Spread of breast cancer linked to compound in asparagus and other foods

Using drugs or diet to reduce levels of asparagine may benefit patients, say researchers

Spread of breast cancer linked to compound in asparagus and other foods

Using drugs or diet to reduce levels of asparagine may benefit patients, say researchers

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/feb/07/cutting-asparagus-could-prevent-spread-of-breast-cancer-study-shows

Tony Blair: The whole country has been pulled into this Tory psychodrama over Europe

The former prime minister says stopping Brexit is more important than getting a Labour government. Corbyn has genuine personal charm, he says, but his team have placed pragmatism over principle

The last time I met Tony Blair in person, I got quite a shock. It was two years after he had left Downing Street, and the former prime minister resembled nothing so much as Francis Maude done up as a drag queen. Plucked and buffed, caked in makeup, his whole face gurned and twitched, the eyebrows and teeth performing a bizarre kind of eightsome reel. The mans discomfort in his own skin was disturbing to witness.

The figure who greets me this week in the London office of his new Institute for Global Change is unrecognisably altered. The facial dance has vanished and he is strikingly composed; performative agitation has been replaced with centred gravitas. The cadence of his speech has changed, too; the curiously verb-less sentences are gone, along with the faux glottal stops. But then, lately, an awful lot about Blairs life has changed, too.

In autumn last year, he announced the closure of Tony Blair Associates, his private business empire, and the winding up of complex and controversial financial structures that have earned him so many millions and so much opprobrium. Reserves of 10m, and henceforth 80% of his time, would be devoted to his not-for-profit work. Aged 64, he is returning to frontline British politics using his institute as a platform to promote progressive centrist policy ideas and combat the rise of populism. He categorically denies any plans to create a new political party, but confirmed last weekend that he has fully committed himself to a mission to reverse Brexit.

To leave the European Union is just an extraordinary thing to do, he says quietly. Its a decision to relegate ourselves as a country. Its like being a top-six Premier League football club, and deciding to play in the Championship from now on. Can he recall any historical precedent for a nation volunteering to demote itself? Not in the modern developed world, no. And if you think its the most important decision this country has taken in living memory, then even if you think theres only a small chance of it being changed, if you think thats the right thing to do, you should be up arguing for it.

Blair is perfectly aware that many, not least on his own side of the argument, consider him so toxic that any intervention on his part can only be counter productive. Im curious to know if he factored this in before deciding to, as he has put it, stick my head out the door and get abucket of wotsit poured all over me.

Of course, there will be some people who refuse, literally refuse, to listen to you because its you. But my experience with people most of the time is that, if youre making a reasonable argument, theyll listen to you on that argument, even if they disagree on other things. In any event, frankly, if there was a stampede of people getting out there then Id be very happy to be at the back. But Idont notice this stampede. I think this is such a serious moment for the country that its your obligation to go out and state the argument.

Blair believes it is still possible to prevent us leaving the EU, through a combination of grassroots pressure and parliamentary opposition. His problem, of course, is that, notwithstanding this government defeat on the EU withdrawal bill, his own party refuses to oppose Brexit.

I understand its a very pragmatic position that the Labour partys taking. And I dont disapprove of pragmatism in politics at all. But I still think its the wrong choice. I think what the Labour party is essentially doing is saying: There are a number of Labour voters who voted leave, and if we are painted as the anti-Brexit party, were going to lose that support. Therefore, what we should do is say: Were going to do Brexit, and try to take Brexit out of the equation for our electorate, so they can vote [for us] on other issues. I completely get that. Its a piece of political strategy. Its actually what alot of people would advise you to do.

Still the legendary political operator of our time, Blair refers to strategy with the kind of objective respect a racehorse breeder might accord to a rivals thoroughbred.

I totally get it. But I think there are two problems with it. The first is that our language may be different, but were actually in the same position as the Tories, which is to say well get out of the single market but we want a close trading relationship with Europe. Your risk is that, at a certain point, you get exposed as having the same technical problem that the Tories have, which is: heres the Canada option, heres the Norway option, and every time you move towards Norway youll be accepting the rules of the EU, but youve lost your say in it, and every time you move towards the Canada option youre going to be doing economic damage. Thats the essential dilemma of the Tories, which I think will be exposed over time, and Labours got that problem, too.

Blairs second problem with the strategy is that it prevents Labour from making what he calls an election-winning argument. Voters, he argues, need to be told that all their concerns about jobs, public services, opportunities for young people and, crucially, the NHS, are correct and legitimate. But Brexit is not the answer. You can make a huge point of not just the destructive impact of Brexit, but the distractive impact of Brexit, because its that distraction that means that this government has no time to deal with the health service. Its got no time to deal with the problems of poverty. Its got no time to deal with the problems of inequality. Its got time to deal with one thing only. The whole country has been pulled into this Tory psychodrama over Europe.

I wonder if Blair might, like many passionate remainers, be underestimating the public ferocity towards politicians who tell them they voted the wrong way in the referendum.

Now of course, youd have a huge fight. But youd be fighting from a point of principle. Think of what a galvanising movement you would have in those circumstances, because you would actually be well, for a start youd be saying whats right. Thats quite an important thing to start with. Secondly, I think the impact on the Tories would be really profound, because youd be driving a wedge right into that Tory division and the Tories are a profoundly divided party.

Lots of Labour politicians I talk to share this view in theory, but argue that its hopeless in practice while the polls fail to indicate any significant shift in public opinion against Brexit. And I say to them, But what about leadership? Many believe the reason the country voted to leave was precisely to defy its political leaders; if they want the public to change its mind, invoking leadership is the last way to go about it. Blair rolls his eyes. Guys, come on! I mean, what the hell are you in politics for? Of course, youve got to listen to people, but youve also got to lead them. Youve got to be a bit more robust.

Instead of telling leave voters they were wrong, I suggest, Labour could now have an opportunity to capitalise on Jeremy Corbyns own well-documented ambivalence towards Europe. Were Corbyn to say to the country: I shared many of your misgivings. But having seen the harsh reality of what Brexit really looks like, Im now convinced we shouldnt do it, would that convey both humility as well as leadership? Blair looks surprised, and pauses to consider this. Yes. I think thats a really good idea. I think that would be actually quite powerful. I agree, if Jeremy Corbyn was to say, Look, Ive always been sceptical about Europe, but Ive now looked at this Yes, that would be powerful. He pauses again. But youve got to want to do it.

What does he mean? Youve got to want people to change their minds. I may be wrong about this, but I think there are elements of the Labour leadership who think that doing Brexit increases their possibility of winning power. Does he mean they have calculated that its a strategic price worth paying for office? Yes.

Blair is certain this is a miscalculation. I actually believe stopping Brexit is the route to win power. But suppose they were right, I say, and supporting Brexit is indeed a strategic necessity for reaching No 10 arguably not unlike new Labours 1997 electoral pledge to abide by Tory spending levels. Would Blair agree its a sacrifice worth making to win? I dont, actually. No. I think this principles too important. I do. So given a straight choice between stopping Brexit and getting Labour elected, he would choose the former? Id like to see a Labour government in power. But I think the key national priority right now is stopping Brexit. I would put it above everything else right now for the country.

The irony of Blair cast as the selfless politician willing to sacrifice power for principle, and Corbyn the power-hungry arch-triangulator, is not lost on either of us. Yes, there is an irony in it, yes, he agrees, smiling. Ive thought about that, too, and whether its me thats forgetting what its like to try and win power.

Labours performance at the polls in June caught Blair, along with most New Labourites, by surprise, so I ask what he had failed to see in Corbyn. He smiles again. I think what he does have is a genuine personal charm. Ill give him that. You know, when the rightwing media were trying to build him into some sort of demented Marxist, I think his demeanour was of enormous assistance. I pay tribute to that, I genuinely do. Imean, I actually admire that. But he puts Labours success chiefly down to a Tory campaign more incompetent than any Ive ever seen … And I dont think the same rules will necessarily apply in the next election.

Blairs faith in the politics of the centre ground remains as ideologically implacable as Corbyns faith in socialism. But when the demographic centre of property-owning, middle-income middle classes is collapsing, is the political centre even relevant?

Were in an era when people want change. I still believe you can mobilise people to vote for a vision of the future rather than two competing visions of the past, one that is this nostalgic nationalism, which is what the Brexit thing amounts to in the end, and the other, these old-style, leftist policies of the 60s. If this is the choice, OK, then people are going to choose between those things. But I still think weve got a huge number of people who dont really want either of those.

Whether Blair can still connect with the centre is unclear to me. His repeated protestations in recent years that he is never going to be part of the super-rich are weirdly tin-eared from a man who counts his wealth in multiples of tens of millions. He is also conspicuously uncritical of Donald Trumps presidency. Trump represents precisely the kind of populism Blairs institute is dedicated to fighting and yet, he says, were he still in office, he would have invited Trump to Britain, and would not have withdrawn the invitation following the infamous Britain First retweets. He told Alastair Campbell, in a GQ interview this year: The left media finds it very hard to be objective on Trump, and complained that Democrats just go mental when he even tries to suggest Trumps administration could do anything good. Why does Blair find it all but impossible to criticise a US president? Look, this will not appeal to much of your readership, but I really think its really important that America is strong in the world clear, consistent and predictable with its allies. I always want to protect the relationship, because its important.

But if nothing matters more to Blair than Brexit, presumably its even more important than our relationship with the US. What I dont understand, I say, is why he doesnt desist from making comments about Corbyn and Trump that will only alienate the very people in Britain he is trying to win over. Telling them theyre wrong about Corbyn, and wrong about Trump, feels like more of his old compulsion to chastise the left.

Im not telling people theyre wrong about Trump. Im just saying its not a debate I want to get into at this point in time. And theres no point in me saying: Ive now decided Jeremy Corbyns leadership is fantastic and I think hes the answer to Britains problems because you wouldnt believe me.

I cant decide which surprises me more Blairs resolve to privilege speaking his mind over strategising, or the impression he conveys of a man restored to peace with himself. The two are almost certainly not unrelated. But I think I detect something else in his air of calm authority. Iraq had always seemed to be almost entirely about him first as a vehicle for his ego, then as a battleground of his reputation. What makes his campaign against Brexit feel very different, and compelling, is a sense that it has little to do with him, and everything to do with the issue itself.

But is it winnable?

I cant predict it. Ive given up predicting politics. I used to be really good at it, and then I was not so good at it, and now I think its probably inherently unpredictable. So where do you camp in those circumstances? You camp on the ground you believe in.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/dec/16/tony-blair-the-whole-country-has-been-pulled-into-this-tory-psychodrama-over-europe

Mass starvation is humanitys fate if we keep flogging the land to death | George Monbiot

The Earth cannot accommodate our need and greed for food. We must change our diet before its too late, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

Brexit; the crushing of democracy by billionaires; the next financial crash; a rogue US president: none of them keeps me awake at night. This is notbecause I dont care Icare very much. Its only because I have a bigger question onmy mind. Where is all the food going to come from?

By the middle of this century there will be two or three billion more people on Earth. Any one of the issues I am about to list could help precipitate mass starvation. And this is before you consider how they might interact.

The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UNs famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the worlds croplands.

Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India among the worlds critical growing regions levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in south Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by the year 2050. Where willit come from?

The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. These predictions could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4C of warming in the US corn belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.

The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But thats viable only for the most expensive crops.

Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with fewer than fivehectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the UK has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated intolarge farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.

While these multiple disasters unfoldon land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global sea grab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. About 3billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?

All this would be hard enough. But as peoples incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UKs farmland footprint (the land requiredto meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how exactly do we accommodate it?

Graph from Our World in Data.

The profligacy of livestock farming is astonishing. Already, 36% of the calories grown in the form of grain and pulses and 53% of the protein are used to feed farm animals. Two-thirds of this food is lost in conversion from plant to animal. A graph produced last week by Our World in Data suggests that, on average, you need 0.01m2 of land to produce a gram of protein from beans or peas, but 1m2 to produce it from beefcattle or sheep: a 100-folddifference.

Its true that much of the grazing land occupied by cattle and sheep cannot be used to grow crops. But it would otherwise have sustained wildlife and ecosystems. Instead, marshes are drained, trees are felled and their seedlings grazed out, predators are exterminated, wild herbivores fenced out and other life forms gradually erased as grazing systems intensify. Astonishing places such as the rainforests of Madagascar and Brazil are laid waste to make room for yet more cattle.

Because there is not enough land to meet both need and greed, a global transition to eating animals means snatching food from the mouths of the poor. It also means the ecological cleansing of almost every corner of theplanet.

A
I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna lions, elephants, whales and tuna vanishing. Photograph: Douglas Klug/Getty Images

The shift in diets would be impossible to sustain even if there were no growth in the human population. But the greater the number of people, the greater the hunger meat eating will cause. From a baseline of 2010, the UNexpects meat consumption to rise by70% by 2030 (this is three times the rate of human population growth). Partly as a result, the global demand for crops could double (from the 2005 baseline) by 2050. The land required to grow them does not exist.

When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape fromgrey wastes, being beaten back byarmed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna lions, elephants, whales and tuna vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just anightmare.

Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that neednever end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth witha living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.

There are no easy answers, but the crucial change is a shift from an animal- to a plant-based diet. All else being equal, stopping both meat production and the use of farmland to grow biofuels could provide enough calories for another 4 billion people anddouble the protein available for human consumption. Artificial meat will help:one paper suggests it reduces water useby at least 82% and land useby 99%.

The next green revolution will not be like the last one. It will rely not on flogging the land to death, but on reconsidering how we use it and why. Can we do this, or do we the richer people now consuming the living planet find mass death easier to contemplate than changing our diet?

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/11/mass-starvation-humanity-flogging-land-death-earth-food

India expands payment scheme for Hindus to marry person of Dalit caste

Government is to scrap income ceiling for cash incentive but critics say slow uptake is due to millennia-old prejudice not economics

Indias government has expanded a scheme offering payment incentives to Hindus who marry members of the countrys poorest and most oppressed caste, the Dalits.

A scheme introduced in 2013 offered 250,000 rupees (2,900) to encourage Hindus from higher castes to marry members of the untouchable community, in the hope that it would help to remove the stigma of intercaste marriage and foster greater social cohesion.

To qualify, the annual income of the spouse from the high caste had to be less than 500,000 rupees (5,800).

The government envisaged about 500 such marriages annually, but less than 100 have taken place each year.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment announced it would scrap the income ceiling, and said all couples in which one spouse is from the Dalit caste would receive the cash incentive.

Ancient prejudices against Dalits remain stubbornly entrenched in India. Marriages between the higher castes and Dalits are very rare, with the vast majority of Indians marrying within their own caste. Many Indians will not even eat with a Dalit.

Dalits were traditionally thought to fall outside the four main classes of caste that determined the shape of Hindu lives, from jobs and diets to marriage prospects.

As a result, they were considered impure and banished to the periphery of Indian society, suffering thousands of years of exclusion and extreme poverty that affirmative action programmes over the last 70 years have done little to address.

Officials believe the schemes low success rate so far is also due to a combination of other factors: the income ceiling and also lack of awareness of the scheme. Many Dalits contacted by the Guardian had never heard of it.

Rahul Sonpimple, 28, a sociology PhD student in New Delhi, had no idea about the scheme but said it was a waste of time.

Caste is not to do with money or wealth or materialism. If it were, then a poor Brahmin would happily marry a billionaire Dalit. But he wont, because it is about caste pride, pride in your birth, he said.

John Dayal, secretary general of the All-India Christian Council, said the scheme was fundamentally misconceived because it monetised hatred and attempted to use cash to end a millennia-old system which is rooted not in economics, but in prejudices.

I know of several intercaste marriages but they are all done in secret or under police or court protection, Dayal said. What we need is not cash incentives but a social upheaval to end discrimination against Dalits.

Crimes against Dalits show no sign of abating. The latest statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau show a rise of 5.5% between 2015 and 2016.

Michael Safi contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/06/india-expands-payment-scheme-for-hindus-marry-person-dalit-caste

Universities deplore McCarthyism as MP demands list of tutors lecturing on Brexit

Tory whip writes to every vice-chancellor to ask for syllabus and any online material

Academics are accusing a Tory MP and government whip of McCarthyite behaviour, after he wrote to all universities asking them to declare what they are teaching their students about Brexit and to provide a list of teachers names.

Chris Heaton-Harris, Conservative MP for Daventry and a staunch Eurosceptic, wrote to vice-chancellors at the start of this month asking for the names of any professors involved in teaching European affairs with particular reference to Brexit. Neatly ignoring the long tradition of academic freedom that universities consider crucial to their success, his letter asks for a copy of each universitys syllabus and any online lectures on Brexit.

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, felt a chill down his spine when he read the sinister request: This letter just asking for information appears so innocent but is really so, so dangerous, he says. Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor and newspeak, naturally justified as the will of the British people, a phrase to be found on Mr Heaton-Harriss website. Green will be replying to the MP but not be providing the information requested.

MP's
Heaton-Harriss letter

Prof Kevin Featherstone, head of the European Institute at the LSE, is also outraged: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature. It smacks of asking: are you or have you ever been in favour of remain? There is clearly an implied threat that universities will somehow be challenged for their bias. Featherstone says LSE academics had already feared Brexit censorship after the Electoral Commission made inquiries during last years referendum campaign about academics debates and research, following a complaint by Bernard Jenkin, another Tory MP. Jenkin filed a complaint when the LSE hosted an event at which the secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said there was no upside for the UK in Brexit. Jenkin, a board member of the Vote Leave campaign, also accused the LSEs Centre for Economic Performance of producing partisan research designed to convince the public to stay in the EU. The commission, whose job is to ensure fair campaigning, investigated and took no action against the university.

A spokesman for the LSE strenuously denies all allegations of political bias. The freedom for academics to study the major issues facing society, reach their own conclusions, and engage in public debate is essential for the health of our universities and the UKs world-leading research base, he says.

Featherstone says: I understand the LSE received calls from the Electoral Commission asking about speakers and the costs of events on an almost daily basis throughout the campaign period. He argues that both Heaton-Harriss letter and the Electoral Commissions investigation pose a threat to the role of universities as free intellectual spaces where academics can explore and question ideas without political interference. He says both developments risk plunging universities into dangerous new political waters.

The Electoral Commission says universities have nothing to fear from its inquiries. We produce guidance to help all non-party campaigners understand the rules on campaigning and we can advise universities in cases where they may be affected. These do not prevent campaigning or engagement in public debate, but provide the public with transparency about who is spending what in order to influence their vote.

Prof
Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University: Here is the first step to the thought police, the political censor. Photograph: James Watkins

More than 80% of academics voted to remain, according to a YouGov survey [pdf] commissioned by the University and College Union in January. And within university departments focusing on European affairs, Brexiters are a rarity.

However, university experts on Brexit insist their personal views do not jaundice their teaching, and students are encouraged to question received assumptions and look at issues from all sides.

Julie Smith, director of the European Centre in the politics and international studies department at Cambridge University, says she told a lecture full of graduates about Heaton-Harriss letter last week. I told the students what my personal views were and emphasised that they were personal views. I voted to remain, but as an academic, my job is to impart knowledge, encourage debate and develop skills of analytical argument, not to impose doctrine.

Smith, who is also a Liberal Democrat peer, adds: If it is the case that a politician thinks he should interfere in the content of what universities are teaching and look at syllabi in order to see whether the correct line is being delivered, that is profoundly worrying.

Prof Piet Eeckhout, academic director of University College Londons European Institute, says it is unsurprising if most academics working on Europe are in favour of the EU. I have been teaching EU law for the last 25 years. The fact that I am sufficiently interested to spend all my days working on it obviously means I think EU law is a good thing.

Prof
Prof Kevin Featherstone, director of the European Institute at the LSE: The letter reflects a past of a McCarthyite nature

Pro-Brexit academics working in this area are also unhappy with the MPs behaviour. Lee Jones, reader in international politics at Queen Mary University of London, is one of the few openly pro-Brexit academics in his field. During the referendum campaign I said what I wanted and no one tried to shut me up, but I know colleagues elsewhere who have been blanked in the corridors because they voted to leave.

Yet Jones, too, is outraged by Heaton-Harriss investigation. It is really troubling that an MP thinks it is within his remit to start poking his nose into university teaching, he says. Universities are autonomous and politicians have no right to intimidate academics by scrutinising their courses. I have colleagues who are die-hard remainers. But I know what they teach and it is not propaganda.

Chris Bickerton, reader in modern European politics at Cambridge University, and a fellow leave voter agrees. He adds: In my institution there is strong support for academic freedom. I applied for promotion after the referendum and never did I worry that my views on Brexit would affect the results or my promotional prospects. Nor did I feel any institutional pressure to think one way or the other in the runup to the vote itself.

Heaton-Harris did not respond to requests for a comment.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/24/universities-mccarthyism-mp-demands-list-brexit-chris-heaton-harris

Goodbye and good riddance to livestock farming | George Monbiot

As the artificial meat industry grows, the last argument for farming animals has now collapsed, writes Guardian columnist George Monbiot

What will future generations, looking back on our age, see as its monstrosities? We think of slavery, the subjugation of women, judicial torture, the murder of heretics, imperial conquest and genocide, the first world war and the rise of fascism, and ask ourselves how people could have failed to see the horror of what they did. What madness of our times will revolt our descendants?

There are plenty to choose from. But one of them, I believe, will be the mass incarceration of animals, to enable us to eat their flesh or eggs or drink their milk. While we call ourselves animal lovers, and lavish kindness on our dogs and cats, we inflict brutal deprivations on billions of animals that are just as capable of suffering. The hypocrisy is so rank that future generations will marvel at how we could have failed to see it.

The shift will occur with the advent of cheap artificial meat. Technological change has often helped to catalyse ethical change. The $300m deal China signed last month to buy lab-grown meat marks the beginning of the end of livestock farming. But it wont happen quickly: the great suffering is likely to continue for many years.

The answer, we are told by celebrity chefs and food writers, is to keep livestock outdoors: eat free-range beef or lamb, not battery pork. But all this does is to swap one disaster mass cruelty for another: mass destruction. Almost all forms of animal farming cause environmental damage, but none more so than keeping them outdoors. The reason is inefficiency. Grazing is not just slightly inefficient, it is stupendously wasteful. Roughly twice as much of the worlds surface is used for grazing as for growing crops, yet animals fed entirely on pasture produce just one gram out of the 81g of protein consumed per personper day.

A paper in Science of the Total Environment reports that livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss. Grazing livestock are a fully automated system for ecological destruction: you need only release them on to the land and they do the rest, browsing out tree seedlings, simplifying complex ecosystems. Their keepers augment this assault by slaughtering large predators.

Flock
Sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

In the UK, for example, sheep supply around 1% of our diet in terms of calories. Yet they occupy around 4m hectares of the uplands. This is more or less equivalent to all the land under crops in this country, and more than twice the area of the built environment (1.7m hectares). The rich mosaic of rainforest and other habitats that once covered our hills has been erased, the wildlife reduced to a handful of hardy species. The damage caused is out of all proportion to the meat produced.

Replacing the meat in our diets with soya spectacularly reduces the land area required per kilo of protein: by 70% in the case of chicken, 89% in the case of pork and 97% in the case of beef. One study suggests that if we were all to switch to a plant-based diet, 15mhectares of land in Britain currently used for farming could be returned to nature. Alternatively, this country could feed 200 million people. An end to animal farming would be the salvation of the worlds wildlife, our natural wonders and magnificent habitats.

Understandably, those who keep animals have pushed back against such facts, using an ingenious argument. Livestock grazing, they claim, can suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil, reducing or even reversing global warming. In a TED talk watched by 4 million people, the rancher Allan Savory claims that his holistic grazing could absorb enough carbon to return the worlds atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. His inability, when I interviewed him, to substantiate his claims has done nothing to dent their popularity.

Similar statements have been made by Graham Harvey, the agricultural story editor of the BBC Radio 4 serial The Archers he claims that the prairies in the US could absorb all the carbon thats gone into the atmosphere for the whole planet since we industrialised and amplified by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. Farmers organisations all over the world now noisily promote this view.

A report this week by the Food Climate Research Network, called Grazed and Confused, seeks to resolve the question: can keeping livestock outdoors cause a net reduction in greenhouse gases? The authors spent two years investigating the issue. They cite 300 sources. Their answer is unequivocal. No.

It is true, they find, that some grazing systems are better than others. Under some circumstances, plants growing on pastures will accumulate carbon under the ground, through the expansion of their root systems and the laying down of leaf litter. But the claims of people such as Savory and Harvey are dangerously misleading. The evidence supporting additional carbon storage through the special systems these livestock crusaders propose (variously described as holistic, regenerative, mob, or adaptive grazing) is weak and contradictory, and suggests that if theres an effect at all, it is small.

The best that can be done is to remove between 20% and 60% of the greenhouse gas emissions grazing livestock produce. Even this might be an overestimate: a paper published this week in the journal Carbon Balance and Management suggests that the amount of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) farm animals produce has been understated. In either case, carbon storage in pastures cannot compensate for the animals own climate impacts, let alone those of industrial civilisation. I would like to see the TED team post a warning on Savorys video, before even more people are misled.

As the final argument crumbles, we are left facing an uncomfortable fact: animal farming looks as incompatible with a sustained future for humans and other species as mining coal.

That vast expanse of pastureland, from which we obtain so little at such great environmental cost, would be better used for rewilding: the mass restoration of nature. Not only would this help to reverse the catastrophic decline in habitats and the diversity and abundance of wildlife, but the returning forests, wetlands and savannahs are likely to absorb far more carbon than even the most sophisticated forms of grazing.

The end of animal farming might be hard to swallow. But we are a resilient and adaptable species. We have undergone a series of astonishing changes: the adoption of sedentarism, of agriculture, of cities, of industry.

Now it is time for a new revolution, almost as profound as those other great shifts: the switch to a plant-based diet. The technology is depending on how close an approximation to meat you demand (Quorn seems almost indistinguishable from chicken or mince to me) either here or just around the corner. The ethical switch is happening already: even today, there are half a million vegans in the land of roast beef. Its time to abandon the excuses, the fake facts and false comforts. It is time to see our moral choices as our descendants will.

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/04/livestock-farming-artificial-meat-industry-animals

Vast animal-feed crops to satisfy our meat needs are destroying planet

WWF report finds 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets which put huge strain on Earths resources

The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned.

The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF.

Intensive and industrial animal farming also results in less nutritious food, it reveals, highlighting that six intensively reared chickens today have the same amount of omega-3 as found in just one chicken in the 1970s.

The study entitled Appetite for Destruction launches on Thursday at the 2017 Extinction and Livestock Conference in London, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming (CIFW), and warns of the vast amount of land needed to grow the crops used for animal feed and cites some of the worlds most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas.

The report and conference come against a backdrop of alarming revelations of industrial farming. Last week a Guardian/ITV investigation showed chicken factory staff in the UK changing crucial food safety information.

Protein-rich soy is now produced in such huge quantities that the average European consumes approximately 61kg each year, largely indirectly by eating animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.

In 2010, the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used in feed. But if global demand for meat grows as expected, the report says, soy production would need to increase by nearly 80% by 2050.

The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife, said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.

With 23bn chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl on the planet more than three per person the biggest user of crop-based feed globally is poultry. The second largest, with 30% of the worlds feed in 2009, is the pig industry.

In the UK, pork is the second favourite meat after chicken, with each person eating on average 25kg a year in 2015 nearly the whole recommended yearly intake for all meats. UK nutritional guidelines recommend 45-55g of protein per day, but the average UK consumption is 64-88g, of which 37% is meat and meat products.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/05/vast-animal-feed-crops-meat-needs-destroying-planet

Plastic fibres found in tap water around the world, study reveals

Exclusive: Tests show billions of people globally are drinking water contaminated by plastic particles, with 83% of samples found to be polluted

Microplastic contamination has been found in tap water in countries around the world, leading to calls from scientists for urgent research on the implications for health.

Scores of tap water samples from more than a dozen nations were analysed by scientists for an investigation by Orb Media, who shared the findings with the Guardian. Overall, 83% of the samples were contaminated with plastic fibres.

The US had the highest contamination rate, at 94%, with plastic fibres found in tap water sampled at sites including Congress buildings, the US Environmental Protection Agencys headquarters, and Trump Tower in New York. Lebanon and India had the next highest rates.

European nations including the UK, Germany and France had the lowest contamination rate, but this was still 72%. The average number of fibres found in each 500ml sample ranged from 4.8 in the US to 1.9 in Europe.

The new analyses indicate the ubiquitous extent of microplastic contamination in the global environment. Previous work has been largely focused on plastic pollution in the oceans, which suggests people are eating microplastics via contaminated seafood.

We have enough data from looking at wildlife, and the impacts that its having on wildlife, to be concerned, said Dr Sherri Mason, a microplastic expert at the State University of New York in Fredonia, who supervised the analyses for Orb. If its impacting [wildlife], then how do we think that its not going to somehow impact us?

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A magnified image of clothing microfibres from washing machine effluent. One study found that a fleece jacket can shed as many as 250,000 fibres per wash. Photograph: Courtesy of Rozalia Project

A separate small study in the Republic of Ireland released in June also found microplastic contamination in a handful of tap water and well samples. We dont know what the [health] impact is and for that reason we should follow the precautionary principle and put enough effort into it now, immediately, so we can find out what the real risks are, said Dr Anne Marie Mahon at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, who conducted the research.

Mahon said there were two principal concerns: very small plastic particles and the chemicals or pathogens that microplastics can harbour. If the fibres are there, it is possible that the nanoparticles are there too that we cant measure, she said. Once they are in the nanometre range they can really penetrate a cell and that means they can penetrate organs, and that would be worrying. The Orb analyses caught particles of more than 2.5 microns in size, 2,500 times bigger than a nanometre.

Microplastics can attract bacteria found in sewage, Mahon said: Some studies have shown there are more harmful pathogens on microplastics downstream of wastewater treatment plants.

Plastic fibres found in tap water across the world

Microplastics are also known to contain and absorb toxic chemicals and research on wild animals shows they are released in the body. Prof Richard Thompson, at Plymouth University, UK, told Orb: It became clear very early on that the plastic would release those chemicals and that actually, the conditions in the gut would facilitate really quite rapid release. His research has shown microplastics are found in a third of fish caught in the UK.

The scale of global microplastic contamination is only starting to become clear, with studies in Germany finding fibres and fragments in all of the 24 beer brands they tested, as well as in honey and sugar. In Paris in 2015, researchers discovered microplastic falling from the air, which they estimated deposits three to 10 tonnes of fibres on the city each year, and that it was also present in the air in peoples homes.

This research led Frank Kelly, professor of environmental health at Kings College London, to tell a UK parliamentary inquiry in 2016: If we breathe them in they could potentially deliver chemicals to the lower parts of our lungs and maybe even across into our circulation. Having seen the Orb data, Kelly told the Guardian that research is urgently needed to determine whether ingesting plastic particles is a health risk.

The new research tested 159 samples using a standard technique to eliminate contamination from other sources and was performed at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. The samples came from across the world, including from Uganda, Ecuador and Indonesia.

How microplastics end up in drinking water is for now a mystery, but the atmosphere is one obvious source, with fibres shed by the everyday wear and tear of clothes and carpets. Tumble dryers are another potential source, with almost 80% of US households having dryers that usually vent to the open air.

We really think that the lakes [and other water bodies] can be contaminated by cumulative atmospheric inputs, said Johnny Gasperi, at the University Paris-Est Creteil, who did the Paris studies. What we observed in Paris tends to demonstrate that a huge amount of fibres are present in atmospheric fallout.

Plastic fibres may also be flushed into water systems, with a recent study finding that each cycle of a washing machine could release 700,000 fibres into the environment. Rains could also sweep up microplastic pollution, which could explain why the household wells used in Indonesia were found to be contaminated.

In Beirut, Lebanon, the water supply comes from natural springs but 94% of the samples were contaminated. This research only scratches the surface, but it seems to be a very itchy one, said Hussam Hawwa, at the environmental consultancy Difaf, which collected samples for Orb.

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This planktonic arrow worm, Sagitta setosa, has eaten a blue plastic fibre about 3mm long. Plankton support the entire marine food chain. Photograph: Richard Kirby/Courtesy of Orb Media

Current standard water treatment systems do not filter out all of the microplastics, Mahon said: There is nowhere really where you can say these are being trapped 100%. In terms of fibres, the diameter is 10 microns across and it would be very unusual to find that level of filtration in our drinking water systems.

Bottled water may not provide a microplastic-free alternative to tapwater, as the they were also found in a few samples of commercial bottled water tested in the US for Orb.

Almost 300m tonnes of plastic is produced each year and, with just 20% recycled or incinerated, much of it ends up littering the air, land and sea. A report in July found 8.3bn tonnes of plastic has been produced since the 1950s, with the researchers warning that plastic waste has become ubiquitous in the environment.

We are increasingly smothering ecosystems in plastic and I am very worried that there may be all kinds of unintended, adverse consequences that we will only find out about once it is too late, said Prof Roland Geyer, from the University of California and Santa Barbara, who led the study.

Mahon said the new tap water analyses raise a red flag, but that more work is needed to replicate the results, find the sources of contamination and evaluate the possible health impacts.

She said plastics are very useful, but that management of the waste must be drastically improved: We need plastics in our lives, but it is us that is doing the damage by discarding them in very careless ways.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/06/plastic-fibres-found-tap-water-around-world-study-reveals

Terry Pratchett’s unfinished novels destroyed by steamroller

Unpublished works are lost for ever with crushing of computer hard drive as the late fantasy novelist had instructed

The unfinished books of Sir Terry Pratchett have been destroyed by a steamroller, following the late fantasy novelists wishes.

Pratchetts hard drive was crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller named Lord Jericho at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the authors life and work.

Pratchett, famous for his colourful and satirical Discworld series, died in March 2015 after a long battle with Alzheimers disease.

After his death, fellow fantasy author Neil Gaiman, Pratchetts close friend and collaborator , told the Times that Pratchett had wanted whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all.

On Friday, Rob Wilkins, who manages the Pratchett estate, tweeted from an official Twitter account that he was about to fulfil my obligation to Terry along with a picture of an intact computer hard drive following up with a tweet that showed the hard drive in pieces.

The symbolism of the moment, which captured something of Pratchetts unique sense of humour, was not lost on fans, who responded on Twitter with a wry melancholy, though some people expressed surprise that the author who had previously discussed churning through computer hardware at a rapid rate would have stored his unfinished work on an apparently older model of hard drive.

The hard drive will go on display as part of a major exhibition about the authors life and work, Terry Pratchett: HisWorld, which opens at the Salisbury museum in September.

The author of over 70 novels, Pratchett was diagnosed with Alzheimers disease in 2007.

He became an advocate for assisted dying, giving a moving lecture on the subject, Shaking Hands With Death, in 2010, and presenting a documentary for the BBC called Terry Pratchett: Choosing to Die.

He continued to write and publish, increasingly with the assistance of others, until his death in 2015. Two novels were published posthumously: The Long Utopia (a collaboration with Stephen Baxter) and The Shepherds Crown, the final Discworld novel.

The Salisbury museum exhibition will run from 16 September until 13 January 2018.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/30/terry-pratchett-unfinished-novels-destroyed-streamroller

Teenage boys wear skirts to school to protest against ‘no shorts’ policy

Dozens of pupils at Isca academy in Exeter stage uniform protest after school insists they wear trousers despite heatwave

Some had borrowed from girlfriends, others from sisters. A few had gone the extra mile and shaved their legs. When the Isca academy in Devon opened on Thursday morning, an estimated 30 boys arrived for lessons, heads held high, in fetching tartan-patterned skirts. The hottest June days since 1976 had led to a bare-legged revolution at the secondary school in Exeter.

As the temperature soared past 30C earlier this week, the teenage boys had asked their teachers if they could swap their long trousers for shorts. They were told no shorts werent permitted under the schools uniform policy.

When they protested that the girls were allowed bare legs, the school no doubt joking said the boys were free to wear skirts too if they chose. So on Wednesday, a handful braved the giggles and did so. The scale of the rebellion increased on Thurday, when at least 30 boys opted for the attire.

Quite refreshing was how one of the boys described the experience, pointing out that if even Royal Ascot had allowed racegoers in the royal enclosure to remove their jackets, then the school ought to relax its dress code. Another said he rather enjoyed the nice breeze his skirt had afforded him.

A third, tall boy said he was told his short skirt exposed too much hairy leg. Some of the boys visited a shop on their way to Isca the name the Romans gave to Exeter to pick up razors to make sure they did not fall foul of any beauty police.

Ironically, the temperature had dropped in Exeter to a more manageable 20C, but some boys said they had enjoyed the freedom afforded by the skirts and that they might continue.

The school said it was prepared to think again in the long term. The headteacher, Aimee Mitchell, said: We recognise that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible.

Shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys, and I would not want to make any changes without consulting both students and their families. However, with hotter weather becoming more normal, I would be happy to consider a change for the future.

It was too late. The revolution was picked up by media organisations across the globe, and Devon county council was forced to help the school out with inquiries. A spokesperson said: About 30 boys arrived at school this morning wearing school skirts. None of the boys have been penalised no one was put in isolation or detention for wearing a skirt.

The mother of one of the boys who began the protest said she was proud of him. Claire Lambeth, 43, said her son Ryan, 15, had come home earlier in the week complaining about the heat. He said it was unbearable. I spoke to a teacher to ask about shorts and she said it was school policy [that they could not be worn]. I did say this was exceptional weather, but they were having none of it. If girls can wear skirts, why cant boys wear shorts?

Ryan came up with the idea of wearing a skirt, so that evening we borrowed one. He wore it the next day as did five other boys. Then this morning I didnt expect it to take off like that. The school is being silly really this is exceptional weather. I was very proud of Ryan. I think it was a great idea.

Another mother said: My 14-year-old son wanted to wear shorts. The headteacher told them: Well, you can wear a skirt if you like but I think she was being sarcastic. However, children tend to take you literally, and because she told them it was OK, there was nothing she could do as long as they were school skirts.

A third mother said: Children also dont like injustice. The boys see the female teachers in sandals and nice cool skirts and tops while they are wearing long trousers and shoes and the older boys have to wear blazers. They just think its unfair that they cant wear shorts in this heat.

There were signs that the revolution might be spreading. The Guardian has heard of at least one more school in Wiltshire where one boy turned up in a skirt, although it did not go down quite so well with his friends.

And schoolboys were not the only ones making controversial dress choices because of the heat. Michael Wood, who works as a porter at Watford general hospital, claimed he was facing disciplinary action from his employers Medirest for rolling his trousers up to try to cool down. A spokesperson for the company declined to comment on the case, but said: The health and safety of our colleagues is always our number one priority.

What happened to summer school uniforms? Matthew Easter, managing director of the schoolwear supplier Trutex, said they had become less popular for reasons of economy. Its really up to the individual school to decide, but the headteacher is in a difficult position. A decade or so ago, summer wear was more popular, but theres been a change recently to try to make uniforms as economical as possible. Summer uniforms are only worn for a matter of weeks.

If parents havent bought uniform shorts, then some children may feel disadvantaged, so perhaps the decision in this case is simply down to fairness.

It may be that the weather will solve the problem for the school. The Exeter-based Met Office situated up the road from the school predicts pleasant, but not searing, temperatures over the coming week.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/jun/22/teenage-boys-wear-skirts-to-school-protest-no-shorts-uniform-policy