UK govt, put the health of people and planet first

Shift to a Wellbeing Economy: put the health of people and planet first

We urgently need the Government to prioritise the health and wellbeing of people and planet, by pursuing a Wellbeing Economy approach. To deliver a sustainable and equitable recovery, the Treasury should target social and environmental goals, rather than fixating on short-term profit and growth.

Sign this petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/580646

Biotech Company Officially Unleashes Gene-Hacked Mosquitoes in Florida

“The biotech company Oxitec has, after a decade of pushing through regulatory hurdles, unleashed its genetically-engineered mosquitoes on the Florida Keys. The experiment, which is the first release of experimental gene-hacked organisms at an ecological scale in the United States, is now underway. Why?”

https://futurism.com/biotech-unleashes-gene-hacked-mosquitoes-florida

See also:
https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5

Traps and prejudices

Somehow, many of us – and this includes me – have a tendency to assume that disabled people, older people and all other people who are often sidelined or are part of a population group that is often sidelined or was wronged in the past cannot be hateful grouches or otherwise have an abundance of negative characteristics. That too is a prejudice.

I think I just fell into that trap again, after I became newly interested in Native American struggles.

It reminds me of something someone once told me whose mother was 100% Native American and whose dad was Irish. Growing up, she was “the Indian kid” off the reservation, and on the reservation, she was “the white kid”.

It never stopped her. To the contrary. She became a trailblazer for everyone and built a lot of bridges throughout her life. Still is, and still does.

She does not go around hating everyone who isn’t 50% Native American or 50% Irish white.

When I met her, I had no idea of her Native American heritage. She was an enthusiastic American female scientist who reached out to me at a conference because she had spotted me when I visited her institution and that had somehow drawn her attention. If she had not brought it up herself in her e-mails, I never would have known about it.

But among Native Americans, too – not just among the white people – some people hate everyone who is not exactly the same and many of them were Trump voters. That’s Trump of the pipelines through nature, including Native American lands.

In other words… we’re all basically the same. There is much more overlap among us than within separate groups. You have haters in all groups. You have kind people in all groups. You have Trump voters in all groups. You have nature-loving people in all groups. You have capitalists in all groups. And you have generous people in all groups.

The things that set groups apart, these differences, they enrich all of our lives.

This may explain a lot!

If you want an example of how something like this might work in practice, imagine the following scenario.

Benefit recipient says or writes that she’s just gotten 89% on an online course by Harvard Law School. The software is triggered and gives off a loud beep. Because these two things are not compatible in the software. So you get a bunch of tick marks next to your name or your request is simply denied because you’re assessed as being too “vulnerable” to be able to do something about it? Perhaps I am being too cynical. Probably. But you can’t even tell… And that’s the point.

The UK government has been taking that latter approach for years, after all, particularly with regard to mentally ill and mentally impaired benefits recipients. The “system” seems to believe that it is better to cut their benefits to that these folks pass away. So it shortchanged them and when the courts ruled against it, they took ages and came up with tons of paperwork needing to be completed.

And right now, it’s doing the same with the Windrush group. It seems to be waiting for as many people to pass away so that it won’t have to pay out. Ya can’t make it up even though it sounds as if it is straight out of some movie.

“Do not minimize the extent of my having been changed from a vivacious, sensual, happy, loving, athletic, healthy, wealthy, bright, articulate, fairly socially adept human to being melded and moulded to accommodate an autistic adult into exactly the opposite of who I am for the sake of a one-sided relationship.”

This is from this web page:

https://www.theneurotypical.com/how-to-spot-aspergers.html

On more than one occasion, I have suspected that the person(s) I am often dealing with, the anonymous presence in my computers and phones, has or have Asperger’s. There is one other variation of autism, that just like Asperger’s is not universally acknowledged, that may apply. (More below.)

Just in case the above-listed web page disappears – which happens; nothing to do with hacking – I have copied its contents below.

I want anyone who believes that they are dealing with a “narc” to look at this and see the resemblance. I became aware of this resemblance when Sam Vaknin – who does not have Asperger’s – mentioned that people with Asperger’s are often mistaken for people with NPD and vice versa.

You can watch a documentary with Sam Vaknin
online at https://watchdocumentaries.com/i-psychopath/
and there is another one at https://youtu.be/rLCPDYt1wYk

Continue reading

Abilities

Otherisation and discrimination also affect people whose bodies work differently.

I used to feel reserve when I saw someone in a wheelchair possibly running into a practical problem, but that’s been a long time ago.

I know that asking if I can help can offend, but it’s matter of measure, of knowing where someone’s boundaries are, and I haven’t encountered any friction with that in decades.

Sometimes, I merely observe and conclude “Nah, she is fine.” At other times, I ask something like “Can I help?” or “Need a hand?” and as soon as the person makes clear that he or she does not need any help, I move on.

The last thing I want to do is declare someone helpless. Because it isn’t about abilities. It’s about hindrances created by society and a lack of a willingness to accommodate for this type of diversity.

That one time when I saw that someone’s mobility scooter was threatening to topple because obstacles on the pavement forced the person to go onto the street, I didn’t ask whether he needed help. Plain logic tells you what to do. Grab the thing before it falls over. But don’t make an ass of yourself next.

Similarly, I once accompanied a woman who I saw hesitate outside a drug store. I asked if I could help. She said she wanted to get a few items but was worried it might take her too long as the shops would close soon and manoeuvring the aisles can be tricky because the displays are usually not positioned with wheelchairs and mobility scooters in mind. That time, I was really glad that I had decided to ask if I could help and that I didn’t let a fear of being rebuked or being experienced as intrusive stop me.

All these issues – of skin colour, ethnicity, abilities, gender, hair colour, sexuality etc – overlap.

Of course it is all simply about seeing each other as fellow human beings. That shouldn’t be so hard.

Why is that so hard? Because we are all merely human and all have our personal weaknesses and strengths and histories. We all do. But we can’t know what is the right thing to do unless we have conversations, no matter how awkward.

We all have baggage…

Peace in oneself = Peace in the world

Yesterday, I made a quick video in response to the Derek Chauvin verdicts and got tangled up in all sorts of otherisation and discrimination traps. These issues are not straightforward and they are not separate, but occur across the entire human spectrum and as such are intertwined.

Issues of otherisation and discrimination are complex and that it isn’t merely only about skin colour.

Far too often, when white police officers kill black people, it is.

But their issues with fear, insularity, conditioning and guns need to be addressed too. In the video, I mention civilian gun ownership but, of course, whether police officers are armed or not goes hand in hand with that.

Proportionality has gone missing, too, in policing and a lot of that also has to do with racism and socioeconomic inequality. 

I’ve talked about that in the past here in the UK. When I see that a poor sod is prosecuted because he stole a sandwich, while I know that rich and famous folks can get away with just about anything (think only Savile if you want a striking example ), I know that this is just about policing targets (numbers of arrests and numbers of successful prosecutions).

Successful prosecutions are much easier to obtain when you are dealing with poor sods, people who are not expected to be able to mount a useful defence in any kind of situation.

I used to work in tourism and hospitality. Counterfeit bills are a fact of life. Even if George Floyd did happen to pay for his groceries with a bill that happened to be a counterfeit bill, it did not warrant this utterly over-the-top response from the police. He was treated as if he had just murdered his wife or his child!

So that, too needs to be addressed. Proportionality in policing because it’s directly related to inequality, to otherisation and discrimination.

Otherisation begets otherisation and discrimination begets discrimination and erodes trust.

Otherisation and discrimination also lead to marginalisation and socioeconomic inequality, including the now so frequently mentioned health disparities.

I wish I had a magic solution. I don’t. But I can also see how we all learn from these struggles if we somehow manage to cross all the many chasms. Easier said than done.

Ever since the verdict, I’ve been wondering how this makes black people feel, not just in the US but also elsewhere. This afternoon, as I returned some library books, I walked by a bunch of black youngsters and I wondered if they were feeling any different. More at ease, more respected as human beings, perhaps. And safer? How about people in the US?

I think that we need to talk to one another, across the various artificial lines that we’ve drawn on the basis of ONE ASPECT of another person’s appearance.

Derek Chauvin

Now we have to wait for the sentencing.

Meanwhile, the hard work is only starting. How did we ever get to the place that it was okay for white police officers to murder black men? It is not a straightforward matter.

At the heart of the issue seems to be not only fear and insularity among police officers as well as sheer racism but also civilian gun ownership.

I think we need more than a mere “reform” of police forces and I think we don’t only need that in the US. I think we need to start over.

But who has the guts and power to make it happen?

RIP Adam Toledo

In a recent discussion organised by Harvard Law School’s Petrie-Flom Center, psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett mentioned a man who wrote to her about the moment when he almost shot a boy who was herding cattle, mistaking him for a guerrilla fighter. The example is also in her book ”Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain”.

The brain often makes us act on the basis of our experiences and the brain’s expectations and this plays a role in many, though not all, police shootings.

As former Baltimore judge and city solicitor Andre M. Davis explained during that same online meeting, policing is a very insular business.

These two factors can obviously form a lethal combination. My 15+ years in living in a country that is known for its insularity and my 10+ years in a small city that is known within that country for its fierce insularity have taught me a few things about insularity. Insularity colours people’s views and expectations greatly. And they’re rarely aware of this.

Adam Toledo, the 13-year-old boy who was fatally shot in Chicago on 29 March 2021, hardly had the time to comply with the police officer’s directions. That is, if he even heard those directions and if he heard them, if he heard more than a mere soup of vowels and consonants.

There is a lot of racism among police officers. But there is also a lot of fear among police officers in the US, a country where anyone can own a gun. I have seen this fear first-hand when I called police officers to my home in Florida in the mid 1990s, in the small city that shortly after exploded into riots after police officers shot 18-year-old Tyron Lewis during a traffic stop.

Racism, subconscious racial stereotyping (bias) and fear reinforce each other.

The brain of a police officer has one main biological function in many of the situations police officers encounter, namely to keep the police officer alive.

How do we break through these barriers? In the story of the man who almost shot a boy because he saw a long rifle instead of a shepherd’s stick, the hand that someone else put on his shoulder was enough. Years later, he was still so rattled about the incident that he contacted to Lisa Feldman Barrett about it.

How do you reset a police officer’s brain in that split second before he or she shoots someone?

We’re literally talking a fraction of a second here that can make the difference. That’s obviously very challenging.

This, of course, is apart from the question whether you should allow civilians to own guns because one of the results of the right to keep and bear arms is that police officers kill citizens out of fear that those civilians will shoot them unless the officers shoot first. That’s what their brains tell them.

It is also beside the obvious point that bridges need to be built that cross differences in skin tone and ethnicity. Because let’s face it, subconsciously expecting black or Hispanic people to be more dangerous is as ridiculous as expecting blond or grey-eyed people to be more dangerous.

And if we can overcome that, then we’re dissolving socioeconomic and health disparities at the same time.

How?

How do you apply the bioethical imperative when you’re the target of someone who is often highly disruptive, highly manipulative, highly destructive and highly sadistic and to whom you’re no more than a rabbit in a lab cage? To whom you are a thing to be toyed with rather than a person?

All living beings are entitled to respect and should be treated not as means but as ends in themselves.”

Generally speaking, by making sure that all children grow up safe, well-fed and well looked after, for starters. So that their brains have the chance to develop in a healthy balanced manner. And by contributing as much as possible towards making that happen.

Why otherisation is so destructive

Otherisation makes people feel vulnerable – they are made to feel powerless – and it forces them to build walls around them to protect themselves.

I have seen it among non-white English people and I see it between us among in the UK. Groups within groups within groups.

I too find it very hard to talk about otherisation without feeling defensive and vulnerable. Apparently, you can’t break through it by being too appeasing and agreeable, however. That means that if you want to unite people, you will likely draw anger and other negative feelings first.

Not an easy position to be in for anyone.

How crazy otherisation can get

Some time ago, I read about a family that was being bullied to pieces because several people in the family were autistic. I think this was somewhere in Somerset. Next, I read about a Newcastle case in which a family was being bullied in a similar way as that family in which several people are autistic.

Different about them is… that they have red hair. That small difference
alone seems to have been enough to trigger massive community bullying.

They too were forced to move as the bullying included smashed windows
and graffiti. You can live with graffiti, but you can’t live with smashed
windows.

Ya can’t make it up.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-tyne-56415117

Free Siyanda!

I just wrote this to my MP.

Dear Mr Morgan,

Do you like jazz? If you do, the name Soweto Kinch surely will ring a bell. He is one of the people pushing the campaign to help free Siyanda. 

(He, btw, was first ignored and then kicked out of a pizza place in London. It happened in August 2019. When I found out that Julia Roberts publicly endorses the restaurant, I reached out to her representatives in the US. Surely, she would want to know about the incident, and there was a video recording of it. World-famous, Oxford-educated but black so he was not welcome. It won’t have been the first time he was abused and it won’t have been the last time, sadly. And it’s not about him being famous and Oxford-educated, of course. But I am not writing to you about him.)

I am writing to you as a constituent of Portsmouth South because I am deeply concerned about an incident of racial violence and consequent police misconduct that occurred in Wales. Yes, Wales is far from Portsmouth, but what happens in Wales also matters for Portsmouth.

The victim’s name is Siyanda Mngaza. She is a young disabled black woman who suffered racially motivated violence. But SHE was the one who was charged and convicted by an all-white jury of grievous bodily harm with intent. Her attackers must have laughed so loudly that they had to hold their bellies.

Siyanda’s arrest and subsequent conviction is undoubtedly by virtue of police negligence, misconduct and racial bias. Her sentence of 4.5 years was determined on 13th March 2020. Siyanda’s solicitors have already submitted an appeal challenging  this verdict. 

Below is a brief overview:

  • Siyanda is 4” 10’ and was 20 years old when the attack happened
  • She was attacked by 3 people, 2 of them male and twice her age
  • Due to recent reconstructive surgery on one of her legs, Siyanda was unable to run and could not flee from her attackers
  • There were 5 witnesses, 3 of which were Siyanda’s attackers and the other 2 are friends of the attackers
  • The attackers were not taken into custody, arrested or charged
  • All 5 witnesses – the attackers and their friends – were permitted to remain at the site of the incident and their statements were not taken until the following day
  • Siyanda suffered terrible injuries which are documented in her medical records
  • Siyanda told the officers at the time she had been racially attacked, yet they admitted in court they did not investigate her allegations of a racial assault

There has been widespread discrimination of black people within the UK and its punitive justice system for a long time and people have had enough, just like people have had enough of the abuse and violence that women are often subjected to.

Since the launch of the national campaign, the ‘Free Siyanda’ petition has gained over 500k signatures, clearly showing the strong public support she has. 

I would like the UK parliament to be made aware of this injustice, thereby allowing it to be rectified. Ergo I am kindly asking if you could voice this issue in parliament and do anything else you can in aid of Siyanda’s plight and help bring it to a swift end. Given the level of public support and sheer incompetence shown by the Dyfed-Powys police, this travesty cannot be allowed to go unnoticed and remain unremedied.

Should you wish to view further details regarding Siyanda Mngaza and her campaign please view:  www.freesiyanda.com 

Thank you for your time.

Kindest regards,

Angelina Souren

[Supported to write this by Siyanda’s family and friends.]

Free Siyanda petition – https://www.change.org/p/dyfed-powys-police-free-siyanda


PS
She was ON HOLIDAY, too! For 1 night. Just a little getaway.

Turning inclusivity into semantics

Yesterday evening, I was supposed to take part in a Medact reading group to discuss this paper:
Selvarajah S, Deivanayagam TA, Lasco G, et al Categorisation and Minoritisation BMJ Global Health 2020;5:e004508. Accessible via this link: https://gh.bmj.com/content/5/12/e004508   

BIPOC? BAME? Minoritised? White, black, coloured, Asian?

Otherisation – possibly a term coined by Oxford neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor – is much broader than skin tone. Otherisation leads to discrimination and marginalisation and with marginalisation and discrimination come health disparities. While it is good to be aware of that, and perhaps also document it, the solution does not lie in semantics.

The solution lies in inclusivity.

How did I arrive at this conclusion? I am BAME, a minority nationality in the UK, but I am never included as part of BAME because BAME = non-white skin tone, isn’t it? And I am white.

The first GP I encountered in England did not (seem to) believe me when I said I was a scientist. He also wrote in my file that I had an alcohol problem, without ever having discussed alcohol with me, let alone what kind and how much. It was the result of an innocent language hiccup and his bias, towards older women and/or unmarried women, I think, rather than towards migrants. I was 45.

His colleague, the great younger guy I saw next, a week or so later, discovered the problem. He noticed my confusion when he started explaining that alcohol abuse had negative health effects, at the start of the appointment. He ordered a blood test to make sure that my sugar levels were fine.

He also opened and drained a cyst on my back. He gave me his trust and belief in me when I said that I’d be fine in a few minutes and needed nothing and that the best they could do was leave me in peace and not force me to talk so that I could regain my breath after I started hyperventilating. (It’s related to a childhood incident; it was made worse by teachers in my early school years. It’s no big deal and I figured out how to deal with it a long time ago; these days, it’s very rare for me to hyperventilate.)

He’d already noticed it during the treatment, bless him. To him, I was a person, not a label.

Health and healthcare disparities also affect people with mental health issues and physical disabilities. In the UK, people with non-negligible disabilities currently are five times more likely to be food-deprived. Nutrition-deprived. There you have one major cause of health disparities.

Poverty.

As a result of otherisation, discrimination, marginalisation, in a country with excessive inequality.

Older adults, too, just like people who are not white, often receive less good healthcare. People who aren’t white are less likely to be referred to a specialist (called “consultant” in the UK). Or for tests. The hospital.

The solution to healthcare and health disparities is to treat everyone as a human being, not as a label. Education. Unfortunately, in order to do that, we have to convince the powers that be that these health disparities exist (and how they come about, to a large degree, that is, to the extent that they are not caused by for example by the nature of a disability).

In some cultures / countries, that is frowned upon as something to be abolished. Collecting data on skin tone and ethnicity at every medical facility because it is experienced as discriminatory. In others it is seen as something that we must do first in order to be able to remedy the problem.

So we’re back to labels.

It’s not about labels. It’s about acknowledging that we are all human beings and deserve the same basic levels of housing, nutrition and other necessities in order to be in good health.

I hope that the Medact reading group ended up deciding to write and submit a comment to that article in the BMJ.



(I may not have the equipment needed to take part in such online meetings, I’ve discovered. I have some figuring out and possibly some configuring to do. But I also had a sudden bout of sciatica, so I was cranky and occasionally yelping, which would have been an annoying distraction for the other participants anyway. That will pass. And I’ll find a way to solve my equipment problem.)

Autism

Watch the video below. How do you step into the shoes of Cameron?

What I “know” or “understand” about autism is next to nothing.

But having the camera crew there, that’s

a) a deviation from routine, which is upsetting to him;

b) creating a flood of sensory impulses, which throws his brain into overload mode;

c) undoubtedly accompanied by bright lights, which does makes things worse. Or do TV crews no longer require bright lighting nowadays?

I don’t consider his room calming either. It screams WHITE. Painting it a different colour might make a huge difference. Do I know that for sure? No, of course not. I have no experience with autism (other than with my very mildly autistic friend, as I learned a week or so ago) and hardly know a thing about it. But this white is not calming. And if I think about how an autistic person’s brain might work and remind myself that white does not exist but is the combination of all colours, then perhaps the use of one primary colour might be relaxing for an autistic mind whereas white might do the opposite.

It’s been said that colours that are relaxing during the day can give off a very different vibe at night. Is that also the case for autistic people? I have no idea. But does anyone else have an idea?

Does his room have an ability to play soothing music or other sounds that he finds soothing?

How do autistic people respond to white noise? Does anyone know? Has anyone ever looked at whether noise-cancelling headsets can support them, and if yes, how you could make those in such a way that the headphones don’t cause too much sensory input?

The Met is out of control

First…

…one of its officers abducts and kills a woman. It takes days to ID her body, on the basis of dental records.

Then…

…other officers manhandle and arrest women who want to hold a vigil for this woman and claim the right to breathe freely while female without encountering abuse and violence.

I haven’t found the word yet that describes the Met’s behaviour.

The words “provocative” and “oppressive” come to mind and I hear an echo of regimes like Gaddafi’s in Libya, the suppression of the Uyghurs in China and what’s going on in Myanmar and Hong Kong.

And the right to protest and demonstrate – a human right – is about to be demolished if the proposed new legislation passes that will accomplish this.

This should be making all of us very nervous.

Because… what exactly is going on here?

Because this does not add up from a democratic point of view.

Even Priti Patel – OF ALL PEOPLE! – wants the Met’s actions reviewed.

Were the Met’s actions a protest against this new legislation that will curtail the right to protest, demonstrate and hold candlelight vigils? Or is the Met an organisation of callous sadists?

19:55:
But the people are not going to be squashed.

20:55: Next, I learned about this…

Why Megan Markle may be the best thing since sliced bread for the UK

Because she is opening people’s eyes for what they didn’t want to see and made them listen to what they didn’t want to hear. Because it will slowly make them aware that the issue is broader than racism and extends to many other -isms and -igynies and -phobias.

I just spotted this image on Twitter. When you – I – say that some thing or some place is toxic, you may feel that maybe you’re exaggerating a little bit and do your best to remain pleasantly silent. Adjust, adapt.

That stops when you see and hear others say it. That is the big merit of Megan and Harry, all the things they have spoken out about, chosen not to stay silent about.

These are CNN headlines from June 2020:

Draconian curbs to the right to peaceful protest in the UK around the corner?

The past few days, I noticed a few tweets that made me wonder what they were about.

This morning, I spotted a retweet of this article:

https://www.politics.co.uk/comment/2021/03/11/silencing-black-lives-matter-priti-patels-anti-protest-law/

Silencing Black Lives Matter: Priti Patel’s anti-protest law

Why hadn’t I seen anything about this on the sites of the BBC and The Guardian or in e-mails from The Independent? Is that because of the dreadful news about what happened to Sarah Everard?

(By the way, do you also feel that the police may have know he had a problem? Why was he transferred to patrolling embassies and so on, which probably meant that he was much more visible, after the Met hired him in 2018 and why were they on to him so quickly after Ms Everard disappeared? Even if they spotted that his path crossed hers, there normally would have been a big threshold toward suspecting him, unless a camera caught him and Ms Everard so clearly that the police had no choice but to zoom in on him? I wondered what his job was before the Met hired him. He may have been a security guard at a port before.)

So I did a search and found this:

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2021/mar/11/civil-liberties-groups-call-police-plans-for-demos-an-assault-on-right-to-protest

Civil liberties groups call police plans for demos an ‘assault’ on right to protest

An article that I had missed in The Guardian, dated 11 March 2021

“Civil liberties campaigners have warned of a “staggering assault” on the right to protest, as police detailed how they would enforce controversial government proposals to restrict demonstrations.”

“On Thursday, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published its plans for the future of policing protests, two days after the government announced proposed new laws granting more powers to officers and the home secretary.”

“Among other things, the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill will give Priti Patel powers to create laws to define “serious disruption” to communities and organisations, which police can then rely on to impose conditions on protests.”

From the article by Ian Dunt:

“On Tuesday, the Home Office published the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. It covers a wide range of areas, from sentencing to digital information. But it has a specific section on the policing of protests. And the function of this section is simple: It aims to silence them.”

This bill has 307 pages.

The Guardian:

Matt Parr, from HMICFRS, said: “The right to gather and express our views is fundamental to our democracy. But this is not an absolute right. The police need to strike the correct balance between the rights of protesters and the rights of others, such as local residents and businesses.

“We found that the police too often do not find the balance between protecting the rights of the protesters and preventing excessive disruption to daily life, which even peaceful protest can sometimes cause.”

As Ian Dunt pointed out… this is the essence of protesting. To get heard and to be seen and to be noticed. There is no point in going to the middle of a forest and protest there. And the right to protest is a basic human right.

The Guardian also published this, a day later. Yesterday.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/12/is-the-sarah-everard-vigil-ban-part-of-creeping-curbs-on-the-right-to-protest

Is the Sarah Everard vigil ban part of creeping curbs on the right to protest?

Mounting concern that ministers are using pandemic to curtail freedoms in the UK

DEFRA consultation on regulation of genetic technologies (closes 17 March)

DEFRA currently has a consultation called “the regulation of genetic technologies”. Post-Brexit adaptations or not? Will we drop the phrase “even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding” or not?

Post-Brexit, animal welfare protections are being abandoned. We can’t let that continue unbridled. This consultation is not just about animals, however. It is also about agriculture, bacteria and foodstuffs.

If you want to weigh in, you have up to 17 March, 1 minute before midnight. It will take you some time and you’d better have a bunch of references and links to data ready. 
consult.defra.gov.uk/agri-food-chai

It consists of two parts, that is, the actual consultation is Part 1. You can come back to Part 2 later after you’ve completed Part 1. I have been working on Part 1 so far. 

When I downloaded the 14-page document that goes with this gene editing consultation, I spotted several problems. There is a pretence of an emphasis on science and there is at least one or one half paragraph that has nothing to do with genetic technologies (obfuscation).

The document starts as follows:
“Building back greener is integral to creating a healthier, more resilient world for future generations and the Prime Minister has highlighted the need to take a more scientifically credible approach to regulation to help us meet some of the biggest challenges we face.”

This is the document’s fourth paragraph:
While GE is unlikely to be able to address all these complex challenges, a whole range of innovative approaches could help us make progress over time. These could include increasing agro-ecological approaches for land management, the use of robotics and artificial intelligence, vertical farming, and the development of undervalued protein sources.

The part in blue has nothing to do with gene editing. So why throw it in? The first sentence seems to suggest that there may not even be a need for gene editing. What is the purpose of this paragraph? To obfuscate? 

On page 5 it says:
“Our position follows the science, which says that the safety of an organism is dependent on its characteristics and use rather than on how it was produced.” 

That, with all due respect, sounds like pretentious nonsense. No references are given, no scientists are mentioned, no agencies or universities are named.

Anyone wishing to take part in this consultation, however, is supposed to provide evidence and literature references and the consultation is clearly not intended to draw the public’s opinion.

Also on page 5 of the consultation document, DEFRA mentions that Japan, Brazil, Australia and Argentina take a different position than the EU and there is the suggestion that the EU’s view is flawed. 

“Now the transition period has ended, retained EU law requires that all GE organisms are classified as GMOs irrespective of whether they could be produced by traditional breeding methods. This was confirmed by a Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) judgment in 20181. This is not consistent with the position taken by most countries who have reviewed their respective regulations like Argentina, Australia, Brazil and Japan, which have concluded that certain GEOs should not be regulated as GMOs.”

There is also a 2-page Gene Editing Explainer, which tells the public what to think, again without providing any literature references or links.

(Only Rothamsted Research in Hertfordshire is mentioned in it. Wikipedia says:
“previously known as the Rothamsted Experimental Station and then the Institute of Arable Crops Research” “one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, having been founded in 1843”. It is located on the campus of “Rothamsted Enterprises”. I assume that it is comparable to some of the departments of Wageningen University and Research. I am unfamiliar with it, had never heard of it before.)

I am a little disgusted with the approach taken by DEFRA here. I have taken part in DEFRA consultations before, when that particular PM mentioned at the start of the document was not PM yet. I may not often agree with DEFRA, but DEFRA’s consultations did not use to annoy me. This one does.

It is a political document, isn’t it?

I may be way off, but I hear the PM’s voice in the background and I sense the assumption that the public at large does not have the capability to understand the science and/or that the public is not well informed enough to be able to contribute to this consultation.

(Note that research in Germany showed that providing more information did not make the public more accepting of the use of genetic technologies; link below. These kinds of studies are not my field of expertise and there may be plenty of studies that found the opposite. But if that were the case, then why did DEFRA provide so little information?) 

Below are my two cents, so far. Also biased, namely skewed toward caution, and written off the cuff.

In my opinion, organisms developed using genetic technologies such as gene editing (GE) must continue to be regulated as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding.

  1. Genetic technologies can have side effects that are not necessarily instantly clear. An example could be that the changes that Dr He introduced in a pair of human twins in China to make them immune to HIV could also have resulted in “off-target” changes and scientists are largely still in the dark about this. (Natural breeding does not have the potential for unintended changes that CRISPR still has.)
  2. The application of genetic technologies may also impact animal welfare differently than when their genetic change(s) are produced through traditional breeding. 

Regarding the question as to the risk associated with the application, the problem is that we cannot predict what we don’t know yet.

If you look back into history, you can see that in the past, we’ve often hailed as great progress what we later ended up banning.

  • We gave a Nobel Prize in medicine for the development of DDT. It almost eradicated the American bald eagle and that is only one aspect of its many side effects. DDT causes nerve damage and affects the hormone-producing systems of many animals, among other things lowering their fertility. In the United States, it was the environmentalist and marine biologist Rachel Carson’s work that eventually led to a ban on DDT and other pesticides.
  • We didn’t even foresee the blatantly obvious consequences of insecticides, namely that their use would affect pollination as well as bird populations.
  • Should I mention thalidomide? DES? That ibuprofen may affect male fertility?
  • Many people are pushing to have other harmful pesticides banned, such as glyphosate and chlorpyrifos. That isn’t because they’re afraid of progress. It’s because these substances are not as harmless as we thought.
  • When I was still based in the Netherlands and a board member of the Environmental Chemistry (and Toxicology) Section of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society, our section organised a symposium on brominated flame retardants. They were already being found in tissues of animals in the Arctic. Did we see any of that coming? No, we did not. Subsequently, there was a push to phase them out in favour of others that turned out to have similar problems.
  • Did we expect to do damage to the ozone layer when we introduced CFCs?
  • Should I mention PFAS? (You may want to look into the situation in the Netherlands, where PFAS in soil have caused major upheaval because the Dutch want very little of it in their soils and the stuff is everywhere. When permitted levels were lowered, construction ground to a halt all over the country.) But we all thought that non-stick coatings (also called Teflon, PTFE, polytetrafluorethylene etc) were the greatest thing since sliced bread. People with pet birds started noticing disastrous effects. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFAO), also known as C8, dissolves well in water and does not decay. It is now globally present in the air and in seawater. In the Netherlands, discharges by the Chemours plant in Dordrecht led to increased PFOA concentrations in the Merwede river and in the groundwater along its banks. In the U.S., a former DuPont plant in West Virginia released more than 1.7 million pounds of C8 into the region’s water, soil and air between 1951 and 2003. C8 was phased out after a class-action lawsuit that alleged that it causes cancer. Chemours now makes a new compound called GenX instead, for which safety thresholds have yet to be established. Regular water treatment methods don’t remove it from drinking water. GenX may be safer than C8, but it is also alleged to have caused tumours and reproductive problems in lab animals.

None of what I just wrote has anything to do with the use of genetic technologies. My point is that we never know with 100% certainty that all forms of progress are safe and we have missed the blatantly obvious in the past. This uncertainty also goes for genetic technologies. 

I also think that dropping “even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding” would likely make the regulation harder to apply. It would have companies trying to find all sorts of shortcuts (to “prove” that the effect of the technology they used could also have been produced through natural breeding). It might lead to frustrating discussions and costly legal proceedings. It might even lead to more campaigning, protests, etc.

(I did not look into how Japan, Brazil, Argentina and the United States handle these matters.)

There might well be effects on trade as well. German consumers for example traditionally have put great emphasis on ensuring that their food is as “clean” as possible.

https://www.loc.gov/law/help/restrictions-on-gmos/germany.php

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326462738_Does_information_change_German_consumers’_attitudes_about_genetically_modified_food
From the abstract:

“The consumers who are more accepting of genetic modifications are younger, less educated and less concerned about their nutrition. The average effect of our provided information is negligible. However, the initially less opposed become slightly more opposed. Our results thus do not support the view that a lack of information drives consumer attitudes. Instead, attitudes seem to mostly reflect fundamental preferences.”

Many of the questions and the choices for answers in the DEFRA consultation survey are blatantly biased and it is quite clear that DEFRA would like to see the phrase “even if their genetic change(s) could have been produced through traditional breeding” dropped.

Am I being too critical? I don’t think so.

See also for example these two articles:

https://angelinasouren.com/2018/12/11/an-opinion/ by Cecile Janssens, professor at Emory University. A quote: “Most DNA mutations do nothing else other than cause the disease, but DNA variations may play a role in many diseases and traits. Take variations in the MC1R “red hair” gene, which not only increases the chance that your child will have red hair, but also increases their risk of skin cancer. Or variations in the OCA2 and HERC2 “eye color” genes that are also associated with the risk of various cancers, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. To be sure, these are statistical associations, reported in the scientific literature, some may be confirmed; others may not. But the message is clear: Editing DNA variations for “desirable” traits may have adverse consequences, including many that scientists don’t know about yet.


https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02087-5

 

So, what exactly is the science that DEFRA claims to be following? It is not this kind of science.



It is too soon to abandon caution. 
 

12 March 2021
Here is the PDF with my response: 

DEFRA-my_response

I expected Part 2 to take as long as Part 1 – I imagine that the start of Part 2 is the point at which many give up – but it did not. And in essence, it was a repeat of Part 1.

Help Sellafield whistleblower stand up because #equality is for all of us

This caught my eyes in the BBC news this morning:
 
Senior equality consultant Alison McDermott was hired in 2017 to work on Sellafield’s equality strategy. When she did that, however, she got fired. She is standing up for herself and in doing so, she is standing up for many others.
 
She has no funding. On Twitter, she wrote 


“The other side have unlimited resources, and have already spent in excess of £250k to defend my claim, all of which comes from the public purse.” 
She’s set up a crowdfunder for herself. Please help if you can. Thanks.
 
 

“Let them eat biscuits” – kids, disabled people and other humans – food deprivation in the UK

This morning, I attended another online meeting about the escalating inequality, poverty and associated misery in England and the rest of the UK. That is, I was 15 minutes late, so I missed a few things.

It was also about how useless the UK government’s response is, as usual.

The only “advantages” coming out of the pandemic are going to the pals of the politicians who get large contracts to supply services and tangible products that they have no previous experience with. (This has led to a lawsuit, as you know, with the court ruling that the UK government is breaking the law through the lack of transparency. The judge wrote: “The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020. The public were entitled to see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded. “)

 

 

14 million people in the UK live in poverty, it was said. That’s slightly under one entire quarter of the population.

Severely disabled people are currently five times more likely to be food-insecure.

Some links:

https://covidrealities.org

 

https://www.livingwage.org.uk/sites/default/files/Low%20pay%20in%20the%20supermarket%20sector.%20LWF%20briefing_0.pdf

Comments from food-insecure people have included that they’d much rather have cash or vouchers over parcels. They are much better at stretching money than they are given credit for, getting cash or vouchers enables them to take food allergies into account and also allows them to buy fresh fruit instead of the obligate tinned peaches and mandarins, cereal instead of cornflakes and helps them avoid the cookies – or “the bloody biscuits” as the person in question put it.

From the chat:

“Let them eat biscuits.”

“The global humanitarian sector has been significantly moving away from food parcels to food vouchers. Cant believe in UK we still at food parcels discussion.”

“Most local authorities in Scotland have been providing cash payments to families, food parcels are not the go-to everywhere in the UK.”

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