To understand what’s at stake with a forthcoming trade treaty, we can take a look at a tale from Down Under. The story of Philip Morris Asia Limited v. The Commonwealth of Australia begins in 1993, when the governments of Australia and Hong Kong signed a trade agreement. Fast forward to 2011, when Australia passed the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act, a groundbreaking public health measure that requires all cigarettes to be sold in dull, brown packages, with no company logos. It was the world’s first legislation to remove branding from cigarette boxes. Philip Morris’s response was to calculate the law’s impact on profits and sue for damages. The arbitration with Philip Morris is ongoing. Read More >
The room was sunny, but the news was somber. Today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., a panel of animal agriculture experts gathered to discuss the current state of industrial food animal production and its impact on public health and the environment—and the verdict was unanimous. In the words of Robert Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, there has been “An appalling lack of progress.” If there were a report card for progress in the last five years, said Lawrence, “I would give it an F.” Read More >
This blogpost appeared in Huffington Post Politics on October 1, 2013.
The U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance wants to talk to you. The website of the Alliance, a coalition of corporations and trade associations that make up a who’s who of industrial agriculture, says the organization wants “to engage in dialogue with consumers who have questions about how today’s food is grown and raised.” It appears, however, that the organization is more concerned with countering increasing awareness of the public health and environmental harms associated with industrialized agriculture. Read More >
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today released a report outlining the dire consequences of antibiotic resistance for public health and the economy. The agency now reports that antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause more than two million serious infections and 23,000 deaths in the United States annually. Notably, these are conservative estimates: the actual numbers likely are higher. The report also highlights a previously published estimate of the annual cost of antibiotic resistance: $16.6 to 26 billion to the health care system and up to $35 billion with societal costs included. These are costs shared by everyone, from taxpayers who foot the Medicare bill to people who pay higher premiums for private insurance. Everyone is affected, and everyone should be concerned. Read More >
Last Thursday, The Washington Post ran an op-ed by Dr. Donald Kennedy, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who called on the agency to finalize a voluntary policy to limit antibiotic use in food animal production. Dr. Kennedy sought to counter “public health advocates” who have criticized the agency for its approach to this issue. Ironically, he detailed its fatal flaw instead. Read More >
This blogpost appeared in Huffington Post Food on December 10, 2012.
Let’s say you have a sore throat, or a bad knee, or it’s time for your annual exam. You visit your doctor. Your physician asks about your consumption of all manner of drugs: prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, illegal drugs, alcohol, tobacco, and supplements. She doesn’t ask you these questions because she’s nosy, or because she wants to judge you. She asks because, if she’s going to treat your condition or advise you about preventing illness, she needs to know.
You might fudge your answers a little bit—“only three drinks a week”—but deep down you know that your wellbeing depends on your doctor having the full story on the drugs you consume. Read More >
If you do not sue the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it will not do its job. At least when it comes to animal drugs, this has been the lesson of the past year.
Until this spring, FDA had done almost nothing to stop antibiotic misuse in food animal production. Then, in April, a judge ordered the agency to take action to prevent the food animal industry from feeding penicillins and tetracyclines to livestock and poultry to make them grow faster. In June, the same judge told FDA to reconsider its denial of two citizen petitions that asked the agency to go even further. The agency has appealed both decisions, with a decision expected early next year. Read More >
The use of arsenic-based drugs, known as “arsenicals,” in poultry and pork production is one of the more disturbing practices of the food animal industry (and that is saying something). These drugs are antimicrobials used to control intestinal parasites, promote growth, and make meat look better. Inorganic arsenic is a known human carcinogen, and the use of arsenicals to produce food animals is known to increase concentrations of inorganic arsenic in parts of animals that people eat. Arsenic is also excreted in animal waste and released into the environment.
For years, the drug and food animal industries have refused to reveal the extent of their arsenical sales and use. Since 2009, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has collected this information, but the agency has refused to release it despite its public health implications. Now, after careful review of FDA reports and correspondence, I can publish a number that neither FDA nor these industries want you to know: 706,530 kilograms (kg) of arsenicals were sold for use in food animals in 2010, the most recent year for which we can determine arsenical sales. Read More >
Last Wednesday, The Washington Post reported on an outbreak of multi-drug resistant Klebsiella pneumoniae at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Clinical Center in Bethesda. (The Post was covering an interesting report by NIH investigators in Science Translational Medicine.) Initially, the strain was resistant to all but three antibiotics. It spread over several months, eventually colonizing 17 patients and killing six, and acquired resistance to these three drugs along the way.
The spooky headline in The Post—“‘Superbug’ stalked NIH hospital last year, killing six”—seemed to imply this was a freak occurrence. It was not, unfortunately. As antibiotic resistance has emerged as a full-blown public health crisis, this outbreak was just a sign of times…and of things to come. Read More >
This blogpost appeared in The Atlantic Online on August 21, 2012.
The CDC has announced a sharp spike in cases of swine-origin influenza, sometimes known as “swine flu.” At least 224 cases have occurred since mid-July, mostly in children living in Indiana and Ohio. This compares with just 12 cases reported nationally in all of 2011. The threat of pandemic influenza may not be imminent, but it is real.
To spark a pandemic, an influenza virus in another species must evolve the ability to infect humans and then spread quickly. So far, we believe those who contracted swine flu this year to have been infected by pigs at agricultural fairs; transmission between humans has not yet been reported. Several developments have made this more likely to occur, though — including the serious threats introduced by the industrialization of food animal production, which selects for genes that may allow influenza viruses to reach pandemic proportions. Read More >