October 11, 2013

CLF Week in Links: Salmonella, Monsanto, Catfish and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

RS61_Fresh big salmon-_275pxAntibiotic-resistant Salmonella. Last week I wrote that the federal government shutdown, in shuttering the CDC, would provide fertile ground for pathogens—and here we are, one week later, and at least 278 people nationwide have been sickened by a Salmonella outbreak in chicken. According to this story by the Los Angeles Times and to Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the outbreak has sickened people in 17 states, and several strains of Salmonella Heidelberg associated with this outbreak are resistant to antibiotics—which explains why more than 40 percent of those sickened have had to be hospitalized. This outbreak is an unfortunate illustration of not only the dangers of the misuse of antibiotics in poultry production, but also in curbing the activities of critical federal agencies that protect the public’s health. The CDC’s outbreak-tracking team has been called back to work.

Kosher chicken. This Food Safety News story presented some surprising findings, namely that kosher chicken has the highest rate of antibiotic-resistant E. coli when compared to conventionally produced, organic and raised-without-antibiotics (RWA) chicken. (It’s important to note that the majority of E. coli strains, including those found on raw chicken, are not harmful to humans, unlike Salmonella or Campylobacter.) The study referenced also found that resistance rates were lowest among RWA chicken meat, which is not surprising.

McDonald’s spin doctoring. In this column, Mark Bittman suggests that McDonald’s self-proclaimed “bold moves” in nurturing a healthier generation of kids amount to a shred of lettuce. He also puts forth a fantasy in which former president and vegan Bill Clinton urges the fast food chain to embrace Meatless Monday.

Monsanto, Big Data, and Big Ag. Last week Monsanto announced that it will buy the Climate Corporation for $930 million. Not only does Climate Corporation underwrite insurance for farmers, it “manages an eye-popping 50 terabytes of live data, all at once.” Its data include those from climate change models, which the insurance companies consider to be real. This New York Times story reports that Monsanto hopes the purchase will bring them to the “next level of agriculture.”

Catfish blues. According to this Washington Post story, a new nonprofit organization, the Wide Net Project, plans to harvest blue catfish, an invasive species imperiling the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The organization will turn the blue catfish’s “plentiful numbers—and mildly sweet, malleable flavor—into affordable food for Washington’s hunger-relief organizations and the broader market.” As CLF researcher Jillian Fry notes, “This is a great way to provide more seafood while avoiding industrial-scale finfish aquaculture and easing pressure on over-fished species.”

Salmon farming debate. Late last month, the Washington Post ran a story titled, “Farm-raised salmon vs. wild: The gap is closing,” and that story has been picked up by The Seattle Times. The author presented farmed salmon as a sustainable seafood choice—but this is just another form of greenwashing. The Post ran a response to the story from Oceana, in which the authors state that the answer is not farming, but rather “to make wild fish stocks more abundant, using science-based fishery management instead of promoting salmon farming, which is destructive and wasteful.” As CLF researchers Jillian Fry and David Love note, “Offshore salmon aquaculture can release concentrated waste, chemicals, metals, uneaten feed, and veterinary drugs including antibiotics into the aquatic environment, threatening public health. Salmon farms spread diseases to nearby wild fish, and pollution from the farms can impact nearby fish populations in which commercial or recreational fishing may occur. In addition, the industry continues to rely on small wild fish, some of which are overfished, as ingredients in feed.” These forage fish – anchovies, sardines, herring – are a critical part of the ocean ecosystem and far too valuable to sweep up for use as feed for farmed salmon.

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