Study finds new MRSA strain in European milk

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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].”

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 >

Notes from New Zealand: China’s Investment in NZ Agriculture and a Bumper Crop for Grapes

CLF Director Robert S. Lawrence, MD, is on sabbatical in Auckland, New Zealand, where he is studying the country’s agriculture system.

As we waited in the Sydney airport for our connecting flight to Auckland, I picked up a copy of The Australian, one of the major newspapers in Australia, and noted an article titled, “China hungry for local food assets.” The article noted that China was preparing a multi-billion dollar investment campaign to acquire Australian agricultural lands to provide farm produce over the next five years. My thoughts went racing back to Lester Brown’s Who Will Feed China: Wake-up Call for a Small Planet, published in 1995 and arguably the single most important book in shaping the strategies of the early years of the Center for a Livable Future. Brown exposed the myth of Chinese grain self-sufficiency and predicted that China would soon become a major food importing country as water resources were depleted or diverted to the booming industrial sector; rising standards of living would shift dietary choices to a higher meat, western diet; and increasing amounts of grain would be diverted from direct human consumption to animal feed.

Grape VineyardThe Australian reported that in the last six months there has been a dramatic increase in the interest of Chinese buyers in purchase of segments of the agricultural sector “with the sweet spot being in ‘under the radar’ private farms, aggregation and processing businesses worth between $10 million and $200m.” Why this range of enterprise? Because under Australian law the Foreign Investment Review Board is limited to investigating sale of businesses to foreign enterprises that are worth more than $231 million. So a partial answer to Lester Brown’s question of who will feed China is a loose consortium of Australian agricultural resources, each valued at less than $231 million.

The Chinese buyers are showing particular interest in grain, meat, and wool opportunities. To date the majority of China’s investments in Australia’s agricultural sector have been less than $10 million with examples cited of dairy farms, orchards, vineyards, and Tasmanian spring water. But China’s appetite is growing with reports of one Chinese company looking for 5000 hectares (about 12,500 acres) of grain production land, worth about $75 million on the current Australian market.

The government of Australia has responded by launching a parliamentary inquiry into foreign ownership of Australian agriculture, all reminiscent of Russia’s decision last summer to ban export of wheat after their record-setting drought, India’s restrictions of rice exports in 2008, and other signs of countries protecting their domestic supplies while remaining a player in the global food market. Read More >

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 >

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 >

Missouri Jury Awards $11 Million to CAFO’s Neighbors

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Excerpts from video used at trial

Media outlets were buzzing this morning with the news that a Jackson County, MO, jury had awarded an $11 million verdict to farmers affected by a CAFO owned by Premium Standard Farms. This is the second time in the last 11 years that Premium Standard Farms has been sued for the noxious odors coming from the Gentry County, MO operation. Center for a Livable Future Director, Robert Lawrence, MD, provided testimony at the trial, calling the cesspit holding tanks for pig manure from the CAFO a “fly heaven,” wrote Karen Diller in a piece in The Kansas City Star.

The verdict in the month-long trial, gives $850,000 each to 13 plaintiffs, with the 14th plaintiff receiving $250,000. The plaintiffs represent families who testified about the odors and swarms of flies that have largely kept them confined to their homes. Lawrence, as the Star noted, “said he has been to Calcutta, South Africa and Southeast Asia, but ‘I have never, ever observed anything as extreme as the cesspits.'”

How Can You Combat Climate Change? Nobel Laureate & Music Legend Say Eat Less Meat One Day a Week

Nobel Laureate Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Sir Paul McCartney, former Beatles superstar turned environmental activists addressed the European Parliament (EP) today (Dec. 3. 2009) in hopes of encouraging legislators to consider what actions Europeans can personally take to combat global warming, such as going Meatless on Monday. Today’s hearing entitled “Global Warming and Food Policy: Less Meat = Less Heat” was organized by EP Vice-President Edward McMillan-Scott and opened by Parliament’s President Jerzy Buzek.
Citing the United Nation’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, Pachauri and McCartney warned that global meat production is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined. The United Kingdom Press Association (UKPA) quoted McCartney as saying, “People are confused about what they can do – they can try one meat-free day a week. It’s kind of interesting once you get into it.”

Dr. Robert Lawrence, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, who has long supported and served as a scientific advisor for the Meatless Monday Campaign, was invited to attend today’s hearing in Brussels. While he couldn’t make it to Belgium in time, he did provide EP leaders with a letter. Read More >

CLF Official Statement on PAMTA

Center for a Livable Future Statement on

The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).

Washington, D.C. (July 15, 2009) – The Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) Director Robert Lawrence, MD, issued the following statement today regarding recent Congressional action on the issue of antibiotic resistance.

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives held its first hearing this session on the important issue of antibiotic resistance. The Center for Livable Future (CLF) applauds the leadership of Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) and her colleagues to support the increasingly critical public health recommendations put forward in the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1549/S. 619).”

“A panel of experts from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, science and business communities spoke at the hearing about the need to end non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the production of food animals. The increase we continue to see in antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a major threat to the health of the public, and policymakers should move to phase out and ban the use of antimicrobials for non-therapeutic use in food animal production. PAMTA serves to curtail such use, instead saving antibiotics for therapeutic purposes only.”

Read More >

Sustainable Agriculture Leaders Advise Transition Team

Today leaders in the sustainable agriculture community, organized by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, briefed members of the Obama transition team on priorities.  It was great to have the transition team’s ear, and to hear so many positive action ideas for the administration’s initial work.  CLF director, Dr. Bob Lawrence spoke of the epidemic of antibiotic resistance, and emphasized the need for the FDA to strengthen antibiotic licensing and permitting requirements in animal agriculture.  He also urged the USDA to take an in-depth look at the food safety impacts of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.  These recommendations and others are outlined in more detail as part of the Pew Commission report.

Most of the recommendations discussed did not address public health per se, although many had significant implications for public health.  We in the public health community are organizing to provide further input on issues relevant to the connections between food systems and public health.

Here are some other public health-related recommendations discussed during the call.
Read More >