Review of VEGA's involvement in conferences and meetings over the past Month.
Brixton Dustman: "Where’s yer bin, mate?"
Brixton Householder: "I ain’t bin nowhere, man."
Even among the best-knit communities, misunderstandings can arise, and even in villages in great metropolises such as London. Much of VEGA’s work entails efforts at overcoming misunderstandings that might unnecessarily generate confusion in a veggie village isolated or withdrawing from developments and responsibilities, for better or worse, in the worlds of commerce, science, technology, and government. To illustrate this function, one of us quits the office and our labors on a database readily available to seekers of what we deem useful information for campaigners, journalists, authors and other researchers and participants to engage in eyeball to eyeball debate in conferences and meetings run by learned societies, special interest groups, government agencies, manufacturers, caterers, and retailers, and farmers and guardians of non-human animals, domestic and wild.
These enterprises require robust parleying, deploying our talents to the full by resort to our experience and results from research and the need to keep our website cogent. These educational missions also deploy voluntary effort and take maximum advantage of our base located in London and of bus passes and concessions to senior citizens traveling by train and foot. How we must earn brownie points at least with the Charity Commisioners for our thrifty logistics and educational purpose! Which is not to be taken as satisfaction with our lot: we’d like to afford VEGA more space and more opportunities to attract volunteers and to engage campaigners in jobs and prospects in work that imbues their own interests and commitment. Whatever it is - It’s Go on Green – a label on our content that should signal our purpose to the Food Standards Agency at least.
Some of May’s activities will give an idea of the month’s attendances that we managed to fit in.
17th May. Evening at the Society of Chemical Industry. Blue Biotechnology and Neptune’s Larder. This title introduced a fascinating and very relevant lecture (for us) illustrated with samples of products based on the growing and lively industrial applications of marine algae from the primitive microalgae and fungi to the familiar seaweeds found on beaches round the world. The British Isles abound with opportunities for exploiting the harvests around their coasts. Some primitive plants such as mosses, ferns, liverworts, and horsetails may also retain some of the biochemical versatility that organisms higher up the food chain, such as fish and our own species, have been able to exploit. Commercial enterprises all over the world (in Europe, in Norway, Switzerland, England, and Scotland) are busy looking for the possibilities in marine biomass for animal feeds and in the generation (and genetics) in producing dietary “fish oils” from non-animal sources. Irish moss is traditionally used in brewing and other industries for clarifying beverages. We are busy urging food manufacturers to realize the promise beckoning for foods suitable for veggies and in fortification; nor will the opportunities be lost on the purveyors of supplements. The long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids will excel as ingredients in such chilled “dairy” products such as yogurts and milks. The audience at the evening’s meeting and VEGA’s own intelligence prove that food manufacturers are heeding the messages.
19th May. Predicting Coronary Events: Cardiovascular Events, at the Royal Society of Medicine. Research is sharpening definitions of risks, measured by markers adding information, particularly on inflammatory disorders, and going beyond total, “good”, and “bad” cholesterol as the best indicators of risk. Reactive arthritis and coronary “events” may be presaged by outbreaks of food-borne microbiological upset or periodontal disease. The public are being prepared for taking a well-informed interest in their own health and for interpreting the results of screening, epidemiological, and self-diagnosis initiatives. It is all relevant to the efforts at prevention and treatment of obesity, stroke, hypertension etc, which are part of the metabolic syndrome X (or diabetes mellitus, type 2). Vitamin B12 and other B vitamins and blood levels of homocysteine are also implicated. These are very lively themes. Medical meetings usually benefit from partial funding from the pharmaceutical industry, which is correspondingly allowed stalls at events. These offer opportunities for VEGA to replenish stationery supplies such as ballpoint pens and writing pads, but more importantly to set representatives the task of proving the suitability of their formulations for veggies (and also Jews and Muslims) for whom they may be prescribed. And these events offer insights into trends (the RSM represents medical and veterinary practitioners).
24th May. An invitation to attend a meeting of the British Veterinary Association’s Animal Welfare Meeting on the Surveillance of Farm Animal Welfare (which comprehended Shooting and Fishing). This group remains steadfast in the BVA’s wish (expressed in the current Animal Welfare Bill) to ban the docking of dogs’ tails for non-therapeutic reasons. Unequivocal and expert declarations were made confirming that fish feel pain and apply memory and intelligence. The training of vets also received respectful attention. As the VEGA manifesto, prepared in anticipation of a BVA meeting in September at the Royal Society in a collaboration with the Universities Federation on Animal Welfare on The Quality of Life, The Heart of the Matter, had just been posted on our website, the VEGA representative essayed a brief explanation of practicable attempts at conflating earnests on human health, diet, animal welfare generally, and the environment, with heightened respect for all participants in the food chain. We were pleased at the reception our (potentially controversial) plans received, and contacts were refreshed at the BVA’s reception at the House of Commons in the evening. The catering was all right on the assumption that real veggies live without dietary protein and that beans are fit only for feed – and that veggies don’t need plant milks in their tea. We keep trying to persuade caterers that the “vegetarian option” can serve tastefully and otherwise unobtrusively for all veggies, not just for milksops and cheesytarians; it is they who should be waiting for the unique special offering.
31st May. Genomics and Epidemiology – a day’s conference at the Royal Society of Medicine. Veggies have been keen to prove themselves in epidemiological studies of diet and lifestyle. They took part in the Oxford Vegetarian Study, begun in the 1970s, from which sprouted many other surveys and inclusion in the more comprehensive European Prospective Study into Cancer (EPIC) and its extensions. EPIC is revealing a series of cogent results, with good statistical power and dose-response data that allow acceptable extrapolations into the more rigorous expressions of vegetarianism and not just limited to cancers. EPIC has enrolled nearly ½ million participants throughout Europe and engages support from people with VEGA persuasions as a form of research with the potential to obviate experimentation on non-human animals. However, such epidemiology is slow in yielding results, laborious, and expensive. Against this, the epidemic of obesity and associated cardiovascular disorders has given a fillip to such research, and the resources of IT and reorganizations in health services, abetted by a salutary trend in stimulating responsible self-care in upholding quality of life, have assisted developments into wider areas of endeavor.
Genomics and other omics – not just economics – and developments in markers of the performance of human functions and prospects of the quality of life have prompted national and international epidemiological studies with broad uniformity in measurement and collation of data, with allowance for sub-divisions to deal with specified populations, for instance, people of South Asian origin who have reached northern Europe after movements from the Indian Continent via Africa, who are particularly susceptible to risks attributable to over-expression of the “thrifty gene”. Similar special attention should help in providing advice to arrivals from the West Indies with African ancestry.
Although the promise in genetic interpretations maybe over-ambitious with present experience and equipment, prospective tests with familiar devices and materials, such as diagnostics and non-invasive instruments (some of which are commonly applied in veterinary practice) will record and collate functions of major organs such as the cardiovascular and immune systems, blood, nerves, brain, gut, liver, kidneys, lung, bone, dentition, vision… Screening and epidemiological data will prove valuable. Breakthrough Breast Cancer is an initiative for which we already have information. BioBanks are being set up in several countries in which health services can generate reliable data, such as the European and Scandinavian countries. In England, the BioBank will operate in London in conjunction with a pioneering study operated in China, where the threats from westernized diets and obesity and other lifestyle factors are severe. This centre is well suited for the purpose, as it has a firm reputation for comparison of twins, who volunteer themselves eagerly for tests more rigorous than will be required for BioBank. Further, BioBank has the capacity to incorporate other special groups and subgroups, such as vegetarians. We are discussing such possibilities with the organizers, who are already running a study including veggies in tests of bone (and joint) health and diet. Cover will eventually run for BioBank volunteers extending from womb (and earlier) to tomb.
Each BioBank will muster about ½ million subjects. Four or five national BioBanks, suitably integrated, will tot up a monitored population of more than 2 million. Generic information will be available freely to researchers, for academic or commercial purposes. Some national BioBanks will disqualify because they have been contracted out to a drug company; restrictions on information may therefore be applied.
As differences in diets become blurred by the widespread resort to fortified foods and supplements, especially for people on restricted regimens, some new procedures, adapting methods applied in archeological research and in forensic investigations, using tiny amounts of biological material, such as hair, saliva, blood or urine are gaining attention. It depends on equipment for mass spectroscopy and isotope analysis that is being commercially produced down to almost desk-top size. Progress along the food chain is marked by slight differences in the turnover of isotopes and their relative proportions. An element such as nitrogen, for instance, is involved in the functions of enzymes, proteins generally, and DNA, so the signature in the isotopes of, say, a protein in hair can distinguish a herbivore from a carnivore. A strict veggie (vegan) therefore stands out from a population of omnivores and the accumulation of small differences over a long period might determine distinct physiological and psychological differences complementary to other biochemical dietary intakes. Our isotopes as well as our genes may be expressed in associations with diet and habit.
For such reasons we are urging that the labeling of foodstuffs, which is now under review and improvement, should provide conscientious consumers with , say, the declared animal contribution to the protein, fat and carbohydrate content. Fat and carbohydrate contents are already sub-divided; the extra information should be readily available and confirmed by measurement. These are all healthy options for the FSA to pursue and for standards that nicely span the consumers’ and producers’ interests in VEGA-style concerns for farming, food, health, and the land.
And it was another occasion to check with the RSM’s caterers on demands for special diets. For gluten-free, the demand strengthens, for vegans it is tiny – a one-off – and the vegetarian option always seems to be heavily dairyfied. The vegan offering, when it arrives specially, is almost protein-free – not even tinned baked beans – and the salad and even the potatoes are rendered ineligible as being mayonnaised or gone to buttery. However, June’s conferencing bids fair to see a triumph when the artificial barrier is lifted; the vegetarian option will embrace “cruelty-free” principles fit for all expressions of the word. More news of this in the next monthly report.