Study finds new MRSA strain in European milk

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Researchers at Cambridge University say they have found a new strain of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in milk from England, Scotland and Denmark, which they are calling LGA251.

The findings – published online by The Lancet Infectious Diseases – can be seen as a further signal that the routine use of antibiotics in industrial food animal production is producing novel public health risks, and diminishing the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine.

Center for a Livable Future Director Robert Lawrence said the new findings “underscore the urgent need to protect the effectiveness of a critical medical and public health resource – and this unambiguously translates to the obvious step of eliminating the irresponsible administration of antibiotics to food animals.”

In December, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration confirmed that 80% of the antibiotics used in the United States are used in food animals.

The authors of the Lancet study stressed that current testing protocols would fail to identify this new strain as MRSA, and that “new diagnostic guidelines for the detection of MRSA should consider the inclusion of tests for [LGA251].”

Notes from New Zealand: China’s Investment in NZ Agriculture and a Bumper Crop for Grapes

CLF Director Robert S. Lawrence, MD, is on sabbatical in Auckland, New Zealand, where he is studying the country’s agriculture system.

As we waited in the Sydney airport for our connecting flight to Auckland, I picked up a copy of The Australian, one of the major newspapers in Australia, and noted an article titled, “China hungry for local food assets.” The article noted that China was preparing a multi-billion dollar investment campaign to acquire Australian agricultural lands to provide farm produce over the next five years. My thoughts went racing back to Lester Brown’s Who Will Feed China: Wake-up Call for a Small Planet, published in 1995 and arguably the single most important book in shaping the strategies of the early years of the Center for a Livable Future. Brown exposed the myth of Chinese grain self-sufficiency and predicted that China would soon become a major food importing country as water resources were depleted or diverted to the booming industrial sector; rising standards of living would shift dietary choices to a higher meat, western diet; and increasing amounts of grain would be diverted from direct human consumption to animal feed.

Grape VineyardThe Australian reported that in the last six months there has been a dramatic increase in the interest of Chinese buyers in purchase of segments of the agricultural sector “with the sweet spot being in ‘under the radar’ private farms, aggregation and processing businesses worth between $10 million and $200m.” Why this range of enterprise? Because under Australian law the Foreign Investment Review Board is limited to investigating sale of businesses to foreign enterprises that are worth more than $231 million. So a partial answer to Lester Brown’s question of who will feed China is a loose consortium of Australian agricultural resources, each valued at less than $231 million.

The Chinese buyers are showing particular interest in grain, meat, and wool opportunities. To date the majority of China’s investments in Australia’s agricultural sector have been less than $10 million with examples cited of dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, and Tasmanian spring water. But China’s appetite is growing with reports of one Chinese company looking for 5000 hectares (about 12,500 acres) of grain production land, worth about $75 million on the current Australian market.

The government of Australia has responded by launching a parliamentary inquiry into foreign ownership of Australian agriculture, all reminiscent of Russia’s decision last summer to ban export of wheat after their record-setting drought, India’s restrictions of rice exports in 2008, and other signs of countries protecting their domestic supplies while remaining a player in the global food market. Read More >

Increasing Appetite for Documentary’s Unsavory Message

food-inc-posterDespite its content, moviegoers’ appetites for “Food, Inc.” are only growing stronger. Just in its second week of limited-release, theaters are selling out of tickets for the documentary, which is highly critical of the industrial food system. Much of the demand may be attributed to the tidal wave of accolades from critics and writers in newspapers, magazines and blogs all over the country.

Most recently Op-Ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote about the film in his Sunday column:

“A terrific new documentary, “Food, Inc.,” playing in cinemas nationwide, offers a powerful and largely persuasive diagnosis of American agriculture. Go see it, but be warned that you may not want to eat for a week afterward. (It was particularly unnerving to see leftover animal bits washed over with ammonia and ground into “hamburger filler.” If you happen to be eating a hamburger as you read this, I apologize.)”

Movie critic Roger Ebert admitted his review didn’t read much like a movie review:

“This review doesn’t read one thing like a movie review. But most of the stuff I discuss in it, I learned from the new documentary “Food, Inc.,” directed by Robert Kenner and based on the recent book An Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. I figured it wasn’t important for me to go into detail about the photography and the editing. I just wanted to scare the bejesus out of you, which is what “Food, Inc.” did to me.”

Truthfully, the movie shouldn’t scare you, but I hope it inspires viewers to do something about it. The makers of “Food, Inc.” hope so too and offer “10 simple things you can do to change our food system.” Considering I’m the project director for the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Projects, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight number five.

“5. Meatless Mondays – Go without meat one day a week”

The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Center for a Livable Future have embraced the Meatless Monday national campaign since its inception almost a decade ago. The campaign’s goal is to reduce the negative health and environmental impacts of industrially produced meat.

Read More >

Hollywood Takes On Big Food in New Hard-Hitting Documentary

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“We put faith in our government to protect us, and we’re not being protected at the most basic level,” strong words from a mother whose two-and-a-half-year-old son died just days after eating a hamburger tainted with E. coli O157:H7. Barbara Kowalcyk’s personal fight to ensure that the food we feed our children will not endanger their health or their lives, was just one of the many powerful stories told in the soon to be released documentary Food Inc. The hard-hitting film takes a critical look at the industrial food production system and the many risks it poses on society from public health threats and environmental degradation to social injustice.

Read More >

Food Safety Needs Nuance

If you are not yet passionate about food safety, it’s time to get your gusto going. If you need a little push, I suggest watching Food, Inc. (discussed in detail by my colleague Ralph Loglisci on this blog). Part of the film features the tragic death from tainted meat of two-and-a-half-year-old Kevin Kowalcyk and the seemingly Sisyphusan efforts by his mother to get Congress to create better food safety laws. Her hard work, and that of many other advocates, is finally paying off. Consumers (read: constituents) are increasingly concerned with the issue and Congress is listening. Numerous bills have been discussed in the past few months, and now it seems one piece of legislation is taking hold: the Food Safety Enhancement Act of 2009. Word on the street is it’s due for mark-up as early as today.

While I normally bemoan the slow moving ship that is our democracy, the rapidity with which this legislation is moving forward raises some concerns. Mostly because the kind of legislation we need to protect and promote a sustainable, healthy food system should be nuanced. And nuance takes time. Read More >

Looking Ahead: Obama’s Food Policy Platform

The Huffington Post this week looks at U.S. food policy and how it could potentially change under the Obama Administration. ‘Yes We Can’ Create a Sane Food Policy in the U.S. calls for President-elect Obama to appoint “an independent-minded secretary of agriculture who shares his concern for our nation’s youth, our national health, global development, the environment, and animals, and [to] create a National Food Policy Council and appoint a food-policy “czar” to oversee and coordinate a comprehensive and forward-thinking policy.” 

The piece also highlights the findings of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production’s report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America — a joint initiative between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health — as well as the recent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, CAFOs Uncovered: The Untold Costs of Confined Animal Feeding Operations

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What Would Brian Roberts Eat?

An alarming trend will be making an appearance at many of America’s baseball parks on Opening Day this year. Along with the usual festivities synonymous with this rite of Spring-the first pitch of the season, the crack of the bat, kids sitting in the stands with glove in hand, hoping to catch a foul ball-comes the prospect of a not-so-obvious threat to our nation’s health: the compounding of our already out-of-control obesity epidemic. And the marketing geniuses behind America’s big league parks are the culprit. In their quest to fill empty seats of under performing teams, they have embraced a new tool: offering unlimited food and drink for a price. At most participating parks, fans paying an extra premium can consume unlimited hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, soda and water. (Beer and desserts are extra).

Read More >