Finland has found the answer to homelessness. It couldnt be simpler | Harry Quilter-Pinner

With the number of rough sleepers in Britain soaring, its time we got over our prejudices, writes Harry Quilter-Pinner, who works at the homelessness charity SCT

I was born in Liverpool and grew up on a council estate. I had a clean home, toys and nice meals as a kid. When I was nine years old, the sexual abuse started. My abusers made me feel special. They gave me gifts, moneys, cigarettes and sweets. When I was 13 I ran away from home and soon found myself in the murky world of prostitution on the streets. My life was out of control.

This is how it all started for Simon. I met him 23 years later at SCT, a local charity I help to run in east London that offers support to people who are homeless and face alcohol and drug addiction. He used to make me coffee every morning at the social enterprise cafe we run. In the intervening period he had spent years in and out of hostels and institutions, as well as long spells on the streets.

When I met him, Simon was sober and working for the first time in years. He said at the time that SCT offered me the opportunity to get my life back on track. Life is worth living now. Im looking forward to my future. Tragically, this future wasnt to be: soon afterwards he decided to return to the streets and died as a result.

I would like to be able to say that Simons story is an exception. But in reality it is all too familiar, as new statistics published by the Guardian showed on Wednesday. The number of homeless people dying on the streets or in temporary accommodation in the UK has more than doubled over the past five years to more than one per week. The average age of a rough sleeper when they die is 43, about half the UK life expectancy.

The tragedy is that its entirely within our power to do something about it: homelessness is not a choice made by the individual, it is a reality forced by government policy. As homelessness has rocketed in the UK up 134% since 2010 it has fallen by 35% in Finland over a similar period of time. The Finnish government is now aiming to abolish it altogether in the coming years.

I recently travelled to Finland to understand how it had done this. It turns out its solution is painfully simple and blindingly obvious: give homes to homeless people. As Juha Kaakinen, who has led much of the work on housing first in Finland, explained to me when I met him in Helsinki, this takes housing as a basic human right rather than being conditional on engaging in services for addictions or mental health.

This is fundamentally different to our model in the UK, where stable accommodation is only provided as a reward for engaging in treatment services. The problem with this is obvious if you stop and think about it: how do we expect people to address complex personal problems while exposed to the chaos of life on the streets?

Sceptics will argue that giving homes to homeless people is a recipe for disaster. Arent we just subsidising addiction? Wont we end up with huge bills when it all goes wrong? Dont people need an incentive to get their lives back on track and engage in services?

Actually, no. The evidence from Finland as well as numerous other pilot schemes across the world shows the opposite is true. When people are given homes, homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction are comparable to a treatment first approach. Even more impressive is that there are overall savings for government, as peoples use of emergency health services and the criminal justice system is lessened.

At the last election, the government committed to pilot a housing first approach in the UK. This isnt good enough we dont need another pilot. During my time in Finland I didnt see one homeless person. Within a few hours of coming back to London I walked past more than 100 rough sleepers queuing for food in the rain, just a few minutes from parliament. What we need is action. Ending homelessness is eminently achievable if we have the moral capacity and will to take proper action. We must overcome our prejudices and our apathy. The status quo is simply not good enough.

Harry Quilter-Pinner is director of strategy at SCT, a homelessness and addictions charity in east London. He is also a research fellow at IPPR, the UKs progressive thinktank. He writes here in a personal capacity

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/apr/12/finland-homelessness-rough-sleepers-britain

Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson

There are now twice as many people as 50 years ago. But, as EO Wilson has argued, they can all survive in cities

Discussing cities is like talking about the knots in a net: theyre crucial, but theyre only one part of the larger story of the net and what its supposed to do. It makes little sense to talk about knots in isolation when its the net that matters.

Cities are part of the system weve invented to keep people alive on Earth. People tend to like cities, and have been congregating in them ever since the invention of agriculture, 10,000 or so years ago. Thats why we call it civilisation. This origin story underlines how agriculture made cities possible, by providing enough food to feed a settled crowd on a regular basis. Cities cant work without farms, nor without watersheds that provide their water. So as central as cities are to modern civilisation, they are only one aspect of a system.

There are nearly eight billion humans alive on the planet now, and thats a big number: more than twice as many as were alive 50 years ago. Its an accidental experiment with enormous stakes, as it isnt clear that the Earths biosphere can supply that many peoples needs or absorb that many wastes and poisons on a renewable and sustainable basis over the long haul. Well only find out by trying it.

Right
Right now we are not succeeding an aerial view of houses in Florida. Photograph: Alamy

Right now we are not succeeding. The Global Footprint Network estimates that we use up our annual supply of renewable resources by August every year, after which we are cutting into non-renewable supplies in effect stealing from future generations. Eating the seed corn, they used to call it. At the same time were pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that is changing the climate in dangerous ways and will certainly damage agriculture.

This situation cant endure for long years, perhaps, but not decades. The future is radically unknowable: it could hold anything from an age of peaceful prosperity to a horrific mass-extinction event. The sheer breadth of possibility is disorienting and even stunning. But one thing can be said for sure: what cant happen wont happen. Since the current situation is unsustainable, things are certain to change.

Cities emerge from the confusion of possibilities as beacons of hope. By definition they house a lot of people on small patches of land, which makes them hugely better than suburbia. In ecological terms, suburbs are disastrous, while cities can perhaps work.

The tendency of people to move to cities, either out of desire or perceived necessity, creates a great opportunity. If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the the planets surface. That would be good for many of the threatened species we share this planet with, which in turn would be good for us, because we are completely enmeshed in Earths web of life.

A
A farmer at work near the village of Lok Ma Chau, outside Shenzhen, Hong Kong. Photograph: Jerome Favre/EPA

Here Im referring to the plan EO Wilson has named Half Earth. His book of the same title is provocative in all the best ways, and I think it has been under-discussed because the central idea seems so extreme. But since people are leaving the land anyway and streaming into cities, the Half Earth concept can help us to orient that process, and dodge the sixth great mass extinction event that we are now starting, and which will hammer humans too.

The idea is right there in the name: leave about half the Earths surface mostly free of humans, so wild plants and animals can live there unimpeded as they did for so long before humans arrived. Same with the oceans, by the way; about a third of our food comes from the sea, so the seas have to be healthy too.

At a time when there are far more people alive than ever before, this plan might sound strange, even impossible. But it isnt. With people already leaving countrysides all over the world to move to the cities, big regions are emptier of humans than they were a century ago, and getting emptier still. Many villages now have populations of under a thousand, and continue to shrink as most of the young people leave. If these places were redefined (and repriced) as becoming usefully empty, there would be caretaker work for some, gamekeeper work for others, and the rest could go to the cities and get into the main swing of things.

The
The seas have to be healthy too vessels set sail after a four-month fishing ban on Chinas Yellow Sea and Bohai Sea. Photograph: Fang Yi/China News Service/VCG

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldnt have to be imposed: its happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive. So these emptied landscapes should not be called wilderness. Wilderness is a good idea in certain contexts, but these emptied lands would be working landscapes, commons perhaps, where pasturage and agriculture might still have a place. All those people in cities still need to eat, and food production requires land. Even if we start growing food in vats, the feedstocks for those vats will come from the land. These mostly depopulated landscapes would be given over to new kinds of agriculture and pasturage, kinds that include habitat corridors where our fellow creatures can get around without being stopped by fences or killed by trains.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust womens rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

Homes
Homes in Palm Springs, where the average daily water usage per person is 201 gallons more than double the California average. Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Meanwhile, cities will always rely on landscapes much vaster than their own footprints. Agriculture will have to be made carbon neutral; indeed, it will be important to create some carbon-negative flows, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and fixing it into the land, either permanently or temporarily; we cant afford to be too picky about that now, because we will be safest if we can get the CO2 level in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million. All these working landscapes should exist alongside that so-called empty land (though really its only almost empty empty of people most of the time). Those areas will be working for us in their own way, as part of the health-giving context of any sustainable civilisation. And all the land has to be surrounded by oceans that, similarly, are left partly unfished

All this can be done. All this needs to be done if we are to make it through the emergency centuries we face and create a civilised permaculture, something we can pass along to the future generations as a good home. There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. Thats our project now. Thats the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

This week, the Overstretched Cities series examines the impact of the rush to urbanisation, which has seen cities around the world explode in size. Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/20/save-the-planet-half-earth-kim-stanley-robinson

Palestinians hold day of mourning after 773 shot with live ammunition

At least 15 killed when Israeli soldiers open fire during mass demonstrations in Gaza

Gaza hospitals, running low on blood and overstretched by the huge number of wounded, were reeling after one of the enclaves bloodiest days outside of open war, in which Israeli soldiers shot 773 people with live ammunition, according to the ministry of health.

Fifteen of the wounded died, said the ministry spokesperson Dr Ashraf al-Qidra. Most of the dead were aged between 17 and 35 years old, he said. The injuries were on the upper part of the body. He added that the remainder of the wounded, some of whom were in a critical condition, had been shot with live ammunition.

The violence erupted on Friday after mass demonstrations took place demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to land in Israel.

Tens of thousands of people, including women and children, had planned to camp several hundred metres from the Israeli frontier, which surrounds the 140-square-mile Gaza strip on two sides, on the first day of a peaceful, six-week protest.

But from the main camps, groups of mostly young men approached the border at several locations and started throwing stones and burning tyres. Soldiers responded by opening fire throughout the day.

More than 1,400 people were wounded, mostly by bullets but also rubber-coated rounds and tear-gas inhalation, the health ministry said. The Guardian was unable to independently verify the ministrys figures.

On Friday, in less than 30 minutes, reporters saw 10 people with bullet wounds carried away on stretchers at one of the demonstrations.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, declared Saturday a national day of mourning. More demonstrations are planned.

Israel said it has positioned snipers and responded to rioting Palestinians with dispersal means and firing towards main instigators. It said the movement was a Hamas-orchestrated ploy and it was identifying terror attacks under the camouflage of riots.

The military pointed to what it said was an attempted shooting attack by a terror cell in the northern part of the Gaza strip on Friday. It added that it had responded with gunfire and by targeting three nearby Hamas sites with tanks and fighter jets. The military sent a video to journalists showing men appearing to tamper with the separation fence and said that Hamas had earlier sent a seven-year-old girl across the border, whom Israeli soldiers returned to her parents.

The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said: The international community must not be deceived by what he called a well-organised and violent terror gathering.

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Gaza-Israel border calm one day after deadly protests video

Hamas, which backed the protest, has fought three wars with Israel since 2008. In the past few weeks, Israeli forces say they have caught people attempting to cut through the frontier to launch attacks.

The UN security council held emergency talks to discuss the risks of further escalation but failed to agree on a statement. There is fear that the situation might deteriorate in the coming days, said the assistant UN secretary general for political affairs, Tay-Brook Zerihoun.

The UN secretary general, Antnio Guterres, has called for an independent and transparent investigation into the violence, according to his spokesman Farhan Haq.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said what happened in Gaza was a heinous massacre. He said Palestinians expect the security council to shoulder its responsibility and defuse this volatile situation, which clearly constitutes a threat to international peace and security.

Fridays death toll stood at 16 and included a farmer killed by an Israeli tank shell before dawn as he picked parsley near the border, according to the health ministry. An Israeli army spokesman said the man was operating suspiciously.

Al-Qidra said hospitals were running low on several blood types.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/31/palestinians-hold-day-of-mourning-after-773-shot-with-live-ammunition

Trump calls for death penalties for drug dealers as focus of opioids plan

Trumps policy rollout focuses on punishment for dealers and traffickers but doesnt propose new legislation to combat the crisis

Donald Trump called on Monday for some drug dealers to receive the death penalty in a new opioids policy rollout in New Hampshire, a state hard hit by the national crisis.

Were wasting our time if we dont get tough with drug dealers, and that toughness includes the death penalty, said Trump in typically combative style.

He later added: The ultimate penalty has to be the death penalty. Maybe our country is not ready for that, its possible, its possible. Trump said personally I cant understand that about those opposed to such drastic measures.

Some states already charge drug dealers with murder if customers overdose. In Florida, people who provide cocaine, heroin or the powerful opioid fentanyl to a person who dies from using the drug in question can be charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to either life in prison or death.

Drug-induced homicide laws, which emerged in the 1980s, are being used more frequently because of the opioids crisis, according to a November 2017 report by the Drug Policy Alliance. However, there is no evidence that such laws reduce drug use.

On Monday Trump was effectively sending a message to prosecutors to be harsher on drug dealers, who traffic in street drugs like heroin as well as black market prescription painkillers, such as OxyContin, and various versions of the potent narcotic fentanyl. But he did not call specifically for legislation to expand use of the death penalty for federal drug crimes.

The justice department said the federal death penalty is already available for limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the drug kingpin provisions of federal law.

The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, attended the event on Monday and sat next to Melania Trump. The DoJ later issued a statement, saying: At the Department of Justice, we have made ending the drug epidemic a priority. We will continue to aggressively prosecute drug traffickers and we will use federal law to seek the death penalty wherever appropriate.

Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it was not clear federal death sentences for drug dealers, even for those whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Berman said the issue would be litigated extensively and would have to be definitively decided by the supreme court.

New Hampshire has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, a fact Trump acknowledged last August when he said: We have the drug lords in Mexico that are knocking the hell out of our country. They are sending drugs to Chicago, Los Angeles, and to New York. Up in New Hampshire I won New Hampshire because New Hampshire is a drug-infested den [it] is coming from the southern border.

The comment caused offence in the state, with the Democratic senator Maggie Hassan responding: Instead of insulting people in the throes of addiction, [Trump] needs to work across party lines to actually stem the tide of this crisis.

Though Trump is visiting to lobby for harsher sentencing for opioid-related crimes, New Hampshire is one of many states now pushing criminal justice reform.

On Monday, the state judiciary announced it would review bail policies, after nationwide criticism of courts that serve as de facto debtors prisons for people too poor to pay bail.

In 2012, substance use disorders such as opioid dependence cost New Hampshire $284m in criminal justice costs. More than half of jail and prison costs in the state are attributed to drug abuse, according to a report by the advocacy group New Futures. Nationally, 76% of inmates are believed to have substance use disorders, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Trump, who aims to be seen as tough on crime, has repeatedly highlighted his preference for the ultimate penalty for drug dealers.

At a Pennsylvania rally this month, Trump told supporters countries like Singapore have fewer issues with drug addiction because they harshly punish dealers. He argued that a person in the US can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, but a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands can spend little or no time in jail.

The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness, Trump said in remarks he echoed on Monday.

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‘Solve drug problem through toughness’: Trump advocates death penalty for drug dealers video

Trump also wants Congress to pass legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain opioids, said Andrew Bremberg, Trumps domestic policy director, who briefed reporters on the White House plan.

The president was joined in New Hampshire by the first lady, Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.

Trumps plan concerns law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the US. It also includes broadening education and awareness, expanding access to treatment and recovery effortsand government funding for efforts to develop non-addictive painkillers. He also said that the Department of Justice was looking very seriously into bringing major litigation against some of these drug companies. Leading opioids makers in the US are already engulfed in a flurry of civil litigation brought by cities, counties and states.

Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the US in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Q&A

Why is there an opioid crisis in America?

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone, said Kellyanne Conway, a senior Trump adviser. This is no longer somebody elses community, somebody elses kid, somebody elses co-worker.

  • The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/19/donald-trump-death-penalty-drug-dealers-opioids-new-hampshire

Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

Nordic nations take top four places in happiness rankings, with annual study also charting the decline of the US

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady decline of the US as the worlds largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Burundi in east Africa, scarred by bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars and coup attempts, is the unhappiest place in the world. Strikingly, there are five other nations Rwanda, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic which report happiness levels below that of even Syria.

For the first time the UN also examined the happiness levels of immigrants in each country, and found Finland also scored highest.

Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year, said the reports authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

The report, an annual publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported wellbeing, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

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The UN placing is the latest accolade for Finland, a country of 5.5 million people that only 150 years ago suffered Europes last naturally caused famine. The country has been ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the worlds most trusted and its banks the soundest.

That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable, said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive he is just common sense, added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 presidential election.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report devotes a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

Americas subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the reports authors.

Despite African countries getting the worst happiness scores, one west African nation has bucked the trend. Togo came bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita suggests, especially in contrast to fast-growing east Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The authors attributed this to the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities has not advanced happiness at all, the report found.

Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they stayed at home, according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

1. Finland (5)

2. Norway (1)

3. Denmark (2)

4. Iceland (3)

5. Switzerland (4)

6. Netherlands (6)

7. Canada (7)

8. New Zealand (8)

9. Sweden (10)

10. Australia (9)

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

147. Malawi (136)

148. Haiti (145)

149. Liberia (148)

150. Syria (152)

151. Rwanda (151)

152. Yemen (146)

153. Tanzania (153)

154. South Sudan (147)

155. Central African Republic (155)

156. Burundi (154)

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/finland-happiest-country-world-un-report

Yes, bacon really is killing us

The long read: Decades worth of research proves that chemicals used to make bacon do cause cancer. So how did the meat industry convince us it was safe?

There was a little cafe I used to go to that did the best bacon sandwiches. They came in a soft and pillowy white bap. The bacon, thick-cut from a local butcher, was midway between crispy and chewy. Ketchup and HP sauce were served in miniature jars with the sandwich, so you could dab on the exact amount you liked. That was all there was to it: just bread and bacon and sauce. Eating one of these sandwiches, as I did every few weeks, with a cup of strong coffee, felt like an uncomplicated pleasure.

And then, all of a sudden, the bacon sandwich stopped being quite so comforting. For a few weeks in October 2015, half the people I knew were talking about the news that eating bacon was now a proven cause of cancer. You couldnt miss the story: it was splashed large in every newspaper and all over the web. As one journalist wrote in Wired, Perhaps no two words together are more likely to set the internet aflame than BACON and CANCER. The BBC website announced, matter-of-factly, that Processed meats do cause cancer, while the Sun went with Banger out of Order and Killer in the Kitchen.

The source of the story was an announcement from the World Health Organization that processed meats were now classified as a group 1 carcinogen, meaning scientists were certain that there was sufficient evidence that they caused cancer, particularly colon cancer. The warning applied not just to British bacon but to Italian salami, Spanish chorizo, German bratwurst and myriad other foods.

Health scares are ten-a-penny, but this one was very hard to ignore. The WHO announcement came on advice from 22 cancer experts from 10 countries, who reviewed more than 400 studies on processed meat covering epidemiological data from hundreds of thousands of people. It was now possible to say that eat less processed meat, much like eat more vegetables, had become one of the very few absolutely incontrovertible pieces of evidence-based diet advice not simply another high-profile nutrition fad. As every news report highlighted, processed meat was now in a group of 120 proven carcinogens, alongside alcohol, asbestos and tobacco leading to a great many headlines blaring that bacon was as deadly as smoking.

The WHO advised that consuming 50g of processed meat a day equivalent to just a couple of rashers of bacon or one hotdog would raise the risk of getting bowel cancer by 18% over a lifetime. (Eating larger amounts raises your risk more.) Learning that your own risk of cancer has increased from something like 5% to something like 6% may not be frightening enough to put you off bacon sandwiches for ever. But learning that consumption of processed meat causes an additional 34,000 worldwide cancer deaths a year is much more chilling. According to Cancer Research UK, if no one ate processed or red meat in Britain, there would be 8,800 fewer cases of cancer. (That is four times the number of people killed annually on Britains roads.)

The news felt especially shocking because both ham and bacon are quintessentially British foods. Nearly a quarter of the adult population in Britain eats a ham sandwich for lunch on any given day, according to data from 2012 gathered by researchers Luke Yates and Alan Warde. To many consumers, bacon is not just a food; it is a repository of childhood memories, a totem of home. Surveys indicate that the smell of frying bacon is one of our favourite scents in the UK, along with cut grass and fresh bread. To be told that bacon had given millions of people cancer was a bit like finding out your granny had been secretly sprinkling arsenic on your morning toast.

Vegetarians might point out that the bacon sandwich should never have been seen as comforting. It is certainly no comfort for the pigs, most of whom are kept in squalid, cramped conditions. But for the rest of us, it was alarming to be told that these beloved foods might be contributing to thousands of needless human deaths. In the weeks following news of the WHO report, sales of bacon and sausages fell dramatically. British supermarkets reported a 3m drop in sales in just a fortnight. (It was very detrimental, said Kirsty Adams, the product developer for meat at Marks and Spencer.)

But just when it looked as if this may be #Bacongeddon (one of many agonised bacon-related hashtags trending in October 2015), a second wave of stories flooded in. Their message was: panic over. For one thing, the analogy between bacon and smoking was misleading. Smoking tobacco and eating processed meat are both dangerous, but not on the same scale. To put it in context, around 86% of lung cancers are linked to smoking, whereas it seems that just 21% of bowel cancers can be attributed to eating processed or red meat. A few weeks after publishing the report, the WHO issued a clarification insisting it was not telling consumers to stop eating processed meat.

Meanwhile, the meat industry was busily insisting that there was nothing to see here. The North American Meat Institute, an industry lobby group, called the report dramatic and alarmist overreach. A whole tranche of articles insisted in a commonsense tone that it would be premature and foolish to ditch our meaty fry-ups just because of a little cancer scare.

Nearly three years on, it feels like business as usual for processed meats. Many of us seem to have got over our initial sense of alarm. Sales of bacon in the UK are buoyant, having risen 5% in the two years up to mid-2016. When I interviewed a product developer for Sainsburys supermarket last year, she said that one of the quickest ways to get British consumers to try a new product now was to add chorizo to it.

And yet the evidence linking bacon to cancer is stronger than ever. In January, a new large-scale study using data from 262,195 British women suggested that consuming just 9g of bacon a day less than a rasher could significantly raise the risk of developing breast cancer later in life. The studys lead author, Jill Pell from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at Glasgow University, told me that while it can be counterproductive to push for total abstinence, the scientific evidence suggests it would be misleading for health authorities to set any safe dose for processed meat other than zero.

The real scandal of bacon, however, is that it didnt have to be anything like so damaging to our health. The part of the story we havent been told including by the WHO is that there were always other ways to manufacture these products that would make them significantly less carcinogenic. The fact that this is so little known is tribute to the power of the meat industry, which has for the past 40 years been engaged in a campaign of cover-ups and misdirection to rival the dirty tricks of Big Tobacco.


How do you choose a pack of bacon in a shop, assuming you are a meat eater? First, you opt for either the crispy fat of streaky or the leanness of back. Then you decide between smoked or unsmoked each version has its passionate defenders (I am of the unsmoked persuasion). Maybe you seek out a packet made from free-range or organic meat, or maybe your budget is squeezed and you search for any bacon on special offer. Either way, before you put the pack in your basket, you have one last look, to check if the meat is pink enough.

Since we eat with our eyes, the main way we judge the quality of cured meats is pinkness. Yet it is this very colour that we should be suspicious of, as the French journalist Guillaume Coudray explains in a book published in France last year called Cochonneries, a word that means both piggeries and rubbish or junk food. The subtitle is How Charcuterie Became a Poison. Cochonneries reads like a crime novel, in which the processed meat industry is the perpetrator and ordinary consumers are the victims.

The pinkness of bacon or cooked ham, or salami is a sign that it has been treated with chemicals, more specifically with nitrates and nitrites. It is the use of these chemicals that is widely believed to be the reason why processed meat is much more carcinogenic than unprocessed meat. Coudray argues that we should speak not of processed meat but nitro-meat.

Parma
Prosciutto di Parma has been produced without nitrates since 1993. Photograph: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Pure insane crazy madness is how Coudray described the continuing use of nitrates and nitrites in processed meats, in an email to me. The madness, in his view, is that it is possible to make bacon and ham in ways that would be less carcinogenic. The most basic way to cure any meat is to salt it either with a dry salt rub or a wet brine and to wait for time to do the rest. Coudray notes that ham and bacon manufacturers claim this old-fashioned way of curing isnt safe. But the real reason they reject it is cost: it takes much longer for processed meats to develop their flavour this way, which cuts into profits.

There is much confusion about what processed meat actually means, a confusion encouraged by the bacon industry, which benefits from us thinking there is no difference between a freshly minced lamb kofta and a pizza smothered in nitrate-cured pepperoni. Technically, processed meat means pork or beef that has been salted and cured, with or without smoking. A fresh pound of beef mince isnt processed. A hard stick of cured salami is.

The health risk of bacon is largely to do with two food additives: potassium nitrate (also known as saltpetre) and sodium nitrite. It is these that give salamis, bacons and cooked hams their alluring pink colour. Saltpetre sometimes called sal prunella has been used in some recipes for salted meats since ancient times. As Jane Grigson explains in Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery, saltpetre was traditionally used when brining hams to give them an attractive rosy appearance when otherwise it would be a murky greyish brown.

In earlier centuries, bacon-makers who used saltpetre did not understand that it converts to nitrite as the meat cures. It is this nitrite that allows the bacteria responsible for cured flavour to emerge quicker, by inhibiting the growth of other bacteria. But in the early 20th century, the meat industry found that the production of cured meats could be streamlined by adding sodium nitrite to the pork in pure form. In trade journals of the 1960s, the firms who sold nitrite powders to ham-makers spoke quite openly about how the main advantage was to increase profit margins by speeding up production. One French brand of sodium nitrite from the 60s was called Vitorose or quick-pink.

Nitro-chemicals have been less of a boon to consumers. In and of themselves, these chemicals are not carcinogenic. After all, nitrate is naturally present in many green vegetables, including celery and spinach, something that bacon manufacturers often jubilantly point out. As one British bacon-maker told me, Theres nitrate in lettuce and no one is telling us not to eat that!

But something different happens when nitrates are used in meat processing. When nitrates interact with certain components in red meat (haem iron, amines and amides), they form N-nitroso compounds, which cause cancer. The best known of these compounds is nitrosamine. This, as Guillaume Coudray explained to me in an email, is known to be carcinogenic even at a very low dose. Any time someone eats bacon, ham or other processed meat, their gut receives a dose of nitrosamines, which damage the cells in the lining of the bowel, and can lead to cancer.

You would not know it from the way bacon is sold, but scientists have known nitrosamines are carcinogenic for a very long time. More than 60 years ago, in 1956, two British researchers called Peter Magee and John Barnes found that when rats were fed dimethyl nitrosamine, they developed malignant liver tumours. By the 1970s, animal studies showed that small, repeated doses of nitrosamines and nitrosamides exactly the kind of regular dose a person might have when eating a daily breakfast of bacon were found to cause tumours in many organs including the liver, stomach, oesophagus, intestines, bladder, brain, lungs and kidneys.

Just because something is a carcinogen in rats and other mammals does not mean it will cause cancer in humans, but as far back as 1976, cancer scientist William Lijinsky argued that we must assume that these N-nitroso compounds found in meats such as bacon were also carcinogens for man. In the years since, researchers have gathered a massive body of evidence to lend weight to that assumption. In 1994, to take just one paper among hundreds on nitrosamines and cancer, two American epidemiologists found that eating hotdogs one or more times a week was associated with higher rates of childhood brain cancer, particularly for children who also had few vitamins in their diets.

In 1993, Parma ham producers in Italy made a collective decision to remove nitrates from their products and revert to using only salt, as in the old days. For the past 25 years, no nitrates or nitrites have been used in any Prosciutto di Parma. Even without nitrate or nitrite, the Parma ham stays a deep rosy-pink colour. We now know that the colour in Parma ham is totally harmless, a result of the enzyme reactions during the hams 18-month ageing process.

Slow-cured, nitrate-free, artisan hams are one thing, but what about mass-market meats? Eighteen months would be a long time to wait on hotdogs, as the food science expert Harold McGee comments. But there have always been recipes for nitrate-free bacon using nothing but salt and herbs. John Gower of Quiet Waters Farm, a pork producer who advises many British manufacturers of cured meats, confirms that nitrate is not a necessary ingredient in bacon: Its generally accepted that solid muscle products, as opposed to chopped meat products like salami, dont require the addition of nitrate for safety reasons.

Bacon is proof, if it were needed, that we cling to old comforts long after they have been proven harmful. The attachment of producers to nitrates in bacon is mostly cultural, says Gower. Bacon cured by traditional methods without nitrates and nitrites will lack what Gower calls that hard-to-define tang, that delicious almost metallic taste that makes bacon taste of bacon to British consumers. Bacon without nitrates, says Gower, is nothing but salt pork.

Given the harm of nitro-meat has been known for so long, the obvious question is why more has not been done to protect us from it. Corinna Hawkes, a professor of Food Policy at City University in London, has been predicting for years that processed meats will be the next sugar a food so harmful that there will be demands for government agencies to step in and protect us. Some day soon, Hawkes believes, consumers will finally wake up to the clear links between cancer and processed meat and say Why didnt someone tell me about this?


The most amazing thing about the bacon panic of 2015 was that it took so long for official public health advice to turn against processed meat. It could have happened 40 years earlier. The only time that the processed meat industry has looked seriously vulnerable was during the 1970s, a decade that saw the so-called war on nitrates in the US. In an era of Ralph Nader-style consumer activism, there was a gathering mood in favour of protecting shoppers against bacon which one prominent public health scientist called the most dangerous food in the supermarket. In 1973, Leo Freedman, the chief toxicologist of the US Food and Drug Administration, confirmed to the New York Times that nitrosamines are a carcinogen for humans although he also mentioned that he liked bacon as well as anybody.

The US meat industry realised it had to act fast to protect bacon against the cancer charge. The first attempts to fight back were simply to ridicule the scientists for over-reacting. In a 1975 article titled Factual look at bacon scare, Farmers Weekly insisted that a medium-weight man would have to consume more than 11 tonnes of bacon every single day to run the faintest risk of cancer. This was an outrageous fabrication.

But soon the meat lobby came up with a cleverer form of diversion. The AMI the American Meat Institute started to make the argument that the nitrate was only there for the consumers own safety, to ward off botulism a potentially fatal toxin sometimes produced by poorly preserved foods. The scientific director of the AMI argued that a single cup of botulism would be enough to wipe out every human on the planet. So, far from harming lives, bacon was actually saving them.

In 1977, the FDA and the US Department of Agriculture gave the meat industry three months to prove that nitrate and nitrite in bacon caused no harm. Without a satisfactory response, Coudray writes, these additives would have to be replaced 36 months later with non-carcinogenic methods. The meat industry could not prove that nitrosamines were not carcinogenic because it was already known that they were. Instead, the argument was made that nitrates and nitrites were utterly essential for the making of bacon, because without them bacon would cause thousands of deaths from botulism. In 1978, in response to the FDAs challenge, Richard Lyng, director of the AMI, argued that nitrites are to processed meat as yeast is to bread.

The meat industrys tactics in defending bacon have been right out of the tobacco industrys playbook, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University. The first move is: attack the science. By the 1980s, the AMI was financing a group of scientists based at the University of Wisconsin. These meat researchers published a stream of articles casting doubt on the harmfulness of nitrates and exaggerating the risk from botulism of non-nitrated hams.

Does making ham without nitrite lead to botulism? If so, it is a little strange that in the 25 years that Parma ham has been made without nitrites, there has not been a single case of botulism associated with it. Almost all the cases of botulism from preserved food which are extremely rare have been the result of imperfectly preserved vegetables, such as bottled green beans, peas and mushrooms. The botulism argument was a smokescreen. The more that consumers could be made to feel that the harmfulness of nitrate and nitrite in bacon and ham was still a matter of debate, the more they could be encouraged to calm down and keep buying bacon.

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A bacon sandwich at a diner in Michigan. Photograph: Molly Riley/Reuters

The botulism pretext was very effective. The AMI managed to get the FDA to keep delaying its three-month ultimatum on nitrites until a new FDA commissioner was appointed in 1980 one more sympathetic to hotdogs. The nitrite ban was shelved. The only concession the industry had made was to limit the percentage of nitrites added to processed meat and to agree to add vitamin C, which would supposedly mitigate the formation of nitrosamines, although it does nothing to prevent the formation of another known carcinogen, nitrosyl-haem.

Over the years, the messages challenging the dangers of bacon have become ever more outlandish. An explainer article by the Meat Science and Muscle Biology lab at the University of Wisconsin argues that sodium nitrite is in fact critical for maintaining human health by controlling blood pressure, preventing memory loss, and accelerating wound healing. A French meat industry website, info-nitrites.fr, argues that the use of the right dose of nitrites in ham guarantees healthy and safe products, and insists that ham is an excellent food for children.

The bacon lobby has also found surprising allies among the natural foods brigade. Type nitrate cancer bacon into Google, and you will find a number of healthy eating articles, some of them written by advocates of the Paleo diet, arguing that bacon is actually a much-maligned health food. The writers often mention that vegetables are the primary source of nitrates, and that human saliva is high in nitrite. One widely shared article claims that giving up bacon would be as absurd as attempting to stop swallowing. Out of the mass of stuff on the internet defending the healthiness of bacon, it can be hard to tell which writers have fallen under the sway of the meat lobby, and which are simply clueless nutrition experts who dont know any better.

Either way, this misinformation has the potential to make thousands of people unwell. The mystifying part is why the rest of us have been so willing to accept the cover-up.


Our deepening knowledge of its harm has done very little to damage the comforting cultural associations of bacon. While I was researching this article, I felt a rising disgust at the repeated dishonesty of the processed meat industry. I thought about hospital wards and the horrible pain and indignity of bowel cancer. But then I remembered being in the kitchen with my father as a child on a Sunday morning, watching him fry bacon. When all the bacon was cooked, he would take a few squares of bread and fry them in the meaty fat until they had soaked up all its goodness.

In theory, our habit of eating salted and cured meats should have died out as soon as home refrigerators became widespread in the mid-20th century. But tastes in food are seldom rational, and millions of us are still hooked on the salty, smoky, umami savour of sizzling bacon.

We are sentimental about bacon in a way we never were with cigarettes, and this stops us from thinking straight. The widespread willingness to forgive pink, nitrated bacon for causing cancer illustrates how torn we feel when something beloved in our culture is proven to be detrimental to health. Our brains cant cope with the horrid feeling that bacon is not what we thought it was, and so we turn our anger outwards to the health gurus warning us of its hazards. The reaction of many consumers to the WHO report of 2015 was: hands off my bacon!

In 2010, the EU considered banning the use of nitrates in organic meats. Perhaps surprisingly, the British organic bacon industry vigorously opposed the proposed nitrates ban. Richard Jacobs, the late chief executive of Organic Farmers & Growers, an industry body, said that prohibiting nitrate and nitrite would have meant the collapse of a growing market for organic bacon.

Organic bacon produced with nitrates sounds like a contradiction in terms, given that most consumers of organic food buy it out of concerns for food safety. Having gone to the trouble of rearing pigs using free-range methods and giving them only organic feed, why would you then cure the meat in ways that make it carcinogenic? In Denmark, all organic bacon is nitrate-free. But the UK organic industry insisted that British shoppers would be unlikely to accept bacon that was greyish.

Then again, the slowness of consumers to lose our faith in pink bacon may partly be a response to the confusing way that the health message has been communicated to us. When it comes to processed meat, we have been misled not just by wild exaggerations of the food industry but by the caution of science.

On the WHO website, the harmfulness of nitrite-treated meats is explained so opaquely you could miss it altogether. In the middle of a paragraph on what makes red meat and processed meat increase the risk of cancer, it says: For instance, carcinogenic chemicals that form during meat processing include N-nitroso compounds. What this means, in plain English, is that nitrites make bacon more carcinogenic. But instead of spelling this out, the WHO moves swiftly on to the question of how both red and processed meats might cause cancer, after adding that it is not yet fully understood how cancer risk is increased.

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The typical British sausage does not fall into the processed meat category. Photograph: Julian Smith/AAP

This caution has kept us as consumers unnecessarily in the dark. Consider sausages. For years, I believed that the unhealthiest part in a cooked English breakfast was the sausage, rather than the bacon. Before I started to research this article, Id have sworn that sausages fell squarely into the processed meat category. They are wrongly listed as such on the NHS website.

But the average British sausage as opposed to a hard sausage like a French saucisson is not cured, being made of nothing but fresh meat, breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and E223, a preservative that is non-carcinogenic. After much questioning, two expert spokespeople for the US National Cancer Institute confirmed to me that one might consider fresh sausages to be red meat and not processed meat, and thus only a probable carcinogen. (To me, the fact that most sausages are not processed meat was deeply cheering, and set me dancing around the kitchen with glee thinking about toad in the hole.)

In general, if you ask a cancer scientist to distinguish between the risks of eating different types of meat, they become understandably cagey. The two experts at the National Cancer Institute told me that meats containing nitrites and nitrates have consistently been associated with increased risk of colon cancer in human studies. But they added that it is difficult to separate nitrosamines from other possible carcinogens that may be present in processed meats like bacon. These other suspects include haem iron a substance that is abundant in all red meat, processed or not and heterocyclic amines: chemicals that form in meat during cooking. A piece of crispy, overcooked bacon will contain multiple carcinogens, and not all are due to the nitrates.

The problem with this reasoning, as I see it, is that it cant account for why processed meat is so much more closely linked to cancer than cooked red meat. For that, there remains no plausible explanation except for nitrates and nitrites. But looking for clear confirmation of this in the data is tricky, given that humans do not eat in labs under clinical observation.

Most of what we know about processed meat and cancer in humans comes from epidemiology the study of disease across whole populations. But epidemiologists do not ask the kind of detailed questions about food that the people who eat that food may like answers to. The epidemiological data based on surveys of what people eat is now devastatingly clear that diets high in processed meats lead to a higher incidence of cancer. But it cant tell us how or why or which meats are the best or worst. As Corinna Hawkes of City University comments, The researchers dont ask you if you are eating artisanal charcuterie from the local Italian deli or the cheapest hotdogs on the planet.

I would love to see data comparing the cancer risk of eating nitrate-free Parma ham with that of traditional bacon, but no epidemiologist has yet done such a study. The closest anyone has come was a French study from 2015, which found that consumption of nitrosylated haem iron as found in processed meats had a more direct association with colon cancer than the haem iron that is present in fresh red meat.

It may be possible that epidemiologists have not asked people more detailed questions about what kind of processed meats they eat because they assume there is no mass-market alternative to bacon made without nitrates or nitrites. But this is about to change.


The technology now exists to make the pink meats we love in a less damaging form, which raises the question of why the old kind is still so freely sold. Ever since the war on nitrates of the 1970s, US consumers have been more savvy about nitrates than those in Europe, and there is a lot of nitrate-free bacon on the market. The trouble, as Jill Pell remarks, is that most of the bacon labelled as nitrate-free in the US isnt nitrate-free. Its made with nitrates taken from celery extract, which may be natural, but produces exactly the same N-nitroso compounds in the meat. Under EU regulation, this bacon would not be allowed to be labelled nitrate-free.

Its the worst con Ive ever seen in my entire life, says Denis Lynn, the chair of Finnebrogue Artisan, a Northern Irish company that makes sausages for many UK supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer. For years, Lynn had been hoping to diversify into bacon and ham but, he says, I wasnt going to do it until we found a way to do it without nitrates.

When Lynn heard about a new process, developed in Spain, for making perfectly pink, nitrate-free bacon, he assumed it was another blind alley. In 2009, Juan de Dios Hernandez Canovas, a food scientist and the head of the food tech company Prosur, found that if he added certain fruit extracts to fresh pork, it stayed pink for a surprisingly long time.

In January 2018, Finnebrogue used this technology to launch genuinely nitrate-free bacon and ham in the UK. It is sold in Sainsburys and Waitrose as Naked Bacon and Naked Ham, and in M&S as made without nitrites. Kirsty Adams, who oversaw its launch at M&S, explains that its not really cured. Its more like a fresh salted pork injected with a fruit and vegetable extract, and is more perishable than an old-fashioned flitch of bacon but that doesnt matter, given that it is kept in a fridge. Because it is quick to produce, this is much more economically viable to make than some of the other nitrate-free options, such as slow-cured Parma ham. The bacon currently sells in Waitrose for 3 a pack, which is not the cheapest, but not prohibitive either.

I tried some of the Finnebrogue bacon from M&S. The back bacon tasted pleasant and mild, with a slight fruitiness. It didnt have the toothsome texture or smoky depth of a rasher of butchers dry-cured bacon, but Id happily buy it again as an alternative to nitro-meat. None of my family noticed the difference in a spaghetti amatriciana.

Nitrite-free bacon still sounds a bit fancy and niche, but there shouldnt be anything niche about the desire to eat food that doesnt raise your risk of cancer. Lynn says that when he first approached Prosur about the fruit extract, he asked how much they had sold to the other big bacon manufacturers during the two years they had been offering it in the UK. The answer was none. None of the big guys wanted to take it, claims Lynn. They said: It will make our other processed meats look dodgy.

But it also remains to be seen how much consumer demand there will be for nitrite- or nitrate-free bacon. For all the noise about bacon and cancer, it isnt easy to disentangle at a personal level just what kind of risk we are at when we eat a bacon sandwich. OK, so 34,000 people may die each year because of processed meat in their diet, but the odds are that it wont be you. I asked a series of cancer scientists whether they personally ate processed meat, and they all gave slightly different answers. Jill Pell said she was mostly vegetarian and ate processed meats very rarely. But when I asked Fabrice Pierre, a French expert on colon cancer and meat, if he eats ham, he replied: Yes, of course. But with vegetables at the same meal. (Pierres research at the Toxalim lab has shown him that some of the carcinogenic effects of ham can be offset by eating vegetables.)

Our endless doubt and confusion about what we should be eating have been a gift to the bacon industry. The cover-up about the harm of meat cured with nitrates and nitrites has been helped along by the scepticism many of us feel about all diet advice. At the height of the great bacon scare of 2015, lots of intelligent voices were saying that it was safe to ignore the new classification of processed meats as carcinogenic, because you cant trust anything these nutritionists say. Meanwhile, millions of consumers of ham and bacon, many of them children, are left unprotected. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about this controversy is how little public outrage it has generated. Despite everything, most of us still treat bacon as a dear old friend.

In an ideal world, we would all be eating diets lower in meat, processed or otherwise, for the sake of sustainability and animal welfare as much as health. But in the world we actually live in, processed meats are still a normal, staple protein for millions of people who cant afford to swap a value pack of frying bacon for a few slivers of Prosciutto di Parma. Around half of all meat eaten in developed countries is now processed, according to researcher John Kearney, making it a far more universal habit than smoking.

The real victims in all this are not people like me who enjoy the occasional bacon-on-sourdough in a hipster cafe. The people who will be worst affected are those many on low incomes for whom the cancer risk from bacon is compounded by other risk factors such as eating low-fibre diets with few vegetables or wholegrains. In his book, Coudray points out that in coming years, millions more poor consumers will be affected by preventable colon cancer, as westernised processed meats conquer the developing world.

Last month, Michele Rivasi, a French MEP, launched a campaign in collaboration with Coudray demanding a ban of nitrites from all meat products across Europe. Given how vigorously the bacon industry has fought its corner thus far, a total ban on nitrites looks unlikely.

But there are other things that could be done about the risk of nitrites and nitrates in bacon, short of an absolute veto. Better information would be a start. As Corinna Hawkes points out, it is surprising that there hasnt been more of an effort from government to inform people about the risks of eating ham and bacon, perhaps through warning labels on processed meats. But where is the British politician brave enough to cast doubt on bacon?

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/01/bacon-cancer-processed-meats-nitrates-nitrites-sausages

White House indicates it could find funds to train and arm 1 million teachers

President expands on idea to arm some teachers in schools and says gun-adept teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly

The White House indicated on Thursday that the federal government could come up with the money to fund as many as a million teachers being trained and armed with guns across America in a controversial attempt to keep schools safe from more mass shootings.

This followed repeated assertions from Donald Trump during earlier meetings at the White House, as well as in presidential tweets, that his response to the school massacre in Florida last week is to arm teachers and sports coaches.

It would be a great deterrent to killers, he said.

At the White House press briefing on Thursday afternoon, Raj Shah, deputy press secretary, was asked if it was practical to expect teachers to carry concealed handguns to protect their students from shooters.

When you have a horrific situation, what you think and do not think is practical can change, Shah said.

Teachers unions have expressed shock and skepticism that any such plan could be feasible or effective.

But at a meeting at the White House with state and local officials early Thursday afternoon, Trump talked of paying bonuses to some teachers, providing highly adept people, people who understand weaponry, guns … [with] a concealed permit.

He suggested paying bonuses to armed, trained teachers, suggesting that 10, 20, 40% of teachers could be qualified to do so, especially retired military personnel.

I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected, he said.

The White House was later challenged that 40% of Americas teachers being given a bonus of, for example, $1,000, would mean $1bn being distributed to a million of them.

Do you really think thats too much to pay for school safety? Shah responded. Shah said Trump would soon be talking to members of Congress about legislative and budgetary proposals.

Trump had earlier appeared to speak outagainst the kind of active shooter drills that are becoming the norm in many schools.

Active shooter drills is a very negative thing … Ill be honest with you. If Im a child, Im 10 years old and they say … Were going to have an active shooter drill, I say Whats that? Well, People may come in and shoot you … I think thats a very negative thing to be talking about, to be honest with you. I dont like it. Id much rather have a hardened school,he said.

But Shah explained that it was the frightening name the president disliked, not the drills themselves, and was in favor of calling them a safety drill.

He confirmed that Trump is considering supporting a rise in the age limit for purchasing an assault rifle to 21, but does not support banning assault weapons for US civilians outright. Students who survived the shooting at their high school in Parkland last week quickly began a fierce campaign calling for that measure.

In contrast to the combative tone coming from the administration, the Parkland mayor, Christine Hunschofsky, addressed safety and mental health in her meeting with Trump on Thursday, and then alluded to the assault rifle used by shooter Nikolas Cruz in last Wednesdays massacre, saying: In the end, how did somebody like this person get access to that kind of firearm?

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Angry father of Florida victim asks Trump: ‘How many children have to get shot?’ video

At an emotional session at the White House on Wednesday, the US president held a listening session with survivors of last weeks Florida school shooting and others affected by gun violence, telling them that armed teachers and school coaches could very well end the attack very quickly.

On Thursday, Trump tweeted: 20% of teachers, a lot, would now be able to immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions. Highly trained teachers would also serve as a deterrent to the cowards that do this.

Trump said having so-called gun-free zones around schools created a situation for school shooters like going in for the ice cream.

At Wednesdays meeting, Nicole Hockley, whose six-year-old son, Dylan, died at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, spoke out against arming teachers. I would rather arm them with the knowledge of how to prevent these acts from happening in the first place,she said.

Randi Weingarten, president of theAmerican Federation of Teachers union said in a statement:Anyone who wants guns in schools has no understanding of what goes on inside them or worse, doesnt care.

Barack Obama weighed in on Thursday, tweeting: Young people have helped lead all our great movements. How inspiring to see it again in so many smart, fearless students standing up for their right to be safe.

interactive

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/22/trump-proposal-teachers-guns-schools

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

How do you build a healthy city? Copenhagen reveals its secrets

The Danish capital ranks high on the list of the worlds healthiest and happiest cities. With obesity and depression on the rise worldwide, here are its lessons for how to combat them culturally

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/feb/11/how-build-healthy-city-copenhagen-reveals-its-secrets-happiness

Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby

The head of Cape Towns disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

Weve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources, says Greg Pillay. We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.

The plan being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

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Water crisis in Cape Town as ‘day zero’ approaches video report

At this critical level currently forecast for 16 April piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes 75% of the city.

Its going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out, says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayors advisory board.

In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizens home.

This will be a major burden on municipal coffers. The estimated cost of installing and running the new system for three months is 200m rand (12m). Instead of selling water, it will be given away for free, which will mean R1.4bn in lost revenue.

Cape Town reservoir satellite

The total city budget is R40bn, so this wont destroy us, but it will cause severe discomfort, says the deputy mayor, Ian Neilson, who adds that he has not had a bath at home for a year. A bigger concern is to ensure the economy doesnt collapse. We need to keep business and jobs going Clearly, there could be a severe impact. It depends on how long it continues.

Neilson stresses that Day Zero can be avoided. A lowering of pipe pressure and a public information campaign to conserve water have cut the citys daily water consumption from 1,200 million litres to 540 million litres. If this can be pushed down another 25%, the taps should stay open to the start of the rainy season in May.

But this is no guarantee. Three consecutive years of drought have made a mockery of normal seasonal patterns.

Were in a critical transition period where the past is no longer an accurate guide to the future, says Colvin.

She illustrates her point with two maps. One based on historical data shows the water risk of Cape Town is green, meaning it is among the lowest in South Africa. The other based on future climate projections is almost the complete opposite, with the city located in a middle of an alarming red heat zone.

What we didnt know was when that future would arrive, says Colvin. Businesses and investors have heard the long-term projections but they havent heard the starting gun go off. If this drought can pull the trigger then that could be a good thing. If this is seen as a pressure test for the new normal, it will help us to adapt.

The government has struggled to keep pace. Plans to make the city more resilient to climate change by diversifying the water supply with boreholes and desalination plants were not due to kick in until after 2020. But the climate has moved faster, bringing a drought so severe it would usually be expected only once every 384 years.

Dam today, gone tomorrow

Theewaterskloof
Theewaterskloof Dam, the main water source for the city of Cape Town, is at a fraction of its water capacity. Photograph: Rodger Bosch/AFP/Getty Images

What was the biggest reservoir in the system Theewaterskloof Dam has mostly evaporated or been sucked dry.

One side of the lake is now a desert. Devoid of life, this is a landscape of sand dunes, cracked earth and dead trees. It takes more than 30 minutes walk under a burning sun to reach the last pool of water, which is barely wide enough to skim a stone across. In what looks like a dark failure of evolution, it is ringed by the carcasses of stranded fish.

On the other side, by the dam wall, the water is nearly 10 metres deep, but the shoreline is receding at the rate of the 1.2m a week, leaving the bed exposed to the sun. The afternoon winds once attracted sail boats; now they whip up white dust storms that envelop much of the valley.

The change is visible by the week, said Paul Furstenburg, restaurant manager at Theewater sports club. When I arrived here four years ago, it was like a sea, he says, pointing to photographs on the walls of high waves crashing up to the car park during a storm and dozens of boats sailing in regattas. Now, the shoreline is more than 100m back and one of the three small vessels left in the water is stranded on a sandbank. The club which would normally be thronged with sailors, water-skiers, swimmers, campers and fishermen is almost empty. The revenue has dried up too, leaving the 20 staff worried about their futures. This has gone from a holiday resort to nothing, says Errol Nichols, the safety officer. It has become a desolate place.

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A dead fish on the dry bed of Theewaterskloof dam. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

In Cape Town itself, the population is jittery. Were scared, says Amirah Armien as she queues to fill a couple of bottles at the spring beside Newlands Brewery. Water is life. What are we going to do without water?

After a run on bottled water last month, supermarkets introduced limits for each customer. Hardware shops have sold out of water tanks and pool covers. Borehole drillers are now so overwhelmed with requests that there is a year-long wait. Even dehumidifiers which are being marketed as water from air devices are out of stock.

People are freaking out, said David Gwynne-Evans, a botanist. You go to the shops and see people buying 20 bottles of water. Its a ridiculous increase of disposable plastic.

He believes Cape Towns vineyards bear a large share of blame because they are water-intensive yet they have continued to expand during the drought. Wine is a luxury. We shouldnt be using water for that, yet even now new vineyards are opening.

Were scared water is life

Residents
Residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring collection point last month. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

The crisis has exacerbated prejudice and division. One homophobic pastor blames the drought on gays and lesbians. There has also been sharp criticism of the government, and feuds between the national and provincial authorities over the handling of the crisis.

Yet among the broader populace efforts to avert Day Zero have been successfully ramped up.

Many hotels have removed the plugs from rooms so guests must have a shower rather than a bath. Blue droplet-shaped signs above office toilet sinks remind users Conserve H2O. Use sparingly. There are more signs in the cubicles, which are divided into No 1 and No 2 toilets to ensure maximum efficiency. Some shopping malls have turned off the taps and installed hand-sanitiser dispensers.

At an individual level, the learning curve has been steep. Civic-minded Capetonians have become accustomed to showering or just ladling hot water in a baby bath that collects the run-off so that it can be used in first the washing machine and then the toilet.

A major topic of conversation for Capetonians is how many litres they use and how long they can go without washing their hair or flushing.

Ive never talked about toilets so much, says Fiona Kinsey, a young office worker. Last year, we were discussing whether it was OK to wee in a public toilet and not flush. Now we are way beyond that.

Shame is used to maintain discipline. An online water consumption map allows neighbours to check on each others usage. Some sports clubs have installed buzzers on their showers that embarrass people who linger under the water for more than two minutes.

There is a positive aspect to this sudden shock. Many people are happy to see a greater awareness of conservation and consumption inequality. Social activists say the rich are experiencing what life has always been like in poor townships, where many residents are used to lining up at standpipes.

For
For residents of informal Cape Town settlements such as Masiphumelele, collecting drinking and washing water from a communal tap has been a daily routine for many years. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Using washing water to flush the toilet is what people in townships do all the time, says Makoma Lekalakala, director of Earthlife Africa. So is washing with buckets and scuttles. I had my first shower when I was in my 20s.

Dee Watson, a teacher, describes the situation as a euphoric stage in which most people are looking out for others in a positive way.

Whats amazing is to mix and talk in the queue with every strata of society. We all need water so it brings people together, says Watson. For now at least, most people are laughing and joking. But its scary that some people are being greedy and panic-buying.

There have been acts of benevolence. At the start of the drought, Newlands spring where water flows freely from underground was a site of mud, crowds and chaos as people jostled to get at the taps and informal labourers competed to carry water for tips.

People were getting hurt, remembers Riyaz Rawoot, a local resident who says he spent R25,000 from his own pocket to organise the spring with the construction of multiple access points and provision of uniforms for the water carriers.

Im not making any money. I just want to be of service. Until now it has been fun, but it is becoming more stressful as more people come, he says. Im worried about Day Zero. People are scared and they dont trust the government, so they might panic and try to get water any way they can.

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A social leveller? Cape Town residents queue to collect drinking water from a mountain spring. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

Neighbours are already unhappy that their previously quiet street is now a hive of activity, with people carrying water containers in squeaky shopping trolleys back and forth from the spring to cars parked along the main road. Its a nightmare, says one of the residents of the Cresswell House senior citizens community. They come all through the night. Its so noisy we cant sleep.

It is also far from clear that drought is a social leveller. Wealthy homeowners have drilled boreholes and invested in water tanks so they have an independent supply. Joggers who go out at 5am say they can hear the phut phut of sprinklers being used to water lawns before most people are awake. Some residents have called environmental groups to complain their neighbours are filling swimming pools.

At the other end of the income spectrum, there are worries. The government has promised that standpipes will continue to flow in informal settlements after Day Zero, but there is scepticism in the Kanini neighbourhood of the Langa township. The one pipe that serves 20 families tailed off here last Thursday without explanation. Some locals feel they are being punished because of a public outcry about the waste at a street car-washing centre at the neighbouring settlement of Joe Slovo.

Im worried everyone is worried. It will be a crisis for us, says Nowest Nmoni, who makes a living by brewing Umqombothi beer in oil drums. If we lose water, we lose our income.

Q&A

Living in Cape Town? Share your experiences

If you live in Cape Town we’d like to find out how the water shortage is affecting your daily life.Tell us what you think about the measures put in place and what steps you’re taking to save water using our encrypted form here.

Your stories will help our journalists build a complete picture of the situation and we’ll use some of them in our reporting.

Maintaining social programmes will also be a challenge. City officials say hospitals and prisons will run as normal because they have access to aquifers, but questions remain about 819 schools, half of which do not have boreholes. There would be sanitation risks if their toilets were unable to flush, but the authorities insist they will remain open.

The objective is no school closures. We dont want kids on the street compounding issues, says deputy mayor Neilson.

When the Brazilian city of So Paulo faced drought catastrophe in 2015 the army drew up secret plans to take control of reservoirs and water supplies fearing violent unrest, but officials in Cape Town play down such security fears. Though thousands of South African Defence Force and police personnel will be deployed after Day Zero to guard water distribution centres, reservoirs and other strategic areas, they say, the number of officers at each site will be determined by risk assessments of each locations past history of protest or gang activity.

This isnt going to be martial law. It will be low profile, says JP Smith, an alderman responsible for safety and security. There might be some trouble about people cutting queues, but I dont foresee a big increase in crime. The bigger problem will be congestion.

For him, it is a moot point. He believes Day Zero will be avoided. The premier of Western Cape, Helen Zille, however, believes there is a 60% chance that it will occur.

While the debate rages about what will happen, who is to blame and whether the city will be drawn together or pulled apart, Pillay and his colleagues at the disaster risk management office are obliged to prepare for the worst something other cities may soon be obliged to do.

We dont want to create panic. We can avert Day Zero, he says. We had hoped that rainfall would replenish the dams, but it hasnt happened. What this signalled to me what that climate change is reality. If you doubted it before, you cant now.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/feb/03/day-zero-cape-town-turns-off-taps

Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela

Father of South African jazz, who had career spanning more than five decades, dies aged 78

South Africans have paid tribute to Hugh Masekela, the legendary jazz musician and activist, who died on Tuesday aged 78.

The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who kept the torch of freedom alive. The arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, described Masekela as one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz. A baobab tree has fallen, Mthethwa wrote on Twitter.

A statement from the trumpeters family said Masekela passed peacefully in Johannesburg, where he lived and worked for much of his life, on Tuesday morning.

A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hughs global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents, the statement read.

Relatives described Masekelas ebullient and joyous life.

Masekela had been suffering from prostate cancer for almost a decade. He last performed in 2010 in Johannesburg when he gave two concerts that were seen as an epitaph to his long career.

South African social media was flooded with tributes to brother Hugh, whose career and work was closely intertwined with the troubled politics of his homeland.

The singer Johnny Clegg described Masekela as immensely bright and articulate an outstanding musical pioneer and a robust debater, always holding to his South African roots.

Masekela was born in Witbank, a mining town in eastern South Africa, and was given his first trumpet by the anti-apartheid activist archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who formed a pioneering jazz band in Soweto in the 1950s that became a launchpad for many of South Africas most famous jazz musicians.

Masekela went on to study in the UK and the US, where he had significant success.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela with ex-wife Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon in 1987. Photograph: Phil Dent/Redferns

As well as forming close friendships with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, Masekela performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.

He returned to Africa where he played with icons such as Nigerias Fela Kuti, and in 1974 he helped organise a three-day festival before the Rumble in the Jungle boxing clash in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.

In 1976, the man who became known as the father of South African jazz composed Soweto Blues in response to the uprising in the vast township. He toured with Paul Simon in the 1980s while continuing his political engagement, writing Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) in 1987. The song became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Timeline

Hugh Masekela timeline

Hugh Masekela is born in KwaGuqa Township, South Africa

Masekela is born near Johannesburg to a health inspector father and social worker mother. He sings and plays the piano as a child. At 14, he sees the Kirk Douglas film Young Man With A Horn and is inspired to take up the trumpet.

King Kong

At school, Masekela played in South Africas first youth orchestra,Huddleston Jazz Band. In 1959, he recorded the first album by a South African jazz band alongside Abdullah Ibrahim and Jonas Gwangwa. In the same year, he played in the orchestra of hit musical King Kong.

Masekela leaves South Africa

The ANC are banned, and after supporting the organisation for many years, Masekela leaves South Africa for London. He then moves to New York, where he meets Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.

Grazing in the Grass

By the late 60s, Masekela was living in California. In 1967, he played at Monterey festival alongside Janis Joplin and Otis Redding. In 1968, his single Grazing in the Grass reached no 1 in the US.

Zaire 74

Masekela returns to Africa in the early 70s, spending time with musicians including Fela Kuti. He organises the Zaire 74 concerts with US record producer Stewart Levine to coincide with the Muhammad Ali/George Foreman Rumble in the Jungle boxing title fight. In 1980, he moves to Botswana.

Graceland tour

Masekela joins Paul Simon for hisGracelandtour. Simons album was partly recorded in South Africa, and the tour incites protests in London due to the cultural boycott against the country.

Return to South Africa

Masekela returns to South Africa following the end of apartheid and the release from jail ofNelson Mandela. In 1996, he plays for the Queen and Mandela by then elected the countrys first black president during the latters state visit to Britain.

World Cup

Masekela performs at the opening concert of the world cup in South Africa. In 2012, he rejoins Paul Simon for a tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Graceland.

James Hall, a writer and broadcaster who spent time with Masekela in the 1990s, said he could have prickly personality at times due to the tension and frustration of being away from his own country for so long.

Masekela was briefly married to Miriam Makeba in the 1960s and remained on good terms with the South African singer after their divorce. They had a wonderful friendship and were very, very close, said Hall, who co-wrote Makebas autobiography.

Masekela refused to take citizenship anywhere outside South Africa despite the open arms of many countries, said his son, Selema Mabena Masekela, on Tuesday.

My fathers life was the definition of activism and resistance. His belief [was] that the pure evil of a systematic racist oppression could and would be crushed. Instead he would continue to fight.

After more than 30 years in exile, Masekela returned to South Africa in the early 90s after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the end of apartheid.

In 2010 he performed at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Johannesburg.

Masekela had many fans overseas. Hugh Masekela was a titan of jazz and of the anti-apartheid struggle. His courage, words and music inspired me and strengthened the resolve of those fighting for justice in South Africa, said Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter.

Hugh
Hugh Masekela photographed for the Guardian in 2011. Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/jan/23/hugh-masekela-south-african-jazz-trumpeter-dies-aged-78