“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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“What We can Learn from Our Microbiome” – New York Times, 19 May 2013

While it’s common knowledge that we inherit our genes from our parents — a.k.a. our “first genome” — our “second genome” is rarely talked about. This ‘second genome’ is the trillions of microbes that are living in our bodies, everywhere from our skin, to tongue, to intestines. These microbes have an immense impact on our health, perhaps even greater than the genes from our parents. For instance, our microbes act as managers for our immune systems, and are partially responsible for ascertaining between the good and bad that enter our bodies. Interestingly enough, while we can’t do much to change what our parents gave us, we can have a great influence on our microbiota and microbiomes.

Scientists look at our microbriota as ecosystems: all our microbes interact with each other and their environment. Disorders within this ecosystem – such as too little diversity or an excessive amount of the “wrong” type of microbes — have the potential to cause obesity, chronic diseases and other infections. Scientists also believe that diet and environment have led to an increase in autoimmune diseases in the West.

The American Gut Project’s aim is to sequence as many American guts as possible, hoping to answer the question of what effects our microbiota — diet, antibiotics, pathogens, environment, cultural traditions? — and determine its “normal” state, if there even is one.

While scientists can’t really say what a “healthy” microbiome looks like, they can pinpoint certain traits and patterns that healthier microbiomes have. Possessing a diverse set of microbes is better and something Westerners don’t necessarily have, due to processed foods, environmental toxins and overuse of antibiotics. Certain ailments and diseases, such as allergies, asthma, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, plague the West more than less-industrialized areas. Your microbiota like unprocessed foods — less processed foods have a better chance of getting through the gastrointestinal tract and to the microbiota.

Children in the West are given an average of 10-20 antibiotic treatments before the age of 18; and this isn’t the only way antimicrobials are reaching the microbiota: antibiotics exist in meat, milk and surface water. Farmers feed antibiotics to their livestock so that they gain weight, and they often come in the form of medicated feed and water.

There are some things microbiologists suggest that can help with managing you and your children’s microbiomes:

  1. Don’t immediately jump to antibiotic treatments unless medically necessary.
  2. Cleanliness is not always next to godliness: take your children outside to play in the dirt more often.
  3. Cut back on processed foods.
  4. Eat more foods that contain probiotic bacteria: yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut are good starting points.
  5. While you should still wash produce that is likely to have pesticide residue, you should, for example, not wash your hands after petting your dog or cat.

In other words, the world will be a more sustainable place to live healthy and happy  lifestyles if people in developed nations adapt some of the habits of their ancestors, as practiced today in developing nations. We do not have to worry about people in developing nations adapting habits of developed nations — it is already happening rapidly!

See our other entries:
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

May 22, 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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FDA Sets Agenda for Veterinary Antimicrobial Meetings

The FDA and USDA are finally initializing dialogue on the subject of antimicrobial use in animals, through a series of five meetings that will take place across the country. The meetings will permit the public to weigh in on any challenges that veterinarians and producers will confront under new proposed regulations for veterinary management of antimicrobial use. The meetings will also center on other challenges, such as how producers can better locate veterinary services. The first meeting took place last week, April 9, in Bowling Green, KY, with the rest of the meetings spread out over April, May and June.

More information on this subject is also available from CattleNetwork.com

The FDA is working towards a goal of reasonable use of antimicrobials in medicated feed or drinking water for livestock, which will slowly allow for the elimination of antimicrobials in treating humans. This, in turn, will grant veterinarians more oversight of the existing therapeutic uses of antimicrobials.

Dates and locations of meetings:

  • April 23, 2013, in Olympia, Wash.
  • May 8, 2013, in Fort Collins, Colo.
  • May 21, 2013, in Pierre, S.D.
  • June 4, 2013, in College Station, Texas

You can find specific times and locations here.

We applaud the proactive actions taken by both FDA and USDA to engage the public and obtain a consensus from all the key stake holders — i.e. animal & human health service providers, the animal agriculture business sector, drug manufactures and consuming public — before enacting any legislation and regulations. This course of action is likely to yield databased decisions, striking a balance between food availability, safety, costs and jobs.

See our other entries related to antimicrobial use and antibiotics:
Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans
Conference to Examine Transformative Effect of Technology 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 16, 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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“Dead Pigs Worry Shanghai” – Wall Street Journal, 12 March 2013

Earlier this month, 3,300 dead pigs were found dead in the Huangpu River, which supplies water to most of Shanghai’s 23 million residents. Chinese authorities have no idea how the pigs died.

Government officials investigated any impact the pigs would have on the river and other local waters, announcing that no health threat in the water existed. However, authorities found the pig-borne disease porcine circovirus in the river, which according to the US CDC, does not affect humans. China’s main meat is pork, which consists of almost half a billion pigs, and the country littered with swine farms that are rife with communicable diseases. An industry expert noted that the dead pigs might be indicative of a disease outbreak from a single farm.

China has had its fair share of pig illnesses. In 2007, around 50 million pigs died from an outbreak of high-fever blue ear disease; and this past January, 948 Chinese pigs had to be killed due to an outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

Additionally, Chinese waterways have been exposed to much pollution. Again this past January, a chemical transporter spewed benzene into a Huangpu River tributary, which caused 20 people to be hospitalized. Earlier this year, Rivers in three northern provinces were also affected due to a chemical spill.

The chemical spills, as well as the mass deaths, are also calling Chinese food safety, environmental and air quality regulations into question. In 2011, China claimed the number one spot as the world’s biggest carbon dioxide polluter, up by 10 percent to contribute 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions to the world’s atmosphere. It is no wonder that China’s air quality caused its residents to become sick, and persuaded many to wear face masks.

In our view, the land where humans and animals live, the water we drink, and the air we breathe constitute environmental quality, and all eventually contribute towards human and animal health and safety. We live in an interconnected global ecosystem that we need to keep clean and safe. China — now the largest country in the world — continues to grow its economy in order to achieve a more western lifestyle, and population, which is currently at 1.3 billion people or one-seventh of the world’s population. China will have to strike a healthy balance between economic growth and environmental harmony that many western economies are already addressing.

See also:
Carbon Pollution up to 2 Million Pounds a Second
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

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

March 28, 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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“Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean” – NYTimes, 19 February 2013

Last week, the case Bowman v. Monsanto Company reached the Supreme Court. Indiana farmer Vernon Hugh Bowman was a Monsanto customer who, instead of buying seeds from Monsanto for his next harvest season, opted for a riskier situation. He bought seeds from another vendor, hoping that it would contain some Roundup Ready seeds. Bowman planted the seeds, doused them in Roundup — some of his harvest held on, and he was able to save some seeds for the next year.

The case was really about whether patent rights to seeds — and other things that replicate, reproduce or grow — continue past the first generation. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto, a move which extended not only to Monsanto’s pervasive agriculture technology, but also other modern agriculture, vaccines, cell lines, software, etc.

Farmers who buy seeds from Monsanto usually have to sign a contract that disallows them from saving seeds from the current harvest year for the following year. Farmers must purchase new seeds for every harvest season. In his argument, Bowman cited a principle called patent exhaustion, which he said lets him use products however he likes if he acquires them legally. However, lower courts ruled that Bowman’s actions were in violation of patent infringement.

A federal judge in Indiana fined Bowman over $84,000 to be paid to Monsanto, and the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the decision. According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, “The exhaustion doctrine permits you to use the goods that you buy. It never permits you to make another item from that item you bought.”

The Supreme Court ruling in Monsanto’s opinion correctly defends patent rights, which allow companies in diverse industries, such as agriculture, vaccines, cell lines and software to take financial and intellectual risks. These rewards partly justify companies in investing millions of dollars over a long period of time in research and development, with an uncertain outcome and years to reap the benefits and recoup costs, if ever. If Monsanto did not have a practice of needing its buyers to sign such contracts, then there would be no point in the company, or any similar company, patenting its technology.

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

March 1, 2013

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Antimicrobial Use and Resistance — NIAA Symposium 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 a White Paper, “A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose“. The White Paper addresses antimicrobial use and resistance, and begins to explore methods to resolve these topics. The paper is a summary of presentations from 13 human health, animal health and environmental health scientists and professionals, and the outcome of four interactive sessions with those who attended the 2012 Antibiotics Conference in Columbus, OH.

The topic of NIAA’s paper is much similar to our recent blog post, Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US, in which researchers found that the process of resistance genes grouping and moving to other bacteria has greatly developed by the burgeoning use of antibiotics and metals on farms.

Like the researchers from our previous post, NIAA’s paper has similar reasoning for antimicrobial resistance, “Antimicrobial resistance occurs via three mechanisms, each requiring only minor changes in biochemistry: 1) Bacteria may possess enzymes that degrade antibiotics; 2) Bacteria may replace or alter the method through which the antibiotic enters the cell; and 3) Bacteria may alter the cellular target site of the antibiotic.” In a similar vein, the researchers pulled samples from swine farms in China and the US and found the presence of transposase, an enzyme that allows resistant genes to move from one bacterium to the next.

In fact, the issue of animal antibiotics is, as the White Paper puts it, a polarizing issue. The paper admits that antimicrobial resistance is about more than science and evidence, but also directly deals with politics, behavior, economics and conflicting opinions in the overarching health — animal, human and environmental — community.

In another previous blog post, Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny, we discussed how cooperation and communication between manufacturers and regulatory agencies is inadequate. While the FDA has attempted numerous times to standardize the use of antibiotics in livestock, it has proved problematic, as many meat manufacturers and farmers are unwilling to disclose antibiotic use. However, the relationship between the FDA and manufacturers isn’t purely to blame: it is hard to streamline antibiotic use in animals since there is nothing comparable to a national healthcare system for animals, as there is for people. What can be gleaned from these difficulties is that antibiotic use, and subsequent antimicrobial resistance, is indeed a political, behavioral, economic and combative issue.

Because the NIAA believes that animal, human and environmental health are all connected, the White Paper takes a One Health Approach: “This approach would call for all to think in a much larger dimension and work toward, improving and defending the health and well-being of all species by enhancing cooperation and collaboration between physicians, veterinarians, other scientific health and environmental professionals, and by promoting strengths in leadership and management to achieve these goals.”

The goal of the “A One Health Approach to Antimicrobial Use & Resistance: A Dialogue for a Common Purpose” Symposium was not to only understand and study the reasoning behind antimicrobial use and resistance, but to identify ways in which scientists and professional can work together and progress. The symposium had many end goals, including:

  1. To obtain the scientific facts regarding antibiotic use within animal health, human health and environmental health;
  2. to better understand the “how” and “why” antimicrobial resistance occurs;
  3. to look at alternatives to antibiotics in agriculture;
  4. lead and engage participants in open conversations;
  5. to build relationships with other sectors and gain better understanding of other perspectives;
  6. to begin to find common ground and formulate a path forward; and
  7. focus on continuous improvement and commitment to long-term health.

This white paper initiates a launching pad for data-based scientific and objective conversation, and debate among drug manufactures; human and animal health care providers; hospitals and animal feeding operations; health insurance industry, federal and state regulators; legislators and policy makers; and interest and advocacy groups. These conversations will lead towards protecting human and animal health at the lowest cost to society.

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

February 25, 2013

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