Study on ‘strategic ejaculation’ finds men produce better quality semen for unfamiliar women

first_imgLinkedIn Share Research published in Evolutionary Psychological Science has found that men orgasm faster and ejaculate more semen when masturbating to unfamiliar women.“Our findings are the first to demonstrate that men’s ejaculate behavior and composition change in response to a novel female stimulus,” the researchers wrote in their study, which was published in June.In the study, the researchers examined the time to ejaculation, ejaculate volume, and number of motile sperm in 21 heterosexual men between the ages of 18 and 23 years old who watched seven sexually explicit films over the course of 15 days. Email Share on Facebookcenter_img Pinterest Share on Twitter The men in the study watched six films depicting the same actress and actor, then watched a similar film with a new actress but the same actor.The researchers found the time to ejaculation ranged between 4 and 21 minutes overall. There was no habituation effect — repeatedly viewing the same woman did not increase or decrease the time to ejaculation.But men did ejaculate more quickly when viewing the seventh film, which included a new woman. In addition, ejaculate volume and total number of motile sperm in the ejaculate increased significantly when viewing the seventh film. “Men produced higher quality ejaculates when exposed to novel, rather than familiar, women,” the researchers wrote.But why does ejaculate volume and total number of motile sperm increase for novel women? Men who produce higher quality sperm for unfamiliar women may have an evolutionary advantage, the researchers explained. The decrease in the time to ejaculation may make it easier for a cheater to copulate with another woman without his partner finding out.In addition, evolution “would favor males who invest more in ejaculates transferred to novel females for two reasons: (i) Males may have already fertilized the egg(s) of (or have their sperm stored by) females with whom they have already mated; and (ii) novel females may be more likely to have mated recently with another male resulting in increased likelihood of sperm competition,” they wrote.last_img read more

Different religions associated with different climate change beliefs, study finds

first_imgA recent study by researchers at Charles Sturt University suggests that the followers of different religions have different views on climate change, with Buddhists and Christian literalists on opposing ends of the spectrum.In the study, published in PLOS One, researchers conducted an online survey of 1,927 Australians across four religious groupings: secularist, Buddhist, Christian non-literalists and Christian literalists.The results showed that climate change attitudes differed across religious groups in Australia. “We found substantive effects on climate change beliefs based on religious affiliation. Christians (both literalists and non-literalists) were the least engaged with climate change issues and Buddhists the most engaged,” Mark Morrison and his colleagues wrote in the study. Share Share on Twitter Pinterest Emailcenter_img Share on Facebook LinkedIn The researchers found that secularists and Buddhists tended to be more concerned and alarmed about climate change. They were more likely to believe that global warming is occurring and caused by human activity. Secularists and Buddhists also tended to have a higher level of knowledge about climate change.Christian literalists, on the other hand, tended to doubt that climate change is real, and were less likely to believe that global warming is occurring and caused by human activity. The Christian non-literalists fell between the two extremes, and were only slightly less likely to be alarmed by climate change than the average participant. The link between religious affiliation climate change beliefs was still a significant factor among Buddhists and Christians even after researchers accounted for other variables.“[W]e ran a series of ordinal regressions to examine the effect of socio-demographic variables, environmental attitude and knowledge about climate change on segment membership,” they explained. “Our results indicate that for those who are Christian literalist or Christian non-literalist, the effect of their religious affiliation substantially diminishes with inclusion of socio-demographic variables, environmental attitudes and knowledge.”“Nevertheless, religious affiliation was still demonstrated to be a significant factor; Christians had a tendency to be more dismissive of climate change than secularists, while Buddhists had stronger engagement and support for climate change policy than secularists. For all three of these religious groups, the effects could not simply be explained by socio-demographic variables, environmental attitude or knowledge about climate change.” The values of Christian literalists can partially explain why they are the least likely to believe in climate change. Christian literalists had faith in humans’ ingenuity to overcome environmental problems, believed humans should have dominion over nature, and were more dismissive of natural limits on human population growth. “This set of beliefs is consistent with and may sustain a weak belief in (or even denial of) climate change as a problem and, if there is a problem, a strong belief in human capacity to overcome it,” the researchers said.However, they cautioned the relationship between values and climate change attitudes was “nuanced.” Buddhists also tended to believe that humans should have dominion over nature but supported pro-environmental policies to fight climate change.last_img read more

Graphene shown to safely interact with neurons in the brain

first_imgEmail LinkedIn Share Pinterest Share on Facebookcenter_img Researchers have successfully demonstrated how it is possible to interface graphene – a two-dimensional form of carbon – with neurons, or nerve cells, while maintaining the integrity of these vital cells. The work may be used to build graphene-based electrodes that can safely be implanted in the brain, offering promise for the restoration of sensory functions for amputee or paralysed patients, or for individuals with motor disorders such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s disease.The research, published in the journal ACS Nano, was an interdisciplinary collaboration coordinated by the University of Trieste in Italy and the Cambridge Graphene Centre.Previously, other groups had shown that it is possible to use treated graphene to interact with neurons. However the signal to noise ratio from this interface was very low. By developing methods of working with untreated graphene, the researchers retained the material’s electrical conductivity, making it a significantly better electrode. “For the first time we interfaced graphene to neurons directly,” said Professor Laura Ballerini of the University of Trieste in Italy. “We then tested the ability of neurons to generate electrical signals known to represent brain activities, and found that the neurons retained their neuronal signalling properties unaltered. This is the first functional study of neuronal synaptic activity using uncoated graphene based materials.”Our understanding of the brain has increased to such a degree that by interfacing directly between the brain and the outside world we can now harness and control some of its functions. For instance, by measuring the brain’s electrical impulses, sensory functions can be recovered. This can be used to control robotic arms for amputee patients or any number of basic processes for paralysed patients – from speech to movement of objects in the world around them. Alternatively, by interfering with these electrical impulses, motor disorders (such as epilepsy or Parkinson’s) can start to be controlled.Scientists have made this possible by developing electrodes that can be placed deep within the brain. These electrodes connect directly to neurons and transmit their electrical signals away from the body, allowing their meaning to be decoded.However, the interface between neurons and electrodes has often been problematic: not only do the electrodes need to be highly sensitive to electrical impulses, but they need to be stable in the body without altering the tissue they measure.Too often the modern electrodes used for this interface (based on tungsten or silicon) suffer from partial or complete loss of signal over time. This is often caused by the formation of scar tissue from the electrode insertion, which prevents the electrode from moving with the natural movements of the brain due to its rigid nature.Graphene has been shown to be a promising material to solve these problems, because of its excellent conductivity, flexibility, biocompatibility and stability within the body.Based on experiments conducted in rat brain cell cultures, the researchers found that untreated graphene electrodes interfaced well with neurons. By studying the neurons with electron microscopy and immunofluorescence the researchers found that they remained healthy, transmitting normal electric impulses and, importantly, none of the adverse reactions which lead to the damaging scar tissue were seen.According to the researchers, this is the first step towards using pristine graphene-based materials as an electrode for a neuro-interface. In future, the researchers will investigate how different forms of graphene, from multiple layers to monolayers, are able to affect neurons, and whether tuning the material properties of graphene might alter the synapses and neuronal excitability in new and unique ways. “Hopefully this will pave the way for better deep brain implants to both harness and control the brain, with higher sensitivity and fewer unwanted side effects,” said Ballerini.“We are currently involved in frontline research in graphene technology towards biomedical applications,” said Professor Maurizio Prato from the University of Trieste. “In this scenario, the development and translation in neurology of graphene-based high-performance biodevices requires the exploration of the interactions between graphene nano- and micro-sheets with the sophisticated signalling machinery of nerve cells. Our work is only a first step in that direction.”“These initial results show how we are just scratching the tip of an iceberg when it comes to the potential of graphene and related materials in bio-applications and medicine,” said Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre. “The expertise developed at the Cambridge Graphene Centre allows us to produce large quantities of pristine material in solution, and this study proves the compatibility of our process with neuro-interfaces.” Share on Twitterlast_img read more

People with anxiety show fundamental differences in perception

first_imgLinkedIn Pinterest Share Email Share on Twittercenter_img People with anxiety fundamentally perceive the world differently, according to a study reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on March 3. They aren’t simply making the choice to “play it safe.”The new study shows that people diagnosed with anxiety are less able to distinguish between a neutral, “safe” stimulus (in this case, the sound of a tone) and one that was earlier associated with the threat of money loss or gain. In other words, when it comes to emotional experiences, they show a behavioral phenomenon known as over-generalization, the researchers say.“We show that in patients with anxiety, emotional experience induces plasticity in brain circuits that lasts after the experience is over,” says Rony Paz of Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. “Such plastic changes occur in primary circuits that later mediate the response to new stimuli, resulting in an inability to discriminate between the originally experienced stimulus and a new similar stimulus. Therefore, anxiety patients respond emotionally to such new stimuli as well, resulting in anxiety even in apparently irrelevant new situations. Importantly, they cannot control this, as it is a perceptual inability to discriminate.” Share on Facebook In the study, Paz and his colleagues trained people with anxiety to associate three distinct tones with one of three outcomes: money loss, money gain, or no consequence. In the next phase, study participants were presented with one of 15 tones and were asked whether they’d heard the tone before in training or not. If they were right, they were rewarded with money.The best strategy was not to mistake (or over-generalize) a new tone for one they’d heard in the training phase. But the researchers found that people with anxiety were more likely than healthy controls to think that a new tone was actually one of the tones they’d heard earlier. That is, they were more likely to mistakenly associate a new tone with money loss or gain. Those differences weren’t explained by differences in participants’ hearing or learning abilities. They simply perceived the sounds that were earlier linked to an emotional experience differently.Functional magnetic resonance images (fMRIs) of the brains of people with anxiety versus healthy controls showed differences in brain responses, too. Those differences were mainly found in the amygdala, a brain region related to fear and anxiety, and also in primary sensory regions of the brain. These results strengthen the idea that emotional experiences induce changes in sensory representations in anxiety patients’ brains.The findings might help to explain why some people are more prone to anxiety than others, although the underlying brain plasticity that leads to anxiety isn’t in itself “bad,” Paz says.“Anxiety traits can be completely normal, and even beneficial evolutionarily. Yet an emotional event, even minor sometimes, can induce brain changes that might lead to full-blown anxiety,” he says.last_img read more

Whites receive more state funding for autism services than other racial, ethnic groups

first_imgShare Pinterest Whites with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in California receive more state funding than Hispanics, African Americans, Asians and others, new research from UC Davis Health System has found. The study also showed that state spending on ASD increases dramatically with age.Previous evaluations of the state’s investment in ASD services have not included adults, a major oversight, according to lead author Paul Leigh, professor of public health sciences and researcher with the Center for Healthcare Policy and Research at UC Davis.“There are more children diagnosed today with autism than any time in history,” Leigh said, referring to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that ASD affects 1 in 68 children. “Our findings can help stakeholders, including legislators and health insurance administrators, accurately estimate the costs of autism services and plan their budgets to meet the lifelong need for those services.” Share on Twitter Emailcenter_img Share on Facebook ASD is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder present in early childhood that impairs communication, social skills and the ability to understand abstractions. In California, services for people with ASD are funded by the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) through 21 regional centers. Up to age 22, people with developmental disabilities can also receive some support — such as speech and occupational therapy — through public schools.In conducting the study, published in PLOS ONE, Leigh and his team used 2012-13 data on more than 42,000 DDS clients with ASD, including those with the additional diagnosis of intellectual disability.The researchers found spending differences based on race and ethnicity. Compared to whites aged 3 to 17, average per-person spending was close to $2,000 per person lower for African Americans and Hispanics, with the least spending on African Americans. Differences between whites and other racial/ethnic groups, including Asians, for this age range were small.Spending differences based on race and ethnicity were more profound for adults with ASD. Compared to whites over the age of 18, average per-person expenditures were nearly $13,000 lower for Hispanics, $8,000 lower for Asians, $6,000 lower for others (including nonresponders, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders) and $4,000 lower for African Americans.“The reasons for these disparities deserve investigation,” Leigh said. “It could be related to the locations of DDS regional offices around the state and the variable costs and availability of services in those areas. But average per-person spending on autism should not differ this much. There are no distinctions in the services needed by people with autism based on race or ethnicity.”There were also spending differences based on age. People age 18 and over receive approximately two and one-half times more funding as younger people with ASD, with the widest gap between the youngest and oldest age groups. Average spending for each DDS client aged 3 to 6 was about $12,000, while average spending on each adult with ASD aged 65 and over was close to $50,000.“As children with autism grow up and become adults and no longer receive public school-based assistance, their services transition to expensive independent living support and more of the cost burden shifts to the state,” Leigh said.“We hope our data can help justify earlier, expanded and equitable spending on younger children with autism,” Leigh added. “There is a great return on investment in high-quality early intervention services, which consistently have been found to reduce the disability associated with autism and to support the greater independence and integration in society as a whole of adults with autism.” LinkedInlast_img read more

Experimental psychologists’ magic convinces people a non-existent object has disappeared

first_imgEmail Share LinkedIn Share on Twitter Magicians use sleight of hand to confuse you about where an object is. But could they make you believe that you saw a non-existent object disappear?A team of experimental psychologists at Oxford University developed their own magic trick to find out. Their results are published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.Matthew Tompkins led the study. He explained: ‘The science of magic actually played a significant role in the development of Experimental Psychology; the founding fathers of psychology were keenly interested in understanding how magicians could manipulate people’s perceptions. Despite this initial interest, magic has been largely ignored by contemporary psychologists until relatively recently. Much of sleight of hand magic is about misdirecting people about the location of an object, and there is a growing body of psychological research about how magicians cause our minds to override the input of our senses.center_img Pinterest Share on Facebook ‘We wanted to go further and see whether magicians’ misdirection techniques could be used to induce the misperception of ‘phantom’ objects – could a magician make us ‘see’ something that was never there.’420 volunteers watched a series of five silent videos, each showing part of a magic act, and immediately afterwards were asked to describe what they had seen and rate how surprising, impossible and magical it had been.In the first four videos the magician would do something with an object, with the third video deliberately showing a non-magical action to check that people could distinguish whether something was or was not a magic trick and were not seeing a trick simply because they expected one. The first, second and fourth videos showed magic tricks.The volunteers were split into five groups, each of which saw a series of video with a different object – a coin, a ball, a poker chip, a silk handkerchief or a crayon.In the fifth video, the magician mimed making an object disappear. However, no object was ever shown in that video.Nevertheless, 32% of people were convinced they had seen something disappear, with 11% of them naming the non-existent object. When asked to rate the trick, those who had not reported an object gave low scores for surprise, impossibility and magic; those who believed they had seen something gave higher scores, and those who could name the object gave the highest scores.Matthew said: ‘We think what may be happening is that people are effectively confusing their expectations with a true sensory experience. They expect to see another video with a crayon or a coin, for example, and this expectation is so vivid that it can actually be mistaken for a real object.‘The science of magic is a fascinating area, and there are important practical applications. For example, our work builds upon previous studies that have shown how eyewitness testimony can vary from the facts. In understanding how people can be fooled, we can gain better understanding of how our minds construct our conscious experiences.’last_img read more

Tunneling nanotubes between neurons enable the spread of Parkinson’s disease via lysosomes

first_imgLinkedIn Email Share Share on Twitter After being transferred via TNTs, α-synuclein fibrils are able to recruit and induce aggregation of the soluble α-synuclein protein in the cytosol of cells receiving the fibrils, thus explaining the propagation of the disease. The scientists propose that cells overloaded with α-synuclein aggregates in lysosomes dispose of this material by hijacking TNT-mediated intercellular trafficking. However, this results in the disease being spread to naive neurons.This study demonstrates that TNTs play a significant part in the intercellular transfer of α-synuclein fibrils and reveals the specific role of lysosomes in this process. This represents a major breakthrough in understanding the mechanisms underlying the progression of synucleinopathies.These compelling findings, together with previous reports from the same team, point to the general role of TNTs in the propagation of prion-like proteins in neurodegenerative diseases and identify TNTs as a new therapeutic target to combat the progression of these incurable diseases.center_img Share on Facebook Pinterest Scientists from the Institut Pasteur have demonstrated the role of lysosomal vesicles in transporting α-synuclein aggregates, responsible for Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, between neurons. These proteins move from one neuron to the next in lysosomal vesicles which travel along the “tunneling nanotubes” between cells. These findings were published in The EMBO Journal on Aug. 22, 2016.Synucleinopathies, a group of neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, are characterized by the pathological deposition of aggregates of the misfolded α-synuclein protein into inclusions throughout the central and peripheral nervous system. Intercellular propagation (from one neuron to the next) of α-synuclein aggregates contributes to the progression of the neuropathology, but little was known about the mechanism by which spread occurs.In this study, scientists from the Membrane Traffic and Pathogenesis Unit, directed by Chiara Zurzolo at the Institut Pasteur, used fluorescence microscopy to demonstrate that pathogenic α-synuclein fibrils travel between neurons in culture, inside lysosomal vesicles through tunneling nanotubes (TNTs), a new mechanism of intercellular communication.last_img read more

Prayer leads people who believe in a benevolent God to read less hostility in others’ eyes, study finds

first_imgPinterest Share on Facebook Share PsyPost interviewed the study’s corresponding author, Marieke Meijer-van Abbema of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Read her responses below:PsyPost: Why were you interested in this topic?We observed among Christians that people behave social for very different reasons. The main two reasons seem to be, first, because of group pressure, fear to be rejected by others and God, and second, because of the intention to be like Jesus, trust in God’s love and wanting to share. From the outside, the outcome of these different motivations is the same, namely prosocial behaviour. We wondered if, at a more unconscious level, there also would be a difference in attitude towards others before the actual behaviour takes place.What should the average person take away from your study?The way you look at God colours the way you look at others, even if you don’t believe in God. The results showed that people believing in a loving and caring God failed to recognize negative emotions in eyes of others, after activation of God belief, in this case through prayer. If you believe God loves you and you trust him to take care of you, you will trust others more, maybe because you don’t have to be alert — after all God will protect you. Also your perspective might change. When God loves us, we will love others too. There is a study among Palestinians (Ginges, Sheikh, Atran & Argo, 2015) where participants were asked to look at others through God’s eyes. This mitigated bias towards Jewish Israelis, promoting more prosocial behaviour and in the end maybe even peace.If you believe more strongly in a judging God, you will feel more fear and guilt and therefore be more fearful or judging to others. It therefore helps to reflect on what you actually believe about God and to reflect on the way this influences the way you observe others. This goes also for those who don’t believe in God, but often have negative thoughts on God when asked for. These negative thoughts also seem to overflow to others, at least when these thoughts on God are activated.Are there any major caveats? What questions still need to be addressed?We only used the mind in the eyes test to measure how people evaluate emotions in the eyes of others. Although this measure has been used many times before, some items might be interpretable in different ways. Therefore repetition of this study with an alternative measure of social evaluation, how people perceive others, would be informative. Also, God image might be measured more in depth, with something like a personality measurement. Besides, I believe that the way one sees God influences the way one sees oneself, so human image and god image might interact with each other. But how?Finally, addressing fear and trust as different drives need to be examined more in depth in the context of God-human relation.Is there anything else you would like to add?We conducted these studies in the Netherlands, a quite secularized country where Christians do not have much political power. Christians in the Netherlands are mostly very active and involved, but hesitate to tell about their faith outside the church, out of fear to be ironized. The Dutch Christians reported a mainly strong caring and loving God believe and far less a punishing God belief.However, we did (partly) the same study in the USA and there the God belief seems to be more complex. People report to have strong beliefs in a caring God and a punishing God at the same time. Considering the perspective change theory, this might be due to the fact that Christians in the States actually have power, so when you believe that God judges, you might have the actual means to judge others too, without strong repercussions or social rejection. But obviously, far more research is needed on this topic.The study, “After God’s image: prayer leads people with positive God beliefs to read less hostility in others’ eyes“, was also co-authored by Sander L. Koole. It was published January 20, 2017. LinkedIncenter_img Share on Twitter Email New research suggests that Christians are less likely to perceive negative mental states in others after praying.The researchers had 110 Dutch Christians either pray for a person in need or just think about a person in need before completing the Reading the Mind in the Eyes Test to assess their social perception. The test requires participants to judge whether 36 photographs of different people’s eye gazes display a negative or positive emotion.The study, published in the journal Religion, Brain & Behavior, found that the participants who prayed tended to recognize less hostility in other people’s eyes. This was particularly true of participants who reported more trust in God and believed God was benevolent.last_img read more

New research provides ‘robust evidence’ that bisexual men exist

first_imgA new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has uncovered genital responses in men that are consistent with a bisexual orientation. The research is the most “extensive assessment of bisexual men’s arousal patterns to date,” according to its authors.“There has long been a controversy whether men who identify as bisexual are actually bisexual. The bisexual men and many others believe that they are. However, some others — including some scientists and lay persons — have doubted this,” said study author J. Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University.“The latter believe that men who identify as bisexual are actually either heterosexual or homosexual, and that their claim to be bisexual is based on self-misunderstanding, perhaps due to social pressure not to admit exclusive homosexuality.” Email Pinterest Share on Facebook “For reasons I won’t address here (I’d have to speculate), female bisexuality has not elicited nearly as much skepticism as male bisexuality,” Bailey added.For their study, the researchers combined data from eight previous studies that included objective measures of genital response in men who also reported their Kinsey scores — a measure of self-reported sexual orientation. The data allowed Bailey and his colleagues to examine the sexual orientation of 606 men, who were around 29 years of age on average.In the studies, the men reported their sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale and viewed erotic video clips while a device measured changes in the circumference of the penis.The researchers found that 178 participants self-identified as exclusively heterosexual, 102 identified as mostly heterosexual, 46 as bisexual leaning heterosexual, 34 as bisexual, 37 as bisexual leaning homosexual, 70 as mostly homosexual, and 139 as exclusively homosexual.Importantly, men who identified as bisexual displayed genital responses to female and male stimuli that were consistent with their self-reported orientation. Men in the middle of the Kinsey spectrum showed smaller differences in genital arousal to male versus female erotic stimuli, compared with exclusively heterosexual and homosexual men.“Men who identify as bisexual tend actually to be more sexually aroused by both sexes compared with heterosexual and homosexual men. The idea that ‘all bisexual men are lying’ is false,” Bailey told PsyPost.“However, even bisexual men tend not to be equally aroused by both male and female erotic stimuli. They still tend to show preferences, just smaller ones than heterosexual and homosexual men show.”There are still some men who identify as bisexual who do not have a bisexual orientation, such as so-called “transitional bisexuals,” Bailey said.“Skepticism does not only reflect prejudice. Many men who identify as homosexual (‘gay’) as adults go through a stage during their youth in which they identify as bisexual. Asked later, they usually say they were not actually bisexual during this time,” he explained.“There are other reasons for identifying as bisexual that do not require bisexual orientation (by which I mean sexual arousal and attraction to both sexes to the degree that arousal/attraction to women exceed that of homosexual men and arousal/attraction to men exceed that of heterosexual men). This can include sexual experience with both sexes (which is not uncommon but does not require bisexual orientation) and atypical sexual interests (example: men attracted to she-males — natal males who have acquired breasts surgically while retaining their penises).”The study, “Robust evidence for bisexual orientation among men“, was authored by Jeremy Jabbour, Luke Holmes, David Sylva, Kevin J. Hsu, Theodore L. Semon, A. M. Rosenthal, Adam Safron, Erlend Slettevold, Tuesday M. Watts-Overall, Ritch C. Savin-Williams, John Syllah, Gerulf Rieger, and J. Michael Bailey.(Image by Chickenonline from Pixabay)center_img Share LinkedIn Share on Twitterlast_img read more

US ag and food defense efforts criticized

first_imgSep 14, 2011 (CIDRAP News) – Although no successful attacks on the US agriculture and food system have been reported in the past decade, the nation’s efforts to defend the system came in for a barrage of criticism yesterday about a lack of coordination and various other shortcomings.The Government Accountability Office, congress’s auditing arm, released a report saying there is no centralized coordination of the federal government’s food and agriculture defense policy, with the major emphasis on problems at the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).In addition, experts at a Senate subcommittee hearing echoed the GAO report and said the federal government has largely left the responsibility for defending the food and agriculture system against terrorists to the states and the private sector. They said the nation especially lacks capabilities for surveillance to detect attacks early.”The result is, unfortunately, that we will, as we have been in the past, be blindsided by the next event,” John T. Hoffman, a senior research fellow at the National Center for Food Protection and Defense (NCFPD) at the University of Minnesota, said in written testimony.Policy launched in 2004In 2004 President George W. Bush ordered the establishment of a national policy to defend the food and agriculture systems against terrorist attacks and major disasters, issuing Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9), the GAO report notes.Seven years later, “there is no centralized coordination to oversee the federal government’s overall progress implementing” the policy, says a summary of the GAO report that was presented at the Senate hearing. Earlier the White House Homeland Security Council, with support from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), made some efforts to oversee implementation, but those efforts “are no longer ongoing,” the report states.The USDA, in particular, lacks a department-wide strategy for implementing its many responsibilities under HSPD-9, the report says. Instead, the department assigned implementation responsibilities to its various agencies and then let them pick their own priorities. USDA officials told the GAO they would benefit from strategic direction from the National Security Staff concerning priorities and budgeting.Challenges for veterinary stockpileThe report also cites some specific challenges the USDA faces in trying to implement the policy. One has to do with the National Veterinary Stockpile (NVS), which the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) manages as a defense against the 17 most damaging animal diseases, including highly pathogenic avian influenza.The NVS has acquired various supplies to respond to each of the 17 diseases, but vaccines and diagnostic tests for some of them have not yet been developed or are too costly, the report says. Also, states may not be adequately prepared to receive and use NVS supplies, as only a third of the states that answered a survey said they had an NVS plan.On the crop-defense front, the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is working on an estimated 30 to 50 recovery plans for “high-consequence plant diseases that may enter the United States.” As of May 2011 the ARS had completed 13 plans, which provide a primer on the diseases and identify research needs. But the ARS has no systematic process to monitor and fill the research gaps noted in the plans, and it has not communicated the program effectively to stakeholders who need to know about it, the GAO found.In other challenges, the report says USDA agencies have taken various steps to enhance recovery efforts for emergencies involving food and agriculture, but the department may be short of personnel to slaughter animals quickly in the face of a catastrophic outbreak of a highly contagious disease such as foot-and-mouth disease. APHIS officials said it could take as long as 80 days to “depopulate” a feedlot that houses 100,000 cattle.The GAO made nine recommendations to improve implementation of the US food and agriculture defense policy. In written comments, the USDA, DHS, and Department of Health and Human Services generally concurred with the recommendations, the report says.State perspective at hearingYesterday’s hearing was held by the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia. Paul Williams, DVM, director of agriculture, food, and veterinary programs in the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, said most of the leadership and direction in ag and food defense and animal health emergency management have come from the states.”Federal agencies have, for the most part, participated with a reluctant acceptance,” Williams told the panel in written testimony. The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.”States have grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of a comprehensive strategy for coordination and implementation of a state, regional, and national agriculture and food defense risk reduction plan that addresses the elements of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan,” Williams stated.He said groups of states in the South and the Midwest have formed regional alliances to work on ag and food defense in recent years. One problem the groups identified was the lack of a definition of food and agriculture critical infrastructure sites, which limited the chance of getting federal funds, he said. That was finally remedied at a meeting involving 30 states and DHS in early 2010, and by June 2010, more than 1,400 such sites had been identified and validated by DHS.Williams said state efforts on ag biosecurity have been limited by a lack of federal support. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reported that from 2003 to 2007, the food and ag sector received only about 1% of State Homeland Security Grant Program funding, he said.Hoffman, of the University of Minnesota, who also testified at the hearing, decried what he called a lack of federal leadership in food and ag defense. The NCFPD, where he works, is funded by DHS.”The question is ‘Who is in charge?'” he said in written testimony. “The answer is always something like, ‘Well, actually no one is in charge.'”He said the new FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), while promising to improve the nation’s food safety, puts the burden of protecting the ag and food systems on the private sector, which may lead to unintended consequences.”The FSMA is worded, from the perspective of many in the sector, so as to place this task and the overall strategic food system defense burden on the private sector itself, where there is little chance that such firms currently have a capability to fulfill this role,” he said.Much of Hoffman’s testimony focused on what he described as a lack of surveillance for attacks on food and agriculture. “At present, our primary detection capability is the emergency room,” he said.Some recent major food contamination events could have been foreseen if a stronger, more integrated surveillance system had been in place, according to Hoffman. One example, he said, was the case of melamine-contaminated pet food imported from China.Chinese companies had put melamine in exported food products as early as 2004, and these were detected in Europe and Australia, he said. “Yet there was no warning through any channel, public or private,” of the risk that melamine-contaminated products could surface in the United States, until it happened in 2007, he added.Williams said the nation needs new approaches to surveillance and detection. He suggested placing food and agriculture experts in the intelligence community. “We need to invigorate the focus and effort within this community on food and agriculture risks,” he said.AP report cites difficultiesIn a related development, an Associated Press (AP) report published this week said the US government has spent “at least $3.4 billion on food counter-terrorism in the last decade, but key programs have been bogged down in a huge, multi-headed bureaucracy. And with no single agency in charge, officials acknowledge it’s impossible to measure whether orchards or feedlots are actually any safer.”The report mentions some modest successes, but also some failures, including a DHS effort in 2008 to build a data integration center where food, agriculture, disease, and environmental officials could share surveillance data. Jeff Range, DHS’s former chief medical officer, said the other agencies didn’t want to share their data, with the result that “it just didn’t work,” according to the story.See also: Information on Sep 13 Senate subcommittee hearing, with links to written testimonySummary of GAO reportFull text of GAO reportlast_img read more