May 5, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Post-Antibiotics, California, and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

Water supply, Gettysburg, July 1913 / LOC

Water supply, Gettysburg, July 1913 / LOC

Post-antibiotic world. The WHO declared this week that “antibiotic resistance is now a reality.” This is from the WHO’s first global report on antimicrobial resistance. So now the CDC and WHO have both sounded the alarm on our need for new antibiotics and the urgency of adopting better use of existing antibiotics. One way we can better use these precious medicines is to ban the sub-therapeutic or low doses of antimicrobials that are used for disease prevention in livestock to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions. FDA’s flawed General Guidance 213 issued in December 2013 called for voluntary cessation of low-dose antibiotics for growth promotion but still allows for the use of low-dose antibiotics for disease prevention, adding to the selection of bacteria with antibiotic resistance genes emerging under conditions of thousands of animals crowded together with their own waste.

California to ban animal antibiotics? Dr. Robert Gould, president of Physicians for Social Responsibility, says 73 percent of important medical antibiotics are used on food animals. And with the WHO and CDC calling for urgent attention to the issue of antimicrobial resistance, we need to address how we use antibiotics on “farms.” According to this story in the San Francisco Gate, California’s State Assembly last week debated and defeated AB1437, a bill introduced in January by Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D–San Mateo. The proposed legislation would have required meat and poultry sold in California to be free of antibiotics, granting exceptions for livestock that need to be treated for sickness and allowing the use of antimicrobials not used on humans. We agree with Mullin, that the FDA’s voluntary guidances on reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock is not a strong enough step. Unfortunately, the political power of industrial agriculture prevented passage of the California bill.

California drought. There’s some pretty bad news brewing on the West Coast. According to this Los Angeles Times story, the entire Golden State is now under some form of drought. This is the first time conditions have been this severe in 15 years. What’s really startling, though, is that 76.6 percent of the state is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and for 24.7 percent of the state, the level of dryness is “exceptional.” In some California regions, this is the worst it’s been in 30 years. This drought will have some impact on agriculture, without a doubt—but agriculture is also making a lot of demands on the aquifers. For better of for worse, farmers are having to idle cropland. This Reuters article suggests that there’s very little oversight—or oversight so complicated as to be nearly incomprehensible—by agencies that manage water. There’s a lot of room for improvement here, even if the agencies are doing a moderately good job currently. With a resource as precious as water, we need transparency. Fierce struggles over water rights lie ahead, and we may yet witness the old adage that in the West, whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.

Colony collapse. We’re still stymied by what exactly is causing the decline of honeybee population, a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder. A family of pesticides known as neonicotinoids is one of the more likely culprits; it compromises the honeybee immune system. This story from the Daily Iowan addresses the problems that will face food growers as the pollinator population continues to decline, potentially affecting more than a third of the foods we consume.

Manure spray. One of the ways that industrial livestock and dairy operations manage the manure produced by their animals is to spray it in liquid form as a way of fertilizing fields. But there are public health consequences to this practice, especially in the rural communities where these industrial operations are located. To quote from this Wisconsin Watch article, “The manure would cover our mailbox.”

Stealth vegetables. Americans are having a hard time eating as many vegetables as the USDA recommends. Here’s a New York Times article about “blend-ins,” which may help consumers increase their intake of this important food group.

Photo: Library of Congress, Bain News Service.

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