Archive | January, 2019

University of California Berkeley study: Artificial intelligence advances threaten privacy of health data

6 Jan

Joseph Jerome, CIPP/US wrote in the 2016 article, Why artificial intelligence may be the next big privacy trend:

What that looks like will vary, but it is likely that the same far-reaching and broad worries about fairness and accountability that have dogged every discussion about big data — and informed the FTC’s January Big Data Report — will present serious concerns for certain applications of AI. While “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” is largely an exercise in stage-setting, the report is likely a harbinger of the same type of attention and focus that emerged within the advocacy community in the wake of the White House’s 2014 Big Data Report. For the privacy profession, the report hints at a few areas where our attention ought to be directed.
First, AI is still a nascent, immature field of engineering, and promoting that maturation process will involve a variety of different training and capacity-building efforts. The report explicitly recommends that ethical training, as well as training in security, privacy, and safety, should become an integral part of the curricula on AI, machine learning, and computer and data science at universities. Moving forward, one could imagine that ethical and other non-technical training will also be an important component of our STEM policies at large. Beyond formal education, however, building awareness among actual AI practitioners and developers will be essential to mitigate disconcerting or unintended behaviors, and to bolster public confidence in the application of artificial intelligence. Policymakers, federal agencies and civil society will need more in-house technical expertise to become more conversant on the current capabilities of artificial intelligence.
Second, while transparency is generally trotted out as the best of disinfectants, balancing transparency in the realm of AI will be a tremendous challenge for both competitive reasons and the “black box” nature of what we’re dealing with. While the majority of basic AI research is currently conducted by academics and commercial labs that collaborate to announce and publish their findings, the report ominously notes that competitive instincts could drive commercial labs towards increased secrecy, inhibiting the ability to monitor the progress of AI development and raising public concerns. But even if we can continue to promote transparency in the development of AI, it may be difficult for anyone whether they be auditors, consumers, or regulators to understand, predict, or explain the behaviors of more sophisticated AI systems.
But even if we can continue to promote transparency in the development of AI, it may be difficult for anyone whether they be auditors, consumers, or regulators to understand, predict, or explain the behaviors of more sophisticated AI systems.
The alternative appears to be bolstering accountability frameworks, but what exactly that looks like in this context is anyone’s guess. The report largely places its hopes on finding technical solutions to address accountability with respect to AI, and an IEEE effort on autonomous systems that I’ve been involved with has faced a similar roadblock. But if we have to rely on technical tools to put good intentions into practice, we will need more discussion about what those tools will be and how industry and individuals alike will be able to use them.
The Sky(net) isn’t falling, but…                                                                https://iapp.org/news/a/why-artificial-intelligence-may-be-the-next-big-privacy-trend/

A University of California Berkeley study reported there could be problem with the use of AI and privacy issues in health data.

Science Daily reported in Artificial intelligence advances threaten privacy of health data:

Led by UC Berkeley engineer Anil Aswani, the study suggests current laws and regulations are nowhere near sufficient to keep an individual’s health status private in the face of AI development. The research was published Dec. 21 in the JAMA Network Open journal.
The findings show that by using artificial intelligence, it is possible to identify individuals by learning daily patterns in step data, such as that collected by activity trackers, smartwatches and smartphones, and correlating it to demographic data.
The mining of two years’ worth of data covering more than 15,000 Americans led to the conclusion that the privacy standards associated with 1996’s HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) legislation need to be revisited and reworked.
“We wanted to use NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) to look at privacy questions because this data is representative of the diverse population in the U.S.,” said Aswani. “The results point out a major problem. If you strip all the identifying information, it doesn’t protect you as much as you’d think. Someone else can come back and put it all back together if they have the right kind of information.”
“In principle, you could imagine Facebook gathering step data from the app on your smartphone, then buying health care data from another company and matching the two,” he added. “Now they would have health care data that’s matched to names, and they could either start selling advertising based on that or they could sell the data to others.”
According to Aswani, the problem isn’t with the devices, but with how the information the devices capture can be misused and potentially sold on the open market.
“I’m not saying we should abandon these devices,” he said. “But we need to be very careful about how we are using this data. We need to protect the information. If we can do that, it’s a net positive.”
Though the study specifically looked at step data, the results suggest a broader threat to the privacy of health data…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/01/190103152906.htm

Citation:

Artificial intelligence advances threaten privacy of health data
Study finds current laws and regulations do not safeguard individuals’ confidential health information
Date: January 3, 2019
Source: University of California – Berkeley
Summary:
Advances in artificial intelligence, including activity trackers, smartphones and smartwatches, threaten the privacy of people’s health data, according to new research.

Journal Reference:
Liangyuan Na, Cong Yang, Chi-Cheng Lo, Fangyuan Zhao, Yoshimi Fukuoka, Anil Aswani. Feasibility of Reidentifying Individuals in Large National Physical Activity Data Sets From Which Protected Health Information Has Been Removed With Use of Machine Learning. JAMA Network Open, 2018; 1 (8): e186040 DOI: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.6040

Here is a portion of the JAMA abstract:

Original Investigation
Health Policy
December 21, 2018
Feasibility of Reidentifying Individuals in Large National Physical Activity Data Sets From Which Protected Health Information Has Been Removed With Use of Machine Learning
Liangyuan Na, BA1; Cong Yang, BS2; Chi-Cheng Lo, BS2; et al Fangyuan Zhao, BS3; Yoshimi Fukuoka, PhD, RN4; Anil Aswani, PhD2
Author Affiliations Article Information
JAMA Netw Open. 2018;1(8):e186040. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.6040
Thomas H. McCoy Jr, MD; Michael C. Hughes, PhD
Key Points
Question Is it possible to reidentify physical activity data that have had protected health information removed by using machine learning?
Findings This cross-sectional study used national physical activity data from 14 451 individuals from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys 2003-2004 and 2005-2006. Linear support vector machine and random forests reidentified the 20-minute-level physical activity data of approximately 80% of children and 95% of adults.
Meaning The findings of this study suggest that current practices for deidentifying physical activity data are insufficient for privacy and that deidentification should aggregate the physical activity data of many people to ensure individuals’ privacy.
Abstract
Importance Despite data aggregation and removal of protected health information, there is concern that deidentified physical activity (PA) data collected from wearable devices can be reidentified. Organizations collecting or distributing such data suggest that the aforementioned measures are sufficient to ensure privacy. However, no studies, to our knowledge, have been published that demonstrate the possibility or impossibility of reidentifying such activity data.
Objective To evaluate the feasibility of reidentifying accelerometer-measured PA data, which have had geographic and protected health information removed, using support vector machines (SVMs) and random forest methods from machine learning.
Design, Setting, and Participants In this cross-sectional study, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 data sets were analyzed in 2018. The accelerometer-measured PA data were collected in a free-living setting for 7 continuous days. NHANES uses a multistage probability sampling design to select a sample that is representative of the civilian noninstitutionalized household (both adult and children) population of the United States.
Exposures The NHANES data sets contain objectively measured movement intensity as recorded by accelerometers worn during all walking for 1 week.
Main Outcomes and Measures The primary outcome was the ability of the random forest and linear SVM algorithms to match demographic and 20-minute aggregated PA data to individual-specific record numbers, and the percentage of correct matches by each machine learning algorithm was the measure…. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2719130?resultClick=3

Here is the press release from UC Berkeley:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 3-JAN-2019
Artificial intelligence advances threaten privacy of health data
Study finds current laws and regulations do not safeguard individuals’ confidential health information
Advances in artificial intelligence have created new threats to the privacy of people’s health data, a new University of California, Berkeley, study shows.
Led by UC Berkeley engineer Anil Aswani, the study suggests current laws and regulations are nowhere near sufficient to keep an individual’s health status private in the face of AI development. The research was published Dec. 21 in the JAMA Network Open journal.
The findings show that by using artificial intelligence, it is possible to identify individuals by learning daily patterns in step data, such as that collected by activity trackers, smartwatches and smartphones, and correlating it to demographic data.
The mining of two years’ worth of data covering more than 15,000 Americans led to the conclusion that the privacy standards associated with 1996’s HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) legislation need to be revisited and reworked.
“We wanted to use NHANES (the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) to look at privacy questions because this data is representative of the diverse population in the U.S.,” said Aswani. “The results point out a major problem. If you strip all the identifying information, it doesn’t protect you as much as you’d think. Someone else can come back and put it all back together if they have the right kind of information.”
“In principle, you could imagine Facebook gathering step data from the app on your smartphone, then buying health care data from another company and matching the two,” he added. “Now they would have health care data that’s matched to names, and they could either start selling advertising based on that or they could sell the data to others.”
According to Aswani, the problem isn’t with the devices, but with how the information the devices capture can be misused and potentially sold on the open market.
“I’m not saying we should abandon these devices,” he said. “But we need to be very careful about how we are using this data. We need to protect the information. If we can do that, it’s a net positive.”
Though the study specifically looked at step data, the results suggest a broader threat to the privacy of health data.
“HIPAA regulations make your health care private, but they don’t cover as much as you think,” Aswani said. “Many groups, like tech companies, are not covered by HIPAA, and only very specific pieces of information are not allowed to be shared by current HIPAA rules. There are companies buying health data. It’s supposed to be anonymous data, but their whole business model is to find a way to attach names to this data and sell it.”
Aswani said advances in AI make it easier for companies to gain access to health data, the temptation for companies to use it in illegal or unethical ways will increase. Employers, mortgage lenders, credit card companies and others could potentially use AI to discriminate based on pregnancy or disability status, for instance.
“Ideally, what I’d like to see from this are new regulations or rules that protect health data,” he said. “But there is actually a big push to even weaken the regulations right now. For instance, the rule-making group for HIPAA has requested comments on increasing data sharing. The risk is that if people are not aware of what’s happening, the rules we have will be weakened. And the fact is the risks of us losing control of our privacy when it comes to health care are actually increasing and not decreasing.”
###
Co-authors of the study are Liangyuan Na of MIT; Cong Yang and Chi-Cheng Lo of UC Berkeley; Fangyuan Zhao of Tsinghua University in China; and Yoshimi Fukuoka of UCSF.
Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.

RAND Corporation has information about health care privacy at https://www.rand.org/topics/health-information-privacy.html

StaySafeOnline described health care privacy issues in the article, Health Information Privacy – Why Should We Care?

• Health data is very personal and may contain information we wish to keep confidential (e.g., mental health records) or potentially impact employment prospects or insurance coverage (e.g., chronic disease or family health history).
• It is long living – an exposed credit card can be canceled, but your medical history stays with you a lifetime.
• It is very complete and comprehensive – the information health care organizations have about their patients includes not only medical data, but also insurance and financial account information. This could be personal information like Social Security numbers, addresses or even the names of next of kin. Such a wealth of data can be monetized by cyber adversaries in many ways.
• In our digital health care world, the reliable availability of accurate health data to clinicians is critical to care delivery and any disruption in access to that data can delay care or jeopardize diagnosis.
The privacy and security of health information is strictly regulated in the U.S. under federal laws, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), but also through various state laws and laws protecting individuals against discrimination based on genetic data….
For health care providers and insurers, there is typically no limitation for patients to disclose information about their health. Just as any patient can (and mostly should) share concerns about their health with family and friends, any patient can now easily share anything they want with the world via social media or join an online support group. Although these are generally positive steps that help an individual with health concerns find support and receive advice, we now need to be much more conscious about what
However, concerns about your health care provider’s ability to protect your data should not lead to patients withholding information. Even in this digital age, the patient-doctor trust relationship is still the most important aspect of our health care system – and that trust goes both ways: patients need to trust their providers with often intimate and personal information, and providers need to know that their patients are not withholding anything due to privacy concerns.
We have entered the new age of digital medicine and almost universal availability of information, leading to better diagnosis and more successful treatments, ultimately reducing suffering and extending lives. However, this great opportunity also comes with new risks and we all – health care providers and patients alike – need to be conscious about how we use this new technology and share information…. https://staysafeonline.org/blog/health-information-privacy-care/

Resources:

Artificial Intelligence Will Redesign Healthcare https://medicalfuturist.com/artificial-intelligence-will-redesign-healthcare

9 Ways Artificial Intelligence is Affecting the Medical Field https://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/8-ways-artificial-intelligence-is-affecting-the-medical-field#slide=2

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Chalmers Institute of Technology study: Organic food worse for the climate?

3 Jan

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) described organic production:
What is organic production?

USDA Definition and Regulations:
The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), enacted under Title 21 of the 1990 Farm Bill, served to establish uniform national standards for the production and handling of foods labeled as “organic.” The Act authorized a new USDA National Organic Program (NOP) to set national standards for the production, handling, and processing of organically grown agricultural products. In addition, the Program oversees mandatory certification of organic production. The Act also established the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) which advises the Secretary of Agriculture in setting the standards upon which the NOP is based. Producers who meet standards set by the NOP may label their products as “USDA Certified Organic.”
1. USDA National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) definition, April 1995
o “Organic agriculture is an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony.
o “‘Organic’ is a labeling term that denotes products produced under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. The principal guidelines for organic production are to use materials and practices that enhance the ecological balance of natural systems and that integrate the parts of the farming system into an ecological whole.
o “Organic agriculture practices cannot ensure that products are completely free of residues; however, methods are used to minimize pollution from air, soil and water.
o “Organic food handlers, processors and retailers adhere to standards that maintain the integrity of organic agricultural products. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people.”
2. CFR Regulatory Text, 7 CFR Part 205, Subpart A — Definitions. § 205.2 Terms defined“Organic production. A production system that is managed in accordance with the Act and regulations in this part to respond to site-specific conditions by integrating cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” USDA National Organic Program. http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=ac13bb030ee7a5c5ded65732f5c8946e&mc=true&node=se7.3.205_12&rgn=div8 (link is external)
3. USDA Consumer Brochure: Organic Food Standards and Labels: The Facts“What is organic food? Organic food is produced by farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations. Organic meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation. Before a product can be labeled ‘organic,’ a Government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to make sure the farmer is following all the rules necessary to meet USDA organic standards. Companies that handle or process organic food before it gets to your local supermarket or restaurant must be certified, too.” Consumer Brochure, USDA National Organic Program. 2007.
The final national organic standards rule was published in the Federal Register on December 21, 2000. The law was activated April 21, 2001. The rule, along with detailed fact sheets and other background information, is available on the National Organic Program’s website…. https://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/organic-productionorganic-food-information-access-tools

Jo Lewin, Associate nutritionist at BBC Good Food described some of the benefits organic food.

Lewin wrote in What does organic mean?

What the research says
With many people believing that organic foods have a higher nutrient content, are kinder to the environment and livestock and are healthier than conventionally produced foods, demand for organic produce is on the rise. However, scientists have not been wholly convinced that health claims are completely justified, as the research conducted has not shown consistent results with regards to nutrient density.
In 2009, a report published by the Food Standards Agency summarised the findings of previous studies on the comparative nutritional benefits of organic and conventional produce. It concluded that organic did not deliver significant health benefits compared to non-organic equivalents.
However, there is plenty of evidence that there are more vitamins, minerals and omega-3s in organic produce – albeit sometimes just a small difference. A systematic review showed higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants in some (though not all) organic fruit and vegetables as well as lower levels of pesticide residues and heavy metals…. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/organic

Organic production may come at a cost according to a study by Sweden’s Chalmers Institute of Technology.

Science Daily reported in Organic food worse for the climate?

Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study involving Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in the journal Nature.
The researchers developed a new method for assessing the climate impact from land-use, and used this, along with other methods, to compare organic and conventional food production. The results show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference — for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent,” says Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers, and one of those responsible for the study.
The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilisers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land.
The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” explains Stefan Wirsenius. “The world’s food production is governed by international trade, so how we farm in Sweden influences deforestation in the tropics. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world.”
Even organic meat and dairy products are — from a climate point of view — worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Stefan Wirsenius.
“Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feed-stock, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article,” he explains.
A new metric: Carbon Opportunity Cost
The researchers used a new metric, which they call “Carbon Opportunity Cost,” to evaluate the effect of greater land-use contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. This metric takes into account the amount of carbon that is stored in forests, and thus released as carbon dioxide as an effect of deforestation. The study is among the first in the world to make use of this metric…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181213101308.htm

Citation:

Organic food worse for the climate?
Date: December 13, 2018
Source: Chalmers University of Technology
Summary:
Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required, a new study finds.
Journal Reference:
Timothy D. Searchinger, Stefan Wirsenius, Tim Beringer, Patrice Dumas. Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change. Nature, 2018; 564 (7735): 249 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-018-0757-z

Here is the press release from Chalmers Institute of Technology:

PUBLIC RELEASE: 13-DEC-2018
Organic food worse for the climate
Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study, published in the journal Nature
CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY
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Organically farmed food has a bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed food, due to the greater areas of land required. This is the finding of a new international study involving Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, published in the journal Nature.
The researchers developed a new method for assessing the climate impact from land-use, and used this, along with other methods, to compare organic and conventional food production. The results show that organic food can result in much greater emissions.
“Our study shows that organic peas, farmed in Sweden, have around a 50 percent bigger climate impact than conventionally farmed peas. For some foodstuffs, there is an even bigger difference – for example, with organic Swedish winter wheat the difference is closer to 70 percent,” says Stefan Wirsenius, an associate professor from Chalmers, and one of those responsible for the study.
The reason why organic food is so much worse for the climate is that the yields per hectare are much lower, primarily because fertilisers are not used. To produce the same amount of organic food, you therefore need a much bigger area of land.
The ground-breaking aspect of the new study is the conclusion that this difference in land usage results in organic food causing a much larger climate impact.
“The greater land-use in organic farming leads indirectly to higher carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to deforestation,” explains Stefan Wirsenius. “The world’s food production is governed by international trade, so how we farm in Sweden influences deforestation in the tropics. If we use more land for the same amount of food, we contribute indirectly to bigger deforestation elsewhere in the world.”
Even organic meat and dairy products are – from a climate point of view – worse than their conventionally produced equivalents, claims Stefan Wirsenius.
“Because organic meat and milk production uses organic feed-stock, it also requires more land than conventional production. This means that the findings on organic wheat and peas in principle also apply to meat and milk products. We have not done any specific calculations on meat and milk, however, and have no concrete examples of this in the article,” he explains.
A new metric: Carbon Opportunity Cost
The researchers used a new metric, which they call “Carbon Opportunity Cost”, to evaluate the effect of greater land-use contributing to higher carbon dioxide emissions from deforestation. This metric takes into account the amount of carbon that is stored in forests, and thus released as carbon dioxide as an effect of deforestation. The study is among the first in the world to make use of this metric.
“The fact that more land use leads to greater climate impact has not often been taken into account in earlier comparisons between organic and conventional food,” says Stefan Wirsenius. “This is a big oversight, because, as our study shows, this effect can be many times bigger than the greenhouse gas effects, which are normally included. It is also serious because today in Sweden, we have politicians whose goal is to increase production of organic food. If that goal is implemented, the climate influence from Swedish food production will probably increase a lot.”
So why have earlier studies not taken into account land-use and its relationship to carbon dioxide emissions?
“There are surely many reasons. An important explanation, I think, is simply an earlier lack of good, easily applicable methods for measuring the effect. Our new method of measurement allows us to make broad environmental comparisons, with relative ease,” says Stefan Wirsenius.
The results of the study are published in the article “Assessing the efficiency of changes in land use for mitigating climate change” in the journal Nature. The article is written by Timothy Searchinger, Princeton University, Stefan Wirsenius, Chalmers University of Technology, Tim Beringer, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, and Patrice Dumas, Cired.
More on: The consumer perspective
Stefan Wirsenius notes that the findings do not mean that conscientious consumers should simply switch to buying non-organic food. “The type of food is often much more important. For example, eating organic beans or organic chicken is much better for the climate than to eat conventionally produced beef,” he says. “Organic food does have several advantages compared with food produced by conventional methods,” he continues. “For example, it is better for farm animal welfare. But when it comes to the climate impact, our study shows that organic food is a much worse alternative, in general.”
For consumers who want to contribute to the positive aspects of organic food production, without increasing their climate impact, an effective way is to focus instead on the different impacts of different types of meat and vegetables in our diet. Replacing beef and lamb, as well as hard cheeses, with vegetable proteins such as beans, has the biggest effect. Pork, chicken, fish and eggs also have a substantially lower climate impact than beef and lamb.
See also earlier press release from 24 February 2016: Better technology could take agriculture halfway towards climate targets https://www.mynewsdesk.com/uk/chalmers/pressreleases/better-technology-could-take-agriculture-halfway-towards-climate-targets-1325077
More on: The conflict between different environmental goals
In organic farming, no fertilisers are used. The goal is to use resources like energy, land and water in a long-term, sustainable way. Crops are primarily nurtured through nutrients present in the soil. The main aims are greater biological diversity and a balance between animal and plant sustainability. Only naturally derived pesticides are used.
The arguments for organic food focus on consumers’ health, animal welfare, and different aspects of environmental policy. There is good justification for these arguments, but at the same time, there is a lack of scientific evidence to show that organic food is in general healthier and more environmentally friendly than conventionally farmed food, according to the National Food Administration of Sweden and others. The variation between farms is big, with the interpretation differing depending on what environmental goals one prioritises. At the same time, current analysis methods are unable to fully capture all aspects.
The authors of the study now claim that organically farmed food is worse for the climate, due to bigger land use. For this argument they use statistics from the Swedish Board of Agriculture on the total production in Sweden, and the yields per hectare for organic versus conventional farming for the years 2013-2015.
Source (in Swedish): https://www.jordbruksverket.se/webdav/files/SJV/Amnesomraden/Statistik,%20fakta/Vegetabilieproduktion/JO14/JO14SM1801/JO14SM1801_ikortadrag.htm

HRF lists the pros and cons of organic farming:

Here Are the Pros of Organic Farming
Many people don’t actually realize that organic farming is just as much about the soil that is used to grow crops and livestock as it is about the final result that is on their dinner table. Organic methods help to keep soil nutrient-rich, allowing for continued cycles of land productivity. This is achieved through crop rotation, natural fertilization methods, and chemical-free care.
Because there are no chemicals used in the process of organic farming, the nutritional content of the foods being produced are often higher. The micro-nutrients that the combination of rich soil and a lack of chemicals provides can lead to a much better standard of health. This is because chemicals often caused produce to mature faster, thereby eliminating many of the nutrients that the natural ripening process would create.
Here Are the Cons of Organic Farming
The primary reason why people choose not to consume organic foods is the cost. Organic foods are often 20% higher in cost, if not more, and many families simply cannot afford that additional burden. The reason why costs are higher is because organic foods create a lower overall ratio of production. Most organic products are not as resistant to heat or a lack of water, meaning that a bad season will create a very low yield.
Organic foods are also not always available because they are grown in season instead of through artificial methods. Though this issue is reduced thanks to the current global transportation network of food products, some foods simply aren’t available except for a specific time during the season. This lack of demand causes people to then sometimes abandon that type of food for something else they love that is available year-round…. https://healthresearchfunding.org/organic-farming-pros-cons/

The key question regarding organic production is whether it is sustainable.

Nancy Bazilchuk wrote in the Science Nordic article, How sustainable is organic food?
Organic food is romanticized

Arne Grønlund, senior scientist at the Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO), believes that the romantic view of organic food production as something natural is simply wrong.
“This perception gives the consumer a false impression. Organic food production appears to be natural, and consumers see as positive,” he says. “But what the consumer doesn’t think about is that agriculture is in no way natural. Food produced using agricultural means is not produced in harmony with nature, whether it is grown by organic or conventional methods….” http://sciencenordic.com/how-sustainable-organic-food

Whether policymakers move from the romantic to reality remains a question.

Resources:

Organic foods: Are they safer? More nutritious? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/organic-food/art-20043880

Organic Foods: What You Need to Know: The Benefits and Basics of Organic Food and How to Keep It Affordable                                               https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/organic-foods.htm

How College Students Are Being Misled About ‘Sustainable’ Agriculture https://www.nationalreview.com/2017/05/organic-farming-not-sustainable/

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University of Washington study: New houseplant can clean your home’s air

1 Jan

Elizabeth Palermo wrote in the Live Science article, Do Indoor Plants Really Clean the Air?

Sure, that potted fern is pretty, but can it really spruce up the air quality in your home? Studies by scientists at NASA, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Georgia and other respected institutions suggest that it can.
Plants are notoriously adept at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It’s this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert light energy and carbon dioxide into chemical energy to fuel growth.
But scientists studying the air-purification capacities of indoor plants have found that plants can absorb many other gases in addition to carbon dioxide, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, fabrics, pesticides and cigarette smoke) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are examples of common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate…. https://www.livescience.com/38445-indoor-plants-clean-air.html

Research from the University of Washington supports Palermo’s article.

Science Daily reported in New houseplant can clean your home’s air:

We like to keep the air in our homes as clean as possible, and sometimes we use HEPA air filters to keep offending allergens and dust particles at bay.
But some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters. Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.
Now researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. The team will publish its findings Wednesday, Dec. 19 in Environmental Science & Technology….
The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. But 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it’s not available to help us process pollutants in our air….
The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos ivy doesn’t flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won’t be able to spread via pollen.
“This whole process took more than two years,” said lead author Long Zhang, who is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department. “That is a long time, compared to other lab plants, which might only take a few months. But we wanted to do this in pothos because it’s a robust houseplant that grows well under all sort of conditions.”
The researchers then tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air compared to normal pothos ivy. They put both types of plants in glass tubes and then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube. Over 11 days, the team tracked how the concentration of each pollutant changed in each tube.
For the unmodified plants, the concentration of either gas didn’t change over time. But for the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The concentration of benzene also decreased in the modified plant vials, but more slowly: By day eight, the benzene concentration had dropped by about 75 percent…. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181219093911.htm

Citation:

New houseplant can clean your home’s air
Date: December 19, 2018
Source: University of Washington
Summary:
Researchers have genetically modified a common houseplant to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it.
Journal Reference:
Long Zhang, Ryan Routsong, Stuart E. Strand. Greatly Enhanced Removal of Volatile Organic Carcinogens by a Genetically Modified Houseplant, Pothos Ivy (Epipremnum aureum) Expressing the Mammalian Cytochrome P450 2e1 Gene. Environmental Science & Technology, 2018; DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.8b04811

Here is the press release from the University of Washington:

December 19, 2018
Researchers develop a new houseplant that can clean your home’s air
Sarah McQuate
UW News
We like to keep the air in our homes as clean as possible, and sometimes we use HEPA air filters to keep offending allergens and dust particles at bay.
But some hazardous compounds are too small to be trapped in these filters. Small molecules like chloroform, which is present in small amounts in chlorinated water, or benzene, which is a component of gasoline, build up in our homes when we shower or boil water, or when we store cars or lawn mowers in attached garages. Both benzene and chloroform exposure have been linked to cancer.
Now researchers at the University of Washington have genetically modified a common houseplant — pothos ivy — to remove chloroform and benzene from the air around it. The modified plants express a protein, called 2E1, that transforms these compounds into molecules that the plants can then use to support their own growth. The team published its findings Dec. 19 in Environmental Science & Technology.
“People haven’t really been talking about these hazardous organic compounds in homes, and I think that’s because we couldn’t do anything about them,” said senior author Stuart Strand, who is a research professor in the UW’s civil and environmental engineering department. “Now we’ve engineered houseplants to remove these pollutants for us.”
The team decided to use a protein called cytochrome P450 2E1, or 2E1 for short, which is present in all mammals, including humans. In our bodies, 2E1 turns benzene into a chemical called phenol and chloroform into carbon dioxide and chloride ions. But 2E1 is located in our livers and is turned on when we drink alcohol. So it’s not available to help us process pollutants in our air.
“We decided we should have this reaction occur outside of the body in a plant, an example of the ‘green liver’ concept,” Strand said. “And 2E1 can be beneficial for the plant, too. Plants use carbon dioxide and chloride ions to make their food, and they use phenol to help make components of their cell walls.”
The researchers made a synthetic version of the gene that serves as instructions for making the rabbit form of 2E1. Then they introduced it into pothos ivy so that each cell in the plant expressed the protein. Pothos ivy doesn’t flower in temperate climates so the genetically modified plants won’t be able to spread via pollen.
“This whole process took more than two years,” said lead author Long Zhang, who is a research scientist in the civil and environmental engineering department. “That is a long time, compared to other lab plants, which might only take a few months. But we wanted to do this in pothos because it’s a robust houseplant that grows well under all sort of conditions.”
The researchers then tested how well their modified plants could remove the pollutants from air compared to normal pothos ivy. They put both types of plants in glass tubes and then added either benzene or chloroform gas into each tube. Over 11 days, the team tracked how the concentration of each pollutant changed in each tube.
For the unmodified plants, the concentration of either gas didn’t change over time. But for the modified plants, the concentration of chloroform dropped by 82 percent after three days, and it was almost undetectable by day six. The concentration of benzene also decreased in the modified plant vials, but more slowly: By day eight, the benzene concentration had dropped by about 75 percent.
In order to detect these changes in pollutant levels, the researchers used much higher pollutant concentrations than are typically found in homes. But the team expects that the home levels would drop similarly, if not faster, over the same time frame.
Plants in the home would also need to be inside an enclosure with something to move air past their leaves, like a fan, Strand said.
“If you had a plant growing in the corner of a room, it will have some effect in that room,” he said. “But without air flow, it will take a long time for a molecule on the other end of the house to reach the plant.”
The team is currently working to increase the plants’ capabilities by adding a protein that can break down another hazardous molecule found in home air: formaldehyde, which is present in some wood products, such as laminate flooring and cabinets, and tobacco smoke.
“These are all stable compounds, so it’s really hard to get rid of them,” Strand said. “Without proteins to break down these molecules, we’d have to use high-energy processes to do it. It’s so much simpler and more sustainable to put these proteins all together in a houseplant.”
Civil and environmental engineering research technician Ryan Routsong is also a co-author. This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, Amazon Catalyst at UW and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
###
For more information, contact Strand at sstrand@uw.edu or 206-543-5350.

Joan Clark lists 17 plants that clean indoor air.

Clark wrote in 17 plants that clean indoor air:

Many people think that air pollution only consists of smog or car emissions. While these do constitute as outdoor air pollution, there is a much more dangerous kind of air pollution known as indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution is more hazardous than outdoor air pollution because it is a more concentrated type of pollution that is caused by inadequate ventilation, toxic products, humidity, and high temperatures. Thankfully, numerous plants clean the air.
• Aloe Vera
• Warneck Dracaena (Dracaena deremensis warneckii)
• Snake Plant (Sansevieria trifasciata)
• Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aureus)
• Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
• Red-edged Dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
• Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
• Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema Crispum)
• Azalea (Rhododendron simsii)
• English Ivy (Hedera helix)
• Bamboo Palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
• Heart Leaf Philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium)
• Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)
• Spider Plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
• Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
• Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
• Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica) https://www.tipsbulletin.com/plants-that-clean-the-air/

Consumer Reports noted that indoor air can be polluted.

Mary H.J. Farrell wrote in the Consumer Reports article, How to Improve Indoor Air Quality: The air in your house can be five times more polluted than the air outside:

Your windows may be spotless and your floors may sparkle, but for millions of adults and children with allergies, asthma, and other respiratory conditions, a house is only as clean as its air.
Though it might be hard to believe, ¬indoor air can be five times dirtier than what we breathe outside, exposing us to carcinogens, including radon and formaldehyde, as well as quotidian lung-gunking impurities, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, and a variety of particulate matter created when we burn candles or cook…. https://www.consumerreports.org/indoor-air-quality/how-to-improve-indoor-air-quality/

Using plants to clean indoor air pollution is part of a strategy to reduce indoor pollutants.

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