Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Save the Children

Unicef report says five newborn babies die every minute across the world or about 2.6 million every year, an ‘alarmingly high’ figure as 80% of these are preventable. Across the world, babies born into the poorest families are 40% more likely to die in the first month than those born into the richest.

The risk of dying as a newborn in the US is only slightly lower than the risk for babies in Sri Lanka and Ukraine. Babies born in Japan, Singapore and Iceland stand the best chance of survival, while those in Pakistan, Central African Republic and Afghanistan face the worst odds, according to the report. The risk of dying as a newborn, which is closely linked to income level of countries.

A million babies draw their last breath the same day they took their first. A further 2.6 million are stillborn worldwide, said the report. More than 80% of newborn deaths are due to prematurity, complications during birth, or infections such as pneumonia and sepsis. Such deaths can be prevented with access to trained midwives, clean water, disinfectants, breastfeeding within the first hour, skin-to-skin contact and good nutrition.

However, the report points out, while there are 218 doctors, nurses, and midwives in Norway per 10,000 people, that ratio falls to one per 10,000 in Somalia.


(A case in point to be caerphilly read)

Recent DNA tests have shown that some of the earliest
Britons were dark-skinned, blue-eyed and curly-haired.

Oh woe to racists everywhere,
There’s a gruyèresome smell;
That’s not just a brie(f) quandary,
In UKIP and the BNP,
But in the EDL.

Gorged on the news of their big cheese,
The Brown-skinned Cheddar Man;
His heirs are saying, “Whites go home,
Take your mutated Chromosome, (1)
And leave soon as you can”!

“Old Albion, a Rasta land,
Belongs to us, the Browns;
So White punk go and pack your trunk,
Take your crap Rap and Badger Skunk,
And leave our ghetto towns”.

“We know that all you Honkies won't,
Like our sarcastic jibe;
But catch the first banana-boat,
The 'SS Windrush' is afloat, (2)
To sail home to your tribe”.

“You come here pinching all our jobs,
And our dole money too;
Caucasians are a lower race,
Who shouldn't dare to show their face,
And should be in the Zoo”.

“So all you Whiteys, go back home,
And leave our precious land;
Get back to all your jungle huts,
Your palm-leaves and your coconuts--
Don't come back 'til you're tanned”! 

(1) A defective Chromosome may have given some brown
humans a fairer skin giving them an evolutionary advantage
to absorb Vitamin D from the weaker sunlight outside Africa.

(2) The ‘SS Windrush’ sailed from the West Indies to Britain in
1948 carrying one of the first large contingents of immigrants.

© Richard Layton

Monday, February 19, 2018

$15 Billion Stolen -Which side are you on?

With American workers already struggling against stagnant wages, declining union strength, and vicious attacks by the Trump administration, a new investigation by Politico published Sunday found that low-wage employees in the United States are also contending with wage theft on a massive scale.

According to Politico's Marianne Levine, who examined state minimum wage enforcement protocols over a period of nine months, "workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators."
"Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported," Levine adds. "Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses."

Michael Hollander, staff attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, argued that the violations uncovered by Levine's investigation come as no surprise to labor advocates or low-wage workers themselves.
"Wage theft is the rule, not the exception, for low-wage workers," Hollander said.

Given that many low-wage American workers can barely afford rent, any amount of money taken from a worker's paycheck can have devastating consequences. 
Advocates for lowest-wage workers describe families facing eviction and experiencing hunger for lack of money that's owed them," Levine writes. "And, nationally, the failure to enforce wage laws exacerbates a level of income inequality that, by many measures, is higher than it's been for the past century."

When Donald Trump was running for the presidency, he promised that, if he was elected, “American workers will finally have a president who will protect them and fight for them.”  Today, though, safely ensconced in the White House, President Trump is waging a fierce campaign against American workers. His appointments to federal positions created to defend workers’ rights provide an indication of his priorities.  For Secretary of Labor, Trump nominated Andrew Puzder, the CEO of a major fast food chain.  When Puzder’s nomination was withdrawn amid allegations of labor law violations, Trump turned to Alexander Acosta, a figure with a long history of aligning with rightwing and corporate interests.  As the new Labor Secretary, Acosta served as one of the stars at the annual gathering of the militantly anti-labor American Legislative Exchange Council.  For Deputy Secretary of Labor, Trump chose Patrick Pizzella, a former employee of the rabidly anti-union National Right to Work Committee who had lobbied against raising sweatshop-level wages.   For Assistant Secretary of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Trump nominated David Zatezalo, a former CEO of a coal mining operation with serious mining violations.  The Trump administration also took control of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) by appointing members with a record of opposing workers’ right to organize.  Furthermore, Trump helped ensure an unsympathetic hearing for American workers in the courts by appointing new federal judges known for their deeply-ingrained rightwing views.

Assisted by these and other pro-corporate officials, the administration quickly attacked worker health and safety provisions.  It repealed an Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rule requiring employers to keep accurate injury records, repealed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule ensuring that federal contractors follow safety and labor laws, withdrew an OSHA policy allowing workers in non-union workplaces to participate in OSHA inspections, and scrapped more than a dozen rules from the OSHA and MSHA regulatory agenda, including standards on combustible dust, styrene, 1-bromopropane, construction noise, update of permissible exposure limits, and MSHA penalties and refuge alternatives in coal mines.  In addition, the administration delayed the issuance of the new standard for cancer-causing beryllium and enforcement of the OSHA standard for deadly silica dust.

Although the Obama administration had updated and expanded overtime protections for 4.2 million American workers, implementation has been blocked in federal court while Trump’s Labor Department lays plans to narrow worker eligibility.  The Labor Department has also proposed a new rule making it legal for restaurant owners to keep the tips given to their waitstaffs, thereby depriving millions of low-paid workers (most of them women and people of color) of a substantial portion of their income.  Of course, increasing the federal minimum wage, which has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for nearly nine years, would lift millions of workers out of poverty.  But Trump and Congressional Republicans staunchly oppose raising this pathetically low wage floor, arguing that there is no need for a federal minimum wage.

 It’s hardly surprising that the Trump administration has sought to weaken American unions.  For example, the Labor Department has proposed repealing the Obama administration’s rule that employers and their consultants must report how much money they spend on anti-union campaigns.  In December 2017 alone, the NLRB reversed a 2004 decision bolstering the right of workers to organize free from unlawful employer interference, reversed a 2016 decision safeguarding unionized workers’ rights to bargain over changes in terms of employment, and overturned a 2011 decision protecting the right of a group of employees within a larger non-union company to form a bargaining unit.  The NLRB also invited employers to withdraw from agreements to hold union representation elections, even in cases where the election had already been held.
One of last December’s NLRB actions―overturning a 2015 decision making employers responsible for bargaining with workers if they have direct or indirect control over these workers’ employment―has enormous consequences for millions of low-wage earners.  Fast food companies like McDonald’s license franchises for most of their restaurants, with the companies and franchise managements each avoiding responsibility for negotiating with their workers.  Thus, the Obama Labor Board’s decision provided fast food workers with a meaningful right to collective bargaining.  The Trump Labor Board took it away.

Perhaps the most serious threat to unions comes from the Trump administration’s support of so-called “right-to-work” laws, which eliminate the obligation of workers to pay for the union representation they receive.  Adopted in 28 states thanks to campaigns by big business and its rightwing allies, these laws have proven sure-fire methods for creating masses of “free riders” and, thus, crippling unions.  Naturally, then, House Republicans introduced the National Right to Work Act shortly after Trump’s inauguration and, within a few days, the Trump administration re-affirmed its support for “right-to-work” laws.  “The president believes in right to work,” declared White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.  “He wants to give workers and companies . . . flexibility.”  When the Canadian government proposed barring “right-to-work” lawsunder the provisions of a new NAFTA agreement, the Trump administration promptly rejected the idea. The Janus case now before the Supreme Court provides another component in the same battle.  Brought to the court by the National Right to Work Committee, it would make every state and local government worker in the United States a potential “free rider.”  Entering the case, Trump’s Justice Department filed an anti-union brief.  In addition, Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court of Neil Gorsuch, a rightwing ideologue, makes it likely that the court will decide in favor of the National Right to Work Committee, with devastating consequences for America’s public sector unions.



What news?

Cologne-based media watchdog Initiative Nachrichtenaufklärung's (INA) published its annual "Top 10 Forgotten Stories," which found that German media failed to report. Students from multiple German universities analyze press coverage to check whether the suggestions are accurate. A jury made up of media academics and journalists finally decides which stories make the top ten.

  1. Exclusion of disabled people from the workplace and the high unemployment rate among disabled people
  2. Portugal's earlier-than-expected recovery from the financial crisis despite its refusal to enact austerity policies
  3. The lack of press coverage of the 2017 monsoon in South Asia compared to the extensive coverage of the hurricane in Texas
  4. Precarious work conditions on container ships
  5. High prices for life-saving drugs in developing countries when many pharmaceutical companies are posting large profits
  6. Inadequate civil protection bunkers in Germany in the event of a major nuclear disaster
  7. Health risks associated with shift work and the lack of regulation of shift work
  8. Increasing rate of violent incidents against health workers in German psychiatric institutions
  9. The Czech Republic's refusal to compensate Roma women who were forcibly sterilized until 2007
  10. Humanitarian crisis in Chad in central Africa

Israel and Egypt Trade Partners

Israel has struck a "historic" multi-billion dollar gas deal with neighboring Egypt.

Israeli drilling company Delek Drilling and its US partner Noble Drilling announced Egyptian firm Dolphinus would buy around 64 billion cubic meters (2.26 trillion cubic feet) of gas over a decade. The gas would come from Israel's Tamar and Leviathan offshore gas fields.
The $15 billion (12 billion) deal would "strengthen our security, economy and regional relations," Netanyahu said.
In 2016, Israel signed a $10 billion deal with Jordan to buy 8.5 million cubic meters of gas per day over 15 years.
Yossi Abu, chief executive of Delek Drilling, said the deal could turn Egypt into an export transit hub for Israeli gas.
"The export deals establish Egypt's status as a regional energy center which allows the supply of gas both to the Egyptian domestic market and for export, and allowing economic development of the Egyptian and the Israeli economies," he said.

The youth austerity policy

UK millennials have suffered the second-worst falls in their earnings of any of the dozen advanced economies surveyed by a think tank over the past decade.
In a new report, the Resolution Foundation calculates that average real hourly earnings for under-30s in Britain fell 13 per cent between 2007 and 2014.
 Only Greece, where real earnings slumped by 25 per cent over the same period as the eurozone country plunged into depression, saw a worst performance for this age group among the dozen advanced economies Resolution analysed in the latest research from its Intergenerational Commission. British millennials experienced bigger earnings falls than other crisis-hit southern eurozone states such as Portugal and Italy, where they fell 12 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. Average earnings for Spanish millennials fell by only around 2 per cent.
“The pay squeeze has been deeper in the UK than in most other places, and more focused on young people in particular,” said Resolution.
Another major finding from the study is that millennials in the UK, relative to younger people in other high-income countries, have experienced a pronounced “bust” in rising living standards, following a long “boom” of generation-on-generation advancement in previous decades.
“Only Spain echoes the UK experience of a ‘boom and bust’ income cycle where significant generation-on-generation gains for older generations have come to a stop for younger people,” said Daniel Tomlinson, a policy analyst at Resolution.

Italy drifts right

Italy’s far-right Northern League has promised to introduce mass deportations of asylum seekers to Africa. If elected, it would begin to force an estimated 400,000 migrants back to their countries of origin, including Nigeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

Guglielmo Picchi, a member of parliament who said he could serve as foreign minister or a senior foreign policy adviser in a Salvini government, said the party would use a mix of economic threats and incentives to speed up the deportation process.
“I don’t want to use the word sanctions but we have tools – economic tools – that we can use to put pressure on countries to accepts back migrants,” Picchi said

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Debt Threat

The Resolution Foundation said almost half of low-income families were in debt distress before the Bank of England said last week that it needed to increase the base rate at an accelerated pace over the next two years.
A study by the foundation showed the proportion of households in some form of debt distress rose to 45% among the poorest fifth of working age households, with more than a third experiencing difficulty in paying for accommodation and one in six in arrears on either their mortgage or consumer debts.
Households headed by someone aged 25-34 spent nearly £1 in every £5 of their pre-tax income on debt repayments in 2017, compared with 20p for households aged 65 and over.

Targetting the vulnerable

Disabled people receiving state benefits have been hit with a million sanctions in less than a decade, according to alarming new evidence that they are being discriminated against by the welfare system. A comprehensive analysis of the treatment of unemployed disabled claimants has revealed that they are up to 53% more likely to be docked money than claimant who are not disabled. This raises serious concerns about how they and their conditions are treated.
Sanctions – the cutting or withholding of benefits – are applied as a punishment when claimants infringe the conditions of their payments by, say, as missing appointments or failing to apply for enough jobs. While the sanctions regime has been championed by the government as a means of encouraging people to take a job or boosting their chances of finding one, most experts consulted as part of the Demos project concluded that conditionality has little or no effect on improving employment for disabled people. There was also widespread anecdotal evidence that the threat of sanctions can lead to anxiety and broader ill health.

The findings have caused alarm among charities, many of which have dealt with cases in which disabled people complained of poor treatment and a lack of understanding.

Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said: “Punitive sanctions can be extremely harmful to disabled people, who already face the financial penalty of higher living costs. There is no clear evidence that cutting disabled people’s benefits supports them to get into and stay in work. Sanctions are likely to cause unnecessary stress, pushing the very people that the government aims to support into work further away from the jobs market.”
Polly Mackenzie, director of Demos, said it was now clear that the benefits system isn’t working for disabled people: “Jobcentre advisers and capability assessors too often have a culture of disbelief about disability, especially mental illness, that leads them to sanction claimants who genuinely could not do the job they are being bullied into applying for.

The housing shortage

The shortfall of new affordable homes in England will soon be equivalent to a city the size of Leeds, a charity is warning.
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says the supply has fallen short of demand by 30,000 every year since 2011.
This cumulative shortfall could reach 335,000 by the end of this parliament, trapping families in insecure housing as a result, the charity said.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Japan's Closed Door Refugee Policy

Japan accepted just 20 asylum seekers last year – despite a record 19,628 applications – drawing accusations that the country is unfairly closing its door on people in genuine need.

Since 2010, Japan has granted work permits to asylum seekers with valid visas to work while their refugee claims were reviewed. Recent changes indicate Japan is getting even tougher. In an attempt to reduce the number of applicants, the government last month started limiting the right to work only to those it regards as genuine asylum seekers. Repeat applicants, and those who fail initial screenings, risk being held in immigration detention centres after their permission to stay in Japan expires. Japan’s immigration detention centres have been criticised for their harsh treatment of detainees. At least 10 people have died in the centres since 2006, including four suicides. In 2016, more than 40 detainees went on hunger strike at a facility in Osaka to protest against their living conditions and poor standards of medical care.

Eri Ishikawa, head of the Japan Association for Refugees, said the new regulation was part of a wider crackdown on refugees under the conservative prime minister, Shinzo Abe. “The door has been closed to people applying for asylum. That worries us because among them are genuine asylum seekers.”

“Conditions at the centres are harsh, and there is no limit on how long people can be detained,” Ishikawa said. “People are usually given provisional release after a year, but they are not allowed to work and they are not entitled to any social security benefits.”

Campaigners have contrasted his tough stance on asylum seekers with his recent visit to Lithuania, where he paid tribute to a wartime Japanese diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who is credited with saving the lives of an estimated 6,000 Jewish people in 1940 by issuing them with Japanese visas.


Friday, February 16, 2018

Slaughtering Harmless Apes

More than 100,000 Critically Endangered orangutans have been killed in Borneo since 1999, research has revealed. Scientists who carried out a 16-year survey on the island described the figure as "mind-boggling".
Deforestation, driven by logging, oil palm, mining and paper mills, continues to be the main culprit. But the research also revealed that animals were "disappearing" from areas that remained forested. This implied large numbers of orangutans were simply being slaughtered.
Dr Voigt and her colleagues say the animals are being targeted by hunters and are being killed in retaliation for crop-raiding - a threat that has been previously underestimated. "When these animals come into conflict with people on the edge of a plantation, they are always on the losing end. People will kill them. It's shocking and it's unnecessary. Orangutans might eat farmers' fruit, but they are not dangerous."
 Research also showed that natural resources were still being exploited in Borneo "at an unsustainable rate". Deforestation alone, the researchers predict, could wipe out a further 45,000 orangutans over the next 35 years. The cultivation of oil palm, found in a wide variety of food products, is a well-known cause of that habitat loss.

Afghan War Continues Unabated

Out of the news headlines does not mean the Afghan war is over even if it does lead to the deportation of Afghan refugees to a country still in the midst of a civil war.

The United Nations said on Thursday that more than 10,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the ongoing war in Afghanistan in 2017, with militant bombings responsible for inflicting a major proportion of casualties. 2017 was the fourth consecutive year, where the UN recorded more than 10,000 civilian causalities.

Nearly two-thirds of all casualties were caused by anti-government elements with the Taliban and the "Islamic State" (IS) inflicting maximum damage. Pro-government forces caused a fifth of the casualties with 16 percent attributed to Afghan forces, 2 percent to international forces.  Casualties caused by airstrikes jumped 7 percent.

Tadamichi Yamamoto, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan said:  "Figures alone cannot capture the appalling human suffering inflicted on ordinary people, especially women and children."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein said: "Afghan civilians have been killed going about their daily lives — traveling on a bus, praying in a mosque, simply walking past a building that was targeted. Such attacks are prohibited under international humanitarian law and are likely, in most cases, to constitute war crimes. The perpetrators must be identified and held accountable," he said.

House ownership falls

The chances of a young adult on a middle income owning a home have more than halved in the past two decades. The study shows the growing disparities between rich and poor. Those on middle incomes have seen the largest fall in ownership rates, those in the top income bracket have been least affected.
New research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows how an explosion in house prices above income growth has increasingly robbed the younger generation of the ability to buy their own home. For 25- to 34-year-olds earning between £22,200 and £30,600 per year, home ownership fell to just 27% in 2016 from 65% two decades ago.
Middle income young adults born in the late 1980s are now no more likely than those lower down the pay scale to own their own home. Those born in the 1970s were almost as likely as their peers on higher wages to have bought their own home during young adulthood.
Andrew Hood, a senior research economist at the IFS, said: “Home ownership among young adults has collapsed over the past 20 years, particularly for those on middle incomes.” The IFS said young adults from wealthy backgrounds are now significantly more likely than others to own their own home.
Between 2014 and 2017 roughly 30% of 25- to 34-year-olds whose parents were in lower-skilled jobs such as delivery drivers or sales assistants owned their own home, versus 43% for the children of those in higher-skilled jobs such as lawyers and teachers.
Over the past 20 years, average house prices have grown about seven times faster than the average incomes of young adults, according to the IFS study. Average house prices have increased by 152% when taking account of inflation since 1995, though wages for 25- to 34-year-olds have only risen by 22% in real terms over the same period. As a consequence those born in the late 1980s are much less likely to be homeowners in their late 20s than their immediate predecessors. About a quarter of those born towards the end of Margaret Thatcher’s government owned their own home at the age of 27 compared with a third born at the start of the decade and 43% of those born in the late 1970s.
Owner occupation rates in Britain have been steadily declining since 2003, when the proportion of people owning their home reached its peak of 71%, having risen steadily since the 1980s. Population growth, a lack of new housebuilding, the failure to replace social housing sold under right-to-buy and rising property prices since have resulted in the figure dropping to 63%. Property has become so expensive that the average first-time buyer is now 30 years old and has a salary of £41,000 a year. The IFS said that for nearly 90% of 25- to 34-year-olds, average house prices are more than four times their annual income after tax.

Head Office Movie Night - Sunday,18th Feb

Sunday, 18 February  6pm 
 'The Ballad of Joe Hill'  (film)
Socialist Party Head Office
52 Clapham High St
London SW4 7UN

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Child Poverty Worsens

Rates of poverty among children of public sector workers have surged since 2010 following the Government’s pay restrictions and in-work benefit cuts, new analysis shows. One in seven children whose parents work in public sector jobs now live below breadline – an increase of 40 per cent in eight years.

The research shows that since 2010, an extra 150,000 children have been pushed into poverty, with families where both parents work in the public sector hit hardest by the Government’s pay restrictions and benefit changes.

For these households,  average household income will be down around £83 a week in real terms by April 2018. Households where one parent works in the public sector and another works in the private sector will meanwhile lose on average £53 a week. 

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady urged that the Government's pay restrictions and in-work benefit cuts were causing "needless hardship". She added: "Public servants shouldn’t have to worry about feeding or clothing their kids. But many are struggling to afford even the basics. Ministers must give public sector workers the pay rise they have earned. If they don't, more families will fall into poverty.”
 A study last year found more than half of Britons living below the poverty line were in a household where someone is in work, despite Theresa May's saying that she believed that work was “the best route out of poverty”. Researchers at by Cardiff University found a record 60 per cent of those in poverty live in a household where someone is in employment, and that the risk of poverty for adults in working households had increased by more than a quarter (27 per cent) over the past decade.
separate study shows almost half of all children in some UK cities are estimated to be living in poverty, with parts of London and Birmingham seeing levels rise by 10 percentage points in the past two years to above half of all children.
The South West has seen the biggest increase in child poverty rates among families with a public sector worker in England during this period, with a 55 per cent rise. It is followed by the North West, where the figure rose by 52 per cent, and the East Midlands where it doubled (50 per cent).


The War on Children

One in every six children are now living in a global conflict zone, a new report by Save the Children claims. Children are at more risk from armed conflict now than at any other time in the last 20 years, the charity says.
Its new analysis found more than 357 million children were living in a conflict zone - an increase of 75% from the 200 million of 1995. Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia were ranked as the most dangerous places for children. Just under half of at-risk children - some 165 million - were classified as living in "high-intensity" conflict zones.
In general, children in the Middle East were most likely to live in a conflict zone, where two in every five lived within 50km of the site of a battle or other fatal attack. Africa was ranked second, at one in five.
 It said there was still a 300% increase in the number of children killed and maimed since 2010, according to a record of incidents verified by the UN.
Part of the reason for the increase in the number of children living in dangerous areas is due to an "increasing trend" of urban warfare in towns and cities, it said, plus a recent trend of long and complicated armed conflicts. Deliberate humanitarian blockades by extremist groups and long-term sieges in countries such as Yemen and Syria are also to blame.
"Siege tactics and starvation tactics are also increasingly being used as a weapon of war against civilians, to try to force an armed group or whole community to surrender," the report says. Attacks on hospitals and schools, it said, have become the "new normal". despite improved international legal standards to protect children, "increasingly brutal tactics are being utilised" around the world. That includes the use of recruitment child soldiers, and sexual violence against children. It cited the use of child suicide bombers and the widespread continued use of weapons like barrel bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which kill soldiers and civilians indiscriminately.
"Children are suffering things that no child ever should; from sexual violence to being used as suicide bombers," CEO Helle Thorning Schmidt said. "Their homes, schools and playgrounds have become battlefields." "Crimes like this against children are the darkest kind of abuse imaginable, and are a flagrant violation of international law," she added

In addition to the risk of injury or death, children in affected regions often lack basic sanitation, education, and suffer from malnutrition.

Processing People

Ultra-processed foods including pot noodles, shelf-stable ready meals, cakes and confectionery which contain long lists of additives, preservatives, flavourings and colourings – as well as often high levels of sugar, fat and salt now account for half of all the food bought by families eating at home in the UK.

“Ultra-processed” foods, made in factories with ingredients unknown to the domestic kitchen, may be linked to cancer, according to a large and groundbreaking study.

Researchers based at the Sorbonne in Paris, looked at the medical records and eating habits of nearly 105,000 adults registering their usual intake of 3,300 different food items.

They found that a 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods in the diet was linked to a 12% increase in cancers of some kind. The researchers also looked to see whether there were increases in specific types of cancer and found a rise of 11% in breast cancer, although no significant upturn in colorectal or prostate cancer.
“If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades,” says the paper in the British Medical Journal.
Mathilde Touvier, lead author of the study, said, “The results are very strong – very consistent and quite compelling.”
Ultra-processed food is a definition created by a group of scientists led by Prof Carlos Monteiro in Brazil, a country which also has national dietary guidelines urging they be eaten as little as possible. The classification system, called Nova, puts foods into four groups – raw or minimally processed foods including seeds, fruit, eggs and milk; processed culinary ingredients such as oils and butter; processed foods including bottled vegetables and canned fish and cheeses; and ultra-processed, which are “formulations made mostly or entirely from substances derived from foods and additives”.
Other scientists questioned whether it was practical to group foods as ultra-processed. “The term ultra-processed food is difficult to define in terms of food quality, and is not widely used by nutritional scientists,” said Tom Sanders, professor emeritus of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London. “From a nutritional standpoint, this classification seems arbitrary and based on the premise that food produced industrially has a different nutritional and chemical composition from that produced in the home or by artisans. This is not the case. The approach of categorising dietary patterns that depend on industrially processed food in relation to disease risk is novel but probably needs refining before it can be translated into practical dietary advice.”
Tam Fry, spokesman for the National Obesity Forum, said: “A lot of research has limitations and the scientists here are honest enough to acknowledge that theirs needs more work to be conclusive. But there is no smoke without fire: we should heed their fears – and read food labels more carefully. Huge quantities of everyday processed food have excessive levels of sugar, fat and salt stuffed in them and it’s all listed on the packaging.”