“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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“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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“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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“U.S. Rice Farmers Cash In On Venezuelan Socialism” – Wall Street Journal, 18 August 2013

Though Hugo Chavez was a huge critic of capitalism, US rice farmers are still benefiting from the late Venezuelan president’s socialist economic policies. While president, Chavez attempted to aid the poor by putting large farms under state control, reorganizing land ownership, and controlling food prices.

However, those policies have negatively affected Venezuela’s farming and manufacturing communities; for instance, turning the country into net importer, rather than net exporter, of rice. Additionally, manufacturing of steel, sugar, beef and coffee has dropped, forcing Venezuela to depend on those imports as well.

In 2010, Chavez nationalized Venezuela’s main farm-supply company, making it difficult for farmers to obtain farming basics, like fertilizer and herbicide. Chavez’s government also set prices for rice and other goods; and while those prices were fixed, inflation still rose. Venezuelan farmers could no longer afford new equipment. With no basic farming supplies and without adequate equipment, Venezuelan rice farmers’ yields decreased, causing Venezuela to look elsewhere for rice, i.e. the US. Venezuelan economic policies have made US rice farmers very happy.

According to the Department of Agriculture, in the first half of 2013, Venezuela imported $94 million of rice from the US, a 62% increase from 2012, making Venezuela the US’s fourth-biggest rice market. In 2011, imports from the US reached $12 billion, a 16% increase from 2010. Alcoa and Kimberly-Clark, a personal care corporation, are two US companies that export the most products to Venezuela.

Venezuela has still managed to hold on to oil, the country’s biggest commodity, which provides for half of the government’s income. This year, oil prices are $105/barrel; if they somehow decrease to $90/barrel, then the government will have to drastically curb imports to make up for the loss.

September 20, 2013

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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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“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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