agriculture * food * energy * environment
It’s the animal livestock industry vs. the American Medical Association.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has introduced legislation curtailing the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and help protect the efficacy of the small number of existing, lifesaving antibiotics.
More than 350 groups have endorsed the legislation, including the American Medical Association.
“More and more Americans know someone or have personally dealt with a ‘superbug’ that has put them in the hospital and required extensive rounds of high-powered medicine to fight it off,” said Margaret Mellon, a molecular biologist and director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists . “This bill will help prevent the emergence of such superbugs by reducing the antibiotics used in animal agriculture.”
According to Mellon, when continually exposed to antibiotics, bacteria develop resistance to the drugs. She said adding antibiotics to animal feed in CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations) turn these “massive, overcrowded facilities into prime breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which can move to humans through food, air and water. Then when people get sick from these resistant bacteria, antibiotics are less effective. ”
“What passes for standard antibiotic use in this country makes no sense,” said Mellon, co-author of a report that found animal agriculture accounts for an estimated 70 percent of all antibiotic use in the United States.
“Animal producers cannot continue to feed their hogs and chickens the very same penicillin and tetracycline that doctors prescribe for their patients,” Mellon said. “Using antibiotics as a crutch for crowded, unsanitary conditions at CAFOs ultimately puts human lives at risk.”
“Our food system is broken,” said Mellon. “Congress needs to work with President Obama to fix it.”
Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found evidence that houseflies collected near broiler poultry operations may contribute to the dispersion of drug-resistant bacteria and thus increase the potential for human exposure to drug-resistant bacteria.
The findings demonstrate another potential link between industrial food animal production and exposures to antibiotic resistant pathogens. Previous studies have linked antibiotic use in poultry production to antibiotic resistant bacteria in farm workers, consumer poultry products and the environment surrounding confined poultry operations, as well as releases from poultry transport.
“Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis,” said lead author Jay Graham, PhD, who conducted the study as a research fellow with Bloomberg School’s Center for a Livable Future. Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes.”
As the world is mired in an economic recession, health challenges are also growing, according to Lester R. Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute.
Among those health challenges, according to Brown, are new infectious diseases such as SARS, West Nile virus, and avian flu emerge.
“In addition, the accumulation of chemical pollutants in the environment is starting to take a toll,” he said. “While infectious diseases are fairly well understood, the health effects of many environmental pollutants are not yet known.”
Among the leading infectious diseases, malaria claims more than 1 million lives each year, 89 percent of them in Africa.
But Brown said the number of people who suffer from it most of their lives is many times greater.
Citing economist Jeffrey Sachs estimates, Brown said that reduced worker productivity and other costs associated with malaria are cutting economic growth by a full percentage point in heavily affected countries.
Although diseases such as malaria and cholera exact a heavy toll, Brown said there is no recent precedent of a disease affecting as many people as the HIV epidemic does.
“To find anything similar to such a potentially devastating loss of life, we have to go back to the smallpox decimation of Native American communities in the sixteenth century or to the bubonic plague that took roughly a fourth of Europe’s population during the fourteenth century,” he said. “HIV is an epidemic of epic proportions that, if not checked soon, could take more lives during this century than were claimed by all the wars of the last century.”
Brown said that since the human immunodeficiency virus was identified in 1981, it has spread worldwide, leading to the deaths of more than 25 million people.
Today, Brown said 22 million HIV-positive people live in sub-Saharan Africa, but only 2 million or so are being treated with anti-retroviral drugs. Infection rates are climbing.
“Without effective treatment, the areas of sub-Saharan Africa with the highest infection rates face a staggering loss of life,” he said. “Countries like Botswana and Zimbabwe could lose more than a fifth of their adult populations within a decade.”
He said the HIV epidemic “affects every facet of life and every sector of the economy.”
“The downward spiral in family welfare typically begins when the first adult falls victim to the illness — a development that is doubly disruptive because for each person who is sick and unable to work, another adult must care for that person,” Brown said. “Food production per person, already lagging in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, is now falling fast in some as the number of field workers shrinks.”
Education is also affected as the ranks of teachers are decimated by the virus, Brown said.
With students, he said when one or both parents die, children are forced to stay home because there is not enough money to buy books and to pay school fees.
“The epidemic is leaving millions of orphans in its wake,” Brown said.
And the effects on health care are equally devastating, according to Brown.
“In many hospitals in eastern and southern Africa, a majority of the beds are now occupied by AIDS victims, leaving less space for those with other illnesses,” he said.
With health care systems now unable to provide even basic care, Brown said the toll of traditional disease is also rising.
“Life expectancy is dropping not only because of AIDS, but also because of the deterioration in overall health care associated with it,” he said.
While the HIV epidemic is concentrated in Africa, Brown said air and water pollutants are damaging the health of people everywhere.
Citing a joint study by the University of California and the Boston Medical Center shows that some 200 human diseases, ranging from cerebral palsy to testicular atrophy, are linked to pollutants.
Other diseases that can be caused by pollutants include an astounding 37 forms of cancer plus heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, dermatitis, bronchitis, hyperactivity, deafness, sperm damage, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Brown said the United States is still reeling from the ongoing effects of pollution.
In July 2005, Brown said the Environmental Working Group, in collaboration with Commonweal, released an analysis of umbilical cord blood from 10 randomly selected newborns in U.S. hospitals.
He said the analysis found a total of 287 chemicals in these tests, of which 180 cause cancer in humans or animals, 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, and 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests.
Citing a World Health Organization report, Browing said an estimated 3 million deaths worldwide each year from air pollutants — three times the number of traffic fatalities. In the United States, air pollution each year claims 70,000 lives, compared with the country’s 45,000 traffic deaths.
Brown said that a U.K. research team reported a “surprising rise” in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and in motor neuron disease generally, in 10 industrial countries — 6 in Europe plus the United States, Japan, Canada, and Australia.
“Over an 18-year period, death rates from these diseases, mainly Alzheimer’s, more than tripled for men and nearly doubled for women,” Brown said. “This increase in dementia is likely linked to a rise in the concentration of pesticides, industrial effluents, car exhaust, and other pollutants in the environment,” he said.
Citing a 2006 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, Brown said they found that long-term low-level exposure to pesticides raised the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease by 70 percent.
He said scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the various effects of mercury, a potent neurotoxin, which now permeates the environment in virtually all countries with coal-burning power plants.
In 2006, Brown said 48 of the 50 states in the United States (all but Alaska and Wyoming) issued a total of 3,080 fish advisories warning against eating fish from local lakes and streams because of their mercury content.
Citing EPA research, Brown said researchers indicates that one out of every six women of childbearing age in the United States has enough mercury in her blood to harm a developing fetus.
“This means that 630,000 of the 4 million babies born in the country each year may face neurological damage from mercury exposure before birth,” he said.
Brown said no one knows exactly how many chemicals are manufactured today, but with the advent of synthetic chemicals the number of chemicals in use has climbed to over 100,000.
“A random blood test of Americans will show measurable amounts of easily 200 chemicals that did not exist a century ago,” he said. “Most of these new chemicals have not been tested for toxicity.”
Brown said those that are known to be toxic are included in the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a list of nearly 650 chemicals whose discharge by industry into the environment must be reported to the EPA. Since the TRI was inaugurated in 1988, reported toxic chemical emissions have declined dramatically, he said.
“But with 700 new chemicals entering the economy each year, it is clear that this program is inadequate in protecting the public from toxics in the United States,” Brown said.
According to new research from Cornell University, although parents may have good intentions about forcing their kids to eat cold, mushy vegetables, this approach may backfire the very next day,
“We found that the more controlling the parents were about telling their child to clean their plate, the more likely the kids, especially the boys, were to request larger portions of sweetened cereal at daycare,” says lead author Brian Wansink at the keynote address of the Carolinas HealthCare System Obesity 2009 Conference in Charlotte, NC on Friday.
Researchers asked 63 mothers of preschool-age children the extent to which they tell their children to clean their plates at meals. The researchers then asked the children how many Fruit Loops they would like for their morning snack at day-care. Children were able to fill their bowl until they indicated they had received enough and the bowl of cereal was weighed.
“Parents who force their kids to clean their plates at meals, may be interfering with the development of self-control that children have around food,” said co-author Collin Payne of New Mexico State University, “When children have little control over what they eat- or don’t eat, they may react by acting out and overeating when away from home.”
“Preschool-age children are at a vulnerable age, and are forming eating habits that will follow them throughout their life” says Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
He recommends that parents provide moderate portions of a variety of foods, encouraging the child to at least try all of the foods, and let them decide whether they want additional servings.