New USDA Report Stresses Regulations on Antibiotic Use

A new technical review by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “A Focus on Antimicrobial Resistance,” calls the issue a growing public health concern worldwide, stating the misuse of antimicrobial drugs in food animal production and human medicine is the main factor accelerating antimicrobial resistance.

The USDA report, in the National Agriculture Library, is a compilation of research from 63 scholarly and peer reviewed journals, including research supported by the Center for a Livable Future. It says limiting the inappropriate use of antimicrobials in animals agriculture can be achieved by:

  • Understanding the risks and benefits of antimicrobial use in food animals.
  • Development and implementation of principles guiding appropriate antimicrobial use in the food animal production.
  • Improvement in animal husbandry and food production practices to reduce the dissemination of AMR.
  • Development of regulations for prudent use of antimicrobials in food animals.
  • Development of testing and reporting protocols for drug-resistant foodborne pathogens by regulatory agencies.
  • Reduction in the usage of antimicrobials that are “critically important” for human medicine in food animals.

According to data released last December by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 80% (or 28.8 million pounds) of the antibiotics sold in 2009 were used to raise livestock and poultry.

In an article in last Saturday’s New York Times, “When Food Kills,” Columnist Nicholas Kristoff  calls attention to the ongoing E. coli outbreak in Europe, noting 325,000 people are hospitalized from food-borne illnesses each year. “We have an industrial farming system that is a marvel for producing cheap food, but lobbyists block initiatives to make food safer,” writes Kristoff. “Perhaps the most disgraceful aspect of our agricultural system….is the way antibiotics are recklessly stuffed into healthy animals to make them grow faster.”

Kristoff calls for more testing and education about E. coli adding, “a great place to start reforms would be banning the feeding of antibiotics to healthy livestock.”

NYT Series Focuses on Idaho, Wisconsin Groundwater Contamination

Cows at a Wisconsin dairy produce about 1.5 million gallons of manure each month. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Cows at a Wisconsin dairy produce about 1.5 million gallons of manure each month. Photo: Damon Winter/The New York Times

Take a look at a new New York Times video, “The Danger of Livestock Waste,” produced by Brent McDonald. The many manure lagoons and field spraying in the state have led to the contamination of Idaho aquifers and private wells, causing high levels of nitrates, which have forced some families to buy bottled water. Another article, by reporter Charles Duhigg, in yesterday’s NYT “Toxic Waters” series, “Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells,” looks at the problems caused by a 41,000 dairy cow operation in Brown County, Wisconsin. Duhigg points out that more than 100 wells there have been polluted by agricultural runoff in recent months, causing residents to suffer from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and sever ear infections. The story is the latest to focus national attention to the human health issues caused by unregulated agricultural runoff. There’s also an excellent slide show accompanying the piece.

Nicholas Kristof Discusses Endocrine Disruptors with Stephen Colbert

NY Times Columnist Nicholas Kristof appeared on The Colbert Report last night to talk about his recent column, “It’s Time to Learn From Frogs.” Kristof quoted Center for a Livable Future Director Dr. Robert Lawrence in the op-ed piece. Endocrine disruptors have complex effects on the human body, particularly during fetal development of males, noted Krostof. “A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males–whether smallmouth bass or humans–tend to be more sensitive,” said Lawrence. “It’s scary, very scary.” See Colbert’s complete interview with Kristof.

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Mexican Officials Eye Smithfield Facility for Swine Flu

According to the New York Times, health officials in Mexico have toured a million-pig hog farm in Perote, in Veracruz State searching for the original source of the swine flue outbreak . The plant is half-owned by Smithfield Foods, an American company and the world’s largest pork producer.

“Last year the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production warned that hog farms could become breeding grounds for new strains of the flu,” said a report on last night’s CBS Evening News. Bob Martin, former executive director of the Pew Commission, told CBS, “The warm conditions and the close proximity of animals being able to pass viruses back and forth and to the human workers is the situation ripe for the development of a novel virus.”

This morning, the death toll from the outbreak was raised to 152, and the World Health Organization voted to raise its global pandemic flu alert level. More information on the swine flu can be found on the Livable Future Blog.

‘Free-Range Trichinosis’ Author Discusses Op-Ed

James McWilliams, the author of Thursday’s New York Times Op-Ed (which questioned whether free-range pork better and safer to eat than conventional pork) discussed how he came across the study used as background for his article. The interview was published in yesterday’s U.S. Food Policy blog. Mr. McWilliams said he came across the study, which was sponsored by the National Pork Board, independently. Today’s New York Times placed an Editors’ Note at the end of the Op-Ed along with a note at the top calling attention to the correction.

“An Op-Ed article last Friday, about pork, neglected to disclose the source of the financing for a study finding that free-range pigs were more likely than confined pigs to test positive for exposure to certain pathogens. The study was financed by the National Pork Board.”

Treatment of Humans and Animals is Reflective of Our Society

Last Thursday, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof discussed the recent heightened interest in ensuring basic humane treatment practices in food animal production facilities. In November 2008, Californians overwhelmingly passed an animal rights ballot initiative requiring that chicken, pork and veal producers allow the animals enough room to stand, turn around and extend their limbs. The Humane Society advocates for similar legislation across the country.

Kristof credits consumer demand for better practices as the driver behind these efforts. “What we’re seeing now is an interesting moral moment: a grass-roots effort by members of one species to promote the welfare of others,” he writes. “Legislation is playing a role, with Europe scheduled to phase out bare wire cages for egg production by 2012, but consumer consciences are paramount. It’s because of consumers that companies like Burger King and Hardee’s are beginning to buy pork and eggs from producers that give space to their animals.” Read More >

Antibiotic Use in Industrial Food Animal Production Gaining Notice

Two op-ed articles were published in The New York Times this past week by Nicholas Kristof in regards to the misuse of antibiotics in animal feed. Our Pigs, Our Food, Our Health was in the NYT on Wednesday (3/11) and Pathogens in Our Pork appeared in Saturday’s (3/14) edition. It is encouraging to see such an often overlooked public health issue being brought to the attention of the millions of NYT readers.

Mr. Kristof brings up the point that any medical doctor can tell you: when you overuse and misuse antibiotics, resistance inevitably follows. With 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the United States going into animal feed (at sub-therapeutic levels), a pathway to antibiotic resistant bacteria is clear. And now for the really scary part, “These dangerous pathogens [antibiotic resistant bacteria] are now even in our food supply.” Read More >

Student Letters/Op-Eds Hit Major US Daily Newspapers

Screen Shot of Course Web Page

Work from students enrolled in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s “Food Production, Public Health and the Environment” course is reaching thousands of newspaper readers. In the recently-concluded course, three students took an assignment -writing a letter or op-ed-and had their work published in online and print versions of major newspapers.

John Berggren, student and research assistant at the Center for a Livable Future, had his op-ed, “Horrified by Animals on Antibiotics,” published last Sunday by the Denver Post. “Take some initiative on where your meat comes from, how it is raised and what the animals are fed,” writes John. “Write to your congressional leaders asking them to support legislation banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Support local restaurants that only source meat from sustainable farms. Food is an area where individuals can make a difference with their actions and prevent a public health disaster.” Read More >