The FY 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill, voted out of the House Appropriations Committee last week, includes an amendment that would severely limit the authority of FDA to regulate the use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics, in food animal production-a key concern of public health researchers. Sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), the amendment would prohibit the agency from spending any money appropriated by the bill on actions “intended to restrict the use of a substance or a compound” unless certain conditions are met. Although the amendment is broad-affecting any “substance or compound,” notably including tobacco-Rep. Rehberg has told The Washington Post that his goal was to block FDA action on the use of antimicrobials by food animal producers. Indeed, the amendment would, among other things, preempt upcoming FDA restrictions on the misuse use of cephalosporin-the antibiotic of choice for serious Salmonella infections in children. (Researchers have reported increased incidence of cephalosporin-resistant Salmonella infections [Foley and Lynne, 2008].) Joining many others in the public health community, researchers at the Center for a Livable Future recently sent a letter to Congress , urging members to strike the amendment from the legislation before final passage.
The Rehberg amendment reads as follows (we have broken it into numbered and lettered points to make the language easier to follow):
None of the funds made available by this Act may be used by the Food and Drug Administration to write, prepare, develop or publish a proposed, interim, or final rule, regulation or guidance that is intended to restrict the use of a substance or a compound unless the Secretary
- bases such rule, regulation or guidance on hard science (and not on such factors as cost and consumer behavior), and
- determines that the weight of toxicological evidence, epidemiological evidence, and risk assessments clearly justifies such action,
- including a demonstration that a product containing such substance or compound
a. is more harmful to users than a product that does not contain such substance or compound, or
b. in the case of pharmaceuticals, has been demonstrated by scientific study to have none of the purported benefits. Read More >
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].”
As physicians we recognize that lean meats may be a healthy part of almost anyone’s diet. However, based on the preponderance of evidence compiled by scientists and health experts across the globe, there is little doubt that a diet high in red and processed meats is linked to serious health risks and that we would all be wise to keep our consumption down. New dietary guidelines, recently released by the United Kingdom’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) bolsters this conclusion. The SACN’s Iron and Health 2010 report advises that Britons can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer while maintaining healthy levels of iron by keeping their red meat and processed meat consumption to 70 grams or about 2 ½ ounces a day.
Cutting back on red and processed meat could do more than just ward off colorectal cancer. Research has linked it to other diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer’s. A landmark United State’s study, published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, Meat Intake and Mortality, which included data from more than half a million members of the AARP, concluded red and processed meat intakes were associated with modest increases of “total” mortality in addition to cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality. An equally important Harvard study, published in Circulation in 2009, that followed more than 84,000 female nurses, found that red meat intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease. More importantly researchers concluded that shifting sources of protein from meat based to plant based could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
The Washington Post reports that cutting down on red meat could save an estimated 3,800 Britons from dying of bowel cancer every year. However, SACN researchers made it clear that their report did not address other potential health risks associated with meat consumption, which means many more lives could be saved from other preventable diseases. Read More >
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.
Read More >
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 >
The list of Meatless Monday supporters continues to grow across the globe, and surprisingly to some, many of the latest enthusiasts make their living either cooking meat, such as chef Mario Batali or producing it, like rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman. What makes Meatless Monday so successful is its simple and inclusive message which promotes moderation with the goal of improving public health and the health of the planet.
Nicolette and her husband Bill run the BN Ranch in Northern California near the seaside raising beef cattle on pasture and heritage turkeys. Bill knows a thing or two about ranching. He founded the famous Niman Ranch Inc. known for its sustainable and humanely raised meats. Nicolette is a Renaissance woman of sorts—new mom, writer, environmental lawyer, and interestingly, a vegetarian.
I recently was able to catch Nicolette for a few minutes by phone to ask her why she and Bill support Meatless Monday. She made it clear that she didn’t have much time; she was in the midst of a writing project, running the ranch (Bill was traveling) and taking care of her 14-month-old son who I could hear in the background chatting and occasionally clinking the keys of their piano. Knowing that time was short; I got straight to the point:
RL: A lot of people mistakenly believe that the Meatless Monday campaign is promoting the demise of all meat production, while it has always maintained that its message is simply one of moderation and inclusion of omnivores and vegetarians alike. As a rancher yourself, what would you say to any farmer who is threatened by the MM campaign?
NHN: Bill and I are very supportive of the Meatless Monday campaign and here’s why: We think that to really improve the way food is being produced and the way people are eating in this country people should eat less meat but eat better meat. All food from animals—meat, dairy, fish, eggs—should be treated as something special. Anyone who is raising food animals in the traditional healthy way, without relying on industrial methods, drugs and chemicals, is someone who will benefit from people embracing that approach. We think the Meatless Monday campaign is part of a shift in attitudes about meat, towards something that is precious not something that is consumed without thought or in enormous quantities. Read More >
Hats off to New York Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof for his recent stories (“Pathogens in Our Pork” & “Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health” ) spotlighting the serious public health risks of overusing antibiotics in industrial farm animal production. If you haven’t read them, you should. I don’t want to downplay the importance of Mr. Kristof’s reports, but in the public health and animal agriculture worlds the issue has long been a point of contention. Organizations like the American Medical Association, American Public Health Association and Keep Antibiotics Working sounded the alarms years ago regarding antibiotic resistance and the need to end the practice of adding antibiotics to animal feed simply to promote growth. Lawmakers have been trying to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) for the past few years, which calls for an end to the practice. This year, it looks like it has a good chance of passing. Feedstuff’s Washington Correspondent, Sally Shuff, reports New York Congresswoman Louise Slaughter plans to introduce PAMTA 2009 today along with the CEO of Chipotle restaurants. Now that the animal feed issue is prominently placed in the public eye, I wanted to shine a light on another potential source of antimicrobial resistance, ethanol production. Read More >
My local grocery store, like many around the country, has a pharmacy inside. This pharmacy, like many around the country, happens to be situated next to the meat section. Normally, I think nothing of this juxtaposition. That was, until I stopped by the store the other night around 11pm to pick up a few essentials. I headed to the back of the store and there before me, squarely in front of the meat section, was a huge sign advertising free antibiotics. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud (and cry a little on the inside).
“There’s some refreshing honesty,” I thought . Most of the meat available in grocery stores around the country contains antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is because of non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in food animal production–a practice that is pervasive in this country, and has been found to result in antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans. The Union of Concerned Scientists “has estimated that 70% of all antibiotics and related drugs in the United States are used for non-therapeutic purposes (growth promotion and routine disease prevention) in cattle, swine, and poultry.”
Why are essential human medicines going to animals that aren’t actually sick? And why should we care? Read More >
Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Chesapeake Bay restoration effort. In the two and half decades since the landmark Bay action agenda was agreed to, Maryland’s watershed clean up initiative has received mixed reviews on its success. As the Washington Post noted, “Despite a quarter-century of work, the bay’s biggest problem — pollution-driven “dead zones,” where fish and crabs can’t breathe — has not significantly improved.” Yet there are important environmental improvement initiatives on the way.
The Post’s editorial page yesterday hailed Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s efforts to protect the Chesapeake by limiting further development along the Maryland shoreline and enacting new measures limiting agriculture runoff from chicken farms, the leading source of harmful nitrogen and phosphorous found in the Bay.
Read More >
The recently-released report from the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production (“Experts Urge U.S. to Bar Drugs in Animal Feed,” The Baltimore Sun, April 30, 2008) not only sheds further light on issues that should concern everyone in the Chesapeake Bay Region, but also offers some achievable recommendations to help improve our state’s resources for generations to come.
The comprehensive 2-1/2 year study by the Pew Commission, which focused on the effects of industrial farm animal production on public health, the environment, animal welfare, and rural America, found the routine use of antibiotics, along with poor-to-nonexistent waste handling procedures, of particular concern. These findings should resonate with Maryland residents who have witnessed the dramatic degradation of the Chesapeake Bay. Read More >