence. Tubes sprout from the tops of the boxes, exchanging fresh air for the stale stuff inside. The cows, their owners say, could help slow climate change.

Livestock has directly caused about one-quarter of Earth’s warming in the industrial age, and scientists from the U.S. departments of agriculture and energy say bigger, more resource-heavy cattle are accelerating the problem. Contrary to popular belief, cows contribute to global warming mostly through their burps, not their flatulence. So about a dozen scientists here at AgResearch Grasslands, a government-owned facility, are trying to develop a vaccine to stop those burps. “This is not a standard vaccine,” says Peter Janssen, the anti-burp program’s principal research scientist. “It’s proving to be an elusive little genie to get out of the bottle.”

The effort isn’t entirely altruistic. Grasslands is dedicated to boosting New Zealand’s dominant agriculture and biotech industries, and the country’s biggest company, Fonterra Co-operative Group Ltd., a $14 billion dairy processor, has vowed to increase its milk exports without increasing carbon emissions. But 2017 is set to be the third-hottest year on record—the top two were 2016 and 2015—so the globe can use all the help it can get, business-minded or not. “It’s essential to reduce global livestock emissions in order to reduce climate change consistent with what countries signed up to under the Paris Agreement,” says Andy Reisinger, deputy director of the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre.

Janssen.
Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

Janssen and his team are trying to purge cow stomachs of methanogens, the microbes that convert hydrogen into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. It’s an unexpectedly delicate and difficult task, because cows rely on a host of other bacteria, fungi, and protozoa in their guts to digest the grasses they eat. Researchers have tried feeding them oregano, tea extracts, probiotics, antibiotics, seaweed (too toxic), coconut oil (too expensive), chloroform (too carcinogenic), and even leftover grains from beer brewing (which made cows poop more nitrous oxide, another greenhouse gas).

So far no vaccine has progressed far enough to be given to the cows in the cubicles, where methane output can be measured. The vaccine must first be successfully tested in the lab and on sheep. Although the scientists have figured out how to produce the desired antibodies in the cows, the animals continue to merrily burp. Janssen’s team is looking for proteins they can use to concoct a stronger vaccine, one that will better prime the cows’ immune systems to attack methanogens. A single methanogen genome has 2,000 proteins, so they’ve narrowed their search to a handful of candidates, which they think could knock out the gassiest microbes.

A cow is led into the methane measurement center.
Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

The hunt for a vaccine costs about $1.4 million a year, about two-thirds of which comes from the New Zealand government. Industry supplies the rest. The money is part of a $7.5 million pool for curbing farming gases meant to address New Zealand’s status as the world’s highest per capita methane emitter. Janssen says it may take five years or longer to create the right vaccine, but it will do much more to reduce bovine emissions than a treatment that Dutch company DSM is developing for bucket-fed cows. That’s because the vaccine will work just as well for grazers. “There aren’t too many ruminants in the world where the animals never get to eat grass,” he says, noting that even cows fattened with feed in a controlled environment typically start out in pastures.

DSM used computers to create a methane-blocking molecule called 3-nitrooxypropanol, or 3-NOP, that appears to cut burped methane by about a third when sprinkled on a cow’s food. The company, whose annual research and development budget is $500 million, is waiting for approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is likely to take at least two more years. “For developed countries, this is the most promising technology at this point,” says Alexander Hristov, a Penn State professor of dairy nutrition who’s tested 3-NOP for DSM. The New Zealanders are leading the vaccine hunt, he says, but they haven’t developed a proven product they can offer to farmers.

Dairy cows at Massey University, which supplies cows for AgResearch.
Photographer: Jake Mein for Bloomberg Businessweek

Janssen, a bespectacled man with the lanky limbs of a longtime mountain explorer, says his team is also working on substances similar to 3-NOP that could be given in pill form. A complicating factor: No one knows how low-methane a cow can go without hurting its health or productivity. Trials suggest cows that burp less seem to cope fine, but scientists want to make sure there are no unintended consequences, such as reduced milk quality or quantity. “We need to understand where that tipping point is,” Janssen says.

Humans are the final hurdle. Canadian scientists created low-polluting pigs almost a decade ago, but people wouldn’t buy the genetically modified pork. “Farmers will produce what the consumer demands,” says Tim McAllister, who’s conducting trials of 3-NOP and other methane-reduction techniques for the Canadian government at the Lethbridge Research and Development Centre in Alberta. Soaring global demand for meat makes climate concerns pressing. North of Wellington, the cows seem content in their tanks, turning to watch as Janssen strides between their boxes. For now, their burps are packed with methane, but they may not have to be.

    BOTTOM LINE – Researchers are painstakingly hunting for compounds that can quell methane-packed cow burps but will still have to sell regulators and the public on the science.

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-11-29/cutting-down-on-cow-burps-to-ease-climate-change

    New Zealand: thousands of bottles of allegedly fraudulent wine exported

    Ministry of primary industries brings landmark case against Southern Boundary Wines under 2003 wine act

    Thousands of bottles of allegedly fraudulent New Zealand sauvignon blanc and pinot noir have been exported overseas in what the government believes is the countrys first significant case of wine fraud.

    The Ministry of Primary Industries has brought a landmark case against Southern Boundary Wines the first ever to be prosecuted under the 2003 Wine Act.

    MPI alleges Southern Boundary Wines of north Canterbury produced wine for their own brand and others which gave misleading information relating to vintage, variety and origin.

    The case has made waves in the New Zealand wine industry with fears it could jeopardise consumers trust in the much celebrated New Zealand wine brand, with exports now worth NZ$1.6b a year.

    The allegations are very concerning to us, as they will be to all New Zealand wine producers and consumers, said Jeffrey Clarke, New Zealand Winegrowers acting chief executive.

    It is critical that consumers have confidence when they buy a New Zealand wine that the label is accurate and trustworthy. And this case threatens that.

    The wines allegedly caught up in the scandal include bottles of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from the Marlborough and Waipara regions in the north of the south island, produced between 2011-2013.

    The allegedly fraudulent bottles were exported to the UK, Australia, Japan, Fiji and Thailand.

    Three directors of the company face more than 150 charges between them, which they will plead to in November. Their lawyer, James Rapley, said his clients did not wish to comment on the case at this stage.

    MPI began investigating the company in 2014, and a spokesperson said it believes there are no more bottles of the allegedly affected wine available for sale in overseas markets, and the bottles were never for sale in New Zealand.

    MPI and NZ Wine have stressed there were no health and safety concerns with any of the allegedly affected wine, but the case still has ramifications for New Zealand wine producers and their overseas drinkers, where sauvignon blanc and pinot noir have particularly prestige reputations and can command steep prices.

    This could be made into a big situation, Dieter Adam, chief executive of New Zealand Manufacturers and Exporters Association told Fairfax media. Especially in the Asian markets, and the Chinese in particular are very sensitive to misleading labels.

    Clarke from NZ Wine said he was first made aware of the case when MPI investigators approached him for information during their extensive investigation.

    He said to the best of his knowledge this was the first and only case of allegedly fraudulent New Zealand wine, and he embraced the ongoing prosecution, as it could act as a warning that allegedly criminal action would be investigated and brought to the courts.

    It is important to bear in mind that Southern Boundary Wines is a very small winery, and even if this issue affected all of their wines it would still be a small percentage of the total of New Zealand wines export, said Clarke.

    I think now there has been a prosecution under the wine act is a good thing, it could act as a deterrent. We cannot let the alleged actions of one winery damage a reputation that we have all worked so hard to build.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/aug/06/new-zealand-thousands-of-bottles-of-allegedly-fraudulent-wine-exported