“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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“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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“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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“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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“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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“Biofuel producers diversify away from crops” – St. Louis Business Journal, 14 June 2013

There are three key industries that rely on corn: biofuel/ethanol, pork and fructose corn syrup. However, erratic corn prices are forcing biofuel and ethanol producers to diversify, and most are moving to lower-cost non-food and food feedstocks, such as waste vegetable oil, tallow, algae, waste sugar, corn cobs, wood waste and swtichgrass.

This means that some production plants have underwent modifications in order to use these other feedstocks, and while that can be pricey, it has certainly paid off. The biofuel manufacturer FutureFuel has seen considerable gains since introducing alternative feedstocks: in 2011, the company’s biofuel revenue was $141.6 million; in 2012, the company increased this revenue by 35% to $191.4 million.

Last year’s drought yielded a low corn harvest and was detrimental to ethanol manufacturers, who had to downsize production for the first time in 16 years. This year’s harvest is looking to be better, but ethanol and biofuel companies might opt for cheaper feedstocks instead.

This shift is bound to have a significant impact on the corn industry, and we are likely to see an supply of corn that the pork and fructose corn syrup industries can’t cover. We will probably also see noticeably decreased prices, which will, in turn, put more pressure on corn farmers to increase prices to make up for last year and future losses.

This a a true example of classic economic theory at play, where “supply and demand”, along with substitution in competing markets, affects commodity prices in a somewhat unpredictable manner.

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

June 18, 2013

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