Leading U.S. Food Service Provider Introduces Meatless Monday to Potentially Millions of Customers

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 >

New FDA Numbers Reveal Food Animals Consume Lion’s Share of Antibiotics

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 >

How Much Does U.S. Livestock Production Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

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"Livestock’s Long Shadow"

A round of applause for Washington Post reporter Ezra Klein for pointing out last week the undeniable fact that meat production is a major contributor to global warming, and that consumers can make a difference by cutting out their meat consumption just one day a week. How big a difference in greenhouse gases reduction it would make in the United States has long been a topic of debate, and something I’ve wanted to clarify for quite a while. Before I explain why, I want to make it clear that there is more than enough evidence that shows reducing meat consumption nationwide would lead to dramatic improvements in environmental degradation, widespread public and personal health risks, animal welfare and environmental and social justice issues.

First off, I’m pleased to see that mainstream media outlets are finally increasing their coverage of food systems’ effects on climate change. Believe it or not, it’s taken a while for the news gatekeepers to catch on. Last year Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future’s research and policy director Roni Neff published a paper in the journal of Public Health Nutrition that found U.S. newspaper coverage did not reflect the increasingly solid evidence of climate change effects due to current food systems. Read More >

Dangerous Medicine in U.S. Food Production: Antibiotics

Robert S. Lawrence, Director, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.

I applaud Nicholas Kristof for his column, “Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health,” in Wednesday’s edition of The New York Times. Mr. Kristof zeroes in on a critical public health issue that could have dire consequences if we do not stop using antibiotics and other antimicrobials as growth promoters in industrial food animal operations.

Nearly a year ago, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production released a report entitled “Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America.” After two years of extensive investigation, the Pew Commission found that the use of antibiotics in animals without a diagnosed illness (i.e., as growth promoters) was of “deep concern.”

In 1998, the National Academies of Science estimated that antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections were increasing health care costs by a minimum of $5 billion annually. The unchecked use of antibiotics in industrial agriculture is contributing to the spread of resistant organisms.

The volume of antibiotics used to treat human illness pales in comparison to the volume used in industrial farm animal production. In 2005, the Union of Concerned Scientists noted that while 3 million pounds of antibiotics were being used in human medicine each year, the food animal industry was using 24.6 million pounds, primarily to stimulate growth and increase production.

Resistant bacteria from industrial operations, such as the facilities mentioned by Mr. Kristof, can reach the human population in a number of ways-through our food and water supplies, the air we breathe, or direct contact with animals, to name a few. And there is increasing concern that this resistance can “jump” species of bacteria, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prudent public health policy requires that non-therapeutic uses of antimicrobials in food animal production should stop. Economic analyses demonstrate that little economic benefit derives from using antimicrobials as feed additives, and that equivalent improvements in growth and feed consumption can be achieved by improved hygiene.

In 2006, Europe eliminated the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, and South Korea did the same last summer. The American Medical Association opposes the use of antibiotics in farm animals that are not sick, and WHO has called for phasing out the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion in livestock and fish production.

We must put an end to this practice.

*Note from LFB: You can follow Nicholas Kristof’s blog, On the Ground, or his Twitter feed.