“Obama Proposes Single Overseer for Food Safety” – New York Times, 20 February 2015

Currently, as many as 15 governmental agencies have their hand in food safety — primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, but also others like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the FDA and Agriculture Department are the main overseers, they too have different protocols and inspection methods.

The Obama administration has proposed a streamlined approach to food safety that would bring all the agencies under one roof in the Department of Health and Human Services. Centralizing food safety might run into some problems, as food safety experts, food safety inspectors, and consumer groups are already resistant to the idea.

The FDA and Agriculture Department often find themselves in opposition with each other: not only do they have different protocols — their guidelines are entirely different, from mandates to inspections programs to training and education — they are also territorial.

While the FDA oversees a majority of the food we eat, such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and shelled eggs, the Agriculture Department inspects our meat, poultry, and processed eggs. However, both departments’ inspections methods vary widely.

Everyday, the Agriculture Department, for instance, will assign inspectors to livestock processing plants so that every piece of meat and poultry is thoroughly examined. Every meat and poultry plant in the US is lawfully obligated to have an inspector there daily. Because the FDA is in charge of inspecting more food products, inspectors aren’t present at every plant.

Foods imported into the US also seem to have to pass few inspections. In order for meat to comply with US standards, the export countries must have inspection protocols that are the same as the Agriculture Departments. At the most, the FDA inspects two percent of our plant imports.

Some of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspectors think that the FDA’s standards would weaken their own. Other doubters assert that there is no research that advocates that a streamlined system would be better than the US’s current system.

But it seems like US food safety might already need change. Every year, around 87 million Americans fall sick from food, 371,000 go to the hospital for that sickness, and 5,700 die.

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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“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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“New Antibiotics Guidelines for Livestock Producers Explained” – The Cattle Site, 7 August 2013

Use of antibiotics with livestock has been long talked about in the animal health community; and finally, the FDA is introducing antibiotic guidelines for farmers and livestock producers to follow, in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance to humans.

Farmers often use antibiotics as a way to help their livestock gain weight, while also preventing disease, but farmers aren’t required to report their use of antibiotics. The misuse or overuse of antibiotics can promote antibiotic resistance in humans, transferring resistant bacteria to humans. The goal of the FDA’s new regulations is to foster appropriate use of antibiotics in livestock.

The FDA has determined which specific antibiotics will have requisite veterinary oversight. They are going to work with drug companies to reprint drug labels that claim to boost feed efficiency and growth promotion, instead highlighting disease prevention, control and treatment. In addition, the FDA will concentrate on making it easier for livestock producers to acquire Veterinary Feed Directive drugs, which are used in animal feed; the use of Veterinary Feed Directive drugs are supervised by licensed vets.

Click here for the list of antibiotics included in the call for veterinary oversight.

Read all of our entries related to Human-Animal Health.

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

August 28, 2013

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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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“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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