October 3, 2014

CLF Week in Links: Antibiotics, Livestock, Tyson and More

Robert Lawrence, MD

Robert Lawrence, MD

Director Emeritus

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

CVMNews from the FDA on drug use in food animals. Yesterday, October 2, The FDA made an announcement about how the agency presents data about the drugs sold for use in food animal production. This is from the FDA’s news release: “Additional data tables have been added to this latest 2012 report to provide more detailed information and to improve transparency, and the same tables have also been added to the summary reports for the previous years (2009-2011).” As for the report itself, the data reveal that over the last four years there has been a 16 percent jump in the use of medically important antibiotics sold for use in livestock production. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY), a longtime champion of the preservation of antibiotics, has blasted the FDA in this statement. CLF’s response to the report can be read here. I find it very disturbing that the misuse of medically important antibiotics has increased sharply as peer-reviewed research documenting the link between resistant bacteria in humans and misuse of antibiotics in food animals has removed all doubt that this dangerous practice must stop.

California holds the line on antibiotic misuse on farms. California’s Governor Jerry Brown seems to have taken a good step toward a healthier food system this week when he vetoed the state senate’s bill 835. The bill would have banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion—but would have continued to allow the use of antibiotics for disease prevention. SB 835 mirrors the FDA’s Guidance for Industry #213, which phases out the use of antibiotics to promote growth in food animals, but allows the loophole whereby antibiotics may be used for disease prevention. Consumers Union has praised the governor for the veto, saying, “We congratulate Governor Brown for his unwillingness to codify weak FDA guidance that allows antibiotics to continue to be overused on healthy farm animals for disease prevention instead of disease treatment.” The National Resources Defense Council has also praised the veto as a “call for real antibiotic stewardship.” CLF’s Bob Martin, director of the Food System Policy program, said, “Now that the industry friendly approach in California has been vetoed, I urge the members of the California legislature to craft a more serious and effective approach by mandating the removal of medically important antibiotics from food animal production.” Governor Brown appears to have a firmer grasp of the science about low-dose antibiotic use than does the FDA.

First Perdue, next Tyson. According to this story by Food Safety News, as of October 1, Tyson has stopped using antibiotics in its chicken hatcheries. Perdue made the same announcement last month. From the story: “Tyson still uses antibiotics in chicken feed ‘when prescribed by a veterinarian to treat or prevent disease’ and said that the ‘vast majority of the antibiotics’ they use aren’t used in humans.” Industry commonly uses this defense, claiming that ionophores, not used in human medicine, are not responsible for the antibiotic resistance problem in human medicine. This view is contradicted by the science of microbiology, which has demonstrated the ability of resistance genes emerging in the presence of one class of antibiotics (say, ionophores) having protective effect against another class (say, tetracyclines). These genes are then swapped among bacteria via three carefully documented routes of sharing genetic material. Bottom line – misuse of ionophores contributes to the problem of antibiotic resistance to medically important antibiotics.

Wisconsin and CAFOs. An Assembly race in central Wisconsin has turned into a heated debate on the correlation between agriculture and water quality. This story in the Madison Cap Times tells about Rep. Scott Krug, a Republican, who is running for election and is opposing a proposal for a mega-dairy, or concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Rep. Krug had been supportive of the project until recently, possibly persuaded to change his mind by poor water quality in Wisconsin. This is from the article: “Krug cited the recently reported high levels of E. coli bacterium in Nepco Lake and Lake Wazeecha as his reason. Both lakes were found to have levels close to 30 times the level of safety, which could translate to fewer tourism dollars for the area while the lakes are closed.” Interesting that Krug appears more concerned about economic impact than the health of his constituents.

Banned neonicitinoids. Here’s an interesting story from The Guardian about one of the effects of the EU ban on the pesticide class known as neonicitinoids. The ban was put into effect to protect honeybees and other pollinators that are thought to be harmed by the chemical. The affected crop mentioned in the story is rapeseed; the plants have been plagued with flea beetles, and some farmers report a 30 percent decline in harvest.

Support for local food systems. The USDA has announced that it will invest in local and regional food systems like farmers’ markets and food hubs and to spur research on organic farming. This New York Times story provides some background, and the USDA news release lists the five programs that will be supported by $52 million. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement on Monday in Doswell, Virginia. From the press release: “Together, these investments represent USDA’s commitment to strengthening organic and local and regional food systems through projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities, and increase access to healthy foods.” The 2014 Farm Bill does have a number of programs designed to support healthier diets, more sustainable agricultural practices, and better conservation methods. The problem – funding for these programs is dwarfed by the amounts going to subsidize crop insurance for corn and soybean production.

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