“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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NIAA Animal Disease Traceability Forum 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 another White Paper, “Bringing Industry and Regulatory Leaders Together to Create Sensible Solutions”, a summary of the information offered at the Joint Strategy Forum on Animal Disease Traceability.

On December 20, 2012, the USDA introduced the Traceability for Livestock Moving Interstate rule, which was put into effect in March 11, 2013, and is a major element of the US’s Animal Disease Traceability (ADT) program, a system that identifies, tags and tracks livestock.

According to the USDA’s new rule, livestock transported between states, or interstate, must first be officially identified and carry an Interstate Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (ICVI) or other identification documentation, like owner-shipper statements or brand certificates. The law is pertinent to cattle, bison, poultry, sheep, goats, swine, captive cervids, and horses and other equine species that are transported interstate. Cattle less than 18 months old are not required to have documentation when crossing state lines, unless the animals are being used for shows, exhibits, rodeos or recreational events.

The USDA hopes to have all official ear tags with the official ear tag shield by March 11, 2014, and all official ear tags, that are on animals, to bear the shield.

The goal of the ADT program is to reduce the spread and impact of US animal and livestock diseases. If a disease outbreak occurs, then the program will assist the government in finding the source of the geographical location and diseased animal.

While it has been difficult ensuring that the ADT program is fully enacted, the USDA’s new ruling will enforce the tagging and tracking of animals and livestock.

Read our previous post on the NIAA’s Antimicrobial Use and Resistance White Paper.

September 9, 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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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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“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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“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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“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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Time is Running Out to Pass a Farm Bill in 2012

In the US, we have something called a Farm Bill, which is the main agricultural and food policy for the federal government. The bill is renewed every 5 years by Congress, and manages agricultural activities under the periphery of the Department of Agriculture.

The farm bill can actually be a contentious issue, and can affect international trade, environmental conservation, food safety and rural communities. The most current farm bill, which was passed in 2007, expired this September; however, no new legislation has been passed by Congress since then. Many decisions involved in a new farm bill are directly related, and affected by, our recession and the fiscal package.

The White House and Congress are at a political standoff, which is further worrying farmers. It is farmers’ hope that a new bill will be included in the fiscal package before year’s end — if legislation isn’t renewed, then milk and cheese prices will soar, affecting farmers and consumers alike. Extension of current law would be a relief for now, but would only be a band-aid for the existing problem. However, if neither current law is renewed nor new legislation passed, milk pricing would regress to the old system — the Agricultural Act of 1949 — where milk was set at $6 a gallon. The old system of milk pricing is out-of-date and unaligned with our current economy and market conditions.

The Agricultural Act of 1949 delineates how to set milk prices; the act is overridden when a new farm bill is passed, but will be effective if no new bill or extension is passed. The act includes a component that assures that minimum milk prices will cover producers’ costs. The government also assures producers that it will buy milk products at that price point; however, producers typically profit more through the consumer market. Given the existing market conditions, the government-set price could double, which could persuade farmers to sell their products to the government rather than through the private market. Because of this, store prices for consumers could skyrocket. If the government keeps accumulating milk, then it will subsequently have an excess of dairy products in storage. Eventually, prices could decline as the government sells its dairy stockpiles.

Increased milk prices could put American dairy farmers and cheese-makers out of line with the international market; instead of buying American-made dairy products, consumers could be looking at alternatives, such as foreign-made cheeses, and soy and almond milk.

What stands between the White House and Congress passing new legislation in 2012 are disputes over the food stamps program — three quarters of the farm bill goes into funding food stamps. The Senate bill, spearheaded by conservative lawmakers, would cut food stamps by $4 billion.
At this point, farm lobbyists are pushing to have any legislation passed before the new year so that dairy farmers will not have to revert to old legislation. This is an obscure issue that isn’t given much limelight, and many Americans don’t even know of this bill’s existence; yet, deep cuts into the farm bill could greatly affect everyone.
Like most issues facing our country today, the public expects lawmakers and lobbyists to work together and let the country move froward to a market-based system. We think that this is very reasonable expectation; however, it isn’t as reasonable as we think.

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

December 19, 2012

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“Milk Price Fight Boils Over” — Wall Street Journal, 13 November 2012

With the drought and soaring feed costs, farmers have had a tough break this year. California’s dairy farmers, however, are experiencing more bad fortune: separate from the federal laws that regulate milk pricing, California has also implemented its own system of pricing. The state sets minimum milk pricing for buyers every month.

California has one of the biggest dairy industries in the US; but growing feed prices and slow economic growth has produced smaller milk production, which has ultimately increased milk prices.

While federal law sets milk prices at $2.50 per 100 pounds of milk, California has lowered its prices in order to benefit cheese-makers. As seen in the chart, California’s prices have never exceeded $2.00; and though prices are slowly increasing, they aren’t increasing quickly enough to save dairy farmers’ businesses.

This year, at least 100 California dairy farmers are closing down; and much of the state’s 1,600 dairy farmers are experiencing financial woes. Though there isn’t a maximum-set milk price, many dairy farmers stay close to the minimum so as to remain competitive. Cheese-makers contest raising the minimum price, since that would persuade cheese-makers to move out of state.

Many think that changing state pricing wouldn’t be enough to prevent dairy farmers from going out of business — most California dairy farmers face additional costs, such as paying higher prices for animal feed since they don’t grow it. This, in turn affects milk production, where milk per cow is decreasing because feed costs have sharply increased.

Some dairy farmers and cheese-makers propose that the market should decide pricing; however, because it takes several years for a cow to develop to full production, it’s difficult for dairy farms to match production to the marketplace.

This situation presents a Catch 22: if California keeps its current milk pricing, then dairy farms go out of business and cheese-makers stay in business; if the state increases milk pricing, then more dairy farms will likely stay open and cheese-makers will leave the state.

How can California save dairies, but also keep cheese-makers in state? Can, or should, the “market” decide the winner and loser, or — based on tax revenue, job creation and retention criteria – is it the state’s decision?

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

November 30, 2012

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