Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Nature has a reason for everything. A creature's environment plays the main part in deciding how its eyes develop and function. For instance, starfish have five eyes at the end of each arm, but they can only see shade and light and huge masses of land. They don’t need to see any more than looming coral reefs, so that is how their eyes have developed. The eyes of the nocturnal elephant hawk moth excel at collecting the tiniest traces of light. Even in faint starlight, it can distinguish the colours of blossoms bearing nectar. Lemurs, who feel safer foraging at night, have such excellent night vision that they can make out colours in complete darkness.

Here's the explanation behind some of the pupils you find in nature.

Those animals with vertical pupils, like cats, foxes, crocodiles, snakes, geckos, are ambush predators, active in hunting both by day and night. A vertically oriented pupil is a precision instrument, capable of razor-sharp focus in many light conditions. A crocodile’s eyes can adapt to twilight or night-time. One reason is their ability to open very wide or close to tiny slits, depending on how much light they need to let in. A cat's pupils can expand by 135 times, for example. Compare that to the 15-fold expansion of our own pupils!

Horizontal pupils belong to grazing prey animals like goats, sheep, horses, moose, deer. An animal with horizontal pupils tends to have its eyes on each side of its head, so these pupils can give it a panoramic view that lets in more light from its front, back, and sides. That helps them both detect an oncoming predator and keep tabs on it while they flee.

Crescent pupils belong to water-dwelling animals that spend a lot of time motionless. For example skates, rays, flatfishes, catfish and some whales. Light bends differently in water than it does in air. Crescent shapes can take in more information than a circular pupil with the same surface area. This pupil turns points of light that are in front of its owner into U shapes (or crescents facing up) and points of light that are behind it into n shapes (or crescents facing down). The closer the object, the larger the U shape, and vice versa. For a flounder on the seafloor watching schools of fish swim by, the ability to know exactly how far away each one is comes in handy.

Camels have three eyelids, but because they're as thin as paper, they can still see even with all three eyelids closed - which is handy in a sandstorm. Snakes have two sets of eyes. One set is used to see and the other to detect heat and movement. Penguins have eyes that allow them to see better underwater. The hexagonal lenses of a bee are so strong that they can see ultraviolet rays that humans can’t. Macaws and other parrots see everything in ultraviolet vision, allowing them to see the maturation of fruits. The upward-looking left eye of the squid is twice the size of its right eye, the better to spot prey in light from above. The squid’s smaller eye points down into the dark waters below.

If there are no benefits of seeing, some animals lose their eyes altogether. Mexican Tetras are small freshwater fish which, in the Pleistocene epoch, swam into several deep caves. Their eyes were of little use in the pitch blackness, so their descendants evolved into different populations of blind cavefish—pinkish-white creatures with skin covering where their eyes used to be.

The Ganges river dolphin can only live in freshwater and is essentially blind. It lost its eyes in the course of evolution to adapt to the muddy water of rivers. Gangetic river dolphins navigate using sound waves made by clicking sounds through their throat that bounce off targets and return to their large, flat heads equipped with extremely sensitive auditory systems. They have rods and cones, found in mammal eyes, but these are feeble and just help tell light from dark. 

Cephalopods, like Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, are the smartest creatures on Earth - they can communicate by changing the patterns on their skin. They can even change their own DNA.  You can find cephalopod pupils in the shape of Ws, crescents, dumbbells, and whatever. Their eyes don't have cells for colour vision, but they can see colour  -— they just do it in a completely different way. They might be able to spread out these colours, and bring certain wavelengths into focus, by changing not only the shape and position of their pupils but also the depth of their eyeball and the distance between their lens and their retina.

Some creatures have more than two eyes.

The weirdest lenses in nature, and the largest number of eyes, belong to chitons—a group of marine molluscs that look like ovals adorned with armoured plates. These plates are dotted with upto a thousand eyes of amazing rock crystal on the back of their shell. Each eye has its own lens and these are made of aragonite, which the chitons assemble from calcium and carbonate molecules in seawater. Simply put, this creature looks through rocks. And when their rock lenses erode, the chitons just fabricate some new ones. Chitons live mostly under rocks, in the shallow water near the coast. While a chiton does not have crystal clear vision like humans, it is able to see a blurry image of a fish from 6.5 feet away.

The Horseshoe Crab has 2 compound eyes on each side of its shell and 3 other eyes on the shell, plus 2 more eyes in the front near their mouth. They also have eyes on their tails, so totally, a horseshoe crab has 10 eyes.

The Box jelly is just a gelatinous, pulsating blob with trailing bundles of stinging tentacles. It doesn’t even have a proper brain—merely a ring of neurons running around its bell. The Box Jellyfish has 24 dark brown eyes grouped into four clusters, called rhopalia, anchored on a flexible stalk. Four of the six eyes in each rhopalium are simple light-detecting slits and pits. But the other two are sophisticated; they see images. Its lower lensed eyes spot approaching obstacles, like the mangrove roots that it swims among. The upper lensed eyes are always looking upward, even if the jellyfish swims upside down. If this eye detects dark patches, the jellyfish senses that it’s swimming beneath the mangrove canopy, where it can find the small crustaceans that it eats. If it sees only bright light, it has strayed into open water, and risks starving. With the help of its eyes, it can find food, avoid obstacles, and survive.

A Praying Mantis has 5 eyes: 2 big compound eyes and 3 other tiny eyes in the middle of their head. The big eyes are for detecting movement, while the other 3 are for detecting light.

Scorpions have 2 eyes on top of their heads. There are also 5 more eyes along each side of their body as well.

Scallops have rows of eyes along the edge of their mantles, One scallop can have between 50 and 100 eyes. The mantle of the bay scallop is festooned with up to 100 brilliant blue eyes. Each contains a mirrored layer that acts as a focusing lens while doubling the chance of capturing incoming light. These eyes let them know if there are threats approaching.

The Purple Sea Urchin's entire body acts like one big eye. On the other hand Hydra, a small relative of jellyfish, has no eyes, but it does have photoreceptors in its body. These receptors control the hydra’s stinging cells, so that they fire more easily in darkness. This allows the creature to react to the shadows of passing victims, or to fire at night when its prey is more common.

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

The silver yellow full moon lights up the sky and makes me instantly happy. We have forgotten how the moon can change the landscape, because we have so many artificial lights. But, as the moon spins round the planet, it alters the Earth’s ecosystems, transforming the lives, food, shelters and reproduction cycles of hundreds of species.

Tides are the result of the gravitational pull of the moon. When the moon is full, or new, it is directly in line with Earth and the Sun, exerting a strong pull on the ocean and causing stronger tides. When the moon is half-full, it is out of alignment with Earth and the sun, producing weak neap tides.  The life cycle of coastal creatures depends on these tides. From March to August the sand is carpeted in California with small silvery grunion fish, who dig into the sand, mate on top of the holes and release eggs. Ten days later the eggs hatch and are swept out by the high tide to sea, the entire event choreographed by the moon. Some species of sea turtles wait for the full moon's high tide to ride waves onto shore, and lay their eggs far up on the beach.

The marine annelid worms, Platynereis dumerilii, regulate their reproduction cycle according to the phases of the moon with amazing precision. They live in the sea bed. Under the full moon, the sex cells in adult worms mature; then, exactly 14 days later under the new moon and four hours after sunset, they float to the surface and synchronously release eggs and sperm. After spawning the worms die, and a new generation begins to grow in the seabed.

Many ocean animals have biological clocks finely tuned to the cycles of the moon. Zooplankton are tiny animals who swim up from below the ocean depths toward the surface every night to feed on algae. They are preyed on by larger animals that hunt by sight so, as soon as it is dawn, zooplankton head back down. This rhythm is dictated by the sun. But, in the Arctic, where the winter sun cannot be seen for months, zooplankton also have an internal clock that is set to the moon. When the winter moon is full over the Arctic, it stays above the horizon for a handful of days and during this time, zooplankton dive to take cover from predators. But the moon also rises and sets—and the zooplankton respond, rising and diving over the course of this cycle.

Oysters, who open their shells to eat and spawn, also fall under the moon’s influence. French researchers monitored how widely oysters opened their shells during new moons, and more closed when the moon was full. In addition, the oysters could tell the difference between the first quarter moon and the third quarter moon, and were significantly more open (by nearly 20 percent) at the latter.

Speckled sea lice burrow in the sand in the intertidal zone, which is covered by water at high tide, and dry when it’s low. They have an internal lunar clock, and are more active during the full and new moons, with their stronger currents, and more sedate during the weak neap tide.

Sandhoppers, tiny crustaceans that live buried in sandy beaches, can tell the difference between sunlight and moonlight, and so are able to move in the right direction between the sea and the shore regardless of the time of day.

The marine bristle worm, Platynereis dumerilii, looks like an amber centipede and lives on algae. Bristle worm populations swim to the ocean surface just after the new moon, and dance in circles while mating. Any change in the moon’s light changes the spawning ritual.

Studies of fiddler crabs have shown that even when kept in the lab under constant light and temperature, the animals are still most active at the times that the tide should be out. This internal lunar clock, running in synchrony with the Moon helps animals anticipate tide movements; a skill that might give some creatures an edge. Galapagos marine iguanas, with the most accurate lunar clock, are more likely to survive tough times, presumably because they are best at reaching feeding spots on the beach first.

On a full moon night, each December, corals around the world, but most spectacularly off the coast of Australia, synchronize a massive release of egg and sperm packed together in round, small, pink buoyant bundles. While environmental factors, like temperature, salinity and food availability, help in triggering the event, researchers have found that levels of moonlight seem to play a major role: If the sky is too cloudy, and the moon obscured, the corals will often not spawn. Sometimes they delay until the next full moon. Researchers reveal that not only do corals have light-sensitive neurons tuned to the dim blue wavelengths of moonlight, they also have genes that change their activity level in sync with the waxing and waning moon, regulating reproduction.

Palolo worms, which live in warm ocean waters worldwide, also release sperm and eggs together in a precisely timed explosion. They live on the seafloor, or in coral, and feed for most of their lives. But, for two days in October when the moon is full, their rear bodies turn into sacks of egg or sperm, break off from the rest of the worm and swim toward the surface—and the light of the moon. Exactly one month later, they repeat this feat in even great numbers.

For many animals the moon is essential to migration and navigation.

During certain phases of the moon, Japanese Sesarma crabs collectively scuttle across mountain slopes toward sea-flowing rivers, where they release their eggs and sperm. The annual migrations of Christmas Island crabs, which move in waves of crimson from forest to sea to mate and lay their eggs, also seems to be linked to moonlight’s shifting intensity.

For other species, the moon’s light is more important as a navigational cue. Migrating chum salmon swim more quickly, and at shallower, depths during a full moon, likely because they are using its light as a lodestar. Albatrosses and streaked shearwaters often fly more frequently, and for longer periods of time under a full moon, perhaps because they can see farther.

Barau’s petrel is a seabird that breeds on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. The petrels time their pre- and post-breeding migrations by the length of the day, waiting until it reaches 12.5 hours before setting off.  They always arrive at the breeding grounds on the full moon, suggesting that they use the moon to synchronise their migrations. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Vegan festivals are probably good, in that they create a climate for you to turn into a non meat/milk/egg person, but these are events meant to peddle goods, not to advocate for the rights and freedom of other animals, or inspire political and social activism. Instead of advising people to consume less, they push people to buy more and, in doing so, send the message that veganism is a personal, consumer choice, instead of a moral imperative. “Vegan outreach” and “the power of the wallet” are unquestioningly upheld as the most powerful tools we have in the fight for animal liberation. But this is a damaging mix of dogmatic naivety, privilege and single issue reformism. This consumerism promotes capitalism by actively advocating for an increased demand of vegan products. It upholds the same structures that commodify and oppress all beings. How easily capitalism has accommodated vegan consumer choices in many countries — how easy it is now to shop vegan anywhere, even in Uruguay.

A vegan needs to truly see beyond the walls of his/her privileges. Why have we allowed the world to degenerate into a hellhole for all, why is speciesism, the superiority of humans and their right to kill and use all other species, the normal way to live. Why is western development superior to native societies – when clearly every indicator of mental and physical health indicates otherwise. Why do we allow a capitalistic company to decide what and how we live and what we use . Why do we allow governments at every level to do nothing, when the signs of global warming are all around us ? Why do we allow governments to listen to pesticide companies rather than cancer patients ? Why do we allow governments to ban e-cigarettes on the grounds that 500 people a year die from them, when normal cigarettes kill 500 people per second ? Why is meat eating normal ? Why are 80% forests dying because they are infested with animals that are grown for meat ? Why are people who oppose tree cutting regarded as anti- development – when the development is simply a hotel, or some other useless capitalistic structure ? Why are animals regarded as commodities when they clearly are as sentient as humans ? Vegans need to be humble and radical, to think their way through these issues before it is too late.

Veganism is sold by companies to people as an individual lifestyle choice, “ethical consumerism”. So, animal liberation is on offer, reduced to a choice of products to make us feel guilt free, that we’re “doing our bit”.

But the refusal of vegans to eat animal products has not led to fewer animals being slaughtered. Many companies selling “ethical” products are directly involved in, and profit from, animal exploitation. There is no such thing as ethical consumerism under capitalism. As Animal Liberation says  “The interconnected atrocities of petrochemical, weapons, fashion, pharmaceutical and agribusiness industries, alongside the meat and dairy industry, make “ethical consumption,” of any kind, an illusion.” The abolition of non-human animal exploitation must be part of a wider struggle to bring about freedom and autonomy for all living things.

Rather than revolving around consumption, veganism should commit to combating the deeply embedded ideology of speciesism, as well as all other violent ideologies. Veganism needs to put its efforts to create a society with empathy; not to be the fifth wheel of the consumer train. As Prof Steven Best of the University of Texas, award-winning writer and seasoned activist, notes that veganism “seeks radical social transformation at the institutional level, rather than a lifestyle with occasional and perfunctory efforts at ‘education'.”

For Prof. John Sanbonmatsu, author of critical animal studies, “what is at stake is not simply a set of eating guidelines, but a total critique of society – of a way of life that has become inimical to life.”

 “Capitalism, as a global system with an unprecedented level of technological power, is the first to carry ecocide to a global scale. The biodiversity and biomass of Planet Earth today is the lowest it has ever been in human history. There is obviously a connection between capitalism’s abuse of animals, its destruction of the environment, and its oppression and abuse of humans.”

Because the meat industry is the ghastly face of abuse, the vegan movement has responded with a prohibition on the consumption of meat. But do these people also ban fertilizer and pesticides on their lawns and on agricultural produce? Is it easier to boycott the meat industry, or easier to change policies at government levels. I would say that the latter is easier, and that is where the vegan movement should be going. 

Can veganism’s boycott of meat alone destroy the meat industry ? “Within capitalism, a decrease in demand can lower prices, and increase total consumption. While the number of vegetarians and vegans in the US exploded from almost none to millions in the last decade, total meat consumption did not decrease In fact, it increased as meat prices decreased. More animals died. Veganism has become a religion rather than a liberation strategy. And, like all religions, it accommodates every wish that its followers have.

Do vegans not kill animals ? With our consumption of industrially farmed vegetables, use of plastics, dependence on petroleum-fuelled transportation, coal, hydro, solar- (mining for panel and battery construction) powered electricity, we kill thousands too. And those vegans who wear silver and gold, and pearls and any stone, kill millions. The shoes may be rubber but they are held together with glue which is made of animal bones. The insulin injection is made with cow/pig pancreas. The point is, everything we use causes suffering. So the answer to being a vegan is to use very little. Consumerism is killing the planet. The food, clothes, footwear, the useless toothpicks and umbrellas, facepacks and lipsticks. What is needed is for a generation to call a halt to this.

Will simply stopping meat, and carrying on with the rest of your extravagant lifestyle, change the world? Do the banks, they put your money in, invest in any supermarkets, or any other industries involved with the meat industry? Does your insurance agency also insure slaughterhouses? Are these not issues that vegans should look into? Products that should not be available should be off the shelves, not available as alternative choices. But for that to happen, vegans have to make time for policy, the only means to eliminating consumer choices that shouldn't be available because they are dangerous for the planet.

Direct action, for me, is more acceptable for a vegan. Go and liberate an animal from a laboratory or a slaughterhouse. Surround an abattoir and make it impossible to work. Stop trucks that carry animals. These actions are brave and passionate and inspirational – even though they save small numbers, but each individual is worth saving. They are also important for spreading consciousness of the viciousness of our civilization towards other living things. Vegans raise environmental consciousness, clean waterbodies, grow pesticide free crops, eat locally grown food only. Act, be an activist, rather than a consumerist and a person who sits on a computer and passes along T Shirt messages on veganism and listens to lifestyle gurus. 

To commit to veganism is good, but it is just the starting point to a more nonviolent and just world. We need to educate, disrupt, resist, confront, and change institutions that shape policies and culture and make animal abuse possible in the first place. It's a tall order that requires discipline and courage; not vegan ice-cream.

Decide what your issues are, and what difference you can reasonably make with the time and energy you have available. What are your skills? Who else can you get involved? What effect do you want to have? 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

All of us want peace on earth but, as we grow in size, we humans have become more distressed and more apart from each other. While we live together like lemmings, unfortunately we do not behave like lemmings who live in harmony. We have split the world into small pools of hatred and not only do we attack each other ceaselessly, we attack our own planet and everyone on it without thinking.

Do we want our children to grow up like us? No. We want our children to be happy but happiness has its own disciplines : gentleness, mindfulness, respect, a desire for peace, a love for nature. But do we raise them like this? Or do we teach them to be vicious and fearful from the day we think they can learn.

We teach them to be scared of all creatures, and fear breeds violence. By laughing when they pull up grass, or squash snails and ants, or by making them watch animal based cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry where guns are fun, is sending your children on the path to destruction.

How does watching, or taking part in, cruelty to animals influence behaviour in children ?

Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst, believed that the human psyche (personality) is structured into three parts - the id, ego, and superego. Children develop the id which deals with the instinctive side of human behaviour quickly.  But it takes time for them to develop their superego - the one that deals with moral conscience, which is why in their early years from 5-10, children are unaware of the moral right or wrong and usually act on their instincts and rely on imitation. If we show them cartoons, and these glorify violent games against animals, acting on their instincts they will develop moral leanings that they see in such animation. All violence, posing as fun, is going to bias their mental development and emotional understanding. From there they go on to video games: 90% of those are about violent supremacy, crashing, killing, shooting.

In the Little Albert experiment, Researchers John B. Watson and Rosalie Rayner worked on stimulus generalization. If a child has been taught to fear one thing, what else will he fear in general ? A little boy Albert was conditioned to fear a white rat. They observed that Albert showed fear in response to similar stimuli - he started fearing everything that was white - a white dog, a rabbit and even white hair.

This study proved that it’s difficult for children to distinguish between conditioned stimuli and generally similar stimuli. Meaning: if children are conditioned to believe that animal violence is justified, there is a high chance that they will start believing that all violence is justified.

The Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego showed that the prefrontal cortex grew smaller, and less active, in a group of people who had shown aggressive/violent tendencies as children. This validates the graduation hypothesis, which suggests that the presence of cruelty to animals at one developmental period predicts interpersonal violence at a later age. Animal abusers will always work their way up from harming animals to harming people. Their brain development actually predicts it.

Early experiences of violence may confer lasting damage at the basic levels of nervous, endocrine, and immune systems, and can even influence the genetic alteration of DNA. (Building a framework for global surveillance of the public health implications of adverse childhood experiences, Atlanta University, 2010.) What does that mean? It means that you are not just producing a violent child/person, you are changing the brain and DNA so that his children will be inclined towards violence from the day they are born. Is that the world you want ?

One of the saddest things I have ever seen is a tied dog being beaten to death by a woman with her high heels. A child being strangled slowly. Both films are part of an industry called Crush and Snuff. Crush videos typically depict humans, usually women, crushing, stomping on, or impaling small, helpless animals to satisfy the bizarre sexual fetishes of their viewers. Snuff kill young children – actually. The same people produce both type of films.

Jeff Vilencia, the person who introduced Crush films, recalls with pride that even as a child he was fascinated by seeing insects and animals being stepped upon, and was encouraged in his violence. Is he better than any serial murderer?

Cruelty to animals is a hallmark background for serial murderers. Eleonora Gullone, writing for Journal of Animal Ethics, states that Ted Bundy or Jeffery Dahmer, world famous serial killers, were also known for their animal abuse tendencies. During the trial of convicted sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, a psychology professor testified that the teenager, who killed 10 people with a rifle, had “pelted—and probably killed—numerous cats with marbles from a slingshot when he was about 14.”

Another study by Bill Henry and Cheryl Sanders, State College of Denver, found that nearly all homicidal sex offenders in the study engaged in significantly more animal cruelty when young.

The Violence Graduation Hypothesis suggests that animal cruelty in childhood is predictive of violence towards humans in adulthood. Of the number of serial murderers in a study, published in Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 36% engaged in animal cruelty as children, 46% engaged in animal cruelty as adolescent, and 36% engaged in animal cruelty as adults. This theory suggests that children practice animal cruelty, and are desensitised to the consequences of violent behaviour, before they graduate to violence against humans.

According to the paper, "The Relationship of Animal Abuse to violence and other forms of Antisocial Behavior" by Arluke, Levin, Luke and Ascione, the presence of cruelty to animals at one developmental period predicts interpersonal violence at a later developmental period. The study showed that animal abuse is uniquely related to violence towards humans, as opposed to other forms of violence. The results obtained by the study indicate that animal abusers were significantly more likely to be involved in some form of criminal behaviour, including violent crimes.

On January 1st, 2019  America’s FBI included acts of cruelty against animals alongside felony crimes like arson, burglary, assault, and homicide in the FBI’s criminal database NIBRS, and began collecting data  from 18,000 law enforcement agencies on acts of animal cruelty, including gross neglect, torture, organized abuse, and sexual abuse.  “Studies say that cruelty to animals is a precursor to larger crime,” said Nelson Ferry, of the Bureau’s Criminal Statistics Management Unit, which manages NIBRS. “That’s one of the items that we’re looking at.”

The National Sheriffs’ Association was a leading advocate for adding animal cruelty to the Bureau’s collection of crime statistics. The Association for years has cited studies linking animal abuse and other types of crimes, domestic violence and child abuse. The National Sheriffs’ Association urged people to shed the mindset that animal cruelty is a crime only against animals. “It’s a crime against society. By paying attention to these crimes, we are benefiting all of society.”

When police in India underplay, and try to avoid registering animal abuse crimes, this is what they should read – or be taught in police training academies. The report titled “Animal Cruelty as a gateway of Crime”, released by the U.S. Department of Justice, estimated that animal abusers are five times more likely than non–animal abusers to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Health and fitness advisors often emphasise on seafood for muscles, high protein, weight loss etc. Few of them have studied the immense health risks that come with eating seafood.

Mali Ston is an Adriatic Sea coastal town in Croatia, known all over the world for its unique farmed oysters, of which 5 million sell every year. For centuries, rows of oyster-filled underwater farm beds have spread through the bay. An annual oyster tasting feast has tourists pour in. In 2019 they have had to cancel it because the Institute for Marine and Coastal Research in Dubrovnik has detected norovirus in the oysters. The virus has been caused by the sewage from the town pouring in all these years into the bay. Norovirus is a dangerous virus, causing over 20 million illnesses and hundreds of deaths annually. Symptoms, which include chronic vomiting and diarrhoea, can become very severe, very quickly, requiring the need for emergency treatment.

Flame-grilled carp, seasoned with sauces and known as masgoof, is Iraq's national delicacy. Iraq produces 29,000 tonnes of carp each year, grown in farms along the Euphrates river. In 2018, millions of carp died overnight in the fish farms. Samples of the dead fish, the water and sediment, sent to laboratories, confirmed that the fish died of a  virus caused by low temperatures, overstocking of fish farms and polluted river water. Warnings have been issued by the government not to eat carp.

Seafood is responsible for a large proportion of food-borne illnesses. These are caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Chemicals, metals, marine toxins, and infectious agents have been found in seafood. The illnesses caused by these agents range from mild gastroenteritis to life-threatening conditions.

Seafood includes molluscs (e.g., oysters, clams, and mussels), finfish (e.g., salmon and tuna), marine mammals (e.g., seal and whale), fish eggs (roe), and crustaceans (e.g., shrimp, crab, and lobster). Some seafood commodities are inherently more risky than others, depending on the environment from which they come, their mode of feeding and how they are prepared and served. All seafood are susceptible to surface, or tissue, contamination. Bivalve molluscs feed by filtering large volumes of seawater. During this process, they can accumulate and concentrate pathogenic microorganisms. Contamination of seafood by pathogens can occur when areas are contaminated with human sewage. Additionally, seafood may become contaminated during handling, processing, or preparation. Unlike meat and poultry, that are usually fully cooked, seafood is often consumed raw, or prepared in ways that do not kill organisms.

Seafood has been implicated in so many outbreaks of illnesses that data is collected by official agencies in every country. The Food and Veterinary Office of the European Union has initiated a Rapid Alert System for food. The source of danger, and the country of origin, are reported. Between 1992 and November 1997, the 71 seafood alerts from this system represented 42.5 percent of all food alerts. The seafood products implicated mussels, tuna fish products, oysters, squid, raw sole, shrimp, octopus, shellfish, crawfish, scallops, cuttlefish, anchovy, Nile perch, bivalve molluscs, king prawn, salmon, mullet fillets, canned fish, clams. These alerts have doubled and tripled since.

Thirty-three different countries had exported seafood/fish on which an alert was reported. The highest alerts were received on fish sent from India. So you can imagine the state of seafood being sold within India.

34 people died from poisoning by shellfish, and fish in Japan, in the 1475 outbreaks of poisoning ( 33,253 cases) reported between 1987-96.

In Canada 29 different species of fish and shellfish, and/or seafood products, were implicated in seafood-borne illnesses. The top six in number of outbreaks were mussels, clams, tuna, barracuda, and marlin. These six represented 56 percent of the outbreaks. The others were whelk, mahimahi, mackerel, swordfish, crab meat, salmon, oysterss, clams and dips, haddock, halibut, sole fillets, sharks, scallops, pollock, chicken haddie, shrimp, quahogs, kippers and parrotfish/doctorfish. Ten countries, that had exported these fish to Canada, were implicated. India was one of them.

In the United States, from 1973 to 2006, over 500 outbreaks involving thousands of people, have taken place. Forty-nine percent were due to infectious agents generally associated with faecal pollution, and 46 percent were from agents associated with processing and preparation.

Some of the pathogens responsible for sea food infections are:

Vibrio bacteria, which cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis. Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. V. vulnificus is particularly virulent, especially among patients with liver disease and iron storage disorders, who are at increased risk of invasive disease.  Infections can lead to sepsis and severe wound infections. The fatality rate is about 50% for bloodstream infections and 25% for wound infections. In January 2007, vibriosis became a nationally notifiable disease .

Salmonella  bacteria, which cause acute gastroenteritis, with symptoms including diarrhoea, abdominal cramps and fever.  Seafood-associated outbreaks have been caused by fish, shrimp, oysters, and clams.

Shigella bacteria in fish comes from sewage in the water. Clinical manifestations range from watery, loose stools, to more severe symptoms, including fever, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhoea. Complications include seizures in young children, toxic megacolon, Reiter's syndrome, and hemolytic-uremic syndrome.

Clostridium botulinum,  which is characterized by an acute paralysis. Early signs and symptoms of botulism often include twitching, slurred speech, and difficulty in swallowing, progressing to descending weakness and paralysis. Foods identified in outbreak investigations have included fermented or salted seafood, specially salmon and whale.

Other toxin-forming bacteria: Staphylococcusaureus, Clostridium perfringens, and Bacillus cereus can form enterotoxins that cause acute gastrointestinal illness.

Norovirus infection is characterized by diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal cramps, headache, myalgias, and low-grade fever. Seafood, harvested from sewage-contaminated waters, has caused large outbreaks of norovirus gastroenteritis.

Hepatitis A virus is the most serious viral infection associated with seafood consumption. It is an acute illness associated with fever, malaise, jaundice, anorexia, and nausea; symptoms may last from several weeks to several months. However, deaths can occur. Outbreaks of hepatitis A virus infections, associated with oysters and clams, have been known since the 1960s. The largest reported outbreak occurred in China in 1988; almost 3,00,000 persons were infected after consuming clams harvested from a sewage-contaminated area.

Helminths: large, worm-like parasites that infect most marine animals. Clinical manifestations, associated with helminthic infections, range from no symptoms, to mild, chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, allergic reactions, and sometimes intestinal perforation. Infections are likely under-diagnosed and underreported, due in part to a lack of routine diagnostic tests.

Some other common seafood-related diseases and infections, around the world, include diarrhoetic shellfish poisoning, paralytic shellfish poisoning, scombroid histamine poisoning, Vibrio cholerae, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus, Bacillus cereus. Many outbreaks likely go unrecognized and are not investigated.

Contamination through sewage is a very common practice around the world, and especially in India. Overboard sewage discharge into seafood harvest areas, illegal harvesting from sewage-contaminated waters, and sewage runoff from land after heavy rains or flooding, are the many ways in which this happens.

Right from the production phase to packaging, transport and consumption, seafood is likely to be contaminated with bacteria, viruses and fungal infections. Intensive fish farming, which involve massive crowding of fish into pens, has substantially enhanced the incidence of seafood diseases in India and abroad.

At the processing and packaging stage, seafood is often exposed to unhygienic handling by workers, bad storage conditions, irregular temperatures, the addition of preservative compounds. With a heavily globalized food trade, the long journey seafood travels before reaching our plates, drastically increases the chances of it becoming dangerously contaminated.

At the consumption stage seafood is often prepared in ways that do not kill organisms, or even many times eaten undercooked or raw – making it a particularly dangerous food.

It is important that you understand the consequences of seafood consumption. If not for reasons of sustainability and animal welfare, look at seafood in terms of your own immediate health.  People with underlying medical conditions such as liver disease, diabetes, or immuno-suppressing conditions, are at higher risk of acquiring severe infection and should be especially careful.

As the waters grow warmer, sea food will get more and more dangerous to eat.

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