Not-So-Breaking News: Misuse of Antimicrobials Threatens Public Health

An article just out in Clinical Microbiology Reviews should put to rest the hotly contested debate about antimicrobial misuse in industrial food animal production (IFAP).  The review article, “Food Animals and Antimicrobials: Impacts on Human Health,” written by Bonnie Marshall and Stuart Levy of the Tufts University School of Medicine, provides one of the most comprehensive summaries to-date of the evidence linking antimicrobial misuse in IFAP to increased incidence of antimicrobial-resistant infections in humans, and it should silence accusations made by elected officials who contend that there is insufficient evidence to support restrictions on antimicrobial use in agriculture.

These accusations have grown louder in recent months.  In June of this year, Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT) attached an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have prohibited the Food and Drug Administration from spending money to restrict the use of antimicrobials in the absence of “hard science.”  The “hard science amendment,” poorly written and clumsily introduced, was stripped from the legislation before it passed the House.  But the arguments presented by Rehberg and other members nevertheless reveal a strident—and unwarranted—skepticism of existing scientific knowledge about antimicrobial resistance. Read More >

Oprah Enthusiastically Throws Her Support Behind Meatless Monday

 

Oprah celebrates Meatless Monday

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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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 >

Yakima Valley Releases Draft Air Quality Policy for Dairies

Unlike agricultural water discharges which are regulated for large farms defined as CAFO by the EPA and the Clean Water Act, most agricultural air emissions are not regulated. Water discharges and air emissions that are related to industrial scale agricultural operations in rural areas are big concerns for local communities. The Yakima Valley in Eastern Washington State is one of these areas.  The historical use of this irrigated valley for agriculture has left a legacy of wells and groundwater contaminated with nitrates, chemicals and biological agents. At this time there is disagreement among local stakeholders about the source of these contaminants.  There are no swine or poultry operations in the valley and dairy practices in the valley have changed in the last 20 years from small pasture based operations to industrial scale operations. The EPA and Washington Department of Ecology are currently conducting a groundwater study which was developed in 2008 using a community based research plan.  Many individuals in the community are certain that the extent of the groundwater contamination is due to the expansive dairy operations in the Valley.  Additionally it is becoming more apparent that large scale operations can have dramatic effects on regional water and air quality.

Leah Beth Ward presented a three-part series, “Hidden Wells, Dirty Water,” in the Yakima Herald Republic which explored the dairy industry, governmental agency policy and community concerns about the adverse environmental and public health effects associated with exposures to Yakima Valley dairy operations.    Another YouTube video exposé of the area, “Dairyman Blues,” explored some of the concerns of community residents and the work of local activist groups in response to the change in dairy processes. Read More >

“Animal Factory” Book Tour Stops at JHSPH

When you hear Author David Kirby tell the stories behind the people in his latest book, you can’t help but to get caught up in his emotions. Tears welled up in his eyes several times last night as he described-often in graphic detail-to a riveted Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health audience, his experiences in researching his book, “Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment.”

Kirby, who kicked off a national book tour last week, stopped in Baltimore to visit with staff at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and discuss his latest project with students and faculty. In his research for the 492-page book, the New York Times best-selling author had consulted several times with CLF Director Bob Lawrence.

“Animal Factory documents the scandal of today’s industrial food animal production system in the same compelling way Upton Sinclair alerted Americans to the abuses of the meatpacking industry in his 1906 The Jungle,” says CLF’s Lawrence.

“Animal Factory” follows three American families in different regions of the US, whose lives have been utterly changed by these CAFOs: Weaving science, politics, big business, and everyday life, Kirby accompanies these families and their struggles.

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Farming our Schools

When is the last time you walked around an urban public high school in the United States?  For most of us, it’s been a while.  For me, it was just last month and I will tell you what I noticed when I walked around.  It wasn’t the dilapidated buildings, the lack of experienced teachers, or the missing vocational and practical trades that disappeared a long time ago with shrinking budgets.  I noticed land.  I saw opportunity.

What some say is the last vestige of the “commons” in America, our public school system sits on an incredible amount of land!  Walk around a public high school and you see land that is not being used; it’s either being under-utilized or it is completely abandoned.  Pavement and asphalt is the default, and green-space upkeep costs too much money for strapped urban districts.  Was it ever used?  I don’t know, but it’s time to utilize this public space for the community. 

As we stare at our nation’s expanding waistlines and the “franken-foods” that dominate our store shelves, we realize that what the communities of our great nation need is real food.  We’ve watched the obesity rates in our children triple in the last two decades, and we are left with no choice but to creatively respond to this epidemic.  If we don’t, there is a good chance they may become the first generation in our history to live a shorter life span than their parents. 

As a Government and Economics teacher in a deeply urban school in California, I come face to face with disturbing daily realities.  Recently, a 16 year old Latina student came up to me in astonishment and asked, “Are you telling me that a lemon is a fruit?”  Equally astonished are the students that walk out to the school garden and marvel at the sweet peas they can pick fresh off the vine.  “I never knew that came out of a flower,” I’ve heard them gasp.  They recoil at the sight of dirt touching a piece of produce, yet they don’t blink at paying $2 for bottled water that is less regulated than the water coming out of their tap.  I don’t blame my students for a system that produces 3,800 calories per day per person (we only need half that amount) and then uses the most sophisticated marketing tools on the planet to get our youth to consume them.  As a teacher, I have learned that you must accept your students “where they are” because getting angry about how they got there is wasted energy.  Accept the challenge and then work like hell to help them reach their potential.  I’ve accepted that the industrialized food companies got to my students first, and now I know through local food production in the schools, I can help them become healthier once again. Read More >

What is a family farm?

The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Capitol Hill briefing, yesterday, on Industrial Animal Farms and Worker Health and Safety was informative and compelling. It was also contentious. While Dr. Steven Wing, University of North Carolina epidemiologist and environmental justice expert, discussed the transformation of agricultural practices over the last few decades he was interrupted by a Congressional staffer who took issue with Wing’s statement that many of the family farms are disappearing and being replaced by industrial food animal operations. The interruption was brief, but the issue of “family farms” was raised again during the question and answer session.

Several briefing attendees claimed that their families had owned farming operations for generations, some of whom now run confinement livestock operations, also known as industrial food animal production (IFAP) facilities. Tensions grew when two attendees boisterously expressed their beliefs that even though many family farmers have shifted their farming practices to industrial models that they are still technically running family farms.

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Veterinarians Respond to Sen. Grassley

by Amy Peterson, DVM, and Meghan Davis, DVM, MPH

In a Sept. 29th prepared floor statement, Senator Chuck Grassley spoke in response to an August 21st Time magazine article by Bryan Walsh.  An important point raised by Mr. Walsh concerned the non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials in food animals and the impact of use of antimicrobials on the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria. The PEW commission report on industrial food animal production (IFAP) cites several studies supporting a connection between the use of antimicrobials and development of drug resistance in both pathogenic (disease-causing) and non-pathogenic bacteria on and around industrial animal farms. A major component of Senator Grassley argument is captured in his quote of a response to the PEW report released by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) on August 17th. The response states that “[a] scientific human/animal nexus, connecting antimicrobial treatments in animals with foodborne or environmentally-contracted human disease, has not been proven.” Read More >

Is Smithfield Decision Not to Replace Gestation Crates Ethical?

alan-goldbergAlan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a former commissioner of the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production and is a guest blogger today for Livable Future.

The largest pork producer in the world, Smithfield Foods Inc., says it can’t afford to go through with one of its much-ballyhooed animal welfare improvement plans. The company said that it must delay plans to replace its “gestation crates” for pregnant sows with more humane “group housing.” Frankly, the decision comes as no surprise to me. Back in 2007, when the company announced that its 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be converted within 10 years, the executives refused to admit that the crates were inhumane. Rather, they said their decision was based on consumer preference. If Smithfield were truly concerned about growing consumer awareness and/or preference concerning how animals are raised for food, it would have also required that all of its contract facilities convert within the same 10-year span.

These gestation crates truly are appalling, and some have used the word cruel.  A sow living in a typical industrial facility will spend the majority of her life confined in these metal and concrete stalls that are so small that she can barely lie down, let alone turn around. I won’t belabor how awful gestation crates are – they are awful. Chances are you’ve heard a great deal about them as the Humane Society of the United States and other animal welfare organizations campaigned across the country in efforts to legally have them banned.  So far, six states have laws on the books that ban producers from using gestation crates. The European Union was ahead of the curve, requiring farmers to replace all gestation crates by 2013.

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Is There a Connection between IFAP and the Ongoing Swine Flu Outbreak?

b00528_h1n1_flu_blue_medjpgThe ongoing outbreak of Swine Flu / novel influenza A (H1N1) highlights one of the many serious public health risks that industrial food animal production (IFAP) poses on a global scale. It is known that pigs are “mixing vessels” for influenza viruses (for swine, avian and human flu), and it is believed that the last two flu pandemics, in 1957 and 1968, broke out when avian flu and human flu viruses mixed genetically with pig viruses to create a new flu virus that was transferred back to people. It has also been suggested that the 1918 Spanish Flu originated from pigs (Chasing the Fickle Swine Flu, March 7, 2003, Science).

Insufficient evidence is available to definitively determine whether the current swine flu outbreak originated from IFAP swine operations. However, through analyses of genome sequences generated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from current virus isolates, Columbia University researchers have proposed two swine-related genetic ancestors of the current virus. Of these, one that accounts for six of the eight genetic segments of the virus has been identified as the H3N2 virus, a triple reassortment of swine, avian and human virus first isolated in pigs on a North Carolina swine operation in August of 1998. (Evolution of Swine H3N2 Influenza Viruses in the United States, Journal of Virology, September 2000) The other two segments are believed to be from swine viruses of Eurasian origin (Trifonov, 2009). Read More >