À quand la fin du mercure?

For information in English:
http://mercuryconvention.org/
https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/minamata-convention-mercury

Defne Gonenc, Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

Comment mieux protéger les hommes et l’environnement des dangers du mercure ? C’est la question qui a occupé, du 24 au 29 septembre les signataires de la Convention de Minamata.

Le but de cette convention, entrée en vigueur le 16 août dernier, est de préserver la santé humaine et les écosystèmes des émissions et rejets anthropiques de ce produit chimique hautement toxique. Le Programme des Nations unies pour l’environnement (PNUE) estime que 8 900 tonnes de mercure sont rejetées chaque année dans la nature (rejets naturels et anthropiques).

De multiples effets délétères

Le mercure est un métal très toxique, capable d’affecter le fonctionnement du cerveau. Selon l’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS), il peut provoquer des tremblements et autres symptômes neuropsychiatriques tels que la fatigue, l’insomnie, l’anorexie, la dépression, la nervosité, l’irritabilité ou encore des problèmes de mémoire. Il est particulièrement dangereux pour ceux qui consomment beaucoup de poisson puisqu’il s’immisce dans toute la chaîne alimentaire.

Selon le Programme des Nations unies pour l’environnement, la plus grande source d’émissions de mercure concerne les mines d’or artisanales à petite échelle, suivie de la combustion du charbon. Le mercure est en effet utilisé lors de l’extraction de l’or par les mineurs. Sachant qu’environ 15 % de l’or est produit dans un cadre artisanal et à petite échelle, le recours au mercure est largement répandu.

Les dangers de l’usage du mercure dans les mines artisanales (GEF, 2016).

Éliminer progressivement le mercure

La Convention de Minamata tire son nom d’une ville de pêcheurs située au Japon dont les habitants ont été gravement contaminés pendant des décennies. De 1932 à 1966, une usine pétrochimique à effet rejeté des métaux lourds, et tout particulièrement du mercure, affectant plus de 10 000 personnes. Cet événement dramatique a permis une prise de conscience des dangers du mercure.

Si elle n’agit pas de façon immédiate, la Convention constitue un indicateur précieux pour les mesures à venir limitant l’usage du mercure. Le traité prévoit ainsi l’interdiction de l’ouverture de nouvelles mines du mercure et son abandon graduel dans les mines d’or existantes.

Il vise également son élimination progressive dans un certain nombre de produits courants, comme les thermomètres, ainsi que le contrôle de ses rejets et de ses composés. Car le mercure est présent dans de très nombreux objets du quotidien à l’image des piles ou encore des produits cosmétiques.

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Les faiblesses de la Convention

Au-delà des promesses, la Convention de Minamata peut-elle réduire efficacement l’utilisation du mercure dans le monde ? Plusieurs points du texte illustrent des faiblesses, comme l’ont souligné certains groupes de défense de l’environnement.

En premier lieu, alors même que le traité exige des pays concernés qu’ils établissent des plans d’action pour réduire l’utilisation du mercure dans l’extraction minière artisanale, aucun objectif exact ni aucune échéance n’ont été spécifiés.

On peut également regretter que la Convention de Minamata ne soit pas aussi contraignante pour les centrales électriques à charbon déjà en fonctionnement que pour les nouvelles centrales. Seules ces dernières auront désormais l’obligation d’utiliser la meilleure technologie disponible.

On le voit, le traité de Minamata demeure très souple, sa mise en œuvre dépendant du moment où le pays veut agir.

La question du financement

Le financement constitue également l’une des grandes faiblesses du traité, la mise en place des mesures pour lutter contre les effets du mercure dépend des capacités de chaque pays. Et le peu de volontarisme des pays industrialisés n’arrange rien : ces derniers préfèrent en effet s’appuyer sur le Fonds pour l’environnement mondial (GEF) afin de réduire l’usage du mercure.

Soulignons enfin que certains pays où le mercure est beaucoup utilisé dans l’extraction artisanale d’or à petite échelle, comme l’Inde, le Suriname et les Philippines, n’ont pas encore ratifié le traité.

The ConversationEn dépit de ses faiblesses, le traité témoigne de la volonté de la communauté internationale d’agir contre les effets nocifs du mercure. C’est une initiative précieuse, mais ce n’est qu’une première étape.

Defne Gonenc, Research assistant, Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement (IHEID)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Here’s why your sustainable tuna is also unsustainable

File 20171012 31408 v1oycx.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1.0&rect=616.0%2c1039.0%2c3084.0%2c1439
Not all tuna are caught using sustainable methods.
(Pixabay)

Megan Bailey, Dalhousie University

Tuna is one of the most ubiquitous seafoods. It can be eaten from a can or as high-end sashimi and in many forms in between. But some species are over-fished and some fishing methods are unsustainable. How do you know which type of tuna you’re eating?

Some tuna is certified as sustainably caught by groups such as the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) that set standards for sustainable fishing. But these certifications are only good if they are credible.

In late August, several media outlets published stories about On the Hook, a new campaign by a consortium of retailers and academics who have taken issue with some fishing practices allowed by the MSC. As a university professor whose research focuses on private seafood governance, including certifications and traceability, and fisheries policy, I am deeply familiar with the issues at hand. I support the campaign, but don’t stand to gain from the outcome.

The Western and Central Pacific skipjack tuna fishery is one of the world’s biggest. Some of the tuna caught here carries the MSC’s blue label, identifying it as the best environmental choice for consumers. But the same boats making that sustainable catch may also use unsustainable methods to catch unsustainable fish on the same day.

The On the Hook coalition sees this as at odds with the MSC certification, as do I. Yes, sustainable and unsustainable fish can be separated; there are people on board whose sole job is to do this. But rewarding fishermen for their sustainable catch, while allowing them to fish unsustainably, dupes consumers into supporting companies that take part in bad behaviour.

Does sorting work?

The On the Hook campaign singles out one fishery in particular: the “purse seine” fishery in the tropical western Pacific Ocean. This fishery covers the waters of eight island nations, including Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands. Under the Nauru Agreement, these nations, usually referred to as the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA), collectively control access to about one quarter of the world’s tuna supply.

Fishermen can use nets to catch free-swimming adult tuna and earn MSC certification for their catch. But these same fishermen can also use fish aggregating devices (FADs) — instruments that attract all kinds of marine life, including adult tuna, juvenile tuna and hundreds of species of sharks, turtles and other fish — to net their catch. Fishing on FADs is faster and less costly, but these devices are associated with high levels of bycatch, one of the main sustainability concerns in many fisheries. Fishing on FDAs does not earn MSC certification.

Fish aggregating devices attract ocean-going fish such as tuna.
(Shutterstock)

Under normal operations, the fishermen use both methods. “Compartmentalization” is a technique that allows the unsustainable portion of the fish to be separated on board the vessel from the sustainable portion. This is supposed to provide assurance to consumers that they are making a sustainable choice. Yet the negative environmental impacts connected to FAD fishing operations should surely also be considered in an MSC assessment. Currently, this does not happen.

Compartmentalization remains necessary because there isn’t enough of an economic advantage for companies to make only sustainable catches. It costs fishermen more to fish sustainably because they have to find the tuna, instead of waiting for it to come to the FAD.

A fleet using both methods can be part of a higher value premium market and earn financial security from the high volume, yet unsustainable, fishery. If purse-seining tuna vessels need to subsidize their sustainable fishing with unsustainable practices, then MSC certification has not provided the incentive it set out to.

A holistic fishery

Millions of tonnes of tuna have been fished from the waters of the Western and Central Pacific fishery. But the countries controlling these waters have not benefited to a large extent, mostly due to a lack of cooperation in bargaining for benefits, which allowed distant nations to exploit the fishery.

In the past decade, these Pacific Island states have increased their bargaining power in regional negotiations by implementing a scheme that controls the number of boats that can enter their waters. Under the program, called the vessel day scheme (VDS), these countries can now charge higher fees to boats that want access.

For example, PNA countries used to extract between three per cent and six per cent of the value of tuna fishery in their waters. Since their bargaining power has increased, they can now extract more than 14 per cent of the value, and this number is likely to continue to rise.

This is no small accomplishment for these Pacific Island nations, and other coastal state collectives are now trying to emulate their success. But this does not mean that all of the practices they allow are commendable, including those that are not representative of the “best environmental choice” in seafood.

On my Facebook feed, a colleague recently commented: “A Pacific Islander owned sustainably certified fishery is the wrong target.”

Let me clear up this misconception. The On the Hook campaign is not targeting the PNA, but the MSC. It would like the MSC to delay the recertification — authorized by the accreditation body in September — of the PNA fishery until the compartmentalization practice has been addressed. The fishery needs to be considered holistically.

A school of tuna.
(United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization/Danilo Cedrone), CC BY

For example, the MSC could specify that to earn a certification, a boat cannot fish sustainably and unsustainably on the same fishing trip. Consumer dollars should not be supporting the very practices the MSC condemns.

Another colleague remarked that because the PNA is challenging big industry, the On the Hook campaign might benefit big industry and hurt the PNA. In fact, it is the same boats, the same fleet, the same companies that are fishing MSC-certified tuna and on FADs.

Muddy waters

My colleagues also worry that the campaign calls into question the credibility of the MSC label. But this has actually become commonplace, with many groups pointing at examples of certified fisheries that are not sustainable. For example, the WWF has recommended that seafood buyers should stay away from MSC-certified Mexican tuna.

I would argue that the MSC is tarnishing itself by normalizing the practice of compartmentalization. It is no longer clear that fish carrying the MSC label offer the best environmental choice. Many Canadian fisheries, like lobster, herring, and Atlantic redfish, are MSC-certified. The faltering credibility of the MSC is a major risk for Canadian fish harvesters who rely on the MSC label to communicate their good fishing practices.

Additionally, Canadian consumers who are used to searching for the blue MSC check mark when they shop for seafood can no longer do so thinking that the logo conveys accurate information. Consumers need to know that the waters are muddy, that seafood sustainability is a moving target, and that it is not easy to make the right choice when standing in the aisle at the supermarket.

Governments and businesses need to make that choice easier for consumers. And they could start by dealing with compartmentalization in the PNA fishery — and elsewhere.

The PNA countries could also make demands. They could allow access rights only to vessels that agree to drop the practice of compartmentalization and that are transparent about their fishing practices.

The ConversationMore than anything, the MSC needs to take a good look at itself and remember what it is supposed to represent — the best environmental choice — not consumer confusion.

Megan Bailey, Assistant Professor, Canada Research Chair, Integrated Ocean and Coastal Governance, Dalhousie University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The murky issue of whether the public supports assisted dying

Katherine Sleeman, King’s College London

The High Court has rejected a judicial review challenging the current law which prohibits assisted dying in the UK. Noel Conway, a 67-year-old retired lecturer who was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease in 2014, was fighting for the right to have medical assistance to bring about his death. Commenting after the judgement on October 5, his solicitor indicated that permission will now be sought to take the case to the appeal courts.

Campaigners are often quick to highlight the strength of public support in favour of assisted dying, arguing that the current law is undemocratic. But there are reasons to question the results of polls on this sensitive and emotional issue.

There have been numerous surveys and opinion polls on public attitudes towards assisted dying in recent years. The British Social Attitudes (BSA) Survey, which has asked this question sequentially since the 1980s, has shown slowly increasing public support. Asked: “Suppose a person has a painful incurable disease. Do you think that doctors should be allowed by law to end the patient’s life, if the patient requests it?” in 1984, 75% of people surveyed agreed. By 1989, 79% of people agreed with the statement, and in 1994 it had gone up to 82%.

Detail of the question matters

But not surprisingly, the acceptability of assisted dying varies according to the precise context. The 2005 BSA survey asked in more depth about attitudes towards assisted dying and end of life care. While 80% of respondents agreed with the original question, support fell to 45% for assisted dying for illnesses that were incurable and painful but not terminal.

A 2010 ComRes-BBC survey also found that the incurable nature of illness was critical. In this survey, while 74% of respondents supported assisted suicide if an illness was terminal, this fell to 45% if it was not.

Wording counts.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

It may not be surprising that support varies considerably according to the nature of the condition described, but it is important. First, because the neat tick boxes on polls belie the messy reality of determining prognosis for an individual patient. Second, because of the potential for drift in who might be eligible once assisted dying is legalised. This has happened in countries such as Belgium which became the first country to authorise euthanasia for children in 2014, and more recently in Canada where within months of the 2016 legalisation of medical assistance in dying, the possibility of extending the law to those with purely psychological suffering was announced.

It’s not just diagnosis or even prognosis that influences opinion. In the US, Gallup surveys carried out since the 1990s have shown that support for assisted dying hinges on the precise terminology used to describe it. In its 2013 poll, 70% of respondents supported “end the patient’s life by some painless means” whereas only 51% supported “assisting the patient to commit suicide”. This gap shrank considerably in 2015 – possibly as a result of the Brittany Maynard case. Maynard, a high-profile advocate of assisted dying who had terminal cancer, moved from California to Oregon to take advantage of the Oregon Death with Dignity law in 2014.

Even so, campaigning organisations for assisted dying tend to avoid the word “suicide”. Language is emotive, but if we want to truly gauge public opinion, we need to understand this issue, not gloss over it.

Information changes minds

Support for assisted dying is crucially known to drop-off simply when key information is provided. Back in the UK, a ComRes/CARE poll in 2014 showed 73% of people surveyed agreed with legalisation of a bill which enables: “Mentally competent adults in the UK who are terminally ill, and who have declared a clear and settled intention to end their own life, to be provided with assistance to commit suicide by self-administering lethal drugs.” But 42% of these same people subsequently changed their mind when some of the empirical arguments against assisted dying were highlighted to them – such as the risk of people feeling pressured to end their lives so as not to be a burden on loved ones.

This is not just a theoretical phenomenon. In 2012, a question over legalising assisted dying was put on the ballot paper in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal US states. Support for legalisation fell in the weeks prior to vote, as arguments against legalisation were aired, and complexities became apparent. In the end, the Massachusetts proposition was defeated by 51% to 49%. Public opinion polls, in the absence of public debate, may gather responses that are reflexive rather than informed.

The ConversationPolls are powerful tools for democratic change. While opinion polls do show the majority of people support legalisation of assisted dying, the same polls also show that the issue is far from clear. It is murky, and depends on the responder’s awareness of the complexities of assisted dying, the context of the question asked, and its precise language. If we can conclude anything from these polls, it is not the proportion of people who do or don’t support legislation, but how easily people can change their views.

Katherine Sleeman, NIHR Clinician Scientist and Honorary Consultant in Palliative Medicine, King’s College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

What you look like matters – but should it?

What our faces can tell other people about the state of our health

Image 20160707 30713 18qtf3f
Glowing with health.
Shutterstock/Luba V Nel

Alex Jones, Swansea University

Our facial appearance influences how we feel about ourselves – and other people’s faces influence who we choose to approach or avoid and who we’d like to form romantic relationships with. At a glance, a face reveals a wealth of information about how we are feeling, or the kinds of behaviours we might be about to engage in – but what does it say about us when we aren’t expressing emotion? As it turns out, it’s more than you could imagine.

Over the past few years I’ve learned how aspects of our personality are present in our faces, how symptoms of depression cause faces to appear less socially desirable, and how wearing make-up changes perceptions of social traits – but the most important signals that our faces can give are of health.

The face is a biological billboard and we are expert readers, always interested in what it has to say. We are attracted to healthy-looking faces and avoid those who are unhealthy –- think of the sensation you might have had the last time you were on the train or a bus near someone who looked unwell – but it is the question of what makes a face look “healthy” in our eyes that is the most intriguing.

There are many historical examples of people altering their facial appearance to appear healthier. Things like the influence of body mass index (BMI) on face shape, or the smoothness of skin texture play a role in how healthy we are viewed to be, but it is actually facial colouration that seems to be the most important.

The lighter areas show where the skin of healthier looking faces are brighter (left), redder (middle), and yellower (right).

Early research has identified that faces with lighter, redder, and yellower skin were seen as the healthiest – and this was consistent across all ethnicities. There also seemed to be relevant biological processes associated with these colours: for example, lighter skin is associated with the ability to absorb more vitamin D. Greater redness, particularly when from oxygenated blood, may indicate more efficient circulation and blood supply to the skin.

But it is yellowness that seems to be particularly relevant for health, and for good reason: people with yellower skin tend to have healthier diets, rich in fruit and vegetables. The organic pigments in these foods, known as carotenoids, are hugely beneficial for health, and seem to be responsible for producing that desirable healthy glow. Intriguingly, tanning also increases skin yellowness and makes faces appear healthier, but the yellowness conferred by carotenoids (as a result, perhaps, of a healthy diet) is preferred to the yellowness brought about by tanning.

Healthy glow

The secret to a healthy appearance isn’t as simple as eating more fruit and vegetables, however, it’s a bit more complicated than that – and healthy face colouration may be more nuanced than previously thought. Skin conditions such as dark circles under the eyes or rosacea, a condition which causes the skin to flush and redden, cause great concern to sufferers – Google searches of treatments or remedies return millions of hits. Both these conditions are also localised to areas of the face, which suggests colours in certain areas of faces could be relevant for looking healthy. Might these patterns of colour in faces, rather than the colour of the entirety of facial skin, be more relevant for looking healthy?

To answer this questions, we asked observers to rate faces for how healthy they thought they were, and calculated the colour differences between faces seen as very healthy and very unhealthy. We used Caucasian faces for the comparison, but there is some evidence that suggests how the overall skin colours of yellowness, redness, and lightness are seen as healthy in non-Caucasian faces too: it seems that everyone, regardless of race, finds these tones to be healthy.

Our research found that while yellowness across the whole face was a contributor to looking healthy, confirming earlier findings, lighter skin under the eyes and redder skin on the cheeks seemed to play larger roles. That colouration, in those areas, seemed to account for a lot more variation in health ratings than skin yellowness.

We subtly changed photographed faces to have lighter under-eye skin and redder cheeks – and also the reverse effect: darker under-eye skin and greener cheeks. Asking people to pick which they found the healthiest revealed a strong preference for the former pattern.

One a picture of health, the other, not so much – which do you think looks healthier?

Interestingly, when we reversed the location of the colouration – lighter cheeks and redder under-eyes or darker cheeks and greener under-eyes – there was no clear preference. Given the wealth of research showing lighter skin and redder skin across the whole face is perceived as healthier this result was surprising. What this work suggests is that lightness and redness in our facial skin is seen as healthy, but only when it is under the eyes or in the cheeks, respectively.

Red cheeks are healthy, red eyes not – do you think one looks healthier than the other?

In a final study, I looked at which facial area and colour was seen as the healthiest. While having redder cheeks and light skin under the eyes came out as looking equally healthy, dark skin under the eyes made people think the faces looked quite unhealthy, even more so than sickly-looking greener cheeks.

The ConversationIt is no surprise that cosmetic products such as concealer and blusher are so popular, since they increase a healthy looking colouration in the areas that matter the most to health perception – but nothing could ever beat a good night’s sleep and regular exercise.

Alex Jones, Lecturer, Swansea University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.