Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Every October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Every year several million women die of breast cancer. My mother died of it. Many  of my friends have it. Some have had their breasts removed. Some are undergoing chemotherapy and have lost their hair. It is no longer a hidden disease that one doesn’t talk about. According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is among the most common causes of death in women. In 2016,  2,45,299 new cases of female breast cancer were reported, and 41,487 women died of breast cancer in the United States. In India the figures are ten times more. One in four women get it and each one of us are nervous that we may be the next victim.

Many product manufacturers cash in to this month by putting pink ribbons on their products, or by colouring them pink. Unfortunately, many of these food products actually increase the risk of breast cancer and the manufacturers are aware of this, so it seems very cynical for them to take part – something like cigarette companies asking for funds for lung cancer research. Kentucky Fried Chicken has pink buckets for their dreadful mess of greasy chicken parts. Bars have pink martinis, sausage companies have pink ribbons.

But the worst is cheese. The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which has more than 12,000 doctors as members, on October 3rd 2019, petitioned the Food and Drug Administration in America to order that cheese manufacturers put a label on their product saying  “Dairy cheese contains reproductive hormones that may increase breast cancer mortality risk.” “Instead of cheese manufacturers, like Kraft, slapping a pink ribbon on products like Philadelphia Cream and Macaroni & Cheese, as they have done during previous Breast Cancer Awareness Months, they should be adding warning labels,” says Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard, MD, author of The Cheese Trap and Your Body in Balance. “We want women to be aware that dairy cheese could put them at risk of dying from breast cancer.”

Estrogens are considered the major pathway to breast cancer. Dairy products contain estrogens from cows, and, when milk is converted to cheese, the estrogens become more concentrated. These estrogens increase breast cancer mortality. A study called Life After Cancer Epidemiology Study, of 2,321 early breast cancer survivors, done by Caan, Sternfeld, Gunderson, Coates, Quesenberry, Slattery, was started in 2000 to examine how behavioural risk factors affect the quality of life and long-term survival. The study followed women for 13 years and found that those women previously diagnosed with breast cancer, who were consuming one or more servings of high-fat dairy products (e.g., cheese, ice cream, whole milk) daily, had a 49 percent higher breast cancer mortality, compared with those consuming less than one-half serving daily. Dairy products included milk on cereal; milk by itself, butter, cream, or creamer in coffee or tea, cheese, dairy desserts like ice cream; pudding; custard or flan; low-fat or non-fat frozen desserts and yogurt.

The study also found that women who had higher levels of physical activity, lower alcohol intake and did not smoke – but ate the highest amount of dairy – were still at great risk for a recurrence of cancer.

The study took everything into consideration: age, ethnicity, family history of breast cancer, severity of disease, pregnancies the various treatments : chemo, radiation, tamoxifen, smoking, exercise, alcohol, fat  and food. And then concluded : all things considered, those consuming larger amounts of high-fat dairy had higher breast cancer mortality.

And this is not the only study confirming the link between dairy and breast cancer.

A 2017 study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, compared the diets of women diagnosed with breast cancer to those without breast cancer, and found that those who consumed the most cheeses had a 53 percent increased risk for breast cancer. The authors say that components in dairy, such as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) and other growth hormones, may be some reasons for the increased risk for cancer.

The first ever study, to assess the association between low- and high-fat dairy and breast cancer survival, was done in 2013. The authors, led by Candyce Kroenke, was funded by the National Cancer Institute and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The study found that high-fat dairy intake was specifically linked to breast-cancer. Consuming even a minimum of half a serving of high-fat dairy per day increased the risk of dying from the disease. The risk increased as the dairy intake increased.

"Consuming plant-based milks or nonfat dairy products may be a reasonable approach for limiting risk of adverse outcomes," the study suggested.

Dr. Kroenke summed up the study: "In short, this study suggests that to improve survival, breast cancer survivors might shift away from high-fat to lower-fat dairy options, reduce high-fat dairy intake, and shift toward plant-based foods and milks ."Dairy products have been positively associated with other hormonal cancers such as those of the prostate, endometrium, and ovaries and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma," the authors point out.

The Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study, which included women from Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Greece, found that dairy intake was statistically significantly related to higher levels of estradiol and free estradiol . The authors hypothesized that estrogen and progesterone levels are markedly elevated in commercial dairy products, because most of the milk in the West is produced by pregnant cows who have elevated estrogen levels.  Cancer is a major public health issue worldwide. 90%–95% of all cancers are attributed to either environmental or lifestyle factors. It is estimated that diet accounts for 35% of all cancer risk.

What can be done to stay alive after being diagnosed with breast cancer – or how not to get it. The answer is the same, no matter which doctor you consult :  eat plant-based foods, fruits, whole grains like brown rice and oats, beans like soya, and lentils, exercise, limit alcohol, and aim for a healthy weight. These methods help with weight loss, reduce estrogen levels and give you complete nutrition. In one study women who consumed more soya lowered their breast cancer risk by 30%. Soya contains protective substances like isoflavones. Avoid meat, specially processed: hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats, sausages etc. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Children use roleplay to deal with complicated situations in order to understand them better. Young children act out real or imagined situations, not just as themselves, but also as other people or characters such as friends, family members, characters in story books or superheroes – they are experimenting with alternative viewpoints which help them develop emotional and social skills. But whom do we present as heroes? Bull fighters, hunters, wrestlers, warriors. When a matador in a bull ring is glorified as a hero a child will imagine himself/herself as a matador. It is irrelevant to the child that the bull suffers the most terrible agonies in a completely unequal attack: what is relevant is that he sees himself as a hero. Is this child going to be a respectful person to all beings? Michelito Lagravere, a well-known matador, often dubbed as “Justin Bieber of Bullfighting”, killed 6 young bulls when he was 11 years old in 2007. This led to parents putting their 6 year old children into bullfighting schools across Mexico.

Here are two good examples reported in France of the unfortunate consequences of children taking inspiration from Matadors -

Midi-Libre, a daily newspaper published in the South of France, reported that a dog had been used as a target for shooting arrows, then thrown into a riverbed where it died. The local head of the SPA (Societe Protectrices des Animaux – Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) discovered that the culprits in this sordid affair were a group of kids who were trying to imitate a bullfighter.

French media have made mention recently of a game called the jeu de torero, or “bullfighter game”, where adolescents try to dodge a moving train like a bullfighter dodges the bull. It was when five high school students warned that they wanted to take on the TGV, the high-speed Paris-Marseille train last January, that the French railroad company finally confessed that they had a problem.

As if imitation wasn’t bad enough, children are exposed to parental domestic violence as well. Anna Baldry of King’s College, London found that over 50% of children/adolescents that had been exposed to domestic violence, and witnessed animal cruelty, engaged in animal cruelty themselves. Baldry found that witnessing a mother enact animal cruelty resulted in over 90% of boys directly abusing animals. The exposure to witnessing animal violence will always make him believe that this is acceptable behaviour.

A study conducted by Fiona McEwen et al from Kings College, London, and Duke University found that children exposed to domestic violence were significantly more likely to engage in animal cruelty. Approximately 29-32% of children exposed to domestic violence engage in animal cruelty. Researchers also found that approximately 50% of rapists, and over 25% of paedophiles, had childhood histories of harming animals.

Animal abuse has long been linked with other forms of antisocial behaviour and criminal violence, and has a long lasting effect on children physically, emotionally and psychologically.

In how many ways are children exposed to violence and made to believe that it is acceptable. Games where humans enter the ring and tame the animal with whips and pain, bloodsports like cock and dog fighting where animals are made to fight , when adults in the house abuse pets  to teach submission and even when humans own and eat the flesh of animals to prove their supremacy on the species.

The need felt by humans, especially men to become ‘alphas’ , to be at the top of the power pyramid, makes them believe that it is education when they make children participate in these practices.

Kambala is an annual Buffalo Race held illegally in coastal Karnataka, India. Buffaloes yoked together are whipped to wade through deep water. Many die.  In Maharashtra horses and cows are tied together and made to race, after inserting iron studs into their anuses. Both usually die. Children watch this “farmers festival”. Jallikattu is another spectacle in which a starved, blinded and pain crazed bull is released into a crowd of people, and adolescents attempt to grab the animal and try to stop it. Both animals and young people die. In a variant of Jallikattu, called Pallakivaddu Jallikattu, instead of teenagers, children participate.

The hunting season in Spain involves hunters buying from 10 to 70 galgos, the Spanish “greyhound.” Galgos are forced to hunt hares and, at the end of the hunting season, the dogs who didn’t perform well are killed. About 1,00,000 galgos are hung alive, by their owners, on tree branches. Children watch and laugh at the spectacle, which is called “piano playing” as the dogs desperately try to reach for the ground.

Dog fighting takes place in Punjab, and the young people who take part, photograph themselves with illegal guns, drugs and the dead bodies of dogs that have lost fights and been killed by their owners. Do you think that these children will make a peaceful world, or will have respect for anyone on it ?

Bullfighting is sickening and cruel as it is. Yet children across the globe are taught to follow in these steps and maintain this horrific tradition in bullfighting schools. Children who engage in animal cruelty are more likely to abuse in the community, at school, and in the family and to be exposed to domestic violence.

In the Vietnam Elephant race in March, elephants are ridden on by children who whip the animal crazily in order to reach the finish line. Locals say the race is a celebration, but Dionne Slagter of the NGO Animals Asia believes that "This is one of the highest levels of animal cruelty."

Cruelty is not only limited to blood sports or games, it also includes animal slaughter. In India, many of the slaughterhouses I have been to, use children of 4 and 5 years old, of a particular religious denomination, to use their knives to kill large buffaloes and goats. Men stand around laughing while their children stab the victim repeatedly till it dies. Children are taught to use razor blades on the throat while their parents hold the frightened animal. Is it  possible to link this desensitization to a worldwide belief in violence by the same community ? When I asked the slaughterhouse adults why they made their small children kill animals , they replied that if they did not teach them killing at this age , they would refuse to do it when they reached adulthood.

A study done in America, on which were the most violent and unsafe areas in the county, showed that these were the kilometres around slaughterhouses. In India a survey showed that the least liveable city in India is Rampur, the city of slaughterhouses and knives. And who are most of the criminals: young boys in their teens who have grown up killing animals and have now graduated to killing humans.

On August 19th, 2019 the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in America released a resolution regarding animal cruelty and its link to other forms of violence. This is what it said “ Empirical research demonstrates a direct link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, including intimate partner abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. In homes, where serious animal abuse has occurred, there is an increased probability that some other type of family violence is also happening."

What could be more abusive than allowing children to believe that baiting and killing animals is a sport? That sport fishing is a relaxing way to pass the day? That posing with dead animals is macho?

Is there a difference between Buzkashi, the game played by children in Afghanistan where they kill sheep and use their heads as footballs, and bullfighting where people watch a bull being speared to death slowly and viciously and clap as each spear is thrust in. Are Spain and France more civilized than Afghanistan? No way. In fact the level of violence in both countries is the same.

When institutionalised cruelty becomes institutionalised entertainment - like bull fighting, cockfighting, dog fighting, dolphin killing as in Faro Islands off Denmark - can our children switch off and become peaceful gentle humans? No, they can’t.

Inside each one of us is an angel who demands peace. Which is why most of these so called sports that involve cruelty need to be accompanied with alcohol, so that we switch off the voice of our angel. Do we want this world to be the same, only worse, for our children. If we could keep our children away from animal abuse it will give a chance to them to live as we should, with respect for all and harmony with all. 

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Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Some years ago an NGO was asked by the state government to run a gaushala in Patiala. They did, on condition that the food would be supplied to the cows by the Municipality. The Municipality gave the contract for chara (green fodder) to a person. He bought it from farmers and gave it to the gaushala. One day, after eating the chara, 18 cows died within an hour. Instead of holding an enquiry and seeing what was wrong with the chara, the municipal commissioner buckled under the pressure of “gausevaks” and arrested the NGO caretakers of the gaushala. The “gausevaks” seized the gaushala and began to run it. Another 40 cows died and then the gaushala was closed down. A typically Indian way of solving a problem. Not one person in the municipality held the farmers, or the chara contractor, responsible for giving poisoned feed to the cows.

I would have done an enquiry into two things : the pesticides that were being used to grow the feed and the aflatoxin contamination of the crop.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has done a detailed survey of milk across India and released the results in October 2019. They found that a large amount of milk had aflatoxins, dangerous carcinogens, in it, far beyond the permissible limit. The highest rates of aflatoxin contamination were found in Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Kerala.

Aflatoxins are 20 toxins produced by mould (fungi) of the genus Aspergillus, namely, A. flavus, A. parasiticus and A. nomius. Aflatoxin B1 is the most predominant form in aflatoxin-contaminated crops. When cows, buffaloes, sheep, goats eat feed contaminated with aflatoxins B1 and B2, aflatoxins M1 and M2 will be formed in their livers and excreted in milk. This is drunk by you.

Aflatoxins cause both acute and chronic toxicity. Aflatoxins B1 and M1 are the most potent and can cause acute liver damage, cirrhosis and cancer. They have been classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Aflatoxins-producing moulds affect crops in warmer parts of the world. Peanuts, maize and cottonseeds are most frequently incriminated, but it is also found in wheat, cassava, oilseeds, fruits, wines, legumes. The moulds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay, and grains.. The optimal growth temperature is 25ºC, but already at 10-12ºC the fungus starts to grow.

Droughts make the crops even more susceptible to Aspergillus infection. But it can occur at any time :  After the crops are harvested, contamination can occur during storage when there is delayed drying, or when the moisture level is high. Rodents and insects in the silos facilitate mould infestations. Aflatoxin contamination can occur along the entire food chain, starting from the field, during storage, and transportation and processing.

Animals fed contaminated food pass aflatoxins into eggs, milk and meat. Milk is the most important source of aflatoxins in the human food chain, containing both M1 and B1.

Once the aflatoxins are in the milk they cannot be removed by boiling, pressure cooking or pasteurization.

Cancer is not the only problem. Food containing aflatoxin concentrations, of just one milligram per kilogram, can cause aflatoxicosis which causes nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and convulsions in the short term and acute liver failure, jaundice, lethargy, eventually leading to death, according to a WHO study in February 2018. “Based on past outbreaks, it has been estimated that when consumed over a period of 1–3 weeks, an Aflatoxin B1 dose of 20–120 microgram per kilogram (μg/kg) by weight per day is acutely toxic and potentially lethal,” the study says.

And that’s not all. A study, conducted in Nairobi, Kenya in August 2018, stated that aflatoxin contamination had severe health impacts on milk drinkers, causing stunting in children under the age of five years. “The exposure to AFM1 from milk is 46 nanogram per kilogram (ng/day) on average, but children bear higher exposure of 3.5 ng/kg bodyweight per day (bw/day) compared to adults, at 0.8 ng/kg bw/day. This causes stunting among children,” the study said.

According to FSSAI standards, the permissible limit of aflatoxins in milk is 0.5 µg/kg. The FSSAI survey showed that about 10% of the milk samples were contaminated. Imagine 10% of India’s population, that drinks milk, taking this poison in daily. 38% of Lakhs of children are now stunted according to government figures.

Aflatoxins are also mutagenic. Which means they damage our DNA, cause it to mutate and set into motion a problem that will affect all the coming generations of the family.

They are even more dangerous for animals, who die immediately after convulsing or develop cancer. The first aflatoxins were discovered in England in 1961 when 100,000  turkeys died suddenly. Contaminated peanut meal feed was found to be the source of the outbreak

What should we be teaching farmers ? To store grains properly so there is no mould growth. To check their fields to see that there is no mould growth. Do we do this ? No. The presence of aflatoxin M1 (AFM1), in milk and dairy products throughout the world, has been known for over thirty years and is a special problem in India. But no attempt has been made to deal with it.

Do we care what we feed our cows and buffaloes ? No – as long as the quantity is there, who cares about the quality. Feed and fodder are not regulated In India. While 60 countries, including India, have put a maximum level of 0.05  μg/kg milk and the EU has put the same level for feed that is given to dairy cattle, India has no laws for fodder

A system should be in place to check fodder, and this should be made mandatory for dairy milk producers. Milk should be tested daily, instead of once in ten years, by FSSAI. Rapid screening of fresh, stored, pasteurized milk, liquid or powdered milk, cheese, needs the ELISA, TLC or HPLC test. If an alert has been signalled, the farmer must withdraw the products and suspend delivering milk to the market.

Poor storage conditions and practices can also lead to fungal contamination. The most effective method to control AFM1 concentration in milk is by applying standard Good Agricultural and Storage Practices during pre- and post-harvest conditions. Strict regulations, and adapting good storage practices in developed countries, have minimized the contamination of AFM1 in milk and dairy products. Because AFB1 contamination levels vary with year and climate, it may be useful to develop an AFB1 monitoring program that takes into account climatic conditions, and pre-harvest feed quality, during its growing season. There is an urgent need to control aflatoxins, specially in urban and peri urban areas where cattle are stall fed.

Most farmers know nothing about aflatoxins and, certainly, no dairy owners know that milk can be contaminated. You, as the consumer, know the least of all. A national awareness programme is important.

Since it the main nutrient for babies and young children, the occurrence of AFM 1 in commercially available milk, and milk products, is a serious health problem. Don’t give your children milk. Stop bringing it into the house.

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