Withdrawal from TPP: What It Means for the US Food System

Cargo ship, 1973

The public health community and the current administration align on very few issues – and yet the Republican president’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) might be a win for food systems and public health. Could it be?

A trade agreement such as the TPP is huge in scope—it affects many different stakeholders in different ways. In 2014 and 2015, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future bloggers explored negative implications on issues such as antibiotic resistance, food sovereignty, and the ability of corporations to sue countries whose policies affect their profits. Read More >

Healthy Farms, Healthy People: You Can’t Have One Without the Other

This November, the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future joined with fellow members of the Healthy Farms, Healthy People coalition steering committee to officially launch the Healthy Farms, Healthy People coalition—“a broad-based collaboration of organizations committed to achieving a healthier nation in tandem with a strong farm economy through policy reform at the local, state and national level.”

The Coalition will work on short-term targeted policy efforts, as well as long-term goals centered on policy change and information-sharing across sectors. The Coalition brings together stakeholders from the health, agricultural, anti-hunger, environmental and economic development communities, whose diverse expertise is necessary to make such reforms to the food system a reality. Read More >

Ban On Arsenicals Is Common Sense

Today’s announcement by U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) introducing legislation to ban the use of the arsenical compound roxarsone once again shines the spotlight on the all-too common practice of the unnecessary use of antimicrobial drugs in industrial animal production.

“American consumers simply shouldn’t have to ingest this arsenic compound when they sit at the kitchen table,” said Rep. Israel.  “There’s a reason some major poultry producers have stopped using it – it can only cause environmental and health problems. With cancer levels on the rise we need to be vigilant about the sources of health problems, and that means banning roxarsone.”

The bill (H.R. 3624), known as the “Poison-Free Poultry Act of 2009,” would prohibit all uses of roxarsone as a food additive in animals.

What is roxarsone and why should we be concerned about its use?  Roxarsone is an arsenical antimicrobial drug used extensively in poultry and swine production to combat intestinal parasites, speed growth and improve pigmentation. Some large poultry integrators have reported voluntarily withdrawing roxarsone from feed regimens, although I am unaware of efforts to validate these claims. Further, I am unaware of similar voluntary withdrawals from swine producers. Federal agencies do not mandate the reporting of food animal drug usage, making it difficult to characterize the use of the drug in food animal production. Read More >

IATP Calls for Halt to Antibiotic Use in Ethanol Industry

In the wake of recent Congressional hearings calling for a halt to the use of antibiotics in farm animal production, Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has (IATP) just released a report saying the use of antibiotics in ethanol production is unnecessary.

“The ethanol industry should voluntarily stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in the production process, particularly because viable alternatives are readily available,” says the IATP report, “Fueling Resistance? Antibiotics in Ethanol Production.”

“The epidemic of antibiotic resistance threatens every one of us,” says IATP’s David Wallinga, M.D. “The best way to keep our existing antibiotics effective is to stop unnecessary antibiotics wherever they are used-in hospitals, in animals and in ethanol production.”

According to IATP, ethanol producers add antibiotics to the ethanol fermentation process to control bacterial outbreaks. And, since there are no reporting requirements for antibiotic use in ethanol production, there are no reliable numbers are available on how widespread the practice is. IATP notes that in 2008, the FDA found residues from four types of antibiotics in dried distillers grains-the nutrient-rich residue sold as livestock feed that is a co-product of ethanol production.

It seems that nearly half of the nation’s 170 ethanol production facilities avoid antibiotic use through readily available alternatives. and many others are exploring ways to stop antibiotic use. “The bad news is that many ethanol facilities are currently using antibiotics. The good news is that they don’t have to,” says IATP’s Jim Kleinschmit.

Sustainable Agriculture Leaders Advise Transition Team

Today leaders in the sustainable agriculture community, organized by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, briefed members of the Obama transition team on priorities.  It was great to have the transition team’s ear, and to hear so many positive action ideas for the administration’s initial work.  CLF director, Dr. Bob Lawrence spoke of the epidemic of antibiotic resistance, and emphasized the need for the FDA to strengthen antibiotic licensing and permitting requirements in animal agriculture.  He also urged the USDA to take an in-depth look at the food safety impacts of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.  These recommendations and others are outlined in more detail as part of the Pew Commission report.

Most of the recommendations discussed did not address public health per se, although many had significant implications for public health.  We in the public health community are organizing to provide further input on issues relevant to the connections between food systems and public health.

Here are some other public health-related recommendations discussed during the call.
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