The Global Fool

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Farmed Salmon Develop Ear Deformities All Around the World
May31

Farmed Salmon Develop Ear Deformities All Around the World

By Roberta Attanasio Salmon farming is the fastest growing food production system in the world—accounting for 70 percent (2.4 million metric tons) of the market. Increasing demand is leading to the gradual development of responsible practices to minimize its negative impacts on the environment. Indeed, salmon farming is known to pollute the oceans, use toxic pesticides to control the spread of sea lice, foster diseases caused by viruses and bacteria, allow escapees, and deplete the stocks of forage fish—depending on the production region, 1.5 – 8 kilograms of wild fish are needed to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon. However, despite the development of the open and transparent production practices encouraged by the WWF in 2004, and currently managed by the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC), salmon farming is plagued by numerous problems. A deadly algal bloom is killing millions of farmed fish salmon in Chile, causing a drop of 35% to 45% in exports this year. In addition, the recent research finding that farmed Atlantic salmon from Norway, Australia, Scotland, Canada and Chile are going deaf is both surprising and alarming, raising questions about animal welfare and conservation efforts. Farmed salmon have deformed otoliths (or fish earbones) and, as a result, poorer hearing. Otoliths are located behind a fish’s brain and are essential for hearing and balance, much like the inner ears of humans and other mammals. The typical structure of healthy otoliths is made up of calcium carbonate. However, in most farmed Atlantic salmon, the calcium carbonate is present in the otoliths in a different crystal form, leading to larger, lighter and more brittle structures. This deformity is very uncommon in wild fish. The researchers point out that the deformed earbones could be responsible for the low efficiency of conservation programs, thus explaining the origins of what, in the field, is considered a long-standing mystery. Every year, billions of captive-bred juvenile salmon are released into rivers worldwide to boost wild populations, but their survival is 10-20 times lower than that of wild salmon. The new finding may help explain this low survival rate. Hearing loss could prevent fish from detecting predators, and restrict their ability to navigate back to their home stream to breed. Researchers do not know what the triggering factor for earbone deformity is—they speculate it could be something in the fish’s diet, or a genetic component unique to the salmon selected to be farmed, or it could be related to their abnormally rapid growth rate. Salmon farming is a work in progress. Knowledge and experience, along with commitment to sustainable practices, are necessary for successful production. The unexpected finding of hearing loss in farmed salmon...

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Salmon Farming: The Chilean Massive Die-Off
May21

Salmon Farming: The Chilean Massive Die-Off

By Roberta Attanasio Salmon farming—the fastest growing food production system in the world—is going through hard times in Chile, the world’s second-largest salmon producer after Norway. Last year, Chile exported $4.5 billion of farmed salmon, but now a deadly algal bloom is killing millions of farmed fish. A few months ago, an estimated 40,000 tons of salmon died in the Los Lagos region, which is known as the Switzerland of the Southern Hemisphere’s—the snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains tower over deep mountain lakes and green farming valleys, creating a fairy-tale landscape. Unlike Switzerland, the fairy-tale landscape extends down to the coast and its beaches, which became covered with dead sea creatures. “Heaps of dead whales, salmon and sardines blamed on the El Niño weather phenomenon have clogged Chile’s Pacific beaches.” El Niño, which warms the equatorial Pacific, is certainly one of the factors to blame in the massive fish die-off. The warm water encourages the growth of toxic algae, which cause the so-called red tide—an algal bloom that turns the seawater red and makes seafood toxic. Although the red tide is a common, naturally recurring phenomenon in southern Chile, the extent of the current outbreak is unprecedented, so much so that it has been defined “one of the country’s worst recent environmental crises.” The toxic algal bloom threatens the local marine life as well as the livelihood of the fishermen who depend on it. But, El Niño is only one of the factors responsible for the red tide. Liesbeth van der Meer, who heads the Oceana environmental group in Chile, believes that runoff from neighboring livestock creates concentrations of nitrogen that, when mixed with the above-normal temperatures, lead to the ideal scenario for the algae to grow. Another factor appears to be the salmon farming itself, which encourages toxic algal blooms. How? Nutrients dumped into floating salmon cages fall to the seabed forming underwater banks that act as a toxic algae reservoir. Marine biologist Hector Kol told The Guardian: “The problem we now have is a red tide of biblical proportions. Chiloé has changed, the sea is toxic. Right now we have a red tide with symptoms of diarrhoea, amnesia and paralysis from near the Straits of Magellan to Valdivia”—in other words, the phenomenon involves a stretch of more than 1,200 miles of coastline. In addition, residents accuse salmon producers of exacerbating the algal bloom by dumping contaminated fish near the coast—millions of salmon died earlier this year due to another algal bloom that asphyxiated fish by decreasing oxygen in the water. Now, according to the Chilean government, scientists will determine whether or not dumping tons of rotting...

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Soils Are Threatened: Can We Halt The Problem?
Dec04

Soils Are Threatened: Can We Halt The Problem?

By Roberta Attanasio Today, December 4, 2015, is World Soil Day — a day to connect people with soils, and raise awareness of their critical importance in our lives. Soils — the reservoir for at least a quarter of global biodiversity — have been neglected for too long. We fail to connect soil with our food, water, climate, and life. The maintenance or enhancement of global soil resources is essential to meet the world’s need for food, water, and energy security. Soil loss is an unfolding global disaster that will have catastrophic effects on world food production, according to scientists from the University of Sheffield’s Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures.  “At the moment, intensive agriculture is unsustainable — under the intensive farming system current crop yields are maintained through the heavy use of fertilizers, which require high energy inputs to supply inorganic nitrogen via the industrial Haber-Bosch process. This consumes five per cent of the world’s natural gas production and two per cent of the world’s annual energy supply.” The scientists’ research is published in a report (A sustainable model for intensive agriculture) presented at the recent climate talks in Paris. But soil is important not only for agricultural practices. “Soil is a vital part of the natural environment. It is just as important as plants, animals, rocks, landforms, lakes, and rivers. It influences the distribution of plant species, and provides a habitat for a wide range of organisms. It controls the flow of water and chemical substances between the atmosphere and the earth, and acts as both a source and store for gasses in the atmosphere. Soil, together with the plant and animal life it supports, the rock on which it develops, its position in the landscape and the climate it experiences, form an amazingly intricate natural system. Soil may look still and lifeless, but this impression couldn’t be further from the truth. It is constantly changing and developing through time. Soil is always responding to changes in environmental factors, along with the influences of man and land use. Some changes in the soil will be of short duration and reversible, others will be a permanent feature of soil development.” So, what is the current status of soils, considering the influences of man and land use? We know that soil loss is an unfolding global disaster. There is another report that adds more information: The Status of the World’s Soil Resources, which has been produced by FAO’s Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, and it has been released today, on Soil World Day. The report, which brings together the work of 200 soil scientists from 60 countries, concludes that...

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Food-Borne Parasites: The “Top Ten” List
Jul01

Food-Borne Parasites: The “Top Ten” List

By Roberta Attanasio Food-born parasites affect the health of millions of people all around the world, causing huge social costs. However, we don’t know much about these parasites — where they come from, how they live in the human body, and how they make us sick. Today (July 1, 2014), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) released, along with the World Health Organization (WHO), a report — Multicriteria-based ranking for risk management of food-borne parasites — as a first step in tackling the problem. Parasites are organisms that derive nourishment and protection from other living organisms known as hosts. Parasites that are present in food cause food-borne infectious diseases. They are classified biologically as protozoa (single-celled organisms) or helminths (better known as tapeworms, flatworms and roundworms).  Infectious diseases caused by food-borne parasites have not received the same level of attention as other food-borne biological and chemical hazards. Nevertheless, they cause a high burden of disease in humans, may have prolonged, severe, and sometimes fatal outcomes, and result in considerable hardship in terms of food safety, security, quality of life, and negative impacts on livelihoods. It is difficult to know how widespread these parasites are globally — in many countries it is not compulsory to notify public health authorities of their presence. In Europe, more than 2,500 people are affected by food borne parasitic infections each year. In 2011 there were 268 cases of trichinellosis and 781 cases of echinococcosis recorded in the EU. In Asia, there is no precise national data but parasitic diseases are known to be widely spread and are recognized as major public health problems in many countries. In most African nations there is no data at all on the prevalence of food borne parasites in humans because there of a general lack of surveillance systems. In the United States, Neurocysticercosis, caused by Taenia solium, is the single most common infectious cause of seizures in some areas of the US where 2 000 people are diagnosed with neurocysticercosis every year. Toxoplasmosis is a leading cause of food-borne illness and death. The FAO-WHO report was developed following a request by the global food standards body, the Codex Alimentarius Commission (Codex), to review the current status of knowledge on parasites in food and their public health and trade impacts. FAO’s food safety and quality unit and WHO responded by jointly organizing a global call for information on the problem. Twenty-two nations and one regional body responded, followed by an assessment and analysis by 21 experts on the impact of food-borne parasites. From this work, an initial list of 93 parasites was developed. The list was then narrowed down to the 24 most damaging parasites based on the...

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A New Kind of Global Die-Off: Bananas Hit by Rapidly Spreading Diseases
Feb23

A New Kind of Global Die-Off: Bananas Hit by Rapidly Spreading Diseases

By Roberta Attanasio The world loves bananas. Actually, the world loves the Cavendish bananas, mostly because it is (almost) the only variety commercially available worldwide. The entire global banana industry relies on this seedless and, therefore, sterile variety made of bananas all essentially identical to each other — and equally susceptible to infection by the same harmful microbes, which can spread very easily across plantations around the world. This is not a hypothetical scenario — instead, it’s happening as we speak. Two species of fungi are threatening the world supply of the Cavendish bananas. One is Mycosphaerella fijiensis, a fungus that causes a disease dubbed Black Sigatoka, also known as black leaf streak. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “Black Sigatoka spread from Asia and reached the Caribbean in 1991. Smallholder banana farmers were unable to shoulder the expense of fighting the disease on their own, and banana farms have been decimated.” The other species of fungi, Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense (Foc), causes Panama disease. A new strain of this fungus — Foc Tropical Race 4 (Foc-TR4) — is spreading to other regions of the world. In December 2013, the journal Nature published in its News section an article on this strain “Fungus threatens top banana – Fears rise for Latin American industry as devastating disease hits leading variety in Africa and Middle East.” Foc-TR4, which was first detected in Asia in the 1990s, is found in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and northern Australia and has very recently spread to Jordan and Mozambique. One of the current solutions to the problem only adds another problem — enormous amount of fungicides are sprayed over plantations, causing serious human health concerns. As the fungi becomes resistant to them, larger and larger amounts of fungicides are needed to control the diseases. There are more than 1000 varieties of bananas — at least this is the information you find by surfing the web. I haven’t been able to come upon an original, reliable source that confirms this number, but perhaps I haven’t looked well enough. Let’s just say that there are many varieties of bananas. So, why is the Cavendish banana found in 95% of the world’s market? According to the FAO, “Today’s commercial banana industry relies almost totally on the Cavendish because marketing only one variety makes harvesting, packaging and transport more cost-effective and delivers a uniform product.” We do not seem to learn from history — the Cavendish variety was adopted by the commercial industry because it was resistant to a previous strain of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp.cubense. This strain also caused the aptly called Panama disease and in a few...

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