An agroecological Europe in 2050: multifunctional agriculture for healthy eating

Findings from the Ten Years For Agroecology (TYFA) modelling exercise

The Independent Institution for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI) published its “Ten Years for Agroecologyresearch, showing that a transition to a kind of agriculture that is free from synthetic chemistry is absolutely realistic.

AGROECOLOGY: AN AMBITIOUS AND SYSTEMIC PROJECT

Jointly addressing the challenges of sustainable food for Europeans, the preser-vation of biodiversity and natural resources and the fight against climate change requires a profound transition of our agricultural and food system. An agroeco-logical project based on the phasing-out of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, and the redeployment of extensive grasslands and landscape infrastructure would allow these issues to be addressed in a coherent manner.

AN ORIGINAL MODELLING OF THE EUROPEAN FOOD SYSTEM

The TYFA project explores the possibility of generalising such agroecology on a European scale by analysing the uses and needs of current and future agri-cultural production. An original quantitative model (TYFAm), linking on a systemic manner agricultural production, production methods and land use, makes it possible to analyse retrospectively the functioning of the European food system and to quantify an agroecological scenario by 2050 by testing the implications of different hypotheses.

PROSPECTS FOR A LESS PRODUCTIVE AGROECOLOGICAL SYSTEM

Europe’s increasingly unbalanced and over-rich diets, particularly in animal products, contribute to the increase in obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. They are based on intensive, highly dependent agriculture: (i) synthetic pesticides and fertilizers—with proven health and environmental conse- quences; (ii) imports of vegetable proteins for animal feed—making Europe a net importer of agricultural land. A change in diet less rich in animal products thus opens up prospects for a transition to an agroecology not bound to main-tain current yields, thus opening new fields for environmental management.

SUSTAINABLE FOOD FOR 530 MILLION EUROPEANS

The TYFA scenario is based on the widespread adoption of agroecology, the phasing-out of vegetable protein imports and the adoption of healthier diets by 2050. Despite an induced drop in production of 35% compared to 2010 (in Kcal), this scenario: – provides healthy food for Europeans while maintaining export capacity; – reduces Europe’s global food footprint; – leads to a 40% reduction in GHG emissions from the agricultural sector; – regains biodiversity and conserves natural resources.Further work is needed and underway on the socio-economic and policy impli-cations of the TYFA scenario.

Nanoplastics damage marine creatures’ natural defences, increasing lethal effects of POPs

Nanoplastic Ingestion Enhances Toxicity of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) in the Monogonont Rotifer Brachionus koreanus via Multixenobiotic Resistance (MXR) Disruption

Nano-sized particles of plastic can be more damaging to marine species than larger sized microplastics, a new study shows.

Lab tests revealed that nanoplastics can damage cell membranes in tiny marine creatures called rotifers (Rotifera), disrupting their natural defences against toxicants.

The researchers found that rotifers that had been exposed to nanoparticles of polystyrene were significantly more susceptible to the lethal effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Reference.

Abstract

Among the various materials found inside microplastic pollution, nanosized microplastics are of particular concern due to difficulties in quantification and detection; moreover, they are predicted to be abundant in aquatic environments with stronger toxicity than microsized microplastics. Here, we demonstrated a stronger accumulation of nanosized microbeads in the marine rotifer Brachionus koreanus compared to microsized ones, which was associated with oxidative stress-induced damages on lipid membranes. In addition, multixenobiotic resistance conferred by P-glycoproteins and multidrug resistance proteins, as a first line of membrane defense, was inhibited by nanoplastic pre-exposure, leading to enhanced toxicity of 2,2′,4,4′-tetrabromodiphenyl ether and triclosan in B. koreanus. Our study provides a molecular mechanistic insight into the toxicity of nanosized microplastics toward aquatic invertebrates and further implies the significance of synergetic effects of microplastics with other environmental persistent organic pollutants.

The early-life exposome: Description and patterns in six European countries

Exploring the exposome: study measures multitude of environmental influences on health

Scientists have measured how children and pregnant women are exposed to over 120 environmental factors influencing our health — from air and noise pollution to green space and access to public transport.

The study gathered and analysed data from six European countries to build a picture of the ‘exposome’ — the array of environmental factors that humans are exposed to from the moment they are conceived.

A better understanding of the exposome could help us understand the role of the environment in the onset of various diseases, including cancer and other chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. Reference.

Highlights

  • The early-life exposome is high dimensional and not easily reducible to fewer components.
  • Correlations between exposures within the same exposure group can be high.
  • Correlations between exposures in different exposure groups are low.
  • The exposome varies strongly by location and by life period.

Abstract

Characterization of the “exposome”, the set of all environmental factors that one is exposed to from conception onwards, has been advocated to better understand the role of environmental factors on chronic diseases.

Here, we aimed to describe the early-life exposome. Specifically, we focused on the correlations between multiple environmental exposures, their patterns and their variability across European regions and across time (pregnancy and childhood periods). We relied on the Human Early-Life Exposome (HELIX) project, in which 87 environmental exposures during pregnancy and 122 during the childhood period (grouped in 19 exposure groups) were assessed in 1301 pregnant mothers and their children at 6–11 years in 6 European birth cohorts.

Some correlations between exposures in the same exposure group reached high values above 0.8. The median correlation within exposure groups was >0.3 for many exposure groups, reaching 0.69 for water disinfection by products in pregnancy and 0.67 for the meteorological group in childhood. Median correlations between different exposure groups rarely reached 0.3. Some correlations were driven by cohort-level associations (e.g. air pollution and chemicals). Ten principal components explained 45% and 39% of the total variance in the pregnancy and childhood exposome, respectively, while 65 and 90 components were required to explain 95% of the exposome variability. Correlations between maternal (pregnancy) and childhood exposures were high (>0.6) for most exposures modeled at the residential address (e.g. air pollution), but were much lower and even close to zero for some chemical exposures.

In conclusion, the early life exposome was high dimensional, meaning that it cannot easily be measured by or reduced to fewer components. Correlations between exposures from different exposure groups were much lower than within exposure groups, which have important implications for co-exposure confounding in multiple exposure studies. Also, we observed the early life exposome to be variable over time and to vary by cohort, so measurements at one time point or one place will not capture its complexities.

Evidence that Pesticide Active Substances are Transported Through Air

New study results prove a significant transport of pesticides over distances of many kilometres up to remote side valleys

Gone with the wind

Measurement of pesticides in the air in Vinschgau in 2018

Task

If pesticides are used in agriculture, they never end up in their target location one hundred percent. A part remains in the ground, reaches waters or is carried away through the air by wind and thermals. In orchards, characteristic for the landscape of the Vinschgau Valley in Italy‘s German speaking province South Tyrol, this transport of particles through the air is a particularly serious problem as the spraying isn’t only done from top to bottom, but also sideways into the trees.

The aim of the study was to measure this effect to

  • provide evidence that pesticide active substances are transported through air
  • trace the spatial distribution of the various active substances
  • trace the temporal distribution of the various active substances during one growing season.

Method

Two passive collectors (TE-200-PAS) produced by the company Tisch Environment were set up at each of the four locations with very different exposure scenarios and fitted with matching disks of polyurethane foam. The material is characterised by a large internal surface on which volatilised organic pollutants can adsorb.

This method was developed in the Canadian Ministry of Environment and has been used worldwide for many years, for example in the Global Atmospheric Passive Sampling Network. The use of the standardised collection medium enables a comparison between the pollution of the locations with an active substance when compared to each other and over a course of time.

The disks were purified in a laboratory before use to prevent pollutants from distorting the results. They were replaced every three weeks and sent to a laboratory for analysis in cooling boxes by express delivery. There they were extracted with methanol and the eluate was analysed for a total of 29 pesticide active substances that would probably be used in the region.

Locations

The four locations were selected in such a way that different levels of air pollution with pesticides could be expected due to different exposure scenarios. The specific locations were as follows:

  1. A garden within the closed village of Mals/Malles Venosta. The location is relatively well protected because the property is surrounded by a hedge and there are further buildings around the property. The location was selected to determine whether spray drift is detectable in built-up areas and at the edge of the fruit production core area.
  2. The second location was chosen as centrally as possible in an orchard in the central Vinschgau. The orchard is cultivated according to biological criteria, but is located in the immediate vicinity of conventional orchards.
  3. A third location was chosen remote from inhabited or cultivated areas above the valley floor in a side valley. The selected site is a slope near a stream course at the road from the village of Burgeis to Schlinig.
  4. Finally, a location was chosen where a lot of spray drift was to be expected without pesticides being used on the site itself. For this purpose, the two collectors were set up on a further organic farm in the central Vinschgau in such a way that air from the surroundings could very well flow into them.

Results

Further results are as follows:

  • In the first measurement period from 23rd February to 16th March none of the 29 active substances was detected at any of the four locations.
  • In the following eight measurement periods a total of 20 active substances was detected and up to 14 different substances were found in one sample at the same time.
  • The more distant the site is from the conventional orchards, the lower the amount and number of active substances detected. The highest pollution could be found at site D, followed by B, A and C.
  • Six active substances were detected at all four locations: fluazinam, captan, phosmet, chlorpyrifos-methyl, dithianon und imidacloprid. This indicates an intensive use and a significant potential of transport through air.
  • Six further active substances are found at the three locations D, B and A: dodin, penconazole, cyprodinil, difenoconazole, thiacloprid and etofenprox. So they are even detectable in the air in the village of Mals in a fairly well protected environment.

Many of the pesticides that have been detected in the samples represent a significant threat to humans and the environment. Thus, for example

  • captan is labeled with H351 (“suspected of causing cancer”) in the hazard classification of the EU Pesticides Database.
  • The insecticide thiacloprid, besides being suspected of causing cancer, is classified as “May damage fertility” and “May damage the unborn child” (H360FD) and is closely monitored by the EU Commission because it interferes with the human hormone system.
  • imidacloprid is extremely toxic to bees and other insects. The median lethal dose for individual honeybees was stated to be 3.8 ng in the authorisation procedure.

Conclusion

Overall, the results prove a significant transport of pesticides over distances of many kilometres up to remote side valleys.

The results provide a clear indication of the difficult conditions for organic farms in the vicinity of intensive, conventional apple orchards.

In addition, the results point out a risk aspect that has been underestimated up to now: Compared to individual active substances, the overall pollution with pesticides causes a significantly higher exposure that continues to exist over the course of the season and thus a correspondingly higher risk potential.

Reference.

Related

Disinfection by-products in drinking water : an emerging health concern

Evaluating gas chromatography with a halogen-specific detector for the determination of disinfection by-products in drinking water

DBPs come in many classes and are chemically diverse, making them challenging to monitor. Swedish researchers have evaluated a new method for the simultaneous determination of a broader range of DBPs than typically possible using other available techniques. The method uses gas chromatography (a laboratory technique that separates and analyses vaporisable compounds in a mixture), together with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). Having been tested in real water samples from two municipal waterworks in Sweden, the method has been optimised for the simultaneous determination of a wide range of neutral DBPs.

2018 Study Abstract

The occurrence of disinfection by-products (DBPs) in drinking water has become an issue of concern during the past decades. The DBPs pose health risks and are suspected to cause various cancer forms, be genotoxic, and have negative developmental effects. The vast chemical diversity of DBPs makes comprehensive monitoring challenging. Only few of the DBPs are regulated and included in analytical protocols. In this study, a method for simultaneous measurement of 20 DBPs from five different structural classes (both regulated and non-regulated) was investigated and further developed for 11 DBPs using solid-phase extraction and gas chromatography coupled with a halogen-specific detector (XSD). The XSD was highly selective towards halogenated DBPs, providing chromatograms with little noise. The method allowed detection down to 0.05 μg L−1 and showed promising results for the simultaneous determination of a range of neutral DBP classes. Compounds from two classes of emerging DBPs, more cytotoxic than the “traditional” regulated DBPs, were successfully determined using this method. However, haloacetic acids (HAAs) should be analyzed separately as some HAA methyl esters may degrade giving false positives of trihalomethanes (THMs). The method was tested on real water samples from two municipal waterworks where the target DBP concentrations were found below the regulatory limits of Sweden.

What are the health costs of environmental pollution ?

Science for Environment Policy, December 2018, Issue 21

From sleepless nights caused by traffic noise to death, quantifying the toll of environmental pollution on human health has been the subject of much research. Hospital visits and incidences of illness can be counted and linked to certain types of pollution through statistical analysis; and although life and health are of intrinsic value, ascertaining a monetary equivalent that reflects public preference for the allocation of scarce resources offers a practical metric for use in policymaking so that we can better take account of them. Such a metric needs to account for the full costs of health impacts, including burdens on healthcare services, reduced economic productivity and, most importantly, lost utility associated with premature death, pain and suffering. Calculating these costs has been the subject of a number of studies over the last 30 years, with the resulting figures informing both media headlines and cost-benefit analysis in the field of environmental policymaking.

This Future Brief outlines some of the methodologies that have been used to account for health costs, both in Europe and other parts of the world. The strengths and weaknesses of each methodology are considered, and their potential applications explored. Finally, the future directions of research in this field are investigated.

Health costs related to three key categories of pollution — air pollution, noise pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals — are touched upon with an introduction given to each. However, environmental pollution is not limited to these categories (it can also be linked to water pollution, indoor air pollution, biological contamination, ionising or UV radiation and more) but it is beyond the scope of this brief to cover each in detail.

Reference.

Why do victims of adverse drug reactions not get compensation in Europe ?

European Patients Forum – Newsletter written by member organisation France Assos Santé

All of us take medicines, either occasionally or on a regular basis. As such, we might all suffer from an adverse event or from the side effects provoked by pharmaceutical products, even when they have been on the market for years. Some rare adverse events can be extremely severe and seriously harm patients in the long run (for instance Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which can be caused by a variety of very common medicines, such as antibiotics and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs).

Nevertheless, victims of adverse events in Europe are helpless and cannot get compensation from the producers of the medicines responsible for the damage they suffer. This is the paradox created by an EU directive concerning liability for defective products (Directive 85/374/EEC). This text sets up a regime of strict liability of the producers for a broad range of goods, including pharmaceuticals, medical devices and all health products. It was adopted in 1985, following major scandals over pharmaceuticals and blood product safety in the EU, and was originally planned to protect consumers’ rights.

However, it has proved to be much more favourable to the industry’s interests; it constitutes a true deadlock for patients, whose legal actions are blocked by a number of obstacles (very short time limits; concept of “defect” not adapted to medicines; disproportionate burden of proof due to information asymmetry; etc.). The imbalance of risks and responsibilities between patients and pharmaceutical companies is even more pertinent with the trend towards early access to medicines, as the safety profile of these drugs is based on limited data and implies higher potential risks of severe adverse events. Victims of adverse incidents involving implantable medical devices, which undergo less stringent safety controls than pharmaceuticals (CE marking instead of market authorisation), also struggle to get compensation.

In short, the EU directive not only failed to enforce the fundamental right of victims to get compensation, it also decreased their chances to obtain damages in court as it replaced more favourable pre-existing liability regimes in most EU countries.

France Assos Santé wants patients’ rights and safety to come first, overriding any industry interest. That is why we advocate for a substantial revision of the directive and for the creation of a European liability regime that would actually protect patients, making it easier for them to obtain compensation from producers. That is the message we bring to the EU expert group that was created by the European Commission in May last year to interpret and evaluate the liability directive.

If you want to know more about the liability directive and the expert group’s work, or if you are willing to share your experience as victims of adverse reaction or incident relating to pharmaceuticals and other health products, please contact Charlotte Roffiaen and Sophie Le Pallec.

If you have a view as to what action, if any, EPF should take on this matter, please contact policy@eu-patient.eu.

Reference © 2018 European Patients Forum, all right reserved.

89% of clinical trials run by European universities violate EU regulations, study shows

Compliance with requirement to report results on the EU Clinical Trials Register: cohort study and web resource

Data released today via the BMJ show that thousands of clinical trials conducted in Europe violate EU rules that require results to be published within 12 months. Failure to publish trial results endangers patients, contributes to exploding drug costs, and slows down the discovery of new treatments and cures, transparimed reports.

Abstract

Objectives
To ascertain compliance rates with the European Commission’s requirement that all trials on the EU Clinical Trials Register (EUCTR) post results to the registry within 12 months of completion (final compliance date 21 December 2016); to identify features associated with non-compliance; to rank sponsors by compliance; and to build a tool for live ongoing audit of compliance.

Design
Retrospective cohort study.

Setting
EUCTR.

Participants
7274 of 11 531 trials listed as completed on EUCTR and where results could be established as due.

Main outcome measure
Publication of results on EUCTR.

Results
Of 7274 trials where results were due, 49.5% (95% confidence interval 48.4% to 50.7%) reported results. Trials with a commercial sponsor were substantially more likely to post results than those with a non-commercial sponsor (68.1% v 11.0%, adjusted odds ratio 23.2, 95% confidence interval 19.2 to 28.2); as were trials by a sponsor who conducted a large number of trials (77.9% v 18.4%, adjusted odds ratio 18.4, 15.3 to 22.1). More recent trials were more likely to report results (per year odds ratio 1.05, 95% confidence interval 1.03 to 1.07). Extensive evidence was found of errors, omissions, and contradictory entries in EUCTR data that prevented ascertainment of compliance for some trials.

Conclusions
Compliance with the European Commission requirement for all trials to post results on to the EUCTR within 12 months of completion has been poor, with half of all trials non-compliant. EU registry data commonly contain inconsistencies that might prevent even regulators assessing compliance. Accessible and timely information on the compliance status of each individual trial and sponsor may help to improve reporting rates.

Pesticides from agricultural land use : a major threat to small streams and their biodiversity

Large Scale Risks from Agricultural Pesticides in Small Streams (in Germany)

Small streams are important refuges for biodiversity, yet knowledge of the effects of agricultural pesticides on these freshwater bodies is limited.

Researchers have used national monitoring data to determine the number of small streams in Germany where regulatory acceptable concentrations (RACs) of pesticides are exceeded. An analysis of data covering almost 500 pesticides and over 2 000 small streams suggests that agricultural land use is a major contributor of pesticides to streams. Overall, RACs were exceeded at 26% of sampled streams, and exceedances were 3.7 times more likely if a stream was near agricultural land.

“This finding may have implications for environmental monitoring and agrienvironmental measures”,

Science for Environment Policy explains, 5 June 2018.

Study Abstract

Small streams are important refuges for biodiversity. In agricultural areas, they may be at risk from pesticide pollution. However, most related studies have been limited to a few streams on the regional level, hampering extrapolation to larger scales.

We quantified risks as exceedances of regulatory acceptable concentrations (RACs) and used German monitoring data to quantify the drivers thereof and to assess current risks in small streams on a large scale. The data set was comprised of 1 766 104 measurements of 478 pesticides (including metabolites) related to 24 743 samples from 2301 sampling sites. We investigated the influence of agricultural land use, catchment size, as well as precipitation and seasonal dynamics on pesticide risk taking also concentrations below the limit of quantification into account. The exceedances of risk thresholds dropped 3.7-fold at sites with no agriculture. Precipitation increased detection probability by 43%, and concentrations were the highest from April to June.

Overall, this indicates that agricultural land use is a major contributor of pesticides in streams. RACs were exceeded in 26% of streams, with the highest exceedances found for neonicotinoid insecticides. We conclude that pesticides from agricultural land use are a major threat to small streams and their biodiversity. To reflect peak concentrations, current pesticide monitoring needs refinement.

Intensive agriculture using pesticides in fields near nature reserves and our ecosystems health

Flying insects in west German nature reserves suffer decline of more than 76% (1973–2000)

Insect numbers in west German nature reserves have fallen by more than 76% in just 27 years, according to a new study. The fall was even higher in the summer months, with 82% on average fewer insects being recorded. It is not just vulnerable species such as bees, butterflies and moths that are at risk: all flying insects have been affected. The reasons for this dramatic fall are unclear.

The researchers ruled out changes in weather, plant cover and local landscape playing a significant role in the observed decline, but suggest that intensive agriculture and pesticides in fields near to the reserves could be responsible.

Science for Environment Policy explains, 19 July 2018.

Whatever the cause, the catastrophic fall in insect numbers will inevitably lead to knock-on effects on ecosystems in the long term, particularly due to their essential role as pollinators and their position in the food web. The researchers say that preserving and protecting insects should now be a priority for conservation policies.

Study Abstract

Global declines in insects have sparked wide interest among scientists, politicians, and the general public. Loss of insect diversity and abundance is expected to provoke cascading effects on food webs and to jeopardize ecosystem services. Our understanding of the extent and underlying causes of this decline is based on the abundance of single species or taxonomic groups only, rather than changes in insect biomass which is more relevant for ecological functioning. Here, we used a standardized protocol to measure total insect biomass using Malaise traps, deployed over 27 years in 63 nature protection areas in Germany (96 unique location-year combinations) to infer on the status and trend of local entomofauna. Our analysis estimates a seasonal decline of 76%, and mid-summer decline of 82% in flying insect biomass over the 27 years of study. We show that this decline is apparent regardless of habitat type, while changes in weather, land use, and habitat characteristics cannot explain this overall decline. This yet unrecognized loss of insect biomass must be taken into account in evaluating declines in abundance of species depending on insects as a food source, and ecosystem functioning in the European landscape.