Elections, the bad news. A lot happened on Tuesday at the polls, and how the shift in our representation affects our food system, our environment, and the health of our public is yet to be seen. One of the biggest disappointments is that with a Republican-majority Senate, we are likely to see damage done to the EPA’s already limited authority over the livestock industries that pollute our soil, water, and air, and we will probably see that agency’s Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) systematically dismantled. The political pressure from anti-regulatory forces on the USDA and the FDA is also likely to render both Read More >
As a panel of scientific experts spoke at Thursday’s Congressional briefings on the misuse of antibiotics in food animal production, a theme emerged: There is no longer any debate.
With evidence that is now irrefutable, the panelists addressed more than 120 Congressional staff and others in the Rayburn House Office Building and the Senate Visitor Center. Each echoed a plain and simple message: The science is clear on two points. First, by inappropriately giving antibiotics to livestock*, we promote the growth of new strains of bacteria that are resistant to existing antibiotics and can infect humans. And, second, that those antibiotic-resistant bacteria pose a serious, expensive, and sometimes fatal, risk for humans. The humans at risk, by the way, are not only the humans who eat meat or work with livestock. All humans are at increased risk for infection by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, including vegetarians and those who never have and never will set foot near a chicken, turkey, pig, or cow. Read More >
The pork and beef industries are having a field day with the recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on antibiotic resistance—and they are distorting the findings dramatically. Both industries are saying that the GAO found insufficient evidence to link antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans. But what the report really tells us is that the FDA and USDA are not doing a good enough job collecting data on the connection between antibiotic use and resistance.
Two years ago, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D–NY) asked the GAO, the impartial research arm of Congress, to look into the efforts of two federal agencies (FDA and USDA) to curb antibiotic resistance that results from the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in food animal production. The GAO’s mandates included an examination of the extent to which these federal agencies are collecting data on the issue, as well as examinations of lessons learned by FDA and regulators in Denmark and the European Union. I think it’s very important to note that Rep. Slaughter did not ask the GAO to evaluate the extensive scientific literature connecting the use of antibiotics in food animal production to antibiotic-resistant infections in humans. Read More >
Last week, Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) took an important stand in support of America’s health by reintroducing the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S. 1211). The bill aims to prevent the misuse of antibiotics in agriculture to ensure their continued effectiveness in the treatment of both human and animal diseases. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) are co-sponsoring, and the bill has been referred to the Senate Committee of Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) has been the major champion for PAMTA in the House and has made several attempts to push the bill forward. She reintroduced it this year, and in March it entered the House Subcommittee on Health.
In her introduction, Sen. Feinstein explained the significance of the bill, particularly its role in protecting public health. Currently, about 80% of all antibiotics sold are for livestock, mostly for nontherapeutic purposes. Approximately 74% of these antibiotics are administered through feed containing low doses. This provides imprecise and inconsistent drug dosing that can result in drug resistance amongst surviving bacteria. Unfortunately, these resistant microbes can travel to humans and cause serious illnesses that are no longer treatable with standard antibiotics. Read More >
Nationwide Poll: 80% of America’s Moms are Concerned About Antibiotic Use in Industrial Food Animal Production
When moms talk you can bet lawmakers listen, not to mention food retailers. That is exactly what the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming is counting on following the release of a nationwide poll of 804 American moms, which found that 80 percent are concerned that food animals produced on industrial farms are being given large amounts of antibiotics. Each of these moms is a registered voter and has kids aged 16 or younger. Not only were most of the moms polled concerned about antibiotic use, more than three-quarters said they would support federal regulations to limit its use in food animals.
No doubt this news has the animal agriculture industry concerned. Despite the warnings from scientists and public health experts of the risks of the low-dose use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry, food animal producers have for years fought proposed federal regulations claiming there is little proof the practice poses a risk to humans. Top leaders of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration disagree with animal producers. Former FDA Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein testified in front of Congress stating the links are undeniable and in a letter to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) the director of the CDC, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, confirmed that the CDC, “feels there is strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
More and more research continues to pour in, almost on a daily basis, linking antibiotic-use in intensive food animal production facilities to the growing threat of antibiotic resistant infections in people. Earlier this month, a Pew funded nationwide study of grocery store meats revealed nearly 50 percent of the meat and poultry we buy carries antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and that DNA tests indicate the animals themselves were the primary sources. Read More >
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.
- 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 >
To protect yourself from harmful germs wash your hands, for at least 20 seconds, with plain old soap and water.
That simple advice might be the take-away message from last week’s Food and Water Watch-sponsored congressional briefing on triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in hundreds of antibacterial soaps and other personal products from toothpaste to cosmetics to deodorant.
Food and Water Watch wants the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration to ban triclosan, citing its ubiquity in the human body and discharge into the environment. In 2008, CDC data identified triclosan in the urine of 75 percent of the population, of concern because animal studies have found triclosan can act as an endocrine disruptor. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with hormone functions, and can result in adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological or immune effects. When triclosan breaks down, it can turn into dioxins, which are known carcinogens. The health risks from triclosan need to be better characterized for humans, although there likely exists enough evidence for federal agencies to consider banning it from consumer products.
According to some environmental and health experts, the use of antibacterial soaps containing triclosan is overkill in most non-medical uses, and there may be negative consequences as the compound makes its way through our bodies and into the environment.
“Consumers have an appetite for antibacterial soap regardless of whether or not there is an indication for it,” said Dr. Larry Weiss, the chief technology officer at natural soap company CleanWell, and a physician and expert on natural chemistry and epidemiology. “We need to think more about when it makes sense to use an antimicrobial and when it doesn’t.” Read More >
The Russians are helping build political will for passage of PAMTA! How has this happened and should we allow foreign influence in our domestic policy to preserve antibiotics for medical treatment? In this case the answer should be a resounding yes since industrial agriculture in the U.S. appears more responsive to the needs and desires of the export market than to the health and safety of the American people. Tom Johnston recently reported on Meatingplace.com that Russia removed three U.S. pork-processing plants from “its list of eligible exporters for findings of oxytetracycline and salmonella exceeding that country’s standards,” as reported by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service on November 30, 2009. Since December 7 Seaboard Foods’ Guymon, OK slaughterhouse, Farmland Foods’ Denison, IA and Crete, NE pork processing plants can no longer export pork products to Russia. Less than a week later (12/10/09) Reuters reported Russia had widened its ban on U.S. pork imports to 13 U.S. pork plants, including seven Smithfield-owned pork processing facilities. The number of U.S. pork plants still approved for export to Russia, the fifth largest market for U.S. pork, is now down to six from a high of about 40 earlier this year.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office in Washington expressed concern that “current Russian standards are not based on international standards and do not have a scientific justification.” This sounds like Pork Council language to those of us who have witnessed the distortion and manipulation of scientific data by the industry. Read More >
It was packed room at yesterday’s House Rules Committee hearing on the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). The hearing, held to discuss the bill (HR 1549) introduced by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, pumped additional energy into PAMTA, which now has 43 co-sponsors. The hearing followed several activities held during the past week to call attention to the bill, including a showing last Thursday night of the movie, “Food, Inc,” for Hill staffers.
Testifying were Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Margaret Mellon, Ph.D, director, Food and Environment Program, Union of Concerned Scientists; Lance Price, Ph.D., director, Center for Metagenomics and Human Health Associate Investigator, Pathogen Genomics Division; Bob Martin, former executive director, Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production; Steve Ells, chairman and CEO, Chipotle Mexican Grill; and Fedele Bauccio, president and CEO, Bon Appetit Management Company. Read More >