When moms talk you can bet lawmakers listen, not to mention food retailers. That is exactly what the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is counting on following the release of a nationwide poll of 804 American moms, which found that 80 percent are concerned that food animals produced on industrial farms are being given large amounts of antibiotics. Each of these moms is a registered voter and has kids aged 16 or younger. Not only were most of the moms polled concerned about antibiotic use, more than three-quarters said they would support federal regulations to limit its use in food animals.
No doubt this news has the animal agriculture industry concerned. Despite the warnings from scientists and public health experts of the risks of the low-dose use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry, food animal producers have for years fought proposed federal regulations claiming there is little proof the practice poses a risk to humans. Top leaders of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration disagree with animal producers. Former FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein testified in front of Congress stating the links are undeniable and in a letter to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) the director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirmed that the CDC, “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
More and more research continues to pour in, almost on a daily basis, linking antibiotic-use in intensive food animal production facilities to the growing threat of antibiotic resistant infections in people. Earlier this month, a Pew funded nationwide study of grocery store meats revealed nearly 50 percent of the meat and poultry we buy carries antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and that DNA tests indicate the animals themselves were the primary sources. Read More >
Staphylococcus aureus, Image Courtesy: CDC
According to a recently published nationwide study of grocery store meats, the next time you handle a piece of meat or poultry bought at your local supermarket there is nearly a 50 percent chance that it will be carrying drug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (Staph). The Translational Genomics Research Institute study determined that the majority of those bacteria are likely resistant to several classes of antibiotics. Antibiotic-resistant strains of Staph are to blame for a host of illnesses, ranging from simple skin infections to life-threatening diseases, such as pneumonia and sepsis. Staph infects an estimated 500,000 patients in U.S. hospitals annually and more deathsdeaths are blamed on Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)infections every year than HIV/AIDS. Infectious disease experts warn the consequences of rendering antibiotics useless would be disastrous to modern medicine, which depends on antibiotics for everything from organ transplant surgeries and cancer therapies to the care of patients with trauma or battlefield injuries.
The frequency of detection of resistant bacteria on meat purchased in grocery stores is alarming. Despite this, most of the news coverage we’ve seen this week misses a key message that can be gleaned from the conclusions of the study. The study does not point directly to new or heightened food-safety risks to the consumer, rather, it serves as verification that one of human medicine’s strongest safeguards against disease is quickly losing its efficacy, in part due to inappropriate use of antibiotics in the industrial food animal production system. Read More >
The Meatless Monday campaign just gained America’s protector of natural resources and heritage as one of its latest supporters. The U.S. Department of the Interior is one of Sodexo’s more than 2,000 corporate and government clients, which the food service giant encouraged to adopt its Meatless Monday initiative.
Sodexo announced today that it is all part of the company’s ongoing efforts to boost health and wellness and promote sustainability in the North American communities where it serves as many as 10 million meals a day. The Department of Interior joins several of Sodexo’s well-known clients, such as Toyota and Northern Trust Bank in adopting Meatless Monday.
The non-profit Meatless Monday campaign, which is operated out of New York City, was launched in 2003 with the help of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future. The public health campaign was first started simply to reduce America’s saturated fat consumption by 15%, following the recommendations of the Healthy People 2010 report issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in 2000.
While reducing potential negative health effects, such as cardiovascular disease, remains a key goal, a few years ago the initiative expanded its focus to environmental impacts of intensive meat production. Those impacts can be quite substantial. Research suggests that it takes 20 times the amount of fossil-fuel energy to produce conventional beef protein than plant-based protein. According to a study out of California, it takes about 2,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. That’s almost ten times more than the 220 gallons water needed to produce a pound of tofu.
A Sodexo spokesperson says the Department of Interior reports that, “the population of customers at DOI is very health and environmentally conscience, so that Meatless Monday is a welcome addition to our program.” In a Sodexo news release, Toyota executive Will Nicklas was quoted as saying, “Meatless Monday has been successful here primarily because Sodexo helps our customers understand that it is not at all about becoming vegetarians or even weight loss, it’s about taking easy steps to guard our health and be good stewards of our environment.” Read More >
The editors of Scientific American recently encouraged U.S. hog farmers to “follow Denmark and stop giving farm animals low-dose antibiotics.” Sixteen years ago, in order to reduce the threat of increased development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their food system and the environment, Denmark phased in an antibiotic growth promotant ban in food animal production. Guess what? According to Denmark’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries the ban is working and the industry has continued to thrive. The government agency found that Danish livestock and poultry farmers used 37% less antibiotics in 2009 than in 1994, leading to overall reductions of antimicrobial resistance countrywide.
- Courtesy: Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, July, 2010
Except for a few early hiccups regarding the methods used in weaning piglets, production levels of livestock and poultry have either stayed the same or increased. So how did Danish producers make this transition, and why isn’t the U.S. jumping to follow suit? Like many things in industrial agriculture, the answer is not clear.
If any country knows how to intensively produce food animals, particularly pigs, it is Denmark. In 2008, farmers produced about 27 million hogs. In fact, the Scandinavian country claims to be the world’s largest exporter of pork. Thus Scientific American editors argue that the Danish pork production system should serve as a suitable model to compare to ours. U.S. agriculture economists from Iowa State University agree. In a 2003 report, Drs. Helen Jensen and Dermot Hayes stated that Denmark’s pork industry is “…at least as sophisticated as that of the United States… and is therefore a suitable market for evaluating a ban on antibiotic growth promotants (AGPs).” Read More >
Oprah celebrates Meatless Monday
Talk show host Oprah Winfrey may have just encouraged a large segment of her 30 million viewers to join the Meatless Monday movement following her latest show which gave us a rare glimpse into where some of our meat comes from.
The Meatless Monday campaign’s national awareness has more than doubled in the last 2 years. An FGI Research survey found that 30 percent of Americans are aware of the public health campaign. My guess is that following Oprah’s very public backing and the announcement last month that the food service company Sodexo implemented Meatless Monday national and global awareness is going to sky rocket!
The episode, entitled “Oprah and 378 Staffers Go Vegan: The One Week Challenge” featured celebrated “veganist” Kathy Freston and journalist Michael Pollan, best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” A large chunk of the show followed Freston encouraging sometimes belligerent but mostly willing Oprah Show staff members to eat a vegan diet for one week and their testimonials on how they did. A few employees said the experience helped them lose weight and become healthier. Following her experience, Oprah decided, quite enthusiastically, that her studio’s café would do Meatless Monday every week.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future helped launch the national Meatless Monday campaign back in 2003. The campaign’s primary focus is to reduce America’s saturated fat consumption by 15%, following the recommendations of the Healthy People 2010 report issued by then U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in 2000. Key recommendations from the recently released Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 reiterate the message that we need to reduce our consumption of solid and saturated fats.
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The national non-profit Meatless Monday campaign is proving to be “The Little Engine That Could” in the environmental public health world. In just the last two years national awareness of Meatless Monday more than doubled. According to a commissioned survey by FGI Research more than 30 percent of Americans are aware of the public health campaign, compared to 15 percent awareness in 2008. No doubt the announcement last week that Sodexo, a food service company which serves more than 10 million North American customers a day, has adopted the campaign will only help to increase Meatless Monday’s popularity.
A number of Sodexo facilities including the Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Cobblestone Cafe′ conducted their own Meatless Monday campaigns. However, starting this month Sodexo expanded the initiative to all of its more than 900 hospital clients, “as part of its ongoing effort to promote health and wellness.” In the spring, the company will offer menus and materials to all of its corporate and government clients and in the fall it will officially implement Meatless Monday at its “Sodexo-served” colleges and schools.
Sodexo joins a growing list of Meatless Monday supporters. Some of the most recent high-profile Meatless Monday converts include Moe’s Southwest Grill; Mario Batali, Celebrity Chef and restaurateur; Laurie David, An Inconvenient Truth producer and dozens of municipalities, universities, colleges, and restaurants. Read More >
Antibiotics, one of the world’s greatest medical discoveries, are slowly losing their effectiveness in fighting bacterial infections and the massive use of the drugs in food animals may be the biggest culprit. The growing threat of antibiotic resistance is largely due to the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in both people and animals, which leads to an increase in “super-bacteria”. However, people use a much smaller portion of antibiotics sold in this country compared to the amount set aside for food animals. In fact, according to new data just released by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), of the antibiotics sold in 2009 for both people and food animals almost 80% were reserved for livestock and poultry. A huge portion of those antibiotics were never intended to fight bacterial infections, rather producers most likely administered them in continuous low-dosages through feed or water to increase the speed at which their animals grew. And that has many public health experts and scientists troubled.
For years scientists concerned about the threat of antibiotic resistant bacteria in food animal production have been trying to figure out just how much antibiotics producers are using each year. The best they could do was come up with rough estimates. That is because the data was never publicly available, until now. Read More >
It looks like the “Eat less meat, eat better meat” motto, first coined by sustainable cattle rancher and author Nicolette Hahn Niman, is catching on. According to School Food FOCUS, a national initiative dedicated to helping urban school districts buy healthier, more sustainable and locally sourced food, four of the nation’s largest school districts launched their own “Better Beef Days.”
According to a School Food FOCUS spokesperson, Meredith Modzelewski, Denver Public Schools, Portland Public Schools, Oakland Unified School District and San Diego Unified School District, decided to serve sustainably raised beef to students this week to coincide with National School Lunch Week.
Modzelewski says the food service directors for each of the districts came up with idea on their own following a School Food FOCUS brainstorming session organized to help schools find ways to purchase healthier poultry and bread products.
“It all started with school food service directors who wanted to talk with producers of grass-fed beef,” says Modzelewski. “This was really a grassroots effort,” added Modzelewski. [no pun intended] While not every district was able to source grass-fed beef, all the “better” meat purchased – ranges from local and grass-fed to antibiotic-free, added hormone-free and preservative-free.
I’m particularly excited to see that the Oakland School District, which adopted its own Meatless Monday campaign this year, is also taking part in the “Better Beef Days.” Some may think these initiatives send mixed messages to kids. I disagree. In fact, (I can’t believe I’m saying this), even the National Pork Board noted in a Chicago Times article last month that Meatless Monday serves as, “a message of moderation and quality.” Read More >
It is time for some straight talk about the risks of using massive amounts of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. I don’t know one infectious disease expert who would disagree that there are direct links between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in people. Period. If you don’t believe me just ask Rear Admiral Ali Kahn, Assistant Surgeon General and Acting Deputy Director for the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease. Just this summer, during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Dr. Kahn testified that, “there is unequivocal evidence and relationship between [the] use of antibiotics in animals and [the] transmission of antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing adverse effects in humans.”
Knowing this, I continue to be frustrated with the fact that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack does not publically recognize that the industrial food animal production system is a leading contributor to the increase of antibiotic resistance in pathogens that infect people and animals. Earlier this month at a National Cattlemen’s Beef Association meeting, Vilsack reportedly responded to a question about the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) by saying the, “USDA’s public position is, and always has been, that antibiotics need to be used judiciously, and we believe they already are.”
That quote had me scratching my head when I read it in a New York Times Op-Ed a couple of weeks ago. The Times’ editors interpreted the statement as saying Vilsack believes there is no need to change antibiotic use policy among food animal producers. That contradicts the positions of both the FDA and CDC. The Times pointed out that while neither regulatory agency is doing enough to address the problem both, at least, recognize that current antibiotic use should change. Read More >
Leadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it abundantly clear last week that the low-dose usage of antibiotics in food animals, simply to promote growth or improve feed efficiency, needlessly contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and poses a serious threat to public health. Despite the fact that the FDA is taking a hard-line stance on the issue, I find it frustrating to see that the agency appears to be hamstrung from taking the necessary steps to mandate industry end the risky practice. Even more exasperating is that it appears that the FDA may actually relax a current directive that already regulates antibiotic use. However, unlike many critics, I don’t believe that this is an example of the Obama administration buckling under industry pressure. Rather, I view it as a loud and stern call for Congress to take action. Producers concerned more about profit than protecting public health are not going to cut their dependence on non-therapeutic antibiotic use in food animals unless lawmakers pass strict legislation.
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