Every Day is Halloween

2014-funsize-candyTwo days ago, documentary producer Laurie David joined us here at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) for a special screening of Fed Up, which explores the causes of the obesity crisis in America. Guess what? It’s Big Sugar’s fault. That’s an oversimplification, but not by much.

When I asked her for a comment on Halloween and its super-sized candy promotion, she said, “Don’t get me started. Every day is Halloween in this country.”

I kind of agreed. If we’re talking about candy, Christmas has become Halloween. Read More >

Filtering the Distortion: What the GAO Report on Antibiotic Resistance Really Says

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 >

Drug amounts for food animals now reported by FDA: Thanks, it’s about time!

19240The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a report last Thursday (Dec 9, 2010) that 13.1 million kilograms of antimicrobial drugs were sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals in 2009 in the United States (pdf). Why is this important? It represents the first time the FDA has reported the quantity of antimicrobial drugs that are available for use in the production of swine, dairy cow, cattle, and poultry in the US.

The recent FDA value also settles a longstanding dispute between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and an industry lobbyist group, the Animal Health Institute (AHI). UCS estimated that in 1998, 13.4 million kilograms of antimicrobials were used in food animal production, while for the same year AHI reported that just 8.1 million kilograms were used (Mellon et al. 2001).  The new FDA report shows that UCS was much close to the actual amount than AHI. Read More >

Antibiotic Resistance in Food Animals: FDA Takes Strong Stance, But Public Health May Remain At Risk Until Congress Acts

cattle-grazing-usda-copyLeadership at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made it abundantly clear last week that the low-dose usage of antibiotics in food animals, simply to promote growth or improve feed efficiency, needlessly contributes to the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and poses a serious threat to public health. Despite the fact that the FDA is taking a hard-line stance on the issue, I find it frustrating to see that the agency appears to be hamstrung from taking the necessary steps to mandate industry end the risky practice. Even more exasperating is that it appears that the FDA may actually relax a current directive that already regulates antibiotic use. However, unlike many critics, I don’t believe that this is an example of the Obama administration buckling under industry pressure. Rather, I view it as a loud and stern call for Congress to take action. Producers concerned more about profit than protecting public health are not going to cut their dependence on non-therapeutic antibiotic use in food animals unless lawmakers pass strict legislation.

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Genetically Engineered Crops Fail to Deliver

Biotech firms have touted the potential of genetically engineered (GE) crops to address the global hunger crisis. Many hopes (and many more dollars) have been invested in the promise of GE technology to increase crop yields. According to a new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), this technology has thus far failed to deliver.

To better understand these new findings, it is worth elucidating some of the murky terminology. In a recent radio interview, plant pathologist Dr. Pamela Ronald explains “there is nothing that [the typical American family] will eat tonight that is not genetically modified.” She goes on to clarify her use of the term: all but the most wild of crop varieties have been “genetically modified,” in the traditional sense, through conventional plant breeding between compatible species (to complicate matters, the term “genetically modified,” or GM, often refers to GE foods). This is in contrast to GE, or “transgenic” crops, created in laboratories by combining the genetic information of distinct, usually unrelated (a plant and a bacterium, for example), species. Read More >

Meat Meets Medicine

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 >