Anna Altman: Life With Migraines

Headaches are one of the most common symptoms that patients report to their doctors, but their causes and manifestations vary so much that a diagnosis does little to help.

From the Greek hemi (“half”) and kranion (“skull”), migraine is associated with severe, throbbing, unilateral pain; an aversion to light and sound; and nausea and vomiting, all of which is aggravated by movement. But migraine may include or trigger many other symptoms. An attack may be announced by sudden exhaustion, food cravings, a foul mood, or what is called an aura, a neurological phenomenon that disrupts a migraineur’s vision with silvery squiggles and zigzags.

For some, a migraine might include extreme sensitivity to touch, partial blindness, vertigo, or the inability to speak. There are also vestibular migraines – attacks associated primarily with dizziness – and abdominal migraines, when pain is instead felt in the stomach. Both of these may occur without head pain and can be bewildering to patients seeking a diagnosis. After an attack – which may last up to four days – many migraineurs suffer from a “post-drome”, when they might feel listless, agitated, or depressed.

Although migraine symptoms have been described since antiquity, doctors still struggle to understand their cause. For much of the early 20th century, migraine was thought to be a vascular condition, something that could be treated by restricting blood vessels. Now, most neurologists argue that migraine is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve system, where overactive cells in the face and head respond to benign input (light, sound, smell) by releasing chemicals that transmit pain. But doctors still can’t offer reliable relief.

The best treatment available is prevention, so my doctor tells me about possible triggers – stress, menstruation, sleeping too much, sleeping too little. Beyond that, treatment is a process of trial and error.

Anna Altman
The Guardian: Long Reads

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The Health-Care Survivor’s Comment

I have suffered from migraines since childhood, and this is the best general description of migraines I have ever found. Although this article was not written for the benefit of the medical profession, I am sure that many nurses and clinicians of all kinds could learn something from Altman’s experience.

Virgin Care Wins £700m Contract To Run 200 NHS And Social Care Services

Sir Richard Branson’s health firm, Virgin Care, has won a £700m contract to deliver 200 types of NHS and social care services to more than 200,000 people in Bath and north-east Somerset.

The contract, which was approved on Thursday, has sparked new fears about private health firms expanding their role in the provision of publicly funded health services.

Virgin Care has been handed the contract by both Bath and North East Somerset NHS clinical commissioning group and Conservative-led Bath and North East Somerset council. It is worth £70m a year for seven years and the contract includes an option to extend it by another three years at the same price.

It means that from 1 April Virgin Care will become the prime provider of a wide range of care for adults and children. That will include everything from services for those with diabetes, dementia or who have suffered a stroke, as well as people with mental health conditions. It will also cover care of children with learning disabilities and frail, elderly people who are undergoing rehabilitation to enable them to go back to living at home safely after an operation.
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NHS campaigners warned that the history of previous privatisations of NHS services in other parts of England may mean the quality of care patients receive drops once Virgin takes over.

“This is obviously part of a big push by Virgin to dominate the supply of community health across England. The experience so far from NHS outsourcing is that companies struggle to deliver the level of service that patients need and make a profit,” said Paul Evans, co-ordinator of the NHS Support Federation, which monitors NHS contracts being awarded to firms such as Virgin.

“In too many instances outsourced healthcare has resulted in care being compromised to cuts costs. Patients need secure services that they can trust and rely on,” Evans added.

The collapse of the £725m UnitingCare contract in Cambridgeshire meant Virgin’s newly acquired contract would be the most lucrative ongoing deal for providing NHS care, he said.

Eleanor Jackson, a Labour member of Bath and North East Somerset council, told the Mirror she was “horrified” by the decision. “Make no mistake about it, what has happened here is the beginning of the privatisation of the NHS in this country. Woe betide you getting ill in this area if you are old, disabled or have learning difficulties in the next seven years. It is just a horrifying decision,” she said.

There are concerns that handing the work to Virgin Care will take important income away from the many local NHS, voluntary, charitable and housing bodies that currently provide some of the services. They include the Royal United hospitals Bath NHS foundation trust, Great Western hospitals NHS foundation trust and the Avon and Wiltshire mental health partnership NHS trust. Charities affected include Age UK’s Bath branch and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Virgin will also run the urgent care facility at Paulton community hospital, which is 12 miles from Bath, and subcontract a number of other services to other providers, including the provision of dementia and end of life care and a “hospital from home” service for recently discharged patients.

“I am pleased that we can now start the process of transferring services. Following extensive consultation with local people and a very rigorous procurement process, the CCG board is assured that Virgin Care is the right organisation to deliver the personalised and preventative care that local people have asked for,” said Dr Ian Orpen, the clinical chair of Bath and North East Somerset clinical commissioning group.

“We will be working closely with the council and our new partners, Virgin Care, over the coming months to ensure that services and staff are transferred across safely on 1 April 2017 and to minimise disruption to the care and support that people currently receive.”

The Guardian

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Junior Doctors To Stage ‘Masked March’ In Protest Over Contract

Organisers expecting morew than 3,000 people including Dame Vivienne Westwood and Vanessa Redgrave to march in London on Saturday afternoon

Dame Vivienne Westwood and Vanessa Redgrave are expected to join thousands of junior doctors and their supporters on Saturday as they stage a “masked march” protest over pay and conditions.

The demonstration comes ahead of a 24-hour walkout due to begin on Wednesday, when junior doctors across the country will provide emergency care only from 8am.

It will be the third time junior doctors have taken to the streets in protest at the government’s proposals, which it says aims to improve care over weekends.

Talks between the British Medical Association and the Department of Health reached an impasse over weekend pay rates despite the government claiming it had made a significant offer.

According to their Facebook page, organisers are expecting over 3,000 people to turn out for the march on Saturday afternoon, which is due to begin at Waterloo Place in St James before terminating outside Downing Street.

The protesters, who are being encouraged to wear surgical masks, plan to stage a “silent protest” then “burst into voice”.

The Guardian

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French Drug Trial Leaves One Brain Dead And Five Critically Ill

French health minister travels to clinic in Rennes, where all trials of the drug have been suspended.

One person is brain dead and five others are seriously ill after taking part in a medical drug trial for an unnamed pharmaceutical firm at a clinic in north-west France.

The French health ministry said the six patients had been in good health until taking the oral medication. The ministry did not say what the new medicine was intended to be used for, but a source close to the case told AFP that the drug was a painkiller containing cannabinoids, an active ingredient found in cannabis plants.

The health minister, Marisol Touraine, said the six had been taking part in a “trial of an oral medication being developed by a European laboratory” in Rennes, Brittany. The patients were admitted to hospital at the beginning of this week.

The ministry said the test was carried out by a private establishment “specialised in carrying out clinical trials”. Local media reported that the trial took place at the Biotrial clinic.

The trial was intended to test for side-effects of the new drug. All trials on the drug at the clinic have been suspended and the French state prosecutor has opened an inquiry.

The study was a phase one clinical trial, in which healthy volunteers take the medication to “evaluate the safety of its use, tolerance and pharmacological profile of the molecule”, Touraine said.

The Guardian

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MRSA Superbug Found In Supermarket Pork Raises Alarm Over Farming Risks

The discovery on UK shelves of pork contaminated with a livestock strain of MRSA prompts calls to curb misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming

Pork sold by several leading British supermarkets has been found to be contaminated with a strain of the superbug MRSA that is linked to the overuse of powerful antibiotics on factory farms, a Guardian investigation has revealed.
Livestock-associated MRSA CC398, which originates in animals, has been found in pork products sold in Sainsbury’s, Asda, the Co-operative and Tesco. Of the 100 packets of pork chops, bacon and gammon tested by the Guardian, nine – eight Danish and one Irish – were found to have been infected with CC398.

CC398 in meat, which poses little risk to the British public, can be transmitted by touching infected meat products or coming into contact with contaminated livestock or people, although it can be killed through cooking.

Many people carry the bacteria without any signs of illness, but some have developed skin complaints, and the bug can cause life-threatening infections, including pneumonia and blood poisoning. Experts warn that the superbug has emerged as a result of antibiotic use in intensive farming and there is evidence that the UK could be at risk of a wider health crisis unless the issue is tackled by the authorities.
What is the superbug LA-MRSA CC398 and why is it spreading on farms?
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The superbug CC398 is a variant of the more commonly known MRSA found in hospitals and is endemic in pig farms in some European countries, particularly Denmark, Europe’s biggest pork producer and a key exporter to the UK. The Guardian tested 74 Danish pork products and 25 British, and one from Ireland.

CC398 is linked to intensive farms, where the density of pigs crowded together becomes a flashpoint for disease, and farmers become reliant on antibiotics to keep animals healthy and alive. This has led to the emergence of CC398, which is resistant to antibiotics.

Two thirds of Denmark’s pig farms are currently infected with CC398, where it is spreading rapidly: 648 people were infected with CC398 in 2013; in 2014, 1,271 people contracted the bug. Of those infected two people died as a result of the infection, and many suffered serious blood poisoning.

None of the British pork tested by the Guardian was infected with CC398, but a similar study carried out by the Alliance to Save Antibiotics, a campaign group which includes the Soil Association, did identify the superbug in pork from British farms. In findings due to be published on Thursday, the Alliance identified the bug in a pork sausage and in a packet of pork mince purchased in the UK. Fifty-two samples of pork from supermarkets in Bristol, Cambridge, London, Northumberland and Surrey were tested by the University of Cambridge on behalf of the Alliance. The findings confirm that CC398 has now spread from British farms into the domestic pork supply chain.

A leading microbiologist has warned Britain to see the situation in Denmark as a warning. “[It] is an epidemic [that’s] out of control in Denmark,” Professor Hans Jørn Kolmos, a microbiologist at the University of Southern Denmark told the Guardian. “[Britain] should be worried about it, you should look at our problems. We should have intervened seven years back when we saw the first cases. Don’t think that this is a problem that will solve itself just by closing your eyes,” he said.

A Guardian film made during the investigation into infected pork also reveals how CC398 has already crossed the species barrier in the UK. A little-reported study by the University of Edinburgh, published in 2014, found the bug in the umbilical cords of two newborn babies in Scotland.

The Scottish study is thought to be the first confirmation in the UK that the bug has travelled from livestock to humans in Britain, though researchers were not able to explain how the superbug spread and there is nothing to suggest the babies became ill as a result of coming into contact with CC398.

The Guardian

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The Undercurrent: Why Are We Being Fed By A Poison Expert?

The Undercurrent delves into the world of mass agriculture to ask how one company has such control over food supply. The name Monsanto was once synonymous with Agent Orange, but today it’s the dominance of the widespread herbicide Roundup which helps keep the company on top. But is the World Health Organisation’s claim that Roundup ‘probably’ causes cancer, cause for concern? And what about the company’s stance on patenting which sees farmers in developing countries unable to hold on to seed? Guardian Australia has joined forces with The Undercurrent – an online news show billing itself as an antidote to the five-second soundbite – for a four-part series over June and July. Brisbane creators Jen Dainer and Dan Graetz say it is the show they wish existed – so they created it themselves,

Guardian Australia

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Is the ‘old’ Monsanto, the one responsible for producing Agent Orange, PCB’s and DDT and a terrible record at covering up and denying the tragedies that have resulted from their use, the same as the ‘new’ Monsanto, the one at the forefront of research in plant gene technology? We argue their scientific and ethical track record is entirely relevant to what they do today.

And what they do today is control a huge portion of the crop seeds that feed the world. We’ve had a great deal of feedback, with some viewers suggesting that some of the negative comments may be attributed to ‘astroturfing’. Regardless, we welcome spirited, cordial discussion.

The Undercurrent

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With this in mind, The Undercurrent has published a ‘Referenced Explanation‘ of its assertions, and, in turn, Guardian Australia published Monsanto’s ‘Right Of Reply‘.

The Health-Care Survivor’s Comment

As millions of people, and countries, and territories, around the world, move to restrict and even ban Roundup, or it’s active toxin, Glyphosate, it is not surprising that Monsanto will do everything it possibly can to discredit the mounting evidence against, both its product, and its practices.

Stephen Hawking: ‘I Would Consider Assisted Suicide’

Stephen Hawking has said he would consider ending his own life if he became a burden to others or if he had “nothing more to contribute”.

But the physicist and cosmologist told a forthcoming BBC programme he knows he has much more scientific work to do, despite his advanced motor neurone disease.

“To keep someone alive against their wishes is the ultimate indignity,” Hawking, 73, told his interviewer, the comedian Dara O’Briain. “I would consider assisted suicide only if I were in great pain or felt I had nothing more to contribute but was just a burden to those around me.”

O’Briain, who himself has a degree in theoretical physics, said Hawking would give “impressively honest answers” in the programme, according to the Telegraph.

It is not the first time Hawking has voiced support for assisted suicide – in 2014, he revealed in a BBC interview how he had attempted to die after a mid-1980s tracheostomy operation. “I briefly tried to commit suicide by not breathing,” he said. “However, the reflex to breathe was too strong.”

Hawking, who is the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge, has said those who help their loved ones who want to die should be immune from prosecution.

But he has also said he believes safeguards should ensure a person genuinely wishes to die, pointing to a famous incident in his own life. In 1985, when suffering complications from pneumonia, his then-wife, Jane, refused to turn off his life support machine. Hawking recovered and went on to complete his critically and popularly acclaimed book A Brief History of Time.

In his forthcoming BBC interview, Hawking said he felt he had many more discoveries to make and theories to produce. “I am damned if I’m going to die before I have unravelled more of the universe,” he said.

“I am damned if I’m going to die before I have unravelled more of the universe.”

The scientist expressed regret at not being able to easily communicate, with peers and fans, who he said are often nervous of approaching him or making conversation.

“At times I get very lonely because people are afraid to talk to me or don’t wait for me to write a response,” he said. “I’m shy and tired at times. I find it difficult to talk to people I don’t know.”

Hawking, who was told aged 21 he would have just two years to live and has been in a wheelchair since the late 1960s, said he still felt frustrated by his loss of movement. “I would like to be able to swim again,” he said. “When my children were young, I missed not being able to play with them physically.”

It is currently still a criminal offence in the UK to assist someone to take their own life but 2010 guidance from the Department of Public Prosecutions makes it unlikely for friends and family to be prosecuted.

The Guardian

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Professor Hawking’s interview will be shown on BBC 1, on June 16, 2015.

Does Paracetamol Do You More Harm Than Good?

GPs write millions of prescriptions for this painkiller each year and millions more packets are bought over the counter. It has generally been considered cheap, safe and effective. But should we think harder before we pop another pill?

You have a headache after a glass of wine too many. Your back aches from another day hunched over a keyboard. That old shoulder injury is playing up again. What do you do? There is a good chance that you will reach for the unglamorous white pills lurking in your medicine cabinet.

Paracetamol is the workhorse painkiller. GPs wrote 22.5m prescriptions for it in 2013. Around 200m packets of it are sold annually, accounting for two-thirds of the UK market for over-the-counter painkillers. It is widely viewed as cheap, safe and effective.

At around 2p per 500mg tablet, it certainly is cheap. But safe and effective? Although the potentially fatal consequences of taking a paracetamol overdose are well known, the widespread belief has been that the drug is mild and relatively safe if taken at the recommended dose. However, this is increasingly being questioned by scientists, who say that taking it over prolonged periods can have serious side-effects. That might seem a risk worth taking if it were not for recent research that suggests the drug either doesn’t work, or has only a very small effect for most people.

Paracetamol rose to prominence during the 1960s in the wake of fears that aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen could cause gastric bleeding, ulcers and other serious side-effects. Some concerns were raised about the possibility that long-term use of paracetamol could also cause internal bleeding, but the evidence for that was mixed for many years.

However, in 2011, Professor Michael Doherty, a rheumatologist at Nottingham University, published a study looking at almost 900 patients aged 40 and older who took paracetamol, ibuprofen or a combination of both for chronic knee pain. When he compared the participants after 13 weeks, it came as no surprise that one in five on ibuprofen lost the equivalent of a unit of blood through internal bleeding. What was surprising was that so, too, had the same proportion of patients who were taking paracetamol.

“Paracetamol can actually be a very dangerous drug,” says Dr John Dickson, who retired from general practice in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, last year. “It can cause kidney and liver problems, and causes as much gastrointestinal bleeding as the NSAIDs.”

In 2013, the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) even issued warnings that taking paracetamol can, in some rare instances, cause potentially fatal skin conditions called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, toxic epidermal necrolysis and acute generalised exanthematous pustulosis, which can cause the top layer of skin to become detached.

The maximum 24-hour dose of paracetamol is 4g, but as little as 5g can cause liver complications, and it can be easy to overdose accidentally by taking more than one product containing it at the same time. “I have a headache, so I’ll take some paracetamol, and I’ve got a cold so I’ll take a cold product such as Lemsip,” says Professor Andrew Moore, a leading pain researcher at Oxford University. “People don’t necessarily look at the small print.”

Last year, the FDA reduced the maximum dose of paracetamol (called acetaminophen in the US) in tablets or capsules to 325mg to reduce the risk of accidental overdoses.

In the UK, in draft guidelines issued in 2013, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) advised GPs that they should no longer prescribe paracetamol for osteoarthritis, suggesting it had “limited benefit” and highlighting links of higher doses to cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and renal problems. Doctors, though, were quick to criticise the new advice on the grounds that it would leave them either telling patients to simply endure their pain or lead to greater use of stronger, potentially more harmful opiate-based alternatives such as tramadol and diamorphine.

In its final recommendation last year, Nice performed a U-turn, reinstating its previous backing of paracetamol, pending the outcome of a broad review of over-the-counter painkillers by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the results of which are due later this year.

Of course, most medicines have some side-effects, and taking them always involves balancing the possible dangers against the benefits. Perhaps the downsides of paracetamol are worth the risks? Yet a 2006 review by the respected Cochrane Collaboration found that of seven previous studies comparing paracetamol with placebos, two found no difference in pain sensations, and the others found an improvement averaging 5%, an improvement the authors described as of “questionable clinical significance”.

“For most people, it’s a placebo,” says Dickson. “It’s a bit like when they say that if you swear at your wife or your husband, you feel better. It’s the same sort of concept.”

Another review of previous research published by Moore and colleagues last year found that paracetamol provided pain relief for some people with migraine and tension headaches, but was of little help for those with chronic back, cancer, post-operative, period and paediatric pain, as well as for rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. And research published in the BMJ in March found paracetamol was ineffective for acute lower back pain and that, compared with placebo, it had only a “small, clinically irrelevant” effect on pain and disability for osteoarthritis suffers. It also highlighted evidence that those taking it regularly were almost four times more likely to have abnormal liver function test results.

Lead author Gustavo Machado, from the George Institute for Global Health at the University of Sydney, and colleagues concluded: “Our results therefore provide an argument to reconsider the endorsement of paracetamol in clinical practice guidelines for low back pain and hip or knee osteoarthritis.”

The real problem is that the old model of judging drugs on the basis of research that averages out their effects makes little sense when these can vary dramatically between individuals. “What we’re recognising now is that with paracetamol, as with all analgesics, there are some people for whom it can provide good pain relief and others in whom it has no effect at all,” says Moore. In such cases, perhaps it makes sense for patients to take a greater role in managing their own treatment, working with medical professionals to find out what works for them.

Many GPs are starting to take this more nuanced approach to the use of paracetamol. Two years ago when Nice was considering withdrawing its backing of the drug as the first choice treatment for chronic osteoarthritic pain, the Royal College of General Practitioners was among those who complained the loudest. Now, however, Dr Martin Johnson of the RCGP says the status quo that drives GPs to prescribe prolonged use of paracetamol for millions of these patients no longer makes sense.

The Guardian

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Common Pesticides Linked To Antibiotic Resistance

Antibiotics and herbicides, as it turns out, don’t mix. At least that’s the conclusion of a study published today in mBio, the peer-reviewed journal of the American Society for Microbiology, which found that if someone is exposed to both herbicides and antibiotics at the same time, higher doses of antibiotics will likely be needed to kill the offending bacteria.

It’s the first study of the effect of herbicides on antibiotics, and its findings could have implications for antibiotics resistance. The growing risk of disease from antibiotic-resistant pathogens is a huge public health concern, one that was recently prioritized by both the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control.

According to Jack Heinemann, the study’s lead author, policy makers and researchers should look at multiple factors, not just over-use of antibiotics, in fighting antibiotics resistance. In addition, as more genetically modified crops are planted, use of herbicides is expected to increase.

“The countries that are growing GM crops at scale may wish to include these unanticipated effects on microbes in their evaluations,” Heinemann said.

The study comes a week after glyphosate, the active ingredient in several herbicides including Monsanto’s Roundup, was deemed “probably carcinogenic” by the World Health Organization.

The level of herbicide exposure tested in the mBio research was higher than what would generally be found as residue on food, but lower than application standards for commercially available herbicides. The level is compatible with the amount that people in rural areas can be exposed to from herbicide drift – the wind distributing chemicals sprayed in one field across many other plots of land – and what urban dwellers might be exposed to from using herbicides in their own or their neighbors’ gardens.

“The exposure pathways that we identified as possibly being the most relevant for future study generally arose from the use of the herbicide by others – for example, in the urban setting” Heinemann said. “Therefore, it may take communities talking to each other to find ways to reduce unintended exposures.”

Heinemann and his fellow researchers tested various combinations of three of the most commonly used herbicides: dicamba (sold commercially under the name Kamba); 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid; and glyphosate (RoundUp). They also studied five different classes of antibiotics: ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, chloramphenicol, kanamycin, and tetracycline.

In some cases, certain combinations of herbicide and antibiotic either improved the performance of the antibiotic or had no effect on the antibiotic at all. But in the majority of cases, the herbicide made the antibiotic less effective.

More research, though, is needed, and agrichemical producer Monsanto is in agreement with Heinemann over what needs to be studied next: whether or not it’s the active ingredient of these herbicides that affects antibiotics.

“It is difficult to separate the effect of surfactants, which are known to have an impact on cultured microbes, from the active ingredients,” said Charla Lord, a spokesperson for Monsanto.

From Heinemann: “We are particularly interested in determining whether these effects are caused by the stated active ingredient of the herbicides (glyphosate, dicamba and 2,4-D) or by other compounds that make up the commercial formulation.”

If it turns out to be the inactive ingredients that reduce the potency of antibiotics, that could implicate a wider range of herbicides, as several available products have different active ingredients but the same inactive ingredients.

“If the effect [of antibiotic resistance] is largely caused by exposure to the commercial formulation rather than the active ingredient alone, then that will be relevant information for further environment or human health studies,” Heinemann said.

The Guardian

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France To Force Big Supermarkets To Gve Unsold Food To Charities

French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or for animal feed, under a law set to crack down on food waste.

The French national assembly voted unanimously to pass the legislation as France battles an epidemic of wasted food that has highlighted the divide between giant food firms and people who are struggling to eat.

Report by UK waste experts warns that growing global middle class could see £388bn worth of food wasted every year by 2030

As MPs united in a rare cross-party consensus, the centre-right deputy Yves Jégo told parliament: “There’s an absolute urgency – charities are desperate for food. The most moving part of this law is that it opens us up to others who are suffering.”

Supermarkets will be barred from deliberately spoiling unsold food so it cannot be eaten. Those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft (400 sq m) or more will have to sign contracts with charities by July next year or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years in jail.

“It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods,” said the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, a former food minister who proposed the bill.

In recent years, French media have highlighted how poor families, students, unemployed or homeless people often stealthily forage in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves, able to survive on edible products which had been thrown out just as their best-before dates approached.

But some supermarkets doused binned food in bleach to prevent potential food-poisoning by eating food from bins. Other supermarkets deliberately binned food in locked warehouses for collection by refuse trucks to stop scavengers.

The practice of foraging in supermarket bins is not without risk – some people picking through rotten fruit and rubbish to reach yoghurts, cheese platters or readymade pizzas have been stopped by police and faced criminal action for theft. In 2011, a 59-year-old father of six working for the minimum wage at a Monoprix supermarket in Marseille almost lost his job after a colleague called security when they saw him pick six melons and two lettuces out of a bin.

Pressure groups, recycling commandos and direct action foraging movements have been highlighting the issue of waste in France. Members of the Gars’pilleurs, an action group founded in Lyon, don gardening gloves to remove food from supermarket bins at night and redistribute it on the streets the next morning to raise awareness about waste, poverty and food distribution.

The group and four others issued a statement earlier this year warning that simply obliging supermarket giants to pass unsold food to charities could give a “false and dangerous idea of a magic solution” to food waste. They said it would create an illusion that supermarkets had done their bit, while failing to address the wider issue of overproduction in the food industry as well as the wastage in food distribution chains.

The law will also introduce an education programme about food waste in schools and businesses. It follows a measure in February to remove the best-before dates on fresh foods.

The measures are part of wider drive to halve the amount of food waste in France by 2025. According to official estimates, the average French person throws out 20kg-30kg of food a year – 7kg of which is still in its wrapping. The combined national cost of this is up to €20bn.

Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, 67% is binned by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted worldwide.

The Fédération du Commerce et de la Distribution, which represents big supermarkets, criticised the plan. “The law is wrong in both target and intent, given the big stores represent only 5% of food waste but have these new obligations,” said Jacques Creyssel, head of the organisation. “They are already the pre-eminent food donors, with more than 4,500 stores having signed agreements with aid groups.”

Call for end to multi-buy deals and other marketing tools, as Tesco reveals huge wastage of bagged salad and bread

The logistics of the law must also not put an unfair burden on charities, with the unsold food given to them in a way that is ready to use, a parliamentary report has stipulated. It must not be up to charities to have to sift through the waste to set aside squashed fruit or food that had gone off. Supermarkets have said that charities must now also be properly equipped with fridges and trucks to be able to handle the food donations.

The Guardian

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