Articles by Pat Thomas
The bulk of this list of investigations, reports and interviews below is from my 'Ecologist years'. But these days it also includes more recent post-Ecologist work (see also my Blogs page) with other publications and from the NYR Natural News website, which I edit. In the sidebar below are links to collections from current and previous incarnations.
TECH COMPANIES SAY THE FUTURE OF FOOD IS FAKE
The path forward is clear, even if you enjoy eating meat. We eat too much of it, it’s doing too much damage to the planet as well as to our health and there is an urgent need for us to cut back – or cut it out altogether.
As the recent furore over a lab grown burger has confirmed, the race to find an acceptable substitute for conventionally reared meat is well and truly on and our appetite for no-meat dishes appears to be growing. Read more.
Within a few short decades soya has infiltrated our daily diets to a spectacular degree. Believe the marketing hype and this ‘traditional’ plant-based food, which is sold in a variety of different forms, not only fights cardiovascular disease and even cancer, but helps you live longer. Read more.
Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world, warns the UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.
The evidence behind the warning is summed up in the second volume of CMO’s annual report comes as the UK prepares to launch a new Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan, reflecting the need for a clear change in our understanding of and response to antimicrobial resistance by the public, NHS and government. Read more.
It never rains but it pours and in the last couple of weeks we have found ourselves in the middle of a deluge of news stories about childhood vaccinations.
Perhaps as a result, an extraordinary paper, published by a respected medical researcher, which dishes the dirt on 30 years of secret official transcripts, has resurfaced. For those that missed it the first time it is a real eye opener. Read more
THE GREAT FLU VACCINE SWINDLE
The knives came out immediately in the wake of this week’s study showing that rats fed a lifelong diet of GM maize developed more and bigger breast tumours, as well as kidney and liver dysfunction. But these comments, mostly from rent-a-quote scientists and web trolls, are too little too late.
As we noted in our early analysis of the trial and its context, this was not the first time that researchers have reported such outcomes.
The main complaint of the GM apologists to earlier studies was that laboratory studies using cells prove little and that only feeding studies using animals or humans were worth paying attention to.
Given that most of the medicines we take today, and indeed much of the ‘safety’ of GM, as defined by the biotech companies that produce it, depends on laboratory studies on cell cultures, it was a pretty poor excuse even then.
Indeed, cell culture studies are seen as a first step in any scientific process. Should such studies turn up meaningful data, the next step is to see if the effects can be replicated in lab animals or humans. Read more.
Rats fed a lifelong diet of one of the best-selling strains of genetically modified maize suffered tumours and multiple organ damage, according to a French study published today.
The report which is well-timed to support the Just Label It campaign in the US and inform the vicious battle over Proposition 37 in California, is set to add fuel to the debate over the safety – or otherwise – of GM crops.
In an unusual move, the research group behind the research did not seek outside comment on their paper before its publication in the peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology.
This is thought to be because of very real fears (see below) that the biotech company whose maize they used, would seek to suppress their findings.
Professor Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues at the University of Caen in France found that rats fed on a diet containing NK603 – a seed variety from crop giant Monsanto made tolerant to repeated spraying of the best-selling weedkiller Roundup – or given water containing Roundup at levels permitted in the United States died earlier than those on a standard diet.
The researchers were looking for chronic effects from the GM feeding regime, but found more than they bargained for. Animals on the GM diet suffered hormone imbalance and more and bigger breast tumours, as well as severe liver and kidney damage. The researchers said 50% of males and 70% of females died prematurely, compared with only 30% and 20% respectively in the control group. Read more.
Globally our exposure to GM organisms via food is unquantifiable. In the UK you can’t buy GM foods in the supermarket, but conventionally reared livestock are largely reared on GM feed. As the recent news story that biotech giant Syngenta hid data that proved its Bt176 maize could be lethal to livestock shows, we can’t trust the GM companies to be honest about the potential damage being done to our health.
Recently a GM pathogen new to science has been found that could well be in Roundup Ready GM soybean and corn that may be responsible for high rates of infertility and spontaneous abortions in livestock.
Does that reassure you – or make you wonder what else we don’t know about the risks of eating (and growing) GM food?
In twenty years we’ve witnessed politicians, bureaucrats, campaigners and NGOs gathering together in meeting after meeting in glamorous cities and resorts around the world to discuss what to do about the problems of sustainability, ‘green’ economics and climate change.
This month CO2 levels reached the significant 400ppm mark – indicating we are now way beyond the point of no return (at the first Rio conference global CO2 was around 350ppm – so a relevant question would be: what good have all these expensive, wasteful, indulgent conferences really done?).
A healthy woman walks into her doctor's office. She says ‘Doctor, I'd like to have major abdominal surgery, please.'
In most medical settings a doctor would balk at the idea and be very clear about the ethics of cutting open a healthy body for no good reason. But this woman is pregnant and so the doctor agrees it's probably for the best.
What both the woman and the doctor have in common is they make their decisions in a culture of fear...
THE GROWING PROBLEM OF CHEMICAL CALORIES
The programme, which has gained attention across the globe, is part of environmentalist David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things series. It looked at the scientific evidence showing that chemicals in the environment may be programming us to be fat. And this programming begins before we’re even born.
It’s true that, as a society, we eat too much and don’t exercise enough. But scientists around the globe have begun looking beyond the obvious causes, in part because of weight changes in a group that can’t chew, let alone jog: babies...Read more.
ANTIBACTERIAL CLOTHING - A FASHIONABLE THREAT TO HUMAN HEALTH
Fabrics treated with antibacterial chemicals are leeching these toxic substances into the environment every time they are washed, according to Swedish scientists.
MULTIVITAMINS CONTROVERSY - MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS
You could hardly have failed to notice the headlines this week; a new study claims to show that vitamins can kill you.
But before we find ourselves in the grip of widespread multivitamin phobia, it’s worth considering the context in which the story has appeared, as well as considering what the study actually said – versus what a sensationalist media would have you believe it said...Read more.
THE BIG ENERGY COMPANY RIP-OFF
The move places every single household in the UK under pressure and, according to the publicly funded consumer advocacy group Consumer Focus, will add £72 to average annual bills and place and extra 1 million of households into ‘fuel poverty’ – when a household is spending more than 10% of its income on keeping warm. This figure is set to rise as the other energy companies join in the price rises. Read more...
AROMATHERAPY IN YOUR KITCHEN, PART 2: COOKING WITH SPICES
Spices generally add a more pungent taste to foods. Wherever possible, it is best to buy the whole spice and grind or crush it yourself. This way the aroma will be stronger and you will benefit from more of the active ingredients. Read more...
Controversial proposals for the first UK ‘superdairy’ at Nocton, in Lincolnshire are about to be re-submitted to the planning authorities. In the face of accumulating data that intensive factory-style livestock production is cruel and polluting, the US is beginning to question the wisdom of this type of farming. Pat Thomas asks, why on earth would the UK want to adopt a system that is proven to be damaging to the health of people, animals and the planet?
“Let me put it this way” says Miyun Park, Executive Director of Global Animal Partnership “you can smell them before you see them.”
Park has firsthand experience of the concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFO’s, that dominate American livestock production and has real sympathy with the battle currently brewing in the UK over whether or not to bring these intensive animal factories, which house thousands of animals, to the UK.
Three such facilities – an 8000-cow dairy farm at Nocton, Lincolnshire, a 3000-cow unit at South Witham, Lincolnshire and a 2800-sow pig unit at Foston Derbyshire – have been proposed, though due to strong local opposition, none have yet been approved. New plans have also been announced for a 1000-cow dairy farm at Leighton, near Welshpool in Wales where the cows would be kept inside for 250 days of the year.
Their sheer size is mind-boggling. The South Witham farm would be 50% larger than the UK largest existing herd of 2,000. The dairy farm at Nocton would be the largest in Western Europe, four times the size of the UKs’ largest herd and 66 times larger than the average UK herd of 120 animals. Once the litters of the sows are factored in, the pig farm at Foston could contain up to 20,000 animals at any one time, making it the largest in the UK.
According to Park there are numerous problems associated with CAFOS. High on the list are overcrowding, poor animal welfare, overuse of ‘routine’ antibiotics, and the potential to become breeding grounds for diseases such as swine and avian flu as well as E.Coli and Salmonella. There is also the problem of waste. Read more.
How to make your food your medicine and medicine your food, starting with six common herbs you can use in your recipes and everyday cooking.
The smell of our food is inexorably linked to our enjoyment of it. In fact, taste and smell are the two most directly linked of our senses. Aroma is the essence of food, but as well as making food taste good, it can also enhance our sense of well-being. Read more.
NONE OF THE MAIN PARTIES SEEM TO HAVE A CLUE ABOUT FOOD
In the run up to the British general election, Pat Thomas says the various party manifestos are starved of sound policies on food security and sustainability
STRENGTHENING THE FOODSHED
Pat Thomas addresses the pressures of dwindling food and water supplies, increasing prices and an expanding population
Every era has a defining issue: in the twenty-first century, that issue will likely be global food security. A complex intersection of challenges unique to our time is at work – peak oil, climate change, declining water supplies and a burgeoning population. In order to secure our future food supply in the face of these challenges, we must begin by acknowledging their impacts in the here and now... Read more
HOW TO DECODE THE FOOD LABELS AND SHOP WITH A CONSCIENCE
More than anything else, the new interest in ethical shopping indicates a break away from a consumerism based solely on economic value to one based on social values rooted in less tangible, but equally important, concepts such as connection, community and care for others - especially those who live far away.
'Caring at a distance', as ethical shopping is sometimes defined, can help to support people in the developing world. But it can also produce high levels of pollution through air miles and manufacturing emissions, and mountains of waste through the multi-layered packaging required to move goods around the globe and store them on supermarket shelves. It can also leave locally produced goods, services and communities in the UK without investment... Read more.
A new book by WWF 'Meeting Environmental Challenges: The Role of Human Identity' makes the case for a new kind of campaigning that sees the person behind the behaviour. Pat Thomas is impressed
In the last few years the Ecologist has published many articles that sought to shed light on the psychological aspects of environmentalism. We've looked at climate change denial as a kind of addiction. We've looked at decoupling our identity from what we own and what we can buy, encouraging the notion that we are citizens rather than consumers.
For those of us who have been seeking to make sense of the human response to the environmental challenges we face and how it can either help to engage individuals in change, or push them further into inactivity and denial, this new book by WWF, Meeting Environmental Challenges is most welcome... Read more.
Sustainability consultant Dr David Strong tells Pat Thomas why the way we think about sustainable building needs to be demolished and rebuilt
In the recent budget, the chancellor committed the UK to the world’s first carbon budgets, which fix binding limits on greenhouse gas emissions over five-year periods, including carbon dioxide reductions of 34 per cent by 2020.
The latest H1N1 virus is somewhat more worrying than H5N1 because of the greater ease with which swine viruses can be passed from pig to human, and thereafter from human to human. Pigs are very efficient vectors for human disease, as the recent Ecologist Film Unit documentary short, Sick as a Pig, which details the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria amongst pig farmers, details shows so graphically.
Understanding this, however, does not tackle the actual root of the problem.
It is disappointing that, so far, very little of the press coverage has focused on the role of factory farming... Read more.
A little bit of natural seasoning won’t kill you, it’s what gets added – or taken away – that matters. Pat Thomas explains why refining and demonising salt is such a crude response
There was a time when salt was worth its weight in gold – literally. And quite right too. Without salt, life would cease. Your muscles would not function, your ability to think would be impaired, your memory would fail and your heart would stop beating. And yet today salt is the demon of the diet world... Read more.
Genetically modified food. It’s a big issue. Increasingly, we are handed the notion that GM food is just like any other food, only better, because of its almost magical power to solve our most immediate crises of poverty, hunger, fossil-fuel depletion and climate change.
In a world where we are daily met with the grief of an imploding financial system and the day-to-day hardships of making ends meet, it’s understandable to want to believe in such easy magic... Read more.
The Government and Big Biotech say GM food is safe to eat, but with no trials conducted on humans, what they call ‘safe’ and what we call ‘safe’ may be two very different things. Pat Thomas reports. Not online.
Growing anxiety, growing concern, growing doubts, growing uncertainty. If you are one of a growing number of people who want to be heard on the subject of GM, and to find out how you can become involved in keeping the future GM-free, here are some places to start. Read more.
SOWING FALSE HOPES
Don’t believe everything you hear or read, warns Pat Thomas. There really isn’t an agricultural bright side to rising levels of CO2. Not online.
CHANGING CLIMATE, CHANGING HEALTH
That climate change will redefine what we know about health and disease is a certainty and yet our understanding of how it will change everything remains very limited and focused on the obvious.
Recent reports of catastrophic declines in bee populations have had scientists buzzing around looking for a plausible explanation. Is it mites? Is it GM crops? Is it mobile phones or habitat loss? It's all of these things, says Pat Thomas, but it's also so much more than that
Forget everything you thought you knew about the sedate and rarefied world of beekeeping. Bees are big business. In 2006, a Cornell University study found that in the USA, bees annually pollinate more than $14 billion worth of seed and crops - mostly fruits, vegetables and nuts. In the UK they are responsible for the pollination of around £200 million worth of food crops.
Bees' role in the natural order of our world is crucial and their importance as pollinators, both for agriculture and for wild plants, can't be underestimated. Nor can it simply be quantified in monetary terms. Bees are what is known as a keystone species, ensuring the continued reproduction and survival not only of plants but other organisms that depend on those plants for survival. Once a keystone species disappears, other species begin to disappear too - thus Albert Einstein's apocalyptic and, these days, oft-quoted view: 'If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.'
What does Douglas Gowan know that everyone else wants to keep hidden? For 40 years the story of Brofiscin Quarry – now the most polluted place in the UK – has been suppressed.For 40 years the story of Brofiscin Quarry – now the most polluted place in the UK – has been suppressed. Documents have been mysteriously lost, witnesses silenced, scientific data ignored. But like the periodic explosions that issue from the depth of the quarry, the truth has a way of blowing up in our faces. Jon Hughes and Pat Thomas report
Witness protection schemes are normally the preserve of supergrasses or The Sopranos, not people who volunteer evidence in response to a public appeal from a government agency. But that is the position 64-year-old Douglas Gowan finds himself in, having spent the past six months living under police protection.
Since volunteering his evidence to the Environment Agency in early 2006 this retired corporate finance director has been subject to death threats, threatening callers to his door and numerous attempted break- ins. Consequently, at the turn of April his protection officers began to talk of placing him under witness protection.
Palpably Gowan knows something that someone, somewhere, wants suppressed. His misfortune is to be the sole surviving eyewitness who is prepared to speak out about Monsanto’s cavalier... Read more.
The Environment Agency (EA) is within weeks of letting Monsanto escape its liability for dumping thousands of tonnes of cancer-causing chemicals – including all the ingredients of the DDT defoliant Agent Orange – in two quarries in Wales.
Unless a claim and ‘adversary action’ is lodged with the US bankruptcy courts (USBC) within around four weeks, the UK taxpayer faces picking up a bill for hundreds of millions of pounds to safeguard the environment and public health.
Yet for the past few months the Agency has stonewalled the one remaining eyewitness to events as they unfolded in 1967 onwards, and who is prepared to speak out. This man, who now carries a panic button at all times, also has a dedicated police protection officer supervising protective devices installed at his house because of the threats that he has received.
From 1967 to 1974, Douglas Gowan represented farmers in the Taff area of South Wales, primarily as a legal adviser with an expertise in toxicology, having first gone to the area to investigate mysterious cattle and sheep deaths, and the abortions occurring in livestock, as a field officer for the National Farmers Union (NFU). He traced the likely cause of the deaths and abortions back to the Monsanto chemical plant in nearby Newport, where significant amounts of waste were being hauled daily to a nearby limestone landfill site operated by Purle Brothers.
The Monsanto plant, having been exposed for dumping... Read more.
Ethical consumerism in the UK is currently worth £29.3 billion, yet 60 per cent of us feel we don't have enough information to make an ethical decision. There is an ever-growing array of eco labels, but what do they tell us? Or fail to tell us? Pat Thomas explains
Click on a logo to uncover some uncomfortable truths... Read more.
In his final State of the Union address, George Bush announced his support for the adoption of biofuels on a massive scale. But is the plan such a good idea? By Pat Thomas
There is an old saying: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
In the current scramble to face up to the realities of climate change and the current peak oil demand, pundits on both sides of the ecological debate have embraced the concept of biofuels – renewable fuels derived from vegetable matter – as an effective solution to the impending global crisis.
The theory seems simple enough. By burning plant-derived energy we are burning a carbon-neutral fuel, because the CO2 released through combustion of plant fuels is equal to what the plant took out of the atmosphere in the first place.
But the science is far from complete, the energy savings far from convincing and, although many see biofuels as a way to avoid the kind of resource wars currently raging in the Middle East and elsewhere, going down that road may in the end provoke a wider series of resource wars – this time over food, water and habitable land.
The scale of Bush’s and others enthusiasm for biofuels, seems, once one knows the details, to make little sense. Except perhaps as one of the biggest global investment opportunities in decades...Read more.
We didn’t want GM on your table, but the crucial question now is, will we allow it in our tanks? Robin Maynard and Pat Thomas report
In recent years, as horror headlines about genetically modified (GM) crops have vanished from the mainstream media, it may have seemed as if those battling to stop them being produced had won.
In reality, the lack of GM fanfare has been little more than a quiet moment before the storm. The ability of biotech companies like Monsanto and Syngenta to improve agricultural production is viewed as a lynchpin in the success or failure of the biofuels revolution. If the biotech industry can cleverly reposition GM crops as a non-food, industrial ‘green’ energy commodity, it might just succeed in persuading an otherwise reluctant public that GM is a good thing.
It’s easy to feel so overwhelmed by the problems facing our planet that we turn away to whatever will cheer us. Pat Thomas shows us the pattern of climate change denial