July 3, 2014
Voluntary reduction of antibiotic use? The FDA has announced triumphantly that all 26 of the animal drug manufacturers that fall under the agency’s policy for phasing out the use of medically important antibiotics to promote growth in livestock have committed to moving forward with the government’s approach outlined in voluntary Guidance #213. As we’ve noted before, Guidance #213 does not require that sales data be made public, so in essence the American public has no way of knowing if the problem of antibiotic misuse in food animals is getting better. What we need is a formal mechanism for evaluating the progress associated with the Guidance. Further, since Guidance #213 proposed labeling changes to ban the use for growth promotion of low-dose antibiotics administered through water or feed but still permitted use in this way for disease prevention, it appeared obvious that this loophole would be exploited by drug manufacturers and industrial food animal producers. The requirement that administration of low-dose antibiotics be under the supervision of a veterinarian is cold comfort at best, since many of the veterinarians in industrial food animal production are employed by vertical integrators such as Tyson, Smithfield Farms, and Pilgrims Pride.
Fighting the EPA. Once again, the debate about how to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay has drawn ire from Republican policymakers. According to this Associated Press story, 39 politicians are urging a federal court to block the EPA’s mandate on cleaning up the Bay, claiming that the EPA is overstepping its jurisdiction. The EPA’s plan for Bay restoration by 2025, which aims to reduce pollution and “dead zones” in part by reducing fertilizer runoff from farms, has been challenged by the conservative American Farm Bureau. Leading the current charge are Senator Pat Toomey (R–Penn.), Senator David Vitter (R–La.), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R–Va.), and Rep. Frank Lucas (R–Okla.). Sadly, this is part of a pattern of Republican politicians ignoring scientific evidence – whether about climate change, evolution, or environmental degradation – in favor of the economic interests of the big corporations that feed their political fundraising coffers.
All in favor of restoring the Bay. As a counterpoint to this resistance, this Baltimore Sun story reports on the pact signed by Governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, District of Columbia Mayor Vincent Gray, and Ronald E. Miller, a Pennsylvania state representative.
Meatless in Congress. This is a nice nugget of good news for the Meatless Monday campaign, brought to light by the New York Times’ Mark Bittman. Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California urged the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus to observe Meatless Mondays.
Fishy trends. This New York Times story sheds some light on interesting trends in the seafood industry. From the article: “The seafood industry, it turns out, is a great example of the swaps, delete-and-replace maneuvers and other mechanisms that define so much of the outsourced American economy.” The article provides some interesting facts about the business end of aquaculture. The U.S. imports 85 percent of the seafood we consume and exports about a third of what we catch or produce by aquaculture.
Hospital food gets a boost. This is an encouraging story from The Guardian about how a group of San Francisco hospitals are working to transform hospital food, making it better-tasting, healthier, and sourced more sustainably. The article doesn’t mention how this move aligns with new rules in the Affordable Care Act that incentivize hospitals to focus on prevention (instead of simply on treatment)—but I’m betting that an eye toward prevention is part of the motivation.
Neonics and CCD. This comes as no surprise, but there is still more support for the idea that a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids and another chemical known as fipronil are largely responsible for colony collapse disorder that is reducing the pollinator populations. Thankfully, President Obama recently announced the creation of a pollinator health task force to look at the impact of pesticide exposure on bees and other insects. Considering how many of our crops rely on pollinators, I think this is wise move. This BBC story has more information.
Superweeds. This story from Wired addresses the new round of genetically engineered soy and corn, which can withstand two herbicides instead of one, for which Dow Chemical is seeking approval. Here’s an excerpt: “[T]he crops represent yet another step on … a pesticide treadmill: an approach to farming that relies on ever-larger amounts of chemical use, threatening to create even more superweeds and flood America’s landscapes with potentially harmful compounds.” Environmentalists have characterized this practice as a “chemical arms race with weeds.” The GE soy and corn are designed to work in sync with Dow’s product Enlist, a proprietary mixture of glyphosate and 2,4-D herbicides.
A new food system certificate. Recently the Maryland Higher Education Commission approved CLF’s certificate program in The Food System, Environment and Public Health. The stand-alone post-baccalaureate certificate focuses primarily on the U.S. food system, but also includes courses with an international focus. The growing interest in the food system among the students at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the success of the courses developed and taught by CLF faculty over the past five or six years stimulated us to develop the certificate program. We are eager to see how many sign on during this new academic year.