“Water, air quality fears conflict with pig farms” – CNBC, 16 February 2015

Though livestock farms have perfected mass production of meat, some of their practices are impacting the environment in devastating ways. The nitrates and bacteria from farm fertilizer and piles of manure are effecting waterways and polluting the air.

While farmers maintain that they’re doing everything they can to prevent pollution — by planting grass strips, easing off on ploughing their fields, and employing new methods that hinder runoff — environmental groups, animal rights groups, and citizens are still bringing the issue to court.

Des Moines’ water utility, for instance, must purify their water through an expensive system because of the nitrates farmers use. If consumed by children under six-years-old, those nitrates can diminish the oxygen in the children’s blood.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost 68 percent of the US’s waterways, including lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and rivers, are “impaired,” which means they don’t comply with water-quality standards and contain too many toxic elements to use. Farms are the main offender, mostly because the farms are mismanaged and located in areas more harmful to waterways.

Over the years, pig farms have grown immensely. In the 1990s, almost 200,000 of the nation’s pig farms were family-run; in 2012, that number dropped to 21,600. A big motivator for this shift towards industry pig farms is Murphy-Brown LLC, which was bought by China-based WH Group. One of WH Group’s primary goals is to export pigs from the US to China because it’s less costly. Inevitably, this goal has spurred more production.

Pigs produce enormous amounts of waste, which are stored in large ponds, altered with chemicals, liquified, and then used as fertilizer. For nearby residents, the manure not only smells, but the runoff can cause health problems, such as respiratory problems, sore throat, nausea, irritability in the eyes, and high blood pressure.

While many large-scale operations manufacture meat that is affordable to the consumer, it seems it comes as a trade-off for the health and well-being of the environment and many of the consumers.

February 23, 2015

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“Climate Change Seen Posing Risk to Food Supplies” – New York Times, 1 November 2013

According to a UN report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the effects of climate change are now expected to reach the global food supply: during each decade, our supply is anticipated to decline by 2%, while food prices increase. This comes at a time when food demand is also expected to skyrocket — 14% each decade.

The panel’s 2013 report is far harsher than its previous report, from 2007; the 2013 report includes recent research on how vulnerable crops are to heat waves and droughts, as well as more warnings of the necessity to lower global GHG emissions. However, the panel found that carbon dioxide emissions have the added affect of boosting food production — the gas apparently performs as a type of plant fertilizer.

The panel found that the effects of climate change and global warming will hit tropical regions’ food supplies the worst, due to greater poverty rates and tremendous heat waves. Not being able to satisfy global food demand might force us to cultivate more farm land for production purposes — i.e., deforestation, which would speed up the effects of climate change by releasing significant quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Sweeping climate policy reforms, like the Obama Administration’s, though helpful, come a little late: the report finds that such actions might not be drastic enough to slow down the effects of climate change; advantages from steps, like curbing emissions, will generally be seen late in the 21st century.

November 20, 2013

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“What We can Learn from Our Microbiome” – New York Times, 19 May 2013

While it’s common knowledge that we inherit our genes from our parents — a.k.a. our “first genome” — our “second genome” is rarely talked about. This ‘second genome’ is the trillions of microbes that are living in our bodies, everywhere from our skin, to tongue, to intestines. These microbes have an immense impact on our health, perhaps even greater than the genes from our parents. For instance, our microbes act as managers for our immune systems, and are partially responsible for ascertaining between the good and bad that enter our bodies. Interestingly enough, while we can’t do much to change what our parents gave us, we can have a great influence on our microbiota and microbiomes.

Scientists look at our microbriota as ecosystems: all our microbes interact with each other and their environment. Disorders within this ecosystem – such as too little diversity or an excessive amount of the “wrong” type of microbes — have the potential to cause obesity, chronic diseases and other infections. Scientists also believe that diet and environment have led to an increase in autoimmune diseases in the West.

The American Gut Project’s aim is to sequence as many American guts as possible, hoping to answer the question of what effects our microbiota — diet, antibiotics, pathogens, environment, cultural traditions? — and determine its “normal” state, if there even is one.

While scientists can’t really say what a “healthy” microbiome looks like, they can pinpoint certain traits and patterns that healthier microbiomes have. Possessing a diverse set of microbes is better and something Westerners don’t necessarily have, due to processed foods, environmental toxins and overuse of antibiotics. Certain ailments and diseases, such as allergies, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, plague the West more than less-industrialized areas. Your microbiota like unprocessed foods — less processed foods have a better chance of getting through the gastrointestinal tract and to the microbiota.

Children in the West are given an average of 10-20 antibiotic treatments before the age of 18; and this isn’t the only way antimicrobials are reaching the microbiota: antibiotics exist in meat, milk and surface water. Farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock so that they gain weight, and they often come in the form of medicated feed and water.

There are some things microbiologists suggest that can help with managing you and your children’s microbiomes:

  1. Don’t immediately jump to antibiotic treatments unless medically necessary.
  2. Cleanliness is not always next to godliness: take your children outside to play in the dirt more often.
  3. Cut back on processed foods.
  4. Eat more foods that contain probiotic bacteria: yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut are good starting points.
  5. While you should still wash produce that is likely to have pesticide residue, you should, for example, not wash your hands after petting your dog or cat.

In other words, the world will be a more sustainable place to live healthy and happy  lifestyles if people in developed nations adapt some of the habits of their ancestors, as practiced today in developing nations. We do not have to worry about people in developing nations adapting habits of developed nations — it is already happening rapidly!

See our other entries:
Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat
Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 22, 2013

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“Food-Linked Infections Rose Last Year” – Wall Street Journal, 18 April 2013

Regardless of the transference of antibiotic-resistant genes between humans and animals, humans can still become sick with other contaminants found in livestock, animal byproducts, fruits and vegetables. The number of infections resulting from contaminated food rose by 3% in 2012, much of it due to Vibrio bacteria, which is found in raw oysters and undercooked shellfish. Food-borne illnesses resulting from Campylobacter bacteria — found in poultry, unpasteurized milk, surface water and mountain streams — also increased in 2012.

According to the CDC, 48 million people contract food-related infections per year. After seeing the surge in Vibrio infections, the CDC and FDA are now observing state-run Vibrio-control plans, as well as studying how climate and other environmental factors add to shellfish contamination.

Infections from Campylobacter are second to Salmonella poisoning, which didn’t increase from the CDC’s 2006-08 baseline. Campylobacter infections rose 14% in 2012, from the 2006-08 baseline.

CDC continues to safe guard public health and we applaud their service to our nation.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2013

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“Dead Pigs Worry Shanghai” – Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2013

Earlier this month, 3,300 dead pigs were found dead in the Huangpu River, which supplies water to most of Shanghai’s 23 million residents. Chinese authorities have no idea how the pigs died.

Government officials investigated any impact the pigs would have on the river and other local waters, announcing that no health threat in the water existed. However, authorities found the pig-borne disease porcine circovirus in the river, which according to the US CDC, does not affect humans. China’s main meat is pork, which consists of almost half a billion pigs, and the country littered with swine farms that are rife with communicable diseases. An industry expert noted that the dead pigs might be indicative of a disease outbreak from a single farm.

China has had its fair share of pig illnesses. In 2007, around 50 million pigs died from an outbreak of high-fever blue ear disease; and this past January, 948 Chinese pigs had to be killed due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Additionally, Chinese waterways have been exposed to much pollution. Again this past January, a chemical transporter spewed benzene into a Huangpu River tributary, which caused 20 people to be hospitalized. Earlier this year, Rivers in three northern provinces were also affected due to a chemical spill.

The chemical spills, as well as the mass deaths, are also calling Chinese food safety, environmental and air quality regulations into question. In 2011, China claimed the number one spot as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluter, up by 10 percent to contribute 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the world’s atmosphere. It is no wonder that China’s air quality caused its residents to become sick, and persuaded many to wear face masks.

In our view, the land where humans and animals live, the water we drink, and the air we breathe constitute environmental quality, and all eventually contribute towards human and animal health and safety. We live in an interconnected global ecosystem that we need to keep clean and safe. China — now the largest country in the world — continues to grow its economy in order to achieve a more western lifestyle, and population, which is currently at 1.3 billion people or one-seventh of the world’s population. China will have to strike a healthy balance between economic growth and environmental harmony that many western economies are already addressing.

See also:
Carbon Pollution up to 2 Million Pounds a Second
Conference to Examine Transformative Effect of Innovation on Human-Animal Health
Antimicrobial Use and Resistance — NIAA Symposium White Paper Released
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 28, 2013

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“Conference to Examine Transformative Effect of Innovation and Technology on Human-Animal Health and Mutual Bond” – Market Watch, 20 March 2013

Several times over the past few months, we have written about the need for a cooperative relationship between the human and animal health sectors, and something is finally being done. The first national conference, “Transforming Human-Animal Health and the Human-Animal Bond through Technology and Innovation”, will be held by the American Humane Association next month in New York, concentrating on the “impact of innovation and technology and their crossover applications for human and animal health.” Specifically, America’s leaders in science, medicine, philanthropy and business will discuss how research can be used to expedite advances in human and animal health, especially through new devices and technology.

The conference will deliberate on “precision-driven, predictive, personalized, preventive, and participatory healthcare” for animals and humans through the utilization of mobile technology. Researchers from both human and animal health fields will come together to analyze evidence of health and disease in our 60,000+ vertebrates species, which will increase and solidify connections and discoveries between human and animal health. Though the agriculture industry vehemently denies any link between animal and human health, several researchers in China found that it is only a question of when diseases and antibiotic resistance will travel from animals to humans.

Technology will also be a great benefit to the conference: technology and crowd sourcing can aid scientists and researchers in identifying health trends and environmental risk factors, allowing for the development of new, personalized medicines for humans and animals alike.

This a very positive move to engage animal and human health practitioners, drug manufactures, regulators, consumer advocates and activists in listening, talking  and  collaborating. Aided by explosive technology growth worldwide, these much needed and overdue activities and dialogue will eventually lead to better health and environment for both animals and humans at minimal societal costs.

See also:
Antimicrobial Use and Resistance — NIAA Symposium White Paper Released
Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 21, 2013

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Antimicrobial Use and Resistance — NIAA Symposium White Paper Released

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA), an organization geared towards developing resolutions in different areas of the animal agriculture industry, recently released a White Paper, “A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose“. The White Paper addresses antimicrobial use and resistance, and begins to explore methods to resolve these topics. The paper is a summary of presentations from 13 human health, animal health and environmental health scientists and professionals, and the outcome of four interactive sessions with those who attended the 2012 Antibiotics Conference in Columbus, OH.

The topic of NIAA’s paper is much similar to our recent blog post, Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US, in which researchers found that the process of resistance genes grouping and moving to other bacteria has greatly developed by the burgeoning use of antibiotics and metals on farms.

Like the researchers from our previous post, NIAA’s paper has similar reasoning for antimicrobial resistance, “Antimicrobial resistance occurs via three mechanisms, each requiring only minor changes in biochemistry: 1) Bacteria may possess enzymes that degrade antibiotics; 2) Bacteria may replace or alter the method through which the antibiotic enters the cell; and 3) Bacteria may alter the cellular target site of the antibiotic.” In a similar vein, the researchers pulled samples from swine farms in China and the US and found the presence of transposase, an enzyme that allows resistant genes to move from one bacterium to the next.

In fact, the issue of animal antibiotics is, as the White Paper puts it, a polarizing issue. The paper admits that antimicrobial resistance is about more than science and evidence, but also directly deals with politics, behavior, economics and conflicting opinions in the overarching health — animal, human and environmental — community.

In another previous blog post, Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny, we discussed how cooperation and communication between manufacturers and regulatory agencies is inadequate. While the FDA has attempted numerous times to standardize the use of antibiotics in livestock, it has proved problematic, as many meat manufacturers and farmers are unwilling to disclose antibiotic use. However, the relationship between the FDA and manufacturers isn’t purely to blame: it is hard to streamline antibiotic use in animals since there is nothing comparable to a national healthcare system for animals, as there is for people. What can be gleaned from these difficulties is that antibiotic use, and subsequent antimicrobial resistance, is indeed a political, behavioral, economic and combative issue.

Because the NIAA believes that animal, human and environmental health are all connected, the White Paper takes a One Health Approach: “This approach would call for all to think in a much larger dimension and work toward, improving and defending the health and well-being of all species by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, other scientific health and environmental professionals, and by promoting strengths in leadership and management to achieve these goals.”

The goal of the “A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose” Symposium was not to only understand and study the reasoning behind antimicrobial use and resistance, but to identify ways in which scientists and professional can work together and progress. The symposium had many end goals, including:

  1. To obtain the scientific facts regarding antibiotic use within animal health, human health and environmental health;
  2. to better understand the “how” and “why” antimicrobial resistance occurs;
  3. to look at alternatives to antibiotics in agriculture;
  4. lead and engage participants in open conversations;
  5. to build relationships with other sectors and gain better understanding of other perspectives;
  6. to begin to find common ground and formulate a path forward; and
  7. focus on continuous improvement and commitment to long-term health.

This white paper initiates a launching pad for data-based scientific and objective conversation, and debate among drug manufactures; human and animal health care providers; hospitals and animal feeding operations; health insurance industry, federal and state regulators; legislators and policy makers; and interest and advocacy groups. These conversations will lead towards protecting human and animal health at the lowest cost to society.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

February 25, 2013

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