“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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“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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“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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“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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Fluid Management Systems Granted Utility Patent

photo 4On June 18th, the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) granted FMS a utility patent for a system that manages inventory through a non-invasive measurement process. USPTO also approved a trademark — VETrak — for commercial applications. FMS has several pending provisional and utility patents for human- and animal-health applications.

The measurement system developed by FMS is envisioned as a system to track injectable medications administered in hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices. The technology resulting from this vision is highly adaptable; the first iteration of the technology will be implemented in the animal-health market.

photo 8

FMS is currently employing commercial VETrack units at swine farms in Illinois and Iowa. FMS is also in discussions with Lexington-based equine and pharma-manufacturing companies to expand the technology’s applicability to additional animal farms, as well as the human-health field.

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

July 19, 2013

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“Do antibiotics in animal feed pose a serious risk to human health?” – Medical Xpress, 10 July 2013

Medicated animal feed and water, and the risk they pose to humans, is still widely debated in the agriculture industry, as many are on opposing sides.

Though there are moves to create new antibiotics that would allow for less antibiotic resistance, medical experts suggest that scaling down on antibiotic use overall should be our first step. From 2009-2011, 72% of antimicrobials sold in the US were used to medicate water and animal feed. Such additives are regularly given to animals, in order to boost growth and curb disease, and are often unnecessary since livestock are typically healthy; livestock living conditions — sometimes crowded and unhygienic — are what can encourage disease.

In April, we wrote about a new study by Britain and Denmark that showed that bacteria does indeed move from animals to humans. Denmark, the global forerunner in pork exports, seems to be an expert in the arena of antimicrobial use in livestock production: in 1994, Denmark decreased its usage of antimicrobials by 60%, while also expanding its pork production by 30%. From the British and Danish study, we can easily glean that regular antibiotic use in livestock production can breed resistance.

Politics also play a heavy hand in this debate, and contribute to an unwillingness to act.

See our previous blogs on this subject:
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

July 11, 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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“Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat” – New York Times, 27 March 2013

The agricultural industry’s use of antibiotics in their livestock has been a hot button topic the last few months, and only getting hotter. While the agriculture industry overwhelmingly denies that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transferred from livestock to humans, a British-Danish report from last month shows that bacteria does has the ability to move from animals to humans.

As we wrote in a previous post in November, “Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny“, responsibility for regulating antibiotic use is splintered among multiple agencies: the FDA, USDA and CDC. The FDA polices drugs, a role they carry out by overseeing the meat sold in our supermarkets, and by monitoring the existence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA is trying to get a handle on the kinds of antibiotics that are being fed to livestock, but to no avail — livestock facilities are not legally required, and are vehemently opposed, to divulge details about what drugs are administered to which animals, and in what amounts.

It seems as this point that the situation could be a matter of life and death. In 2011, the agricultural industry bought almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics — 80% of the US’s 2011 antibiotic sales — for animal use, the biggest quantity ever purchased. The drugs are mostly given to animals at low dosages in order to encourage growth, and to contain any sicknesses they might contract by living in such close quarters of each other and their waste. However, feeding livestock low levels of antibiotics can actually breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases.

In 2008, Congress forced drug companies to report to the FDA the amount of antibiotics they sold to agricultural facilities. Again, no information was released on what drugs were given to which animals, in what amounts and why.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education. Labor and Pensions reauthorized the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) for 2013, requiring veterinary-drug companies to pay fees to the FDA as a way to financially support the agency. Two Democrats from the House have introduced new legislation that would give FDA the authority to amass more data from drug companies, as well as make food producers reveal how frequently they give low doses of antibiotics to animals, so as to spur growth and offset poor conditions.

We believe that in order to lower societal costs, and protect animals and humans, open and objective debate needs to continue among all stakeholders.

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

April 29, 2013

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