“Global Pork Market Starts to Shift” – Wall Street Journal, 20 June 2014

The swine-disease that has been ravaging the US pork industry for over a year, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDv), is beginning to impact US pork exports and the global trade. PEDv, which only effects piglets and has no impact on human health, has killed millions across 30 states.

US pork prices in the market have also caused US consumer pork prices to increase. In May, average retail was at an all-time high of $4.10/pound, a 15% increase from the same time in 2013. Increased pricing is persuading big buyers to import pork from other markets. Such a move will likely hit the US pork industry hard, since the US exports almost a quarter of its yearly pork production.

PEDv is certainly a threat to the US pork industry, as the industry is known for low prices and large output. Skyrocketing costs in the US is reshaping global trade: other markets are stepping in and creating their own exporting opportunities.

Wall Street Journal

Wall Street Journal

The USDA projects that US pork exports will plummet by 190,000 tons to 2.2 million tons in 2014. This April, exports to China dropped 13 percent from April 2013, and 37 percent from March 2013. China is the biggest global consumer of pork, and was the US pork industry’s third-largest importer from April 2013 to April 2014.

The USDA reports that Brazil’s exports are expected to grow by 55,000 tons to a total of 675,000 tons. Canada’s exports increased by 16 percent from January to April, compared to export rates from a year earlier. The USDA also projects that Canada’s exports will grow by 20,000 tons to 1.3 million tons in 2014. A majority of these exports will be to the US and China.

Europe’s pork industry has also become victim to disease, the African swine fever, which is disrupting its trade with Russia. Russia banned pork imports from the EU this past January. Similarly, China has placed a ban on pork imports from Poland. Japan’s pork industry has also been hit with PEDv, which has wiped out over 200,000 piglets since Fall 2013.

June 24, 2014

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“Mysterious Pork Virus May Hike Bacon Prices” – Fox Business, 7 August 2013

In June, we reported on the outbreak of a deadly pig virus that spread to 13 states, called Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV). With no known cure, the virus is continuing to proliferate across America, causing farmers to lose thousands of piglets. The good news is that the disease isn’t transferable to humans, and isn’t lethal for older pigs. The virus is also ongoing in countries like South Korea, China and Thailand — PEDV was first discovered in China in 2010.

In order to fight this disease that has yet to be cured, farmers are taking action to prevent the disease from growing; however, the loss of so many piglets may still give way to increased pricing.

As written in our previous post, PEDV is spread through fecal matter, specifically fecal-oral contact with manure; the infection can be spread by pigs eating diseased feces, or by humans unknowingly transporting feces. Pig farmers anxious to counteract PEDV are concentrating on sanitation, requiring clean supplies, and workers to wear clean boots and overalls. They’re also taking further measures, such as biosecurity plans and cleaning transport trucks with hot-steam pressure washers between shipments.

After a piglet is infected, it only takes 24-48 hours for virus to take full effect; a piglet can become sick within five days. Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting — PEDV is fatal due to intense dehydration. The disease can infect older pigs, but, so far, has only been deadly for piglets.

Farmers haven’t been obligated to share the number of pig deaths at their farms; deaths may be underreported. Since the end of July, the USDA only knows of 403 PEDV-positive tests, but losses may range in the hundreds of thousands. The National Pork Board is spending $800,000 to investigate PEDV, and study methods for containment and removal.

As far as the cost of the disease go, farmers are likely to take a 7-8% hit to production — a farm could suffer a loss of over 1,000 piglets every week; PEDV has the potential to cost farmers $12-16 more per piglet. While our past harvesting season was abundant — grain prices are decreasing — the disease could definitely take its toll on pork prices.

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

August 26, 2013

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“Outbreak of deadly piglet virus spreads to 13 states” – NBC News, 19 June 2013

A new swine virus has been discovered in the US, the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV), and has spread to 13 states, with over 100 positive cases. The virus was initially discovered in May, and has proved difficult to control, even in the summer heat. The spread of typical strains of gastroenteritis usually slow during the warmer months, but this strain of PEDV has proved to be quite resilient.

The disease has a high mortality rate with piglets — 50% — though the mortality rate has reached 100% in some areas. US PEDV is 99.4% identical in genetic structure to the Chinese PEDV that ravaged farms across China in 2010, killing over 1 million piglets. PEDV has been observed in many farming states, including Arkansas, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota.

This infectious outbreak could become even more deadly for the pork industry, which is still suffering from last year’s drought: the drought caused feed-grain prices to skyrocket, compelling farmers to slaughter more pigs than normal. Now there will be a scarcity for meat, with the possibility of pork prices soaring as well.

The USDA is still unsure of how PEDV entered the US — the current focus is the livestock transportation system. The USDA also thinks that the infection could have been spread by pigs eating diseased feces, or humans unknowingly transporting feces.

However, PEDV poses no threat to humans or other animals — it is safe for people to eat meat from pigs infected with PEDV.

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

June 21, 2013

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“Hog Prices Slide as Demand Wanes” – Wall Street Journal, 20 March 2013

Hog prices have been steadily declining for the past four months, and are currently at a low. The reasons behind the decreasing demand for pork are interesting, mostly due to economic concerns.

US consumers have opted for inexpensive meats, like chicken, instead of pork; additionally, consumers are feeling certain economic pressures, such as rising prices at the pump.

Pork exports have already dropped 15% from last January, as the big meat buyers — China, Japan, Mexico and Russia — curtail purchases. In the last few years, the US has become fairly dependent on pork exports, as China is the world’s biggest pork consumer. However, as China’s population and demand for the meat grows, the country has stocked up on plenty of domestic supplies. Japan is the US’s biggest buyer, but has been experiencing a weak economy and currency, and doesn’t have the funds for pork exports. Russia has chosen to no longer buy pork from the US, since many US pork farms give their pigs medicated feed that generates leaner meat.

As domestic and international demand for pork decreases, US farmers are faced with larger inventories of pork. People begin to buy more pork during the warmer months, but the continued cold weather has delayed the spring and summer grilling season.

It is hard to say if this trend is cyclical or the economics are changing more structurally.

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

May 16, 2013

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“Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans” – New York Times, 27 March 2013

A new study by Britain and Denmark shows that bacteria does indeed move from animals to humans, a claim constantly denied by the agriculture and food industries.

The British and Danish researchers pooled their data from two small Danish farms, and through genetic sequencing, determined that a strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria was capable of being transmitted from animals to humans. The new report clearly shows the affect and risk that antibiotics have on both livestock and humans alike; this research is, without a doubt, the first of its kind to show a direct connection between animals and humans.

We’ve written and reported on this topic numerous times, as the link between human and animal health becomes a bigger global issue. This month, the American Humane Association is holding their first human-animal health conference in New York, which will focus on the “impact of innovation and technology and their crossover applications for human and animal health.” This is a step in the right direction for everyone involved in human and animal health sectors — consumers, scientists, veterinarians, doctors, hospitals, clinics, animal feeding operations, farmers, drug manufactures, and state, federal and international regulatory agencies  — to identify what can be done to objectively understated and improve the relationship between the human and animal health sectors.

See our previous blogs on this subject also:
Dead Pigs Worry Shanghai
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
Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny

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

April 2, 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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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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“Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US” – Wired, 12 February 2013

Not only does the US partake is large-scale confinement agriculture — or livestock-raising — but, as wealth and populations grow, developing countries like China and India do as well. The use of growth-promotor antibiotics began in the US and has spread to China, the world’s biggest producer and consumer of antibiotics. Half of the antibiotics China makes in-house are used in the country’s agriculture: a staggering 96 million kilograms, which is almost seven times more than the US uses every year. China’s food safety regulation is falling by the wayside, as the industry is pressurized to manufacture heaping quantities of meat and make heaping quantities of money.

In both China and the US, no regulations exist for reporting which agricultural antibiotics go into what species, and no systematized method exists to track side effects. Chinese researchers, seeing a problem, published a paper this week that addressed these issues, “Diverse and abundant antibiotic resistance genes in Chinese swine farms”.

The team visited three farms — big by Chinese standards, and from three different regions in China — to gather research for this paper. Each farm raises around 10,000 pigs every year, which, by EPA‘s definition, is on the small side of large “confined animal feeding operations.” The researchers sampled fresh pig manure from each farm: as the manure was being made into fertilizer, and from farm soil where the fertilizer had already been used. Their controls were samples of soil from a virgin forest in China, and manure from American pigs that had never taken antibiotics.

American researchers analyzed the samples to look for any antibiotic-resistant genes. The researchers detected 149 unique resistance genes, existing 192 to 28,000 times more frequently in the Chinese farm samples than in the control samples. A similar presence of transposase was found as well, an enzyme that allows resistant genes to move from one bacterium to the next.

The researchers found that the process of resistance genes grouping and moving to other bateria has greatly developed by the use of metals like zinc, copper and arsenic on farms. Additionally, resistance can be present on farms where antibiotics have never been used, even where evolutionary practices on bacteria and genes haven’t been employed.

According to the researchers’ paper, “The diversity and abundance of antibiotic resistance genes reported in this study is alarming, and clearly indicates that unmonitored use of antibiotics and metals on swine farms has expanded the diversity and abundance of the antibiotic resistance reservoir in the farm environment. The coenrichment of ARGs and transposases [enzymes] further exacerbates the risks of transfer of ARGs from livestock animals to human-associated bacteria, and then spread among human populations.”

The agriculture industry has been refuting this argument for years: if, when antibiotic resistance develops on farms, it will transfer from farms to people with no link to the farms. While the agriculture industry says no, the Chinese researchers think it’s just a question of when. As the concentration of antibiotic resistance grows, so too does the probability that it will move into the environment outside the farms.

As in any credible scientific investigations affecting animal and human health, data-based-driven debates must go on until all key stakeholders agree on a cost-effective, practical  and sustainable course of action.

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

February 15, 2013

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