EPA Backs Off Factory Farm Regulation

Whether it’s a Democratic or a Republican administration, favoring corporate power over the well-being of the public seems to carry the day more often than not. What a disappointment this administration has been on these types of issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency is obliged under the Clean Water Act to monitor America’s waterways and shield them from the toxic runoff from factory farms. But the growth of that industry, and its courtroom tenacity, has far outstripped the E.P.A.’s efforts to restrict runoff from manure lagoons and feedlots.

Last year, the agency meekly withdrew two proposed rules. One would have gathered basic information from all factory farms. The other proposed rule would have expanded the number of such farms required to have a national pollution discharge permit. Fewer than 60 percent do now.

Then, last week, in yet another retreat, the agency announced that promised new regulations governing feedlot discharges nationally would not be forthcoming.

According to the E.P.A.’s own studies, agricultural runoff is the leading cause of impaired water quality. The amount of manure produced by factory farms is staggering. The agency estimates that those operations create between 500 million and 1 billion tons of manure, three times as much waste as humans produce in the United States. The task of keeping those hundreds of millions of tons of animal waste out of rivers, lakes and estuaries is enormous, clearly requiring a strong set of revised regulations for the handling of factory-farm waste, including provisions for tracking waste when it’s been moved offsite.

Right now, the patchwork of regulations — which assume a great deal of self-policing — suits the factory-farm industry all too well. So does the E.P.A.’s inability to gather even the most basic information about those farms.


Supreme Court Rules That Human Genes Cannot Be Patented

This may be best Supreme Court decision in recent years. Human genes may not be patented. Those that have patents on genes no longer have them.

I confess to some surprise at this decision. But my main emotion is elation.

The decision was unanimous.

“A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a unanimous court. But manipulating a gene to create something not found in nature is an invention eligible for patent protection.

The case concerned patents held by Myriad Genetics, a Utah company, on genes that correlate with increased risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

The central question for the justices in the case, Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, No. 12-398, was whether isolated genes are “products of nature” that may not be patented or “human-made inventions” eligible for patent protection.

The patents were challenged by scientists and doctors who said their research and ability to help patients had been frustrated.

The court’s ruling will shape the course of scientific research and medical testing, and it may alter the willingness of businesses to invest in the expensive work of isolating and understanding genetic material.

JAMA’s Low Back Pain Patient Page

To chiropractic students today, it may seem altogether ordinary (and certainly evidence-based) to recommend chiropractic care for low back pain. The evidence supporting this has been quite strong since at least the mid-1990s. Yet for those of us who remember the days of the boycott and the ethical proscriptions against medical physicians who cooperated in any way with chiropractors, seeing this recommendation in the pages of the Journal of the American Medical Association is a milestone moment.

From my editorial in the current issue of Health Insights Today: 

So why is this news? Ask any chiropractor who’s been in the field for more than a decade or two and they’ll know. When we became chiropractors, and in some cases for long after that, it was taken for granted that JAMA, the official voice of the medical profession, would never publish a handout recommending chiropractic care for any condition. Long after research had demonstrated the effectiveness of spinal adjustments for low back pain (as recognized, for example, by the federal Agency for Healthcare Policy and Research report in 1994), such a recommendation never appeared in the pages of JAMA.

Why now? It’s hard for an outsider to say with certainty, but after a certain point, the consistent  conclusions of all major practice guidelines (including the influential 2007 Low Back Pain Guidelines jointly prepared by the American College of Physicians and American Pain Society) probably became impossible to ignore while seeking to maintain an aura of integrity. In addition, this likely represents a generational change in the medical profession. More and more medical doctors in leadership positions came of age professionally at a time when a fair reading of available research clearly led to the conclusion that spinal manual care (what the new JAMA Patient Page calls “chiropractic therapy”) is in fact helpful for acute, subacute and chronic low back pain.