“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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“New Project Breeds Cows Better Suited to Organic Dairy Production” – 6 February 2015, The Cattle Site

Scientists at Denmark’s Aarhus University are spearheading the SOBcows project, which will aid the organic dairy industry twofold: 1) by cultivating breeds of cows that are better suited to organic dairy farming practices, and 2) ascertaining whether certain breeds will lend themselves to the development of new, specialized dairy products, based on the genetics.

New genomic selection technology has pushed these scientists to figure out if certain breeds are more favorable for organic farming. Currently, there are zero genetic divergences between organic and conventional dairy cows, but specific traits are necessary for organic farms. For example, organic farms need stronger cows since these farms don’t use as many antibiotics. Organic dairy cows also need tough limbs, since they spend a lot of time outside.

The project will take farmers’ input into account; farmers will provide their opinions — on what they believe are the best traits — through questionnaires.

The scientists are also hopeful that another product of their study will be establishing new dairy products. For instance, organic cows eat a lot of grass and hay, which allows the cows’ milk to contain higher levels of healthy fatty acids. The scientists’ goal is to find if there is a certain breed of cow that is genetically inclined to produce milk with more fatty acids. They are also investigating the possibility of using indigenous breeds in organic farming.

Though the project is targeted at Denmark’s organic dairy farms, it will certainly become a blueprint for all organic dairy production.

February 20, 2015

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“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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“Futures Prices Are Going Hog-Wild” – Wall Street Journal, 5 March 2014

Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDV) strikes again, and is severely affecting pork prices. From last April to this March, the virus has been transmitted across 25 states and killed millions of young pigs. PEDV results in diarrhea and vomiting and is only deadly for young pigs—the virus isn’t harmful to human health or food safety.

The lack of pork is driving hog futures up, just in time for pork’s biggest selling season; summer. Analysts believe that traders might be putting too much significance on the virus—production hasn’t suffered any huge losses yet this year. However, in order to counterbalance any loss and make more money, pig farmers have been selling hogs at heavier weights, which could also help bolster our pork provisions. According to federal data, this year’s supply is on par with, or perhaps marginally higher, than last year’s weekly figures.

This February, the US Department of Agriculture reported it’s prediction for total US pork production as 23.4 billion pounds, 160 million pounds less than US production in 2013, indicating the virus as the main reason for the loss. Since farms aren’t required to inform federal regulators about total deaths, the magnitude of PEDV is unknown.

At the end of 2013, 1,998 cases had been reported; by February 16, around 3,856 cases had been reported. Since January, three states were also added to the list of those affected, totaling in 25. The USDA predicts that US pork prices will jump 2-3% in 2014, a 0.9% increase from 2013.

See also:
Outbreak of deadly piglet virus spreads to 13 states
Mysterious Pork Virus May Hike Bacon Prices

May 12, 2014

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“CDC: Antibiotic Overuse Can Be Lethal” – Wall Street Journal, 4 March 2014

According to a report by the CDC, the overuse of antibiotics used to treat patients is spurring the formation of superbugs. While treatments vary between hospitals, some doctors prescribe their patients three times the amount of antibiotics that doctors in other hospitals prescribe, for comparable diseases.

The constant misuse has rendered many antibiotics ineffective and caused the rapid development of superbugs. Misuse can also make patients susceptible to other infections, like Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, a bacterial infection.

The CDC’s report gathered information from hospitals and patients from 2010 and 2011. The report projected that reducing antibiotic use by 30% would lower C. difficile infections by 26%. Almost 250,000 patients contract C. difficile in the hospital, which can bring on sepsis and death.

A very powerful antibiotic that is often overused is vancomycin, which is prescribed for MRSA, a strain of Staph infection. In a study, over 20% of patients who were treated with intravenous vancomycin for MRSA never had MRSA.

The government is pushing to half the amount of C. difficile infections in five years. Doing so would prevent 20,000 deaths, 150,000 hospitalizations and cut $2 billion dollars from health-care expenses.

Obama also addressed this situation in his budget proposal for 2015, which contains $30 million to study and pinpoint strains of resistant bacteria, and promote communication between communities about outbreaks and remedies.

April 12, 2014

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“Antibiotics of the Future” – Wall Street Journal, 16 December 2013

Misuse of antibiotics in people and livestock is rampant, and has caused the formation of antibiotic-resistant germs to speed up. As a result, scientists are trying to create new antibiotics that will fight the germs that existing antibiotics can’t fight.

Scientists are using varying methods to develop new antibiotics, such as adding silver, which can increase the antibiotics’ ability to combat germs. Researchers are also employing the bacteria’s own genetic sequencing to accelerate the creation of more powerful drugs.

In the US, almost two million people are infected yearly by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resulting in thousands of deaths. It’s natural for antibiotics to become less efficient over time: bacteria develops a resistance, which means new antibiotics need to be created regularly. Both misuse of antibiotics and a decline in antibiotic development since 1990 have added fuel to the fire.

Researchers now have the capability to develop new antibiotics by studying germs’ genomes and looking for certain gene patterns. Most antibiotics are cultivated from the bacteria’s toxins—analyzing a germs’ genes has proven to be a great, albeit slow, method to creating new antibiotics.

Researchers are also looking for ways to render germs powerless. A person becomes infected when the bacteria’s population grows to a certain amount; scientists are trying to figure out if there’s a way to break communication between the individual microbes. In addition, scientists are trying to subdue toxins and other signaling molecules that are fundamental for an infection to advance.

February 28, 2014

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Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health — NIAA Antibiotic Symposium White Paper Released

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) recently published a white paper for the 2013 symposium, Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health, a continuation and extension of two previous symposiums, Antibiotic Use in Food Animals: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose in 2011 and A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose in 2012.

The goals of the 2013 and the past symposiums have been the same, supportive of the NIAA’s mission to continue forging a new path for a strong relationship between farmers, veterinarians, experts, drug companies and others, in order to resolve antibiotic resistance.

Twenty presentations were given by a range of experts on antibiotic use and resistance, which addressed many items, including the following:

  1. Due to wide mistreatment of antibiotics and a wide array of viewpoints, our knowledge of antibiotic resistance requires further study and clarification. There are many facets to antimicrobial resistance; if you believe you have a 100% understanding, then you haven’t received an accurate explanation.
  2. The relationship between animal, human and environmental health is compelled by the following: 1) the fact that antimicrobial resistance is bound to happen—its existence is natural and present, regardless of the use of antimicrobials; 2) when an antibiotic gains access to the ecosystem, there is a possibility that it will advance antibiotic resistance.
  3. Antibiotic resistance can be transferred between animals and humans, and vice versa.
  4. Antibiotic resistance is present in livestock, humans and companion animals, or pets.
  5. Antibiotic resistance is a global issue, not just an issue in the US.
  6. Meat manufacturing needs to follow current regulations, including correcting our mistreatment of animal antibiotics.
  7. Working towards decreasing the prevalence of antibiotic resistance requires collaboration. We must ask ourselves, “How does human health, environmental health and animal health work together to address antibiotic use and resistance?”.
  8. And much more.

(source)

Though the symposium brought key experts in human and veterinary medicine together to debate on the best approach to solving antibiotic resistance, there is still much to be done. We must closely observe and gain a better understanding of antibiotic resistance, as well as improve the motivation for advancing new antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance doesn’t originate from one source; the best way to focus on the issue is to streamline the system and eradicate any confusion.

Read all our blog posts on Human-Animal Health

Read the Bridging the Gap between Animal Health and Human Health White Paper

January 28, 2014

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“Meat Industry Won’t Fight Antibiotics Rule” – Wall Street Journal, 12 December 2013

Last week, the FDA introduced new policy that aims to curtail growth promotion antibiotics used on livestock. The use of these antibiotics on animals has been linked to the generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

While farmers and the meat industry support the FDA, neither think the new regulations will have an impact on the livestock industry. The FDA’s regulations deem it illegal to use antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, only allowing for antibiotic use when medically necessary. While the FDA now requires veterinarians to supervise antibiotic use on livestock, farmers will still be able to use antibiotics for preventative measures, especially in feed and water.

According to the FDA, almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics were used on livestock in 2011, a 2% increase from 2010. In 2011, around 7.3 million pounds of antibiotics were used to medicate people.

The FDA’s new policy is not mandatory for drug companies, yet animal drug companies like Zoetis and Elanco have complied. The guidelines request that drug companies remove any wording from their labels that implies that a drug promotes growth.

These are the steps in the right direction to protect animal and human health while enhancing public image for livestock and drug companies.

December 27, 2013

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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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“Livestock Market Adrift Without USDA Data” – Wall Street Journal, 7 October 2013

With the lapse of government funding on October 1, the USDA had to shut its doors, forcing the department to discontinue updating prices for pigs in the cash market, which has caused an upheaval in the livestock market.

Cash and futures markets use the USDA quotes as a reference point for trading. A lack of pricing means that the US’s largest meat manufacturers, Tyson Foods and Cargill — as well as the farmers and ranchers who sell to these companies — have no way of knowing how much they should be paying for pigs. Both companies have been looking to Urner Barry, New Jersey-based market-research firm, for similar information.

Tyson and Cargill have presented farmers and ranchers with two options: either directly determine a price with the company, or use Urner Barry’s formula to calculate a price. But due to the USDA’s interrupted data stream, many traders are fearful of trading, causing trading volumes to decrease; after the shutdown, trading volumes in lean-hog futures dropped 40%.

Sixteen days in to the government shutdown, Obama signed a bill into law that ended the it. However, it will take the USDA, meatpackers, and farmers and ranchers a period of time to recover from the dearth of information.

October 17, 2013

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