TIME Research

Your Pet Food Probably Isn’t Made of What You Think

Cat paws with kibble
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Bad news for pets with refined palates

A new study published Tuesday night shows many pet food brands contain unspecified animal parts that aren’t listed on labels.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Nottingham and published in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, looked at 17 popular wet pet foods for both dogs and cats in U.K. supermarkets. They found that 14 of those brands contained cow, chicken and pig DNA—but none of the brands listed the animals explicitly on the label.

Of the seven products that displayed the phrase “with beef,” only two had more cow DNA in them than combined DNA of chicken and pigs.

That might come as a shock to consumers, the researchers say, but by leaving certain animal parts off the label, the products weren’t breaking any U.K. rules.

“Besides the customer not being able readily make an informed choice on the pet food product due to incomplete disclosure of ingredients (allowed by legislation), there could be the added complication of pet food allergies where a dog or cat could have adverse reactions to certain undeclared animal proteins in a product,” says study author Kin-Chow Chang, a professor of veterinary molecular medicine at University of Nottingham.

Since the items in the study were purchased in the U.K., the findings don’t necessarily apply directly to American pet food. But the pet foods studied are international brands, and by looking through regulation and labeling requirements for pet food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), what consumers may think is a full beef product, for example, could also have meat from other animals and still be abiding by proper U.S. regulation.

The FDA does not require pet food to have pre-market approval, but says pet food should be safe to eat, have no harmful substances and be “truthfully” labeled.

According to an FDA spokesperson, the FDA has its own pet food regulation, but individual states can also enforce their own labeling guidelines and may have adopted regulations suggested by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO).

Under these regulations, “meat” that comes from cows, pigs, sheep, goats or any combination of these species can simply be called “meat” on pet food labels. Meat from horses or other species of mammals must be labeled to indicate the species of animal from which the meat comes (e.g. horsemeat or kangaroo meat). The term “poultry” can mean any mixture of species like chicken or duck.

You can determine a lot about what might be in pet food by how it is labeled. For instance, if a pet food product is called “Beef for Dogs,” then 95% of the product must be beef. However, if a pet food product names an ingredient (like beef) in it’s title, but the ingredient makes up less than 95% of the product (but at least 25%), then the name of the product must have a qualifying descriptive term added to it, such as “Dinner,” “Platter,” “Entree,” “Nuggets” or “Formula.”

The FDA gives the following example: “In the example “Beef Dinner for Dogs” only one-quarter of the product must be beef, and beef would most likely be the third or fourth ingredient on the ingredient list.”

The researchers say their findings underline the need for better transparency among the pet food industry in order to help consumers make more informed choices about what they are buying for their pets.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Mental Health Therapy Through Social Networking Could Soon Be a Reality

While still in the development stage, the peer-to-peer technology had "significant benefits"

An experimental social networking platform intent on helping users calm anxiety and reverse symptoms of depression has received positive feedback.

Panoply is a peer-to-peer platform jointly administered by MIT and Northwestern universities that encourages users to “think more flexibly and objectively about the stressful events and thoughts that upset them,” says a paper published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

Researchers found that the network, which is still being studied and has yet to be commercialized, produced “significant benefits, particularly for depressed individuals.”

Panoply works by teaching users a therapeutic tool called cognitive reappraisal, which tries to get people to look at a problematic situation from different perspectives.

When a person is stressed, they write what is causing the problem and their reaction. The “crowd” then responds by a offering a contrasting outlook. Comments are vetted to ensure the original poster is not abused.

The study involved 166 people over a three-week period. Researchers suggested a 25-minute per week minimum interaction to see results.

According to the published paper, the next step is to widen the net and see if the social media platform is as effective over a more diverse audience.

TIME animals

Science Has Found Out What Music Your Cat Should Be Chilling to While Being Neutered

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Unsurprisingly, AC/DC is not it

During surgical operations, cats aren’t huge fans of adult contemporary ballads or fist-pumping rocks anthems. In fact, research has found that felines much prefer the lush sound of classical music when going under the knife.

In an experiment detailed this week in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, veterinary clinicians at the University of Lisbon studied how 12 female pet cats responded to different genres of music, while undergoing neutering.

To gauge the animals’ responses, the clinicians recorded their respiratory rates and pupil diameters, which are an indication of their depth of anesthesia.

During the experiment, the cats were fitted with headphones and then exposed to two minutes of silence — as a control — before listening to portions of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings (Opus 11),” Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.”

“The results showed that the cats were in a more relaxed state (as determined by their lower values for respiratory rate and pupil diameter) under the influence of classical music, with the pop music producing intermediate values,” reports Science Daily.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, listening to AC/DC while being spayed induced “a more stressful situation.”

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

A Diet High in Pesticides Is Linked to a Lower Sperm Count

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Danny Kim for TIME

Strawberries and spinach are among the worst offenders

The troubling link between pesticide exposure and fertility isn’t new; scientists have already established that people who work with pesticides tend to have lower fertility than people who don’t. But for the majority of us who don’t work with chemicals, diet is the biggest source of exposure, says Jorge Chavarro, MD, assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of a new study published in the journal Human Reproduction.

Chavarro and his colleagues wanted to see if pesticide residues left on fruits and vegetables might have a similar effect on sperm—and their findings suggest that they did. Men who ate fruits and vegetables with a lot of pesticides had lower sperm counts and more oddly shaped sperm than those who had lower levels of dietary pesticide exposure.

MORE: Not So Fertile Ground

Over an 18-month period, the researchers used data from the Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) study, including semen samples from 155 men who were being treated at a Boston fertility clinic and a food frequency questionnaire they completed. The researchers determined pesticide exposure by comparing the questionnaire answers with government data about produce pesticide levels in the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program.

The study didn’t tease out individual foods, but the researchers classified produce according to whether it had high or low-to-moderate levels of pesticides. Men who ate the most high-pesticide fruits and vegetables had a 49% lower total sperm count and 32% fewer sperm that were shaped normally, compared to men who ate the least amount of the high-pesticide produce.

Researchers gave each piece of produce a score based on its level of detectable pesticides, its level of pesticides that exceeded the tolerance level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and whether the produce had three or more types of detectable pesticides. (The bigger the score, the more it hit all three measures.) Ranked from highest pesticide contamination to lowest, here were the top fruits and vegetables:

  • Green, yellow and red peppers (6)
  • Spinach (6)
  • Strawberries (6)
  • Celery (6)
  • Blueberries (5)
  • Potatoes (5)
  • Peaches and plums (5)
  • Apples or pears (5)
  • Winter squash (4)
  • Kale, mustard greens and chard greens (4)
  • Grapes and raisins (4)

The team didn’t tease out associations with individual pesticides. But they believe that a mixture of pesticides—not just one particular pesticide—is responsible for the link. The strongest variable in their analysis were the proportion of fruits and vegetables consumed that use three or more pesticides. “The more pesticides are applied on any particular crop, that seems to be having a bigger impact,” Chavarro says.

Chavarro says he still remains skeptical, and that one study isn’t enough to offer definitive proof. “As far as we are aware, this is the first time that something like this has been reported,” he says. “It will be very important to replicate these results in other studies.” But for people who are concerned about their dietary exposure to pesticides, there are ways to lower it, he says, like eating organic and choosing produce not listed on the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list.

TIME Research

Can You Draw the Apple Logo From Memory?

In one study, only 1 out of 85 participants could

Corporate logos are designed to be not only recognizable but also memorable. So why is it that so few people are able to accurately reproduce logos when put to the test?

Researchers say it’s most likely because memories are recorded in broad strokes, while details are often forgotten, according to a new study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Over the course of the study, 85 UCLA undergraduates were asked to reproduce an Apple logo from memory. Only one was able to draw the image correctly.

Here are some of the versions they came up with. Only one is correct — can you tell which one?

“There was a striking discrepancy between participants’ confidence prior to drawing the logo and how well they performed on the task,” said Alan Castel, a senior author of the study. “People’s memory, even for extremely common objects, is much poorer than they believe it to be.”

Try it for yourself.

[Science Daily]

TIME Research

Pediatrics Group Says Schools Shouldn’t Drug Test

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Random drug testing doesn't have enough evidence to support it, the AAP says

A leading U.S. pediatrics group is recommending against in-school drug testing as a way to prevent young people from experimenting with illegal substances.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a policy statement on Monday saying it opposes randomly drug testing students because there’s not enough evidence to show it’s effective, and because random testing can damage relationships between students and their schools. It’s also a possible infringement on privacy, the group says.

Fifteen years ago, the Supreme Court established the legality for school-based drug testing for students. Proponents of the practice say that random testing at schools deters students from using drugs.

But the AAP says they don’t believe it’s worth the costs to schools. “We want to be really clear about this—this is not pushing schools to the side or saying they have no role,” says report author Dr. Sharon Levy, the director of the Adolescent Substance Abuse Program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s a question of what’s the best way for schools to be involved.”

According to the AAP policy statement, there’s limited evidence to suggest that drug testing programs in schools prevent kids from trying drugs. “We reviewed the studies done to take a look at this question, and while there’s evidence, there are a lot of caveats around that,” says Levy, who adds that many studies rely on self-reports and show inconsistent data.

The tests are imperfect, sometimes showing anxiety-inducing false negatives and false positives, the AAP says. While drug tests should be used to find students who may need intervention, the AAP believes, studies have shown that students are often given severe consequences like suspensions or expulsions that are not followed up by treatment. The tests can also detect substances used by young people for medical reasons, which could result in breaches of their privacy and damage the relationship between schools and their students, the AAP says.

“Random drug testing, particularly on the scale of these drug-testing programs which are typically once or twice a year, is not very likely to pick up sporadic use, which is the majority of use by high school kids,” says Levy. “It depends how important you think it is to pick up sporadic use, but I think it’s very important.”

The researchers also add that drug tests don’t typically pick up on alcohol, which is the illegal substance most commonly used by adolescents and teens.

Levy says that the goal of the new policy statement is not to stop schools from actively seeking out students who are at risk for drug use, but to weigh the best strategies. Instead, the AAP recommends school-based prevention and intervention programs, education, other screening methods like confidential self-reports, counseling and referrals.

Levy says she recognizes that not all experts may agree, but that she and her panel crafted their statement based on the most recent evidence available. She hopes that pediatricians and schools can collaborate to find the most effective ways to help students resist drugs.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

A High-Fat Diet Could Be Altering Your Behavior and Not Just Your Waistline

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Study finds that heart disease and obesity aren't the only effects of eating too many fatty foods

Obesity, heart disease and other physical afflictions may not be the only negative impacts of consuming fatty foods. According to a recent study on mice, high-fat foods could be affecting behavior, increasing the risk of depression and related psychological disorders.

The study, published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, suggests that a high-fat diet alters the mix of bacteria in the gut known as the gut microbiome. These changes, researchers from Louisiana State University believe, might be affecting one’s susceptibility to mental illness.

The researchers tested their hypothesis by taking organisms from the gut microbiome of mice that had been fed a high-fat diet and transplanting them into non-obese mice. They found that the microbiome associated with greater levels of fat led to problems such as increased anxiety and impaired memory.

“This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part, by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracks,” Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, told Science Daily.

Although there is still a lot of research to be done in this field, the study highlights mental issues associated with a high-fat diet regardless of obesity.

[Science Daily]

Read next: 10 Reasons Your Belly Fat Isn’t Going Away

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TIME climate change

The Antarctic’s Floating Ice Shelves Are Melting At an Alarming Rate

AUSTRALIA-ANTARCTICA-ENVIROMENT
Australian Antarctic Division—AFP/Getty Images The Totten Glacier, pictured here, is the most rapidly thinning glacier in East Antarctica.

The rate is also accelerating over time

Some of Antarctica’s floating ice shelves are up to 18% thinner than they were two decades ago, according to a new study shedding light on climate change.

Science Daily reports that researchers at the UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography examined satellite data from the past two decades and discovered that ice shelves are thinning at precipitous rates, which are accelerating over time.

In 1994 to 2003, Antarctica’s total ice shelf volume – the ice shelf area multiplied by thickness – underwent minimal change. Then thinning began, with the last few years pointing to the highest rate of change.

“Eighteen percent over the course of eighteen years is really a substantial change,” researcher Fernando Paolo told Science Daily. “Overall, we show not only the total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we see an acceleration in the last decade.”

The ice shelf shrinkage is indirectly linked to rising sea levels, and current volume reduction rates have scientists projecting that half the volume of ice shelves in western Antarctica may be lost in 200 years.

[Science Daily]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Why We Like Food That Makes Noise

TIME.com stock photos Food Snacks Potato Chips
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

What your food 'sounds' like affects how good it tastes, a new study says

The crunch of a chip, the snap of a carrot, or the fizz of a freshly opened beverage may greatly influence just how good we think those foods taste, according to new flavor research.

Flavor perception is multi-sensory. “The flavor of food is reduced to a mere whisper when its scent is lost,” chef Molly Birnbaum once said. In a new report published in the journal Flavour, researcher Charles Spence, a professor of experimental psychology at Oxford University reviews a wide variety of research related to sound and flavor perception, and comes to the conclusion that what a food sounds like is incredibly important to the experience of eating it. That sound, he says, is the “forgotten flavor sense.”

“Our brains are all the time trying to pick up correlations in the environment,” says Spence. According to his research, people use sounds to assess how tasty food is, even if they don’t realize it. In one of the studies he highlights, consumers used the word “crisp” more than any other descriptor when they were asked to evaluate 79 foods. Another study completed in 2007 by University of Leeds researchers to determine just how important bacon crispiness is to a BLT, the lead researcher concluded: “We often think it’s the taste and smell of bacon that consumers find most attractive. But our research proves that texture and the crunching sound is just—if not more—important.”

Science has also shown that changing the sounds a food makes can influence a person’s perception of it. In his own prior research, Spence showed that people give carbonated beverages higher ratings when the sound of the bubbles popping becomes louder and more frequent.

But why is the way food sounds important to us? For one, Spence says it could be that sound is an indicator for texture and therefore quality. Texture can reveal how fresh food is. If an apple cracks crisply when it’s bitten into, instead of yielding without a snap, you know that’s a good sign.

Even soft foods, like bread, bananas or mousse can make subtle sounds when they’re bitten, sliced or plunged into with a spoon, and Spence says he believes the commercialization of sounds in the food industry may soon be growing in a big way.

“It’s going to start out with modernist chefs,” Spence predicts. Food modifications could also be used to help make food more pleasurable for the elderly whose overall senses may be decreasing, he adds.

Outside sound can also influence perception, and it doesn’t require much effort. “If I’m having Italian food and I’m hearing music of that region, it may make me perceive the food as more authentic,” he says. Even the ice cream company Häagen-Dazs launched an app where customers can scan their ice cream carton and listen to a violin concerto timed to allow the ice cream to soften.

Still, Spence says he largely feels like sound isn’t being considered in the food industry as often as it could be. A 2003 survey of 14o food scientists showed they rated sound as the least important attribute contributing to flavor. But as research continues to emerge and the industry continues to experiment, we may be listening to our food more often.

TIME Research

Here’s Why Drug-Resistant Bacteria Could Spread Globally

Escherichia coli bacteria by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Scimat Scimat—Photo Researchers RM/Getty Images Escherichia coli bacteria by scanning electron microscopy (SEM).

Two genes responsible for building up drug-resistance can easily be shared between a family of bacteria

Common bacteria could be on the verge of becoming antibiotic-resistant super bugs, according to a new study.

Resistance to antibiotics is in danger of spreading globally among the type of bacteria that’s associated with causing infections in hospitals, reports the Science Daily.

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that two genes that help build up this resistance to a particularly strong class of antibiotics called carbapenems can be shared fairly easily between a family of bacteria.

“Carbapenems are one of our last resorts for treating bacterial infections, what we use when nothing else works,” said senior author Gautam Dantas.

The study was based on incidents at two Los Angeles hospitals where several patients became infected with drug-resistant bacteria that had contaminated medical equipment.

Researchers studied a family of bacteria called Enterobacteriaceae. While not all of these bacteria cause illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae as one of the three most urgent threats among emerging forms of antibiotic-resistant disease.

The team compared the genomes of carbapenems-resistant bacteria that had been isolated in the U.S. to those from bacteria isolated in Pakistan, expecting them to be genetically different. But what they found was the two resistant genes could be shared easily between bacteria from the two geographic regions.

“Our findings also suggest it’s going to get easier for strains of these bacteria that are not yet resistant to pick up a gene that lets them survive carbapenem treatment,” Dantas said.

As drug-resistant forms of Enterobacteriaceae become more widespread, he adds, “the odds will increase that we’ll pass one of these superbugs on to a friend with a weakened immune system who can really be hurt by them.”

[Science Daily]

Read next: Study Links Widely Used Pesticides to Antibiotic Resistance

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