Friday, 30 November 2012

MALARIA: health seeking for febrile illness in India

From:William Brieger

Date:Fri, Nov 30, 2012 2:58 pm
 Health-seeking behaviour for febrile illness in #malaria-endemic Kolasib district, Mizoram, India


Early diagnosis and complete treatment (EDCT) is an important strategy for malaria control in India's National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme. The success of this strategy is closely linked to people's health-seeking behaviour. A study was conducted to determine the treatment-seeking behaviour of suspected malaria patients in Kolasib, a highly malaria-endemic district in Mizoram, India. Approximately one-third of the 540 fever patients interviewed sought initial treatment from public health facilities, whilst the majority either took self-treatment or purchased medicines from private pharmacies. Approximately 20% of patients sought treatment after 48h of fever onset. Patients aged >14 years and those who had an income ≥Rs 5000 (US$104) were more likely to receive treatment from non-governmental health facilities. Patients aged >14 years and those residing in difficult locations were more likely to take treatment after 48h of fever. To improve implementation of the EDCT strategy, it is necessary to conduct health education campaigns in the district (i) about seeking early treatment from public health facilities, including the fever treatment depots established in all villages, and (ii) discouraging the practice of self-treatment.

MALNUTRITION: Decoding food security

Wheat now figured out
JOHANNESBURG, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - Most of the world consumes bread, the cost of which has spiralled this year thanks to climatic shocks, worsening food security for millions. But a significant scientific breakthrough could see the development of extreme-climate -tolerant and disease- resistant varieties of wheat much sooner than previously possible.  

Scientists at the University of Liverpool have unravelled the genetic code of wheat, which will help breeders produce crops with the desired traits. 

The researchers developed a technology that can read DNA hundreds of times faster than the systems that were used to sequence the human genome. The technology helped scientists decode the incredibly complex wheat genome in what would have taken decades to do with previous methods. The project took one year, whereas decoding the human genome took over a decade. 

The researchers published their analysis of more than 90,000 genes in the journal Nature, which will help wheat breeders produce crop that are better able to cope with disease, drought and other stresses that cause crop losses, the university said. 

Anthony Hall, from the University Institute of Integrative Biology and co-author of the research, was quoted as saying, “Understanding wheat’s genetic information and lining up its data into a form that crop breeders can use will help develop wheat that has particular agricultural traits, such as disease resistance and drought tolerance. 

''This research is contributing to ongoing work to tackle the problem of global food shortage''
“The identification of genetic markers in the genome will help breeders accelerate the wheat breeding process and integrate multiple traits in a single breeding programme. This research is contributing to ongoing work to tackle the problem of global food shortage.” 

The genomes of other major staples have been deciphered already: rice in 2002 and maize in 2009. 

Cornell University, in the meantime, has announced that it has received more than US$25 million to help African scientists use a state-of the-art approach to selecting desired traits through their analysis of the cassava genome to produce hardier varieties of the root crop. Cassava is a staple in many countries in the continent. 

Cassava breeding is typically a lengthy process; it takes almost a decade to multiply and release a new variety. Genomic selection can shorten breeding cycles, provide more accurate evaluation at the seedling stage, and give plant breeders the ability to evaluate a much larger number of clones without the need to plant them in the target environment. Using genomic selection, new releases of cassava could be ready in as little as six years. 

The money has been made available by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the UK Department for International Development. 


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

POVERTY: Predicting the next zoonotic pandemic

Photo: The Lancet
Next big pandemic most likely to break out in orange-red zones on this map according to one projection
LONDON, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - Chances are high the world’s next pandemic will be a disease originating in animals, like 60 percent of current documented human infectious diseases. Even after hundreds of thousands of human deaths from zoonoses (diseases transmitted from animals to humans), experts say there is still limited information about how zoonoses are spread or just how to predict the next outbreak. 

“There is no question of whether we will have another zoonotic pandemic,” wrote Stephen Morse, a public health professor at Columbia University in New York, in a November 2012 series on zoonoses in the UK medical journal, The Lancet. “The question is merely when, and where, the next pandemic will emerge.” 

Despite virus hunters’ best efforts, no zoonotic pandemic has, thus far, been predicted before it infected humans. 

“The continuing effect of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a reminder of the risk of zoonotic pathogens spreading from their natural reservoirs to man,” wrote William Karesh from New York’s EcoHealth Alliance in the Lancet series. The NGO, formerly known as Wildlife Trust, works to prevent the outbreak of emerging diseases by preserving biodiversity. 

An estimated 1.8 million people die annually from AIDS, caused by HIV, which originated in primates.  

“What is far less broadly appreciated is that none of the approaches commonly used to search for potential new human pathogens… probably would have identified simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) as a potential risk to man,” said Karesh. 

Early warning? 
The US Agency for International Development launched its Emerging Pandemic Threats Programme in late 2009 to build an early warning system to detect and reduce the impacts of zoonotic diseases. 

But there are thousands of species of birds and animals that each host different diseases; where do you concentrate efforts? A virologist may focus on diseases easily spread from animal relatives, like chimpanzees, while a social scientist points out how rare contact is between humans and chimpanzees and focuses, instead, on poultry, with which people live and work in close quarters worldwide. 

Between 2003 and 5 November 2012, 608 laboratory-confirmed human cases of infections from H5N1 bird flu were reported to the World Health Organization from 15 countries, of which 359 died.  

Disease hunters are homing in on emerging disease “hotspots”, mammal-rich areas with high, changing population densities. A group of experts led by Columbia University’s Morse are creating a disease map, in which Rwanda and Burundi are bright red, as is the Indonesian island of Java, one of the world’s most densely populated islands, and Egypt’s Nile Delta. Other potential sites for future outbreaks include north India and Bangladesh, northern and western China, and - to a lesser extent - more densely populated parts of western Europe and along the west African coast. 


“Urbanization has boosted zoonoses’ outbreak risks as people get closer to animals,” Sarah Schlesinger, a scientist from New York’s Rockefeller University, told IRIN on the sidelines of a recent HIV vaccine conference. 

Cities are growing, with roads and industries penetrating previously uninhabited wildlife habitats; some 3.3 billion people live in urban areas (cities and their outskirts), according to the UN. By 2030, the world’s urban population is expected to exceed five billion, with 80 percent located in the developed world. In places where animal “hosts” to disease start to disappear (as their habitats shrink), pathogens are finding a new home in human hosts. 

Some 800 million people worldwide are engaged in urban agriculture, according to the World Bank, which identifies peri-urban livestock as a fast-growing sector that produces 34 percent of the world’s meat and nearly 70 percent of its eggs. 

The Nairobi-headquartered International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has pointed out how urban livestock and agriculture can breed disease in some of the world’s most crowded places. In a recent survey in Dagoretti, one of eight districts of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, the institute found up to 11 percent of households were affected by cryptosporidiosis, a diarrhoeal disease caused by a pathogen found in cattle, raw milk, soil, vegetables and contaminated water. 

Changing harvests  may be another contributor to the spread of zoonoses. In the southwestern USA where El Niño (rising sea surface temperatures across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean) dumped more rain, vegetation growth increased, which then attracted more rats. Hantavirus is not fatal in rats - which carry the disease - but is in humans who became infected through the rats. 

The interplay of biology, ecology and sociology make forecasting the next pandemic difficult, say experts in the Lancet series who call for boosting cooperation between experts (often working in silos) to meet the “huge, and rising” threat of zoonoses. 


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MALNUTRITION: One-stop site for climate change & food facts

Food production and consumption contribute 19 to 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions
JOHANNESBURG, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - About one-third of food produced for human consumption gets lost or is wasted globally. This amounts to about 1.3 billion tons per year, the equivalent of six to 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions generated by human beings. This and many more quick facts on the links between agriculture and climate change can be found in a set of “Big Facts” released on 30 November by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. 

The suite of 30 key facts, based on scientific papers, features colourful infographics and photographs from the field. The facts cover everything from undernourishment and population to forestry and fisheries, integrating the latest and most authoritative research on the relevant topics. Its release will aid journalists and other attendees of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks in Doha in need of on-the-run facts. 

POVERTY: COTE D'IVOIRE: Government returns to the north

Riders on the streets of Côte d'Ivoire’s central city of Bouaké. Government is making a come-back in the northern region
KORHOGO/BOUAKE, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - After almost a decade of rebel rule, northern Côte d'Ivoire is coming to terms with a new authority as the government of President Alassane Ouattara, who assumed power some 18 months ago, establishes its presence in a region which effectively split from the rest of the country. 

A 2002 armed insurrection partitioned Côte d'Ivoire into two, with the north under insurgent occupation and the south ruled by Laurent Gbagbo, who was ousted as president in April 2011 after a bloody poll dispute with Ouattara. A 2007 deal between the rebels and Gbagbo provided for the eventual unification of the country. 

The return of the government to the Central-North-West (CNO) region that makes up 60 percent of Côte d'Ivoire’s territory is slowly reviving the education and health sectors, but residents complain of rising commodity and rent prices due to government levies, and say insecurity remains high, especially in the central city of Bouaké, the former rebel stronghold where some ex-fighters are still armed and are accused of committing crimes. 

“There’s now an effective return to normalcy,” said Daouda Ouattara, administrator of the northern Korhogo District, noting that around 1,000 government workers are back on duty in the various district offices in Korhogo, home to some one million people. 

In Bouaké, Côte d'Ivoire’s second largest city, most government offices have reopened. Lassina Diomandé, the local member of parliament, told IRIN that there was a 95 percent government presence in the city. However, armed forces are still occupying a building meant to house the social security offices. 

Private firms are also re-establishing in the north. Major local banks have reopened alongside smaller branches of international banks. Foreign oil companies are also making a come-back to set up filling stations in Bouaké and Korhogo, where many fuel sellers still operate small roadside stations. 

Government and tax 

For many residents of the north, the return of government is mainly associated with taxation. Under rebel rule, tax collection was rather random. Commodities were smuggled in from neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali and residents therefore paid no customs levies. 

“We are setting up a public sensitization campaign. For almost 10 years people were used to living free from paying taxes,” said Ouattara, adding that a customs office is now operational. 

Out of an 800-million CFA (US$1.6-million) tax revenue target for Korhogo District, the authorities have so far collected more than two billion francs ($4 million). “There’s good progress. We are able to work. Our aim now is to have people pay the taxes they were never used to paying,” a customs officer appointed to the region five months ago told IRIN. 

On the streets of Korhogo and Bouaké, many motorbikes do not have registration plates. The authorities there have set low registration fees (compared to the rates in the commercial capital Abidjan), and an end of December 2012 vehicle registration deadline. 

“Some people have kept their motorbikes at home because they don’t have the money to pay the duty,” said Korhogo resident Yaya Soro. “We are all trying to adapt to the new order, but it’s difficult to resume a trend we lost 10 years ago.” 

Bouaké legislator Diomandé argued that the government’s presence was beneficial to the people. “People used to pay little, but for low quality products, especially sugar, cooking oil and fuel.” 

House rents are reported to have tripled as those who fled the area to Abidjan return, and demand has also pushed up by the return of government workers. 

Health and education improving 

Some 476 volunteer teachers who took over after government teachers fled from the north during the conflict have been trained and absorbed by the Education Ministry, said Louis Vigneault-Dubois, a communications officer with the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). 

In Korhogo, 300 primary and secondary school teachers have been employed, including volunteer teachers to fill a shortage, and a university is also to be built in the region, said Ouattara, the local administrator. The university in Bouaké has been renovated to accommodate 21,000 students who resumed studies in November. 

However, in some northern Côte d'Ivoire areas, school attendance is around 40 percent and the region has registered some of the poorest examination results in the past two years, according to officials. 

Korhogo region has had one paediatrician, one cardiologist and one gynaecologist for years, said Ouattara. But since the government’s return, doctors have been employed and the University of Korhogo is to have a training hospital. 

With the return of the administration's regional offices, “people no longer have to make long trips to Yamoussoukro or Abidjan for official documents such as birth certificates,” said Diomandé. “It’s comforting.” 

Nonetheless, many still decry the underdevelopment in the northern region compared to Abidjan where infrastructural development is advancing. A few roads have been renovated in Korhogo, according to residents. 

A Bouaké resident who spoke to IRIN on condition of anonymity described the return of government as a “semblance of administration.” 

“The judiciary is not functional yet. If I have problem and I want to lodge a complaint, there is no one to help me.” 

“I don’t object to paying more taxes to the government, but I would like to see the outcome in infrastructure development. Here, nothing has been done,” said local restaurant owner Albertine Kouassi. 


Theme (s)ConflictGovernanceSecurity,
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MALARIA: drug company money and science

From:William Brieger

Date:Fri, Nov 30, 2012 8:49 am
When Robert Lindsay chose to become a medical researcher in the early 1970s, he did not do it for the money. His field—the effect of hormones on bone—was a backwater. It was also a perfect opportunity for a young researcher to make his mark and, he hoped, help millions of people who suffered from the bone disease osteoporosis. As the body ages, sometimes bones lose the ability to rebuild themselves fast enough to keep pace with the normal process of deterioration, and the skeleton weakens. Neither Lindsay nor anyone else understood much about why this happened, but there was reason to think that hormones might play a role. Some women develop osteoporosis shortly after menopause, when their hormone levels drop sharply, perhaps upsetting that balance between bone creation and destruction. If so, Lindsay reasoned, replacing the hormones with a pill might halt or even reverse the progress of the disease. From a tiny, underfunded clinic in Glasgow, Scotland, he set up one of the first clinical trials of estrogen replacement therapy for bone loss in postmenopausal women. Lindsay's star was rising.
His next project had big commercial implications and got the attention of the drug industry. Having moved to Helen Hayes Hospital, a rehabilitation center north of New York City, in 1984 he published work that established the minimum effective dosage of an antiosteoporosis estrogen drug called Premarin. Because the findings suggested that fighting osteoporosis was tantamount to encouraging millions of women to use the drug, it made Lindsay an important person in the eyes of the drug's manufacturer, Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories. Indeed, the company gave him a role as an author of its informational video Osteoporosis: A Preventable Tragedy.
By the mid-1990s, when Wyeth got caught in a patent battle over Premarin, Lindsay was a staunch Wyeth ally. He came out against approval of a generic version of the drug that would have cut into sales even though the generic form would have made it easier for osteoporosis patients to receive therapy. His reasoning was that such versions might not be precisely equivalent to the brand-name drug, a fact that can be true with certain drugs but was also a position that happened to echo the company line. “All we're asking is that we don't approve something now and regret it” later, he told the Associated Press in 1995. Lindsay's close relationship with Wyeth and other drug companies carried on for decades, in ways that were sometimes hidden. He started allowing Wyeth to draft research articles and began taking tens of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical interests that stood to gain from his research.
The scandal is not what Lindsay did so much as that his case is typical. In the past few years the pharmaceutical industry has come up with many ways to funnel large sums of money—enough sometimes to put a child through college—into the pockets of independent medical researchers who are doing work that bears, directly or indirectly, on the drugs these firms are making and marketing. The problem is not just with the drug companies and the researchers but with the whole system—the granting institutions, the research labs, the journals, the professional societies, and so forth. No one is providing the checks and balances necessary to avoid conflicts. Instead organizations seem to shift responsibility from one to the other, leaving gaps in enforcement that researchers and drug companies navigate with ease, and then shroud their deliberations in secrecy.......

POVERTY: Australia's offshore asylum process

Photo: DIAC Images
Asylum seekers are processed in Nauru and Papua New Guinea
MELBOURNE, 30 November 2012 (IRIN) - Activists in Australia have expressed concern over a recent decision by the government to reinstate the processing of asylum seekers offshore. 

“This policy will see asylum seekers sent to Nauru [in the Pacific] or Manus Island [Papua New Guinea (PNG)] before having their refugee status assessed in a move Australia hopes will circumvent its international human rights obligations,” Benjamin Pynt, the director ofHumanitarian Research Partners, based in Australia, told IRIN. 

“It will deny asylum seekers the right to claim protection in Australia and exclude these people from the justice system.” 

Currently 386 people are awaiting processing of their claims on Nauru, with another 47, including 16 children, on Manus Island, which reopened its doors on 21 November. 

Most asylum seekers on Manus are Sri Lankan and Iranian, while Nauru has mainly people from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, with smaller numbers from Iraq and Iran. 

On 15 August, the government returned to offshore processing in both locations after abandoning it in 2007, following heavy criticism by human rights groups. 

Close to 1,500 asylum seekers were processed on Nauru under the previous government’s Pacific Solution, with another 365 on Manus. 

Inhumane conditions 

However, conditions in the two facilities are far from good. 

According to a 23 November report by Amnesty International, researchers on a recent three-day inspection of the facility in Nauru found a “toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions creating an increasingly volatile situation on Nauru, with the Australian Government spectacularly failing in its duty of care to asylum seekers.” 

Described as “totally inappropriate and ill-equipped”, the facility reportedly had hundreds of men crammed into five rows of leaking tents and suffering from physical and mental ailments. 

Current capacity in Manus and Nauru is 500 people on each island. However, upon completion, the combined capacity will exceed 2,000, the government says. 

“Offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island will only serve to break vulnerable people in these ill-conceived limbo camps, who have fled unimaginable circumstances,” said Graham Thom, the national refugee coordinator at Amnesty International Australia. 

The watchdog group has called on the government to immediately cease transfers to Nauru - a move it sees as penalizing people for seeking asylum. 

“These people are taken to a country, detained, and told if they don’t like it they can go home,” Thom said, recalling the story of one Iraqi man who, if returned to Iraq, would have no choice but to flee to Turkey with his family. 

“There is no option for most of these people,” the Amnesty official said. 

"No Advantage" principle 

According to Canberra, the government’s recent policy response to an issue that has preoccupied officials and the public for years is simply an attempt to tackle the growing problem of boat arrivals. 

Photo: David Swanson/IRIN
Immigration remains a divisive issue
More than 30,000 people have made their way to Australia by boat since 1976, according to Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship

Each year scores of people travelling in overcrowded, dilapidated boats lose their lives on the high seas in an effort to reach Australia, often just off the coast of Indonesia

In 2011, 69 boats carrying 4,565 passengers arrived in the country, while as of 30 November, 256 boats carrying 15,910 passengers had arrived in 2012, the immigration department reported. 

Since 2010, the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has sought to renew an offshore processing system for boat refugees and introduced the prospect of swapping refugees with other countries in the region. 

In 2011 the High Court ruled against the Malaysia Solution where Australia would effectively send 800 boat arrivals to Malaysia in exchange for accepting 4,000 refugees currently in Malaysia over the next four years. 

When the return to offshore processing was announced in August, Chris Bowen, Australia’s minister for immigration and citizenship, said the policy would “discourage irregular and dangerous maritime voyages,” and “promote the maintenance of a fair and orderly refugee programme”. 

Under the policy, the government adopted the “no advantage” principle, which effectively means all asylum applications will be processed in the same time period as those elsewhere, including those in neighbouring Indonesia, and regardless of whether they had arrived in Australia or not. 

“People arriving by boat are subject to this `no advantage’ principle, whether that means being transferred offshore to have their claims processed, remaining in detention, or being placed in the community,” Bowen said in a statement. 

“Consistent with `no advantage’, people from this cohort going on to bridging visas will have no work rights and will receive only basic accommodation assistance, and limited financial support,” Bowen said. 

Activists concern 

But despite the government’s position, activists remain concerned. 

“The Australian government must remain focused on building a regional refugee protection framework and it must meet its responsibilities as a signatory to the Refugee Convention,” Paul Power, chief executive officer of the Australian Refugee Council, told IRIN, saying the recent changes to the country’s asylum policy were “disheartening, unfair and set a poor example for refugee protection in the Asia region”. 

More than 7,000 asylum seekers are in immigration detention facilities and alternative places of detention in the country, including hundreds of children, the country’s Department of Immigration reported. 

“The government claimed all asylum seekers would be treated the same, but a small number are being sent to Manus Island and they are being persecuted with different detention and conditions to those asylum seekers released in Australia,” said Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition in Sydney. 

Read more on Australian Migration Debate
 Timeline of Australian asylum-seeker debate
 Outsourcing Asia's refugees
 Australia will "pay the price" for mandatory detention
 Reaction to Australian policy reforms
 Australia to enact uniform asylum process
 Australia's indefinite detention policy under scrutiny
 New Australian refugee quota welcomed
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) says the transfer of children for offshore processing of refugee status needs to be addressed immediately. Australia’s policy violates its obligations to children under the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which protects all children in Australia’s jurisdiction, including children of non-citizens, it said. 

“Migrant children are often survivors of traumatic journeys to reach Australia,” said Alice Farmer, a children’s rights researcher with HRW. 

“Australia is callously disregarding their best interests and failing to provide them an opportunity for refuge when it pushes them out of Australian territory.” 

Refugee rights 

And then there is the whole question of legality. 

Legal experts say the recent decision to return to the offshore processing of refugees is a violation of the international conventions and treaties to which Australia is a signatory, including the UN Refugee Convention

“This is a total derogation of Australia’s responsibility as a signatory to the Refugee Convention and human rights treaties,” said Susan Kneebone, an international expert on refugee law based at Monash University, describing it as Australia’s lowest point in its treatment of refugees. 

Last week, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) raised concerns over the government’s policy, calling for a “more compassionate and principled approach to the asylum debate in Australia… 

“UNHCR is deeply troubled that as long as the focus remains primarily on deterrence, the humanitarian, ethical and legal basis of asylum, and the protection of refugees, will be seriously undermined,” said UNHCR regional representative Richard Towle on 23 November. 

All asylum-seekers in Australia, including those transferred to PNG and Nauru, must be given a full, fair and expeditious assessment of their refugee claims as soon as possible, it said. 

Those found to be refugees should be given basic human rights and the rights to which they are entitled under the Refugee Convention, including family reunion, work and freedom of movement. Those found not to need protection can be expected to leave the country, the statement said. 

UNHCR is particularly concerned about the decision to transfer families, including children, to Manus Island, in the absence of any adequate legal framework, procedures or resources in PNG to assess their claims. 

"The current movement of refugees and asylum-seekers raises many challenges for states but we encourage Australia to ensure a humanitarian approach that is fully compatible with the Refugee Convention,” Towle said. 

UNHCR’s preference remains that all people arriving in Australia be assessed in Australia under fair, efficient and, as needed, robust asylum procedures. 


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

MALARIA: defeating malaria outside Africa

From:William Brieger

Date:Fri, Nov 30, 2012 9:17 am
The number of malaria cases and deaths has decreased. A total of 34 countries outside of Africa have reduced cases by more than 50% since 2000. Malaria death rates have decreased by 30% outside of Africa and four countries have been certified as free of malaria since 2007 (Armenia, Morocco, Turkmenistan, and the United Arab Emirates). The World Health Organization (WHO) European Region is aiming for elimination of malaria across the entire region by 2015 and P. falciparum transmission has already been eliminated from the region. Another 17 countries are in the pre-elimination or elimination phases of malaria control and on the brink of eliminating malaria from within their boundaries.

MALNUTRITION: Bread that lasts for 60 days could cut food waste


Related Stories

An American company has developed a technique that it says can make bread stay mould-free for 60 days.
The bread is zapped in a sophisticated microwave array which kills the spores that cause the problem.
The company claims it could significantly reduce the amount of wasted bread - in the UK alone, almost a third of loaves purchased.
The technique can also be used with a wide range of foods including fresh turkey and many fruits and vegetables.
World of waste
Food waste is a massive problem in most developed countries. In the US, figures released this year suggest that the average American family throws away 40% of the food they purchase - which adds up to $165bn (£102bn) annually.
Bread is a major culprit, with 32% of loaves purchased in the UK thrown out as waste when they could be eaten, according to figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Machine microwaveThe machine uses similar technology to a home microwave
One of the biggest threats to bread is mould. As loaves are usually wrapped in plastic, any water in the bread that evaporates from within is trapped and makes the surface moist. This provides excellent growing conditions forRhizopus stolonifer, the fungus that leads to mould.
In normal conditions, bread will go mouldy in around 10 days.
But an American company called Microzap says it has developed a technique that will keep the bread mould free for two months.
At its laboratory on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, chief executive Don Stull showed off the long, metallic microwave device that resembles an industrial production line. Originally designed to kill bacteria such as MRSA and salmonella, the researchers discovered it could kill the mould spores in bread in around 10 seconds.
"We treated a slice of bread in the device, we then checked the mould that was in that bread over time against a control, " he explained.
"And at 60 days it had the same mould content as it had when it came out of the oven."
Question of taste
The machine the team has built uses much the same technology as found in commercial microwaves - but with some important differences, according to Mr Stull.
"We introduce the microwave frequencies in different ways, through a slotted radiator. We get a basically homogeneous signal density in our chamber - in other words, we don't get the hot and cold spots you get in your home microwave."

20th-Century history of bread

Bread making competition 1965
  • 1928: First bread slicing machine, invented by Otto Rohwedder, exhibited in US
  • 1930: Large UK bakeries take commercial slicers and sliced bread first appears in shops
  • 1933: About 80% of US bread is pre-sliced and wrapped, and the phrase "the best thing since sliced bread" is coined
  • 1941: Calcium added to UK flour to prevent rickets
  • 1942: The national loaf - much like today's brown loaf - introduced to combat shortage of white flour
  • 1954: Conditions in bakeries regulated by the Night Baking Act
  • 1956: National loaf abolished
  • 1961: The Chorleywood Bread Process introduced
Source: The Federation of Bakers
The company's device has attracted plenty of interest from bread manufacturers - but it is worried that it could push up costs in an industry where margins are very tight.
And there is also a concern that consumers might not take to bread that lasts for so long. Mr Stull acknowledges it might be difficult to convince some people of the benefits.
"We'll have to get some consumer acceptance of that," he said. "Most people do it by feel and if you still have that quality feel they probably will accept it. "
Mr Stull believes that the technology could impact bread in other ways. He said that bread manufacturers added lots of preservatives to try and fight mould, but then must add extra chemicals to mask the taste of the preservatives. If bakers were able to use the microwave technology, they would be able to avoid these additives.
While a wholesale change in the bread industry might be difficult to achieve, there may be more potential with other foods, including ground turkey.
In 2011, food giant Cargill had to recall 16 million kg of the product after a salmonella outbreak. Mr Stull believes that using microwaves would be an effective way of treating this and several other products ranging from jalapenos to pet foods.
The only fruit that his device was unable to treat effectively were cantaloupes.
"We've used our tumbler machine to treat them, he says "but you can't tumble cantaloupes because they damage.