New post on Wellcome Collection blog
Ladybirds: good for pest control, or pests themselves? As our Who’s the Pest? season draws to a close, Emma Rhule takes a closer look at our relationship with these tiny flying beetles.
Bright, colourful and hearty eaters of aphids (the sticky little flies that infest everything from cabbages to roses), ladybirds have long been the gardener’s friend. Gardeners and farmers will go to great lengths to encourage more ladybirds onto their patch. One way you can entice ladybirds into your garden is to plant wildflowers – they are particularly fond of marigold and nettles. And, if all else fails, the eggs and larvae can be bought online.
There is a long history of introducing exotic ladybirds to help control agricultural pests. The Vedalia ladybird, Rodolia cardinalis, which was originally from Australia, is credited with saving the Californian citrus industry in the late 1880s. It was the start of the biological control industry that controls pest species using other organisms.
Following in this tradition, the harlequin ladybird, Harmonia axyridis, was released across the USA and Europe to help combat aphid infestations. Originally from Asia, the voracious appetite of this beetle makes it an extremely successful control agent. A single adult can eat more than 200 aphids a day, and a developing larva can consume upwards of 1000 aphids. Their use allows farmers to reduce the amount of insecticides they need on their crops which should, in turn, allow other beneficial insects to flourish.
The very hungry ladybird
Unfortunately, the harlequin’s insatiable appetite is not limited to aphids: the larvae are particularly indiscriminate. They will eat almost anything they encounter – including other aphid eaters such as hoverflies and lacewings, as well as caterpillars. They will also eat the eggs and larvae of other ladybirds, and their cannibalistic tendencies even extend to their own siblings. To make matters worse, there is little that eats the harlequin. Like our native ladybirds, their bright colours advertise the toxins present in their blood. These chemicals make ladybirds taste foul and can be deadly to imprudent would-be predators.
In 2004, the first British harlequin was spotted in the car park of a country pub in Essex called The White Lion. Never intentionally introduced, researchers suspect the early arrivals that reached the UK were a combination of hardy pioneers flying across the Channel and sneaky stowaways in imported goods. Since then, they have spread across the UK and been reported as far north as the Shetland Islands.
Since arriving, the harlequin’s wide-ranging diet has had serious implications for British ladybirds. The once familiar two-spot ladybird has been particularly hard hit, losing out to the larger, hungrier competitor with which it now shares its habitat. The wider ecosystem is affected, too – particularly the predators, parasites and pathogens that rely on these native species for their own existence.
And humans do not escape unscathed. Over the past few years, come October and November, you may have seen harlequins in your house. In the winter, our native species mostly hibernate outside in dead leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks, sheltered from the cold and rain. In their native Asia, harlequins normally use rocks and cliffs. In the relatively flat UK, houses must seem like a good alternative. Once the central heating comes on, though, the beetles warm up and start flying around. They may be hungry and take a nibble. A little nip is usually not a problem, but some people can experience an allergic reaction. If they are feeling threatened, the natural response of all ladybirds is to leak a small amount of foul-smelling yellow blood from their knees, which can stain curtains and sofas.
So what can we do? It would be impossible to capture and kill all the harlequin ladybirds in the country. In fact, the Harlequin Ladybird Survey, which has been monitoring the spread of the ladybird since its arrival, strongly discourages this because there is a real risk of misidentification. The harlequin was the focus of my PhD research: one of my jobs involved opening letters containing live ladybirds, sent to us by members of the public for identification. These days, photos can be uploaded with records of sightings allowing researchers to verify exactly which species has been found, saving us from climbing onto tables to recapture escapee beetles crawling across the ceiling.
When the harlequin was taken from its native environment, researchers made sure that any released into the wild were free of parasites. As such, many of the natural checks and balances that would have kept the numbers of individuals under control were removed. Nothing in the new environment would have been immediately able to fill the gap, allowing populations to flourish. One hope is that the parasites and pathogens that exploit our native ladybirds will start to adapt to the newcomer. Nearly ten years on, there is some evidence that this is starting to happen.
But how long can we wait when the problems are already apparent? My research looked at whether a sexually transmitted parasite found on European ladybirds,including the harlequin, could help. The blood-sucking parasite can be thought of as a form of ladybird birth control. When females are infected with adult parasites, they still lay eggs, but these do not hatch – the ladybird is effectively sterile. If the parasites die, within a couple of days any eggs laid will hatch. Of course, I am aware of the irony of my work – could we, and should we, introduce yet another species to help control an exotic beetle that was itself introduced to fight an insect pest? Could the parasite become the next problem in town?
After five years, I came to the conclusion that we still didn’t know enough to justify taking that risk. Increasingly aware of what can go wrong when we tinker with ecosystems, we are much more cautious than we used to be, and rightly so. From grey squirrels to cane toads, knotweed to ladybirds, there are lots of examples of the unintended side-effects of our actions. So, who is really the pest? Those species that arrive in a new place and wreak havoc, or the species that put them there?
Emma Rhule is a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust. Play our Who’s the Pest gameonline.
May 9, 2013, 4:39 pm NY TIMES: By INDRANI SEN
Guerrilla filmmakers often face crackdowns by the powers that be, and Zachary Maxwell is no exception.
His hidden-camera documentary was almost derailed last year when he was caught filming without permission by a fearsome enforcer – the lunchroom monitor in his school cafeteria.
“She sent me to my teacher, and my teacher told me to delete everything,” said Zachary, who is now 11.
Zachary pretended to delete the day’s shots. After that lapse in production security, he said, “I fired my lookouts.”
What his teacher didn’t know, though, was that Zachary had six months of footage shot surreptitiously in the cafeteria, forming the spine of his 20-minute movie “Yuck: A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch.”
Like many things in the life of a fourth grader, Zachary’s movie started as a dispute with his parents. He told them that he wanted to start packing his own lunch, but they were skeptical. Lunch is free at his school, P.S. 130 Hernando De Soto in Little Italy, and his parents liked the look of the Department of Education’s online menus, which describe delicious meals, full of whole grains and fresh vegetables, some even designed by celebrity chefs.
“I told them that’s not what they were actually serving me,” Zachary said. “But I don’t think they believed me.”
So he smuggled in a camera in his sweatshirt pocket the next day and filmed lunch.
“When I came back home and showed them the footage, they were like, ugh!” he said.
Soon, Zachary and his father, a lawyer and video hobbyist, were cutting together the footage he brought home every day. (In the film, Zachary goes by the name Zachary Maxwell, though Maxwell is his middle name. His family asked that their last name be withheld because of Zachary’s age.)
In the film, Zachary, who is not above cheesy costumes and goofy special effects, makes a point that is under the radar of most conversations about the quality of school lunches: that despite the Education Department’s efforts to improve nutrition, there is a disconnect between the wholesome meals described on school menus and the soggy, deep-fried nuggets frequently dished up in the lunchrooms.
The film offers no shortage of examples. On a day advertising “cheesy lasagna rolls with tomato basil sauce, roasted spinach with garlic and herbs,” for instance, Zachary is handed a plastic-wrapped grilled cheese sandwich on an otherwise bare plastic foam tray.
A “Pasta Party” is described as “zesty Italian meatballs with tomato-basil sauce, whole grain pasta, Parmesan cheese and roasted capri vegetables.” Meatballs and pasta show up on the tray, if none too zesty-looking, but the vegetables are nowhere to be seen.
Salads devised by the Food Network chefs Rachael Ray and Ellie Krieger are similarly plagued by missing ingredients. On the day Ms. Ray’s “Yum-O! Marinated Tomato Salad” is listed, Zachary is served a slice of pizza accompanied by a wisp of lettuce.
Ms. Krieger’s “Tri-color Salad” is a no-show on one day it is promised, and on another, it lacks its cauliflower, broccoli and red peppers. The shreds of lettuce and slice of cucumber could still be described as tri-color, Zachary points out, if you count “green, light green and brown.”
Indeed, among the 75 lunches that Zachary recorded – chosen randomly, he swears – he found the menus to be “substantially” accurate, with two or more of the advertised menu items served, only 51 percent of the time. The menus were “totally” accurate, with all of the advertised items served, only 16 percent of the time. And by Zachary’s count, 28 percent of the lunches he recorded were built around either pizza or cheese sticks.
A spokeswoman for the Education Department, Marge Feinberg, said in an e-mail that vegetables and fruit were served daily and she suggested that Zachary must have chosen not to take the vegetables served in his cafeteria.
“It would not be the first time a youngster would find a way to get out of eating vegetables,” she wrote. Zachary responded that he always took every item he was offered.
Until this past September, Ms. Feinberg said, schools did have some freedom to deviate from the systemwide lunch menus. New federal regulations for the current school year set stricter guidelines for what elements need to be on each child’s plate.
On Monday, Zachary thought he was in trouble again when he was sent to the principal’s office and found two men in black suits waiting for him.
They turned out to be representatives from the Education Department’s Office of School Food, he said, who complimented him on his movie, asked for feedback on some new menu choices, and took him on a tour of the cafeteria kitchen.
There, Zachary met one of his school’s cooks, and got some insight into her thinking.
“She wants us to be happy,” he reported. “So she cooks what she thinks the kids will like.”
Then he sat down for lunch with the officials. The adults ate the cafeteria lunch of chicken nuggets, carrots and salad.
Zachary had pork and vegetable dumplings – brought from home.
URL link for this release: http://www.farmtoconsumer.org/news_wp/?p=8172
Contact: Liz Reitzig, Co-founder, Farm Food Freedom Coalition
Pete Kennedy, President, Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, 703-208-3276, firstname.lastname@example.org
Farmer Faces Jail for Feeding Community:
Customers and Other Supporters to Attend Court with Farmer
Baraboo, WI—May 8, 2013–GlobeNewswire–Food rights activists from around North America will meet at the Sauk County Courthouse in this tiny town on May 20 to support Wisconsin dairy farmer Vernon Hershberger and food sovereignty. Hershberger, whose trial begins that day, is charged with four criminal misdemeanors that could land this husband and father in county jail for up to 30 months with fines of over $10,000.
The Wisconsin Department of Agricultural Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) targeted Hershberger for supplying a private buying club with fresh milk and other farm products.
DATCP has charged Hershberger with, among other things, operating a retail food establishment without a license. Hershberger repeatedly rejects this, citing that he provides foods only to paid members in a private buying club and is not subject to state food regulations. “There is more at stake here than just a farmer and his few customers,” says Hershberger, “this is about the fundamental right of farmers and consumers to engage in peaceful, private, mutually consenting agreements for food, without additional oversight.”
A little more than a year ago, food rights activists from around the country stood in support of Hershberger at a pre-trial hearing. They read and signed a “Declaration of Food Independence” that asserts inherent rights in food choice. This month after the trial each day, many of the same food rights activists plus others will gather at the Al Ringling Theater across the street from the courthouse and hear presentations by leaders in the food rights movement. Notable speakers include Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, Mountain Man show star Eustace Conway, and food rights organizer from Maine, Deborah Evans.
Hershberger, and other farmers around the country, are facing state or federal charges against them for providing fresh foods to wanting individuals. In recent months the FDA has conducted several long undercover sting operations and raids against peaceful farmers and buying clubs that have resulted in farms shutting down and consumers without access to the food they depend on.
Information about farm raids: http://www.FarmFoodFreedom.org
For additional information on raw milk: http://www.westonaprice.org
You can read the article here
A healthy, delicious kids’ lunch recipe
A trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner”
Boosting brain power and energy are just two of the reasons kids and parents alike should eat a healthy lunch every day.
That’s why First Lady Michelle Obama, the USDA, the U.S. Department of Education, and Epicurious have joined together again for the second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.
Children 8 to 12 and their parents (or legal guardians) are invited to create and enter their best original lunch recipes inspired by MyPlate, the USDA’s user-friendly guide to healthy eating. One winner from each of the 50 states and U.S. Territories will be awarded a trip to Washington, D.C., and the opportunity to attend the Kids’ “State Dinner,” hosted by Mrs. Obama at the White House this summer. These lucky finalists might also have their recipes served at the event!
Some new books are on the blog
Michael Pollan helped start — or at least spur — the slow food movement by taking readers through the food chain and examining why and how we eat. Now, Pollan is taking to the kitchen in an effort to reclaim cooking as an enjoyable and important part of daily life.
Senate, House Bills Aim to Improve Access to Local Foods
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, have reintroduced Senate and House versions of the Local Farms, Food and Jobs Act, legislation that aims to increase access to healthier foods for consumers in underserved communities by expanding economic opportunities for local and regional farmers. The bill would provide funding to help farmers process and sell their food locally, which incentivizes schools and low-income residents to purchase it.
Senate, House Bills Aim to Cut SNAP
Sen John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., introduced legislation last week that would cut $30 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next 10 years, including the elimination of categorical eligibility, employment and training programs, and state performance bonuses. The bill would also curtail funding for SNAP-ED, a program that provides grants to states for nutrition education and obesity prevention programs.
Retired Marine Officer Offers Support for Healthy School Snacks
In a letter to the editor published by The Washington Post on Sunday, retired Marine general officer Ronald Beckwith offered support for USDA’s recent efforts to update nutrition standards for “competitive foods” sold in school vending machines and cafeteria snack lines. Major General Beckwith, a member of the executive advisory council for Mission: Readiness, noted that “obesity is now the leading medical disqualifier for military service, with one in four young Americans too overweight to serve.”
The Long-Term Economics of Obesity Prevention Policies
April 24, 2013
11:00 AM – 12:00 PM
430 Dirksen Senate Office Building
The briefing will present the findings of the Campaign to End Obesity’s The Long-Term Returns of Obesity Prevention Programs. Among the featured speakers will be Jim Marks, Senior Vice President and Director, Health Group, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To RSVP, email@example.com.