Will the U.S. Hog Industry Ever Kick Its Reliance on Low-Dose Antibiotics?

The editors of Scientific American recently encouraged U.S. hog farmers to “follow Denmark and stop giving farm animals low-dose antibiotics.” Sixteen years ago, in order to reduce the threat of increased development of antibiotic resistant bacteria in their food system and the environment, Denmark phased in an antibiotic growth promotant ban in food animal production. Guess what? According to Denmark’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries the ban is working and the industry has continued to thrive. The government agency found that Danish livestock and poultry farmers used 37% less antibiotics in 2009 than in 1994, leading to overall reductions of antimicrobial resistance countrywide.

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Courtesy: Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration, July, 2010

Except for a few early hiccups regarding the methods used in weaning piglets, production levels of livestock and poultry have either stayed the same or increased. So how did Danish producers make this transition, and why isn’t the U.S. jumping to follow suit? Like many things in industrial agriculture, the answer is not clear.

If any country knows how to intensively produce food animals, particularly pigs, it is Denmark. In 2008, farmers produced about 27 million hogs. In fact, the Scandinavian country claims to be the world’s largest exporter of pork. Thus Scientific American editors argue that the Danish pork production system should serve as a suitable model to compare to ours. U.S. agriculture economists from Iowa State University agree. In a 2003 report, Drs. Helen Jensen and Dermot Hayes stated that Denmark’s pork industry is “…at least as sophisticated as that of the United States… and is therefore a suitable market for evaluating a ban on antibiotic growth promotants (AGPs).” 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 >

CDC responds to CLF on antibiotic resistance testimony

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirms that the CDC “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” Frieden offered the CDC’s position in his response to a letter from Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director. Lawrence and Nachman sent the letter to Frieden and Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, last June seeking to clarify Congressional testimony concerning the evidence against the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production.

Frieden noted the multiple North American studies that show the links between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. “In addition,” he said, “a strong body of evidence from Europe demonstrates that antibiotic use in animals is linked with antibiotic resistance in humans. We have thoroughly reviewed these studies and have found them to be well-designed and rigorous, and to establish a clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”

Lawrence and Nachman commended the position officially stated by the CDC. “We are gratified that the CDC recognizes the scientific connections between the inappropriate and overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and antibiotic resistance in humans, and pledge to continue to work closely with the agency, regulators, and policymakers to address the problem. A number of studies supported by the CLF and by others clearly establish the direct causal link between use of low dose antibiotics in feed or water for growth promotion and the emergence of ever-more antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria that are important human pathogens.” Legislation on a bill to limit antibiotic use in food animal production, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, is now pending in Congress.

NIAID responds to CLF on antibiotic resistance testimony

The principal deputy director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, notes “success against antimicrobial resistance will require a multifaceted approach that includes increased surveillance, more judicious use of antimicrobial drugs, and increased research on the biology of the microbes mechanisms of resistance, host responses, vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics.”

Dr. Auchincloss was responding to a letter sent to Anthony Fauci, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, by Keeve Nachman, PhD, MHS, and director of CLF’s Farming for the Future Program, and Robert Lawrence, MD, director, CLF. Nachman and Lawrence wrote to Fauci and Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in June seeking to clarify Congressional testimony concerning the evidence against the use of antibiotics in industrial farm animal production.

In his response, Dr. Auchincloss wrote, “NIAID does find that the overall weight of evidence to date links antibiotic use in food animals with antibiotic resistance in humans.” Legislation on a bill to limit antibiotic use in food animal production, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, is now pending in Congress.

The Hidden Hazard of Poultry Litter Pelletization

The following letter to the editor was submitted by the Center for a Livable Future to The Baltimore Sun following an article published in Sunday’s edition on Perdue’s efforts to recycle poultry litter. The article was also discussed in a blog post on B’MoreGreen yesterday.

We were disappointed to see that Timothy Wheeler left out any mention of an important environmental and human health consideration in his recent piece on the Perdue poultry manure pelletization plant (“Perdue manure recycling plant reduces nutrients in bay”).

According to estimates from Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., 88% of domestically produced broiler chickens are fed an arsenic-containing drug called roxarsone.  Some of the arsenic from this drug stays behind in the edible portions of the chicken, and the rest ends up in the poultry manure.

Numerous scientific and peer-reviewed research studies have measured heightened levels of arsenic in poultry manure, and research from the United States Geological Survey and other researchers has shown that the arsenic in poultry manure is rapidly converted into an inorganic form that is highly water soluble and capable of moving into surface and ground water.

Inorganic arsenic is recognized by the U.S. EPA as a carcinogen.  Earlier this year, the agency released a draft reassessment of arsenic toxicity, which indicates that the most recent evidence suggests that arsenic is 17 times more potent as a carcinogen than previously understood.  Arsenic exposures have also been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological deficits, and other health problems. 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 >