Tom Philpott has a post at Mother Jones today about a Consumer Reports finding that, surprisingly, certified organic (and therefore antibiotic-free) chicken has as many “superbugs” (antibiotic-resistant bacteria) as chicken raised conventionally with antibiotics. The finding is clear but the reasons behind it aren’t at this point.
What got me was that chicken samples labeled “organic” or “no antibiotics” (list of all brands tested here) were just as likely to contain these potentially deadly, drug-defying pathogens. Notably, organic and antibiotic-free chicken both carry substantial premiums over conventional—at my local H-E-B supermarket in Austin, organic boneless chicken breast is fetching $7.97 per pound—vs. $4.99 for no-antibiotic and $1.97 for regular.
My surprise wasn’t based on some romantic notion that organic food is cleaner. Bacteria develop the ability to withstand to antibiotics by being exposed to them regularly. US Department of Agriculture code forbids antibiotics in organic meat production, and the “no antibiotics” label means just that, and is also regulated by the USDA.
Eighty percent of antibiotics used in the United States are given to animals raised for meat, dairy and eggs. Nearly all are given routinely, with the intent of preventing disease in these farmed animals, rather than as treatment for sick animals. The remaining 20 percent are used in human medicine.
Public health officials fear that if antibiotic resistance continues to accelerate at its current trajectory, we may find ourselves in a post-antibiotic age in the near future. If and when this happens, many infectious diseases that were fatal or caused permanently damage before the invention of antibiotics will be much more difficult to treat, as was the case prior to the 1940s.
The routine use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is an area ripe for reexamination.
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.
This is from the UN Environmental Programme. It’s a fair reading of the available data, which indicates that changes in two sectors, animal agriculture and the burning of fossil fuel, are the keys to avoiding catastrophic climate change. This report goes public in the week that the world also surpassed the 400 ppm level of CO2.
This is a major health policy issue, ultimately dwarfing those that absorb more of our attention at the moment.
A global shift towards a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change, a UN report said today.
As the global population surges towards a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050, western tastes for diets rich in meat and dairy products are unsustainable, says the report from United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) international panel of sustainable resource management.
It says: “Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
Professor Edgar Hertwich, the lead author of the report, said: “Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.”
In Mother Jones, Tom Philpott flags seven food-related substances or procedures that are banned in Europe but allowed in the United States.
Here are the first three, and it doesn’t really look any brighter after that:
1. Atrazine Why it’s a problem: A “potent endocrine disruptor,” Syngenta’s popular corn herbicide has been linked to a range of reproductive problems at extremely low doses in both amphibians and humans, and it commonly leaches out of farm fields and into people’s drinking water.
What Europe did: Banned it in 2003.
US status: EPA: “Atrazine will begin registration review, EPA’s periodic reevaluation program for existing pesticides, in mid-2013.”
2. Arsenic in chicken, turkey, and pig feed Why it’s a problem: Arsenic is beloved of industrial-scale livestock producers because it makes animals grow faster and turns their meat a rosy pink. It enters feed in organic form, which isn’t harmful to humans. Trouble is, in animals guts, it quickly goes inorganic, and thus becomes poisonous. Several studies, including one by the FDA, have found heightened levels of inorganic arsenic in supermarket chicken, and it also ends up in manure, where it can move into tap water. Fertilizing rice fields with arsenic-laced manure may be partially responsible for heightened arsenic levels in US rice.
What Europe did: According to the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, arsenic-based compounds “were never approved as safe for animal feed in the European Union, Japan, and many other countries.”
US status: The drug giant Pfizer “voluntarily” stopped marketing the arsenical feed additive Roxarsone back in 2011. But there are still several arsenicals on the market. On May 1, a coalition of enviro groups including the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit demanding that the FDA ban them from feed.
3. “Poultry litter” in cow feed
Why it’s a problem: You know how arsenic goes inorganic—and thus poisonous—in chickens’ guts? Consider that their arsenic-laced manure is then commonly used as a feed for cows. According to Consumers Union, the stuff “consists primarily of manure, feathers, spilled feed, and bedding material that accumulate on the floors of the buildings that house chickens and turkeys.” The “spilled feed” part is of special concern, because chickens are often fed “meat and bone meal from dead cattle,” CU reported, and that stuff can spill into the litter and be fed back to cows, raising mad cow disease concerns.
What Europe did: Banned all forms of animal protein, including chicken litter, in cow feed in 2001.
US status: The practice remains unrestricted. US cattle consume about 2 billion pounds of it annually, Consumers Union’s Michael Hansen told me last year.
One more reason to just stop eating it. Also a clarion call to drastically overhaul the industrial model of animal agriculture that considers antibiotics a normal part of animal feed.
More than half of samples of ground turkey, pork chops and ground beef collected from supermarkets for testing by the federal government contained a bacteria resistant to antibiotics, according to a new report highlighting the findings.
The data, collected in 2011 by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System — a joint program of the Food and Drug Administration, the Agriculture Department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — show a sizable increase in the amount of meat contaminated with antibiotic-resistant forms of bacteria, known as superbugs, like salmonella, E. coli and campylobacter.
Many animals grown for meat are fed diets containing antibiotics to promote growth and reduce costs, as well as to prevent and control illness. Public health officials in the United States and in Europe, however, are warning that the consumption of meat containing antibiotics contributes to resistance in humans. A growing public awareness of the problem has led to increased sales of antibiotic-free meat.
The Agriculture Department has confirmed that almost 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animal agriculture, and public health authorities around the world increasingly are warning that antibiotic resistance is reaching alarming levels.
Two articles on soy appear in today’s Huffington Post. Neal Barnard, MD, sums up the evidence clearly and accurately, with aptly chosen scientific references to support his assertions, while Joseph Mercola, DO, takes a different approach.
From Dr. Barnard:
Soybeans are handy. Aside from the traditional foods they bring us — edamame, tofu, tempeh, and many others — they transform into tasty substitutes for milk, yogurt, ice cream, bacon, burgers, and sausage. With no animal fat, cholesterol, or sensitizing animal proteins, they side-step the problems that animal products can cause. Cow’s milk, for example, is linked to Type 1 diabetes and anemia in children and increases the risk of prostate cancer in men. Hamburgers are linked to heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer. Soy-based milks and burgers help you skip all this. But soy has other huge benefits you may not know about.
Among the other well-documented effects of soy products is that they boost survival in breast cancer patients (contrary to an oft-repeated set of false claims) and lower cholesterol levels.
Read Dr. Barnard’s entire article for a further debunking of soy mythology.
In a finding that contradicts longstanding claims by the American Dairy Council, the Harvard Nurses health study has found an association between milk, particularly skim milk, and acne. The most likely explanation is the hormone content in the milk, which is present in both organic and conventional milk.
From the accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:
“The papers…from the Harvard School of Public Health establish an association between milk consumption and acne. But how could milk cause acne? Because, drinking milk and consuming dairy products from pregnant cows exposes us to the hormones produced by the cows’ pregnancy, hormones that we were not designed to consume during our teenage and adult years. It is no secret that teenagers’ acne closely parallels hormonal activity…So what happens if exogenous hormones are added to the normal endogenous load? And what exactly is the source of these hormones? Consider that, in nature, milk is consumed from a mother, whether human or bovine, until weaning occurs. Normally, the mother then ceases lactation before the next pregnancy occurs—so that consuming milk from a mother pregnant with her next offspring is not a common occurrence. We’ve all seen nature films of animals chasing their offspring away to encourage weaning at the appropriate time. Further, in nature the offspring consumes only the milk of its own species—but both of these natural rules are broken by humans. Viewed objectively, human consumption of large volumes of another species’ milk, especially when that milk comes mainly from pregnant cows during the human’s normally post-weaned years, is essentially unnatural.”