September 19, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Meatless in Texas, Hogs, Chickens, More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

school lunch

Texas schools go meatless on Mondays

Meatless fiasco. Twelve days ago, on September 7, the Austin American-Statesman published an alarmist op-ed by the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, Todd Staples. In the op-ed, Mr. Staples bemoaned that some Texas school districts had adopted Meatless Mondays for some of their campuses. The Commissioner wrote that the districts were “irresponsible,” and that he was “very concerned” about this “activist movement” that would force an “agenda-driven diet” and their lifestyles onto unwitting pupils. Controversy ensued, and now it seems that Mr. Staples has been hoisted by his own petard. Yesterday he announced his resignation; he’ll become president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association.

Hogs, germs, and the workers in the middle. A new paper authored by 13 researchers, two of whom are CLF’s Keeve Nachman and Dave Love, shows some sobering news about the germs carried off hog farms and into the general community by the people who work there. It’s been long assumed that when hog farmworkers are exposed to pathogens on the farm, some of which are resistant to antibiotics, those germs live within the workers for about a day. This new paper shows that the germs can live in the noses of the workers for up to four days, which means that the workers can bring the pathogens to their communities over a longer period of time. Mother Jones covered the story, as did the New York Times and Scientific American. As Dave Love has said, “Unfortunately, these workers are the victims of a broken food system … [I]t’s critical that we do not demonize hog workers and instead address the core issues driving pathogen exposure on industrial hog farms and food animal production sites.”

Feed tickets tell the truth. A disturbing story by Reuters has uncovered an uncomfortable truth about the poultry industry by examining hard-to-come-by feed tickets. Feed tickets detail the antimicrobials contained in chicken feed, and they are our best source of data about which drugs the industry is feeding our chickens. I was not surprised to read that the information on the feed tickets does not match what the chicken companies have been telling consumers. Keeve Nachman has written a blogpost about this, and I second his query: Why does it take investigative reporters collecting 320 documents over the course of two years to give us data that the government (FDA, USDA) could have for the taking? I have to believe that if the government wanted the data, they could get them.

The cost of climate change mitigation. This story in the New York Times addresses a new report that declares that the cost of tackling climate change may be roughly equal to the cost of doing business as usual. The report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate says that “an ambitious series of measures to limit emissions would cost $4 trillion or so over the next 15 years, an increase of roughly 5 percent over the amount that would likely be spent anyway on new power plants, transit systems and other infrastructure.” Now if only facts, including these economic facts, could triumph over ideology and vested interests of the fossil fuel industry.

Marching for climate. On Sunday, thousands of people will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March, billed as the largest climate action march in history. This Huffington Post story makes some interesting points about how the March—and next week’s UN Climate Summit—might and might not change the game. Let’s hope, as the author suggests, that there is some power in protest. Several members of the CLF plan to march.

Drop that diet drink. This New York Times story discusses the findings of a provocative paper in Nature about the role of artificial sweeteners in obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. The researchers used mice to test a hypothesis that artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, sucralose or aspartame altered the microbiome to increase rapid absorption and metabolism of glucose, which can lead to type 2 diabetes. Their hypothesis was borne out, and they theorize that the sweeteners have this effect by altering microbes in the gut to create a new, and less healthy, microbiome. The researchers went on to confirm their findings in a very small number of human volunteers with similar results. If replicated and confirmed in larger human studies, this finding will have major impact on the diet beverage industry and on public health.

Rudd relocates. Our friends and colleagues at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, which is dedicated to informing policy decisions surrounding obesity prevention, have moved from Yale University to the University of Connecticut. We wish them continued success in their new home.

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